Would You Like to Super-Size That?

Size matters in emotions. Some spouses bark, bully, blame and belittle with the noisier suppressing the other by volume and spite. Others may coerce their partners and kids to “submit” thinking they have some theological “right to respect” (which they clearly don’t!). Kids up-turn power into tantrums and tyranny. And then lots of families “tiptoe” their lives, waiting for the next tsunami. Yes, size matters especially the size of noise and especially again the noise of coercion. It is as if we “super-size” our emotions, pumping up insanity to defeat an enemy that used to be friends and family.

“I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time,” she said to her husband of 7 years, clients of mine for several months. As I write this, I am listening to Tim McGraw singing “Angry All the Time” and that comment is the refrain: “I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time.” (You can hear / watch this on You Tube. This is a tiptoe marriage, like my client friends, with super-sized emotions.

I have come from a week of super-sized emotions; watching super-sized partners push and prod while their tiptoe spouses lose voice, hiding and hoping for anything else. You know of course, that it is not either men or women who coerce – in some families it is both.

I want to tell you about a conflict questionnaire that I have used over the years in my teaching and consulting. I would love it if you became an expert in understanding conflict (not necessarily doing it!). The “Thomas Kilmann Conflict Inventory” is resourceful for people who want to understand conflict and why it perpetuates.

I can provide this assessment for you. Please contact me.

Appreciative Inquiry for Couples

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.

It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.

Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.

Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.

1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?

Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.

The Heaviest Emotion (David Ducklow)

This blog is from my son, David Ducklow who is now part of our counselling team. These words are from his blogspot, entitled “Grace & Peace To You.” You might want to sign up to get them regularly. Here are David’s thoughts on the heaviest emotion.

When I was at university, I would hear well-intentioned, married staff members talk about how singleness is a gift. But at the same time, you could hear a tinge of ‘poor you’ in their voices as they empathically looked at us, hoping that we would not remain this way for much longer. I was not impressed.

“Sure,” I thought, “maybe singleness is a gift. But if this is true, then loneliness must be a gift as well.”

At around this time I concluded that I was satisfied with the single life…  360 days a year. Except for days like February 14, December 24 and 25 and 31 and my birthday, I was alright with my non-marital status.

This is not a blog to solve the problems of single men and women, because we have no more or less problems than you or anyone else. We just need encouragement, someone to change the subject now and then, and a helping hand because loneliness is the heaviest emotion. And at one point or another, everyone needs to carry it.

Updated September, 2015.

A Memoir of a Marriage (Remix)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading; in fact I do not recommend it particularly. There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, and, of course,  we want the “problem” solved immediately. It really does take time to re-create what has been lost through ignorance or carelessness.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that your purpose is for concrete advice and direction and not just consolation. So get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. A therapeutic triangle is when the therapist stands outside of the marital dyad and observes, wonders and considers. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. The couple is really the expert on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends… and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. In my experience, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal.

This is pretty good advice, whatever you might think of the book. Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.

Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.