Never-Ending Problems: Like Dandelions in the Grass

I like solving problems – always have. I like to think triangularly, question appreciatively, figure out what has not worked before and suggest something that I think is brilliant, create a plan for real change, and measure the anticipated success. I was taught all this in grad school, some of my female friends tell me that this is such a “man thing,” but I have lived this as far back as I can remember – when I was 8 years old I tried marriage counselling with my folks! I think I did pretty good.

Now John Gottman comes along as a marital researcher and says that about two-thirds of relational problems are perpetual, like dandelions in the grass. Some troubles are unsolvable he says, and lots of arguments never accomplish a thing other than rehearsing for the next squabble. Never-ending — sounds discouraging.

Carole and I have a bunch of unsolvable problems, mostly the same ones we had when we were first married. No matter what I do to “persuade” (coerce) her to do what I want (or she me), the problems keep flowering. The solvable ones delude us into thinking that we are pretty good at conflict solving, and it’s true that we’ve had some dramatic successes. It is the unsolvable ones that really bug me.

Here are some perpetual problems that you are probably familiar with:

Personality or “your way in the world”: Who is the most introverted in the dyad and who is the most extroverted? This probably doesn’t change much. Neither does the tension between the one that is most emotionally intuitive with the one that is perseveringly logical. And some people are emotional stuffers (always have been) while their devoted other is pretty much a feeling gusher (always has been).

History: You can’t change a person’s history. The times in which you were born, and the ways in which you were raised, or dynamics in your family of origin – this is set in history. The goodness of your connection has a lot to do with how winsomely you accept each other’s life before you met.

Sensitivities: How do you react to failure, or criticism, or loneliness, or unpredictability, or being excluded from a group? This is well-wired by the time a child becomes an early teen.

Some things change really slowly. Things like your view of what success or failure means in life, or what a worldview might be. Our relationship to money, emotions, work, conflict are hard to change, but change they do.

Habits change slowly as well. If you are an early-to-bed kind of person and you are married to a late night email addict, this too can change. Savers always seem to marry spenders – at least in my practice. Maybe that is why they come to therapy. Habits change – slowly.

I have discovered that unsolvable problems require different strategies than solvable ones. First off, you need to be willing to distinguish solvable from unsolvable problems. Make two lists of your problems. What can be negotiated (solvable) and what cannot (unsolvable)? What is most important to you (grade this 1-3)? What can you let go?

Secondly, focus 80% of your resources towards the good things that you already do well. Show a little “benevolent disinterest” (differentiation) towards the problem areas. It is not a moral failure to take a break from working on faults while you celebrate the good stuff you do now. Over-focusing on problems (many of which you can’t solve anyway) is a serious waste of good humour and friendly faith.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Lunar Tide Spirituality (Guest Blog)

This blog is written by a client-friend who has endured enormous hardship and abuse and has found clarity and confidence in herself and in God. Amazing really. Here is part of her story.

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There are many forms of spirituality that scatter the landscape of Christianity. Having at a young age already experienced severe trauma and witnessed the suffering of my mother due to a terminal illness, I was always perplexed by those with a full solar spirituality. Barbara Brown Taylor describes this type of Church:

“You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith.” 

I have travelled my own dark night, both spiritually and personally, several times. I learned that my relationship with darkness was safer than another person’s solar spirituality. I have encountered darkness and I have survived.

I would describe my faith as a “lunar tide.” God is the moon, ever present, best seen in the dark. I am the tide being pulled out into the deepest parts of self and then pulled back into the landscape of others. I submit to the ebbs and flows of life by the sheer grit and grace of this lunar pull.

There is a deconstruction of certainty when one is pulled into the deep, tossed around and then pulled onto a new shore. When one has waded into the depths, relationships with others are disoriented, never to find a shared sense of common experience. This only adds to the loss of bearing.

Lunar tide spirituality teaches me about God. He is always there in fullness but, depending on where I am, I may only catch a sliver of Him. If I am in the deep, I may not catch a sighting.

I no longer believe in the safety of my spirituality. I’ve buried too many friends, held suffering babies, journeyed with others through chronic illness, and suffered myself with debilitating depression.

I’ve given up trying to be more spiritual than God. Every pull into the deep has brought me to a new level of embracing my own humanity. That may, in the end, be the grace of this lunar pull.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Lalochezia — it’s a thing.

Swearing can be such a release! Profane, pre-adolescent, unintelligent fun.

Sometimes it breaks up the rules in one’s head — the oughts, shoulds, and musts. It makes the superego (the supervisory part of one’s psyche) back off for a minute. It ventilates the emotions of an angry or worried person. It warns someone to get away when emotional avalanches are rolling. It makes one feel human when they are trying so hard to be perfect. It redefines the boundaries with an enmeshed parent. And sometimes it is the only thing that works. And most people do it in their heads a lot. Just have someone cut you off in traffic.

We are not supposed to swear, I have been told. And I tell my grandkids that. And I hate blasphemy. But sometimes it is such a relief. It’s a thing.

If you want to read a sometimes humorous book on swearing about serious things, you could read “The Very Worst Missionary Ever: A Memoir or Whatever” by Jamie Wright.

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]

 

Inclusive Books with an Upward Slant

Occasionally people ask us about what we are reading. Those who know us well also notice that our theology has morphed quite a bit. We have moved from Biblical certainty to relational inclusion, from diagnosing from a distance to wondering with an upward slant about most things.

Changing perspectives is hard and sometimes confusing. I think of perspectives as “slants.” Looking down on life and people carries with it an inherent superiority even when you don’t feel it. That’s the downward slant of certainty and correctness. Looking at people, understanding their narrative, hoping for their betterment and, sure enough, one develops an upward and hopeful slant about them and most things they are involved in.

Here are some books that have led the way for us. All have been helpful and some have been life-changing.

Carole is more the reader these days and many of these are books from her Wednesday morning study group. Ask her for her personal comments. She would be glad to offer her thoughts. (carole@theducklows.ca)

❏ A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovlitz (a current favourite)
❏ A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diana Butler Bass
❏ An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor (our son David loves this one)
❏ Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found it Again Through Science by Mike Hargue
❏ Kingdom, Grace Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus by Robert Farrar Capon (Paddy’s personal all-time best)
❏ Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships by Tim Otto
❏ Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
❏ Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller (interfaith reflections on all things spiritual)
❏ Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
❏ Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott (everything by Lamott is good or great)
❏ Take This Bread: The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first-century Christian by Sara Miles
❏ Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle (this as well as “Barking at the Choir” made me weep buckets)
❏ The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns (thoughtful and sharp)
❏ The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr
❏ The God We Never Knew by Marcus Borg (get over judging him as “liberal” and read him)
❏ We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation by Brian McLaren

By the way, I have been buying books (psychology and theology mostly, but novels too) for a lot of years and now I am giving them away at a rapid pace. Let me know what you are looking for and I will check to see if I have a copy. You never know.

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]

 

Ever Been Stuck?

Of course, you have been.

Charlie Brown got totally stuck when the little red-headed girl walked by. I don’t think he ever got unstuck!

Family Systems Theory considers three indicators of “stuckness.” The first indicator is like tire-spinning, the trying experience when you (or a committee) keep trying harder and predictably producing banal results. Trying to stand up is a lot more difficult than standing up.

A second stuckness is when one thinks in either/or categories, like “I win, you lose.” Binary belief systems produce teeter-totter relationships where if someone is “in” then the other is “out.” Reminds me of couples in conflict. Religions do binary thinking a lot, as do political parties. Makes quitters of even the most faithful. In marriage its called divorce.

The third stuckness is cramping answers into predictable questions, rather than recasting questions in fresh contexts and perspectives. “Business as usual” is all about this — thinking we know the questions, so our task, we figure, is to find answers that fit, rather than “appreciatively inquire.” (Appreciative Inquiry is a great way to focus on new questions.) Of course, its usually more about the question than the answer.

For more Family Systems Theory wisdom see, Edwin Friedman in “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” (pp. 40-46).

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I wrote this post in 2011 and I am updating it now because so many of my clients describe being unable to decide. How do you decide to marry, let alone who to marry? Stuckness in marital conflict is a recurring theme. New clients are signing up to do vocational assessment. What job works best for him or her? How does personality relate to occupation? What about call?

It is easy to get stuck and harder to get unstuck.

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]

Our Online Office for People “Out There”

I am apparently slow to the online therapy world. Life coaches, eye doctors, dieticians use online resources to bring their skills to people “out there.” However, my client-friends are educating me as they ask for psychological therapy on Skype or FaceTime or Google Duo.
Here are some reasons why lots of people would rather Skype than meet face to face:
  • Some live out of town or are on vacation. I have clients from Seattle, Hong Kong, New Hampshire, Calgary, Vancouver Island, and San Francisco. Long commutes to say the least.
  • Some folk need to save time travelling to our wonderful Horseshoe Bay office. They may work in Vancouver or Whistler or New Westminster but would prefer to consult from their computer.
  • Some people view counselling online as an adjunct to seeing us “live.” A pretty good combination for many.
But there are some things to consider in this online world:
  • One is whether you have an interruption-free location. I have a private space where confidentiality is assured. You will need to find something that allows you a quiet space to think and speak.
  • Couple counselling and family counselling are a bit problematic, though I once had 2 parts of dispersed family video connect for our session. Worked pretty well.
  • The intimacy and ethos are different. I can’t offer you a cup of coffee, but I can still empathize and challenge. It just feels different.
This way of connecting is different and for some, it is preferred. You can book online sessions as easily as you would in-office times. The payment transaction is done online through our booking system or with an e-transfer.
If you would like to learn more about online therapy or coaching online session with Paddy or Carole, please email us at life@theducklows.ca.
By the way, did you know that Skype was invented in Estonia, for which they are greatly proud?

[If you would like to comment on this blog or anything else on our website, you are invited to do so. Send a message via life@theducklows.ca]

Masks of Melancholy

“Masks of Melancholy” is the name of a book on depression written by a friend, Dr. John White, who was a psychiatrist and a church leader (he died several years ago). This phrase has always struck me as a great description of depression. John was bipolar and he knew a lot about “The Masks People Wear” (see an article on my web site about such masks).

Depression puts on a mask. The mask can look needy or agitated or “pissed off” or apathetic and all kinds of other miserable things. The mask depends pretty much on our genetic wiring and what was emotionally practiced in our family of origin.

I have been depressed lately. I visit this state periodically like I am checking in with how bad life can really be. My mask is “agitated anger.” People I love bug me. I long to be left alone but I am lonely when no one is around. I ask for help in a way that keeps anyone from really caring. I isolate when I want to connect. Even coffee and chocolate (both vital food groups) fail to inspire me. “Pissed off” pretty much summarizes how I feel it. “Stay away” is what my mask reads to others.

So now that I have told you more than you want to hear, let me refer you to some resources that might be helpful to you.

So now that I have told you more than you want to hear, let me refer you to some resources that might be helpful to you. Visit Wing of Madness – this is a great sight. As well, this is where I would start with consuming anxiety. This is a blog spot so you get lots of interaction with real people.

The assessments will give you a pretty accurate reading of where your emotions are right now. Print off the results and take it to your doctor or counsellor if you wish. (If you are visiting with Carole or me, do bring the results with you.)

As for me and my treatment, I think I am going to take off my mask (it doesn’t fit very well, anyway), visit Crema Café a few blocks from my office in West Vancouver, eat a piece of their wheat-free chocolate cake, and drink a grande latte. It won’t cure my depression but it does put a smile on my face.

[Updated in March, 2019.]

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]

1 Out of Every 2 Couples Divorce? (Happy Valentine’s Day)

I have people tell me that “1 out of every 2 couples divorce.” The tabloids say it often so you think it must be so. But it is not my experience — and I am a marital therapist who sees people who might have lots of reason to divorce (and, of course, some do).

My bet is that over 80% of couples who seek marital therapy revive and even thrive. So happy Valentine’s day.

Statistics Canada (2005) tell us that by the 30th wedding anniversary 38% of couple divorce. About 16% of the divorces include people who had already been divorced at least once. The probability of divorcing for a first marriage is lower because remarriages have a higher divorce risk than first ones.

Concerned couples starting out in marriage are sometimes worried about the reported divorce numbers and it surely does not help that we are inundated with “media divorces” who break up on a seeming whim, perhaps to obtain more glitz and blitz.

The Vanier Institute reports that the divorce rate for first marriages is about 30% throughout 30 years of marriage. In other words, first marriages have a 70% chance of surviving and even thriving for 30 years!

I have seen in my practice several variables that affect marriage stability. Let me give you a few:

  • How well the couple was brought together. Was a decision really made or was the couple in a romance trance (limerence) where they felt they could not interrupt the process?
  • Will the couple participate in premarital counselling or mentoring? My experience is that this process allows couples to differentiate, that is, to thoughtfully and even prayerfully decide if marrying this person and at this time is what they wish to do.
  • Location of where the couple lives has an impact. Urban and suburban life can have a negative impact on the survivability of the marriage. However, this is ameliorated by participating in an intentional community (e.g. a church, community network).
  • The willingness to obtain early marriage counselling when conflicts become wearing and unsolvable.
  • And another key factor has to do with the couple redefining the relationship with their respective families of origin. For the parents, this involves a kind of relinquishment and for the marrying couple, it requires a new definition of themselves with their parents.

Get the word out — marriage still works and the numbers are getting better! And your marriage can work well even if you come from a divorced family or had a previous marriage.

[You may respond to this blog or anything else on this website by contacting us at life@theducklows.ca. Paddy wrote this blog in 2010 and updated it for 2019.]

My “To Do” List (and Not)

Wash my hands in warm water always, no matter how long it takes. Be a Canuck fan early in the season. Say to Carole “I love you” while holding her for 2 minutes. Ignore the “call” of Amazon.ca bargains. Get home on time and not crash into a bicyclist. Find 2+ minutes every day to mindfully wonder. Respond more — react less. Tell my grandchildren stories when I tuck them into bed. “Meet and greet the human condition” (I borrowed this from a poem by Kathi Wolfe.). Taste my breakfast. Remember what clothes I wore yesterday. Smile surreptitiously. Laugh with my heart-held convictions. Pray thankfully more often. Ride me Volt eBike in the rain. Appreciatively wait at red lights. Move impulses from my limbic brain to my cerebral cortex. Wear orange or paisley. Go to bed with a smile on my face, even if I don’t feel like it. Chew. Collect rocks with Tessa.

Updated February 2019

[You can respond to this or anything else on my website through email: paddy@theducklows.ca. I look forward to the chat.]

Go Easy, Go Gently, Go in Peace (a prayer for my clients)

Most of us pray sometimes and some of us pray a lot. I know that we have different hopes and expectations of how we journey in our lives, and I also know that most people appreciate the prayers of others when we face crises and challenges.

I found this prayer somewhere (I can’t remember) and it has been meaningful to me. It is like a benediction (meaning “a good word”). It is called “Go Easy, Go Gently, Go In Peace.”

 

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

You may have to push forward, but you don’t have to push so hard.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Do not be in so much of a hurry. At no day, no hour, no time are you required to do much so frantically. Move, but move faithfully, decisively, and deliberately in the plan of God.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Be urgent about the things that are urgent. Be easy about the things that are not essential. Pursuing the wrong urgencies may cause you to overrun the essential… and the important.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

In tragedy look for God when you can’t find meaning. In hopelessness find meaning when you can’t see God. Either way, you will move ahead.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

The frantic and stressed actions of uncontrolled urgency are not the foundation for the wholesome walk. Nor does such anxiousness reflect the gracious intention of the Creator. The frantic cause you to fall further away from the calming confidence of God’s calling.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Know God’s identity for you and in you. You are His creation and His people. Allow your soul to be immersed in the many joys of God.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Go generously and walk thankfully into your work, your relationships, your leading, your family. Meet God in your hours, in your days. Let the pace of your life flow naturally toward its unforgettable completion.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Beginning or ending, planning or reflecting, hurting or healing, cherish each moment. Savor God’s guidance. Seek what’s really important. Surrender your soul to the simple peace of God’s leading and urging, to His beginning and ending.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Now go, with easiness towards yourself, with gentleness towards others and with peace in God.

Amen

 

[You may respond to this or any of my blogs, ideas or writings at life@theducklows.ca. Thanks for reading.]