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The Relationship Café

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Real Change Requires Real Action

We’re a nation of aspirin and Prozac. We’re taking naturopathic remedies in historic quantities. We want to feel better and stop at little to achieve it—except for taking real action.

Why is it that we’re willing to buy aspirin, take antidepressants and even visit doctors, (who say a huge percentage of patient visits are psychosomatic in nature), yet are unwilling to make significant changes in lifestyle?

That is of course, a question each of us has considered. We want instant relief, quick fixes and easy remedies. On one hand we maintain fierce independence, wishing to solve our own problems, and on the other hand, want our doctors to make us well.

I see this same pattern as a Relationship Doctor. Couples frantically call me, indicating they are in serious distress.

However, when I prescribe significant change in how they interact, they balk. When I look at both partners and suggest changes in how they communicate to each other, they become defensive and resist change.

They don’t like it when I say, “Real change requires real action.” Or said another way, “A little change produces little results. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

No one wants to hear these words. They want promises of radical change and new life in their marriage. They want hope. They want promises of a brighter day—and I can give them that, if they are willing to make changes.

Here is a letter from a frustrated woman, tired of her life and marriage.
Dear Dr. David.

My husband and I have been married for five years. We have had a tough time from the beginning. We have a baby daughter, and my husband is insensitive to how she should be treated. He is rough with her, and insensitive to how fragile she is. He is harsh with her when she begins crying.

I have tried to talk to him about how harsh he is with our daughter, but he is defensive and says I’m overly protective. I don’t think I am, and am afraid now to leave her with him. I work part-time, and we have arranged our schedules so he can care for her. Now I don’t want to go to work because I’m not sure he’ll be careful with her.

I feel like my husband is backing me into a corner. If I can’t trust my husband to be caring and loving with my daughter, and he won’t work with me to make changes, what am I going to do? If he becomes defensive and yells back at me, how can I expect he will treat our daughter when frustrated with her? Now I don’t want any more children, and our marriage has problems. He wouldn’t agree and thinks I’m making a big deal out of nothing. What can I do? --Protective Mother

Dear Protective, There are several issues that need attention—and when I say need attention, I mean need immediate attention. A little bit of attention won’t do it. You must insist on real change. 

First, you note that your husband is harsh with your daughter. It is imperative that his harshness not take the form of child abuse or neglect. It is your responsibility to ensure that he can be trusted with your vulnerable and fragile daughter. While it will be a difficult conversation, you must let your husband know that he cannot harm your daughter in any way. 

Second, you indicate that you cannot talk to your husband about this sensitive issue. This is very concerning, because you need to communicate effectively about your daughter and other matters for the remainder of your marriage. I suggest insisting you and your husband enter counseling immediately to work on developing effective communication skills—to discuss this and other matters where you are likely to disagree. 

Third, practice disengaging from the power struggle with your husband. In other words, don’t argue with him. Don’t try to force him into anything, but rather invite him into talking about this problem, seeking a solution that is agreeable to both.

Don’t defend or debate with him, but rather seek cooperation. Ask him to cooperate with you, noting the importance of being “on the same page” when it comes to parenting. 

Fourth, look deeper into this problem. If you argue over parenting your daughter, chances are you battle over other issues as well. Take strong, decisive steps to change the way you relate to each other. Take another critical look at your relationship, noting other problems. Don’t settle for a quick fix in how you relate about your daughter. See this as an opportunity to change how you relate more globally. 

Finally, take communication and parenting classes, perhaps offered by your church, as a means of finding a parenting strategy that is agreed upon by both of you. These classes are invaluable in helping parents discover a parenting plan that works for both partners. This could also be an excellent way to diffuse the problem, allowing you both to adopt a parenting plan devised by a professional. Read the recommended book, practice the tools and techniques, and get excited together about learning effective ways to parent your daughter. 

I would love to hear from others who struggle co-parenting their children. What have you found effective in helping to parent consistently?

posted @ Tuesday, September 30, 2008 4:28 PM | Feedback (1)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Are You Enabling Weakness?

Codependence. We’ve heard about it, but it often takes forms we don’t quickly recognize.

It can take the form of settling for something we know in our hearts is wrong. It can take the form of saying ‘yes’ when we want to say ‘no.’ It can take the form of overlooking some troubling behavior, when inside our resentment grows.

What if your mate is engaged in some behavior that perpetuates a destructive pattern in your relationship? Perhaps you’ve said something, but then drop it because your words seem to fall on deaf ears. You confront a weakness, but then become discouraged when you meet with defensiveness. 

All of us have some situation in our lives we don’t like, but because of our codependency—our desire to please and keep the peace— we don’t say anything. Or, we don’t say enough. We settle for something we’d rather not settle for, but we do it anyway, enabling and reinforcing the destructive process. 

There are many different definitions for codependency. One of them is: seeing a weakness in another, ignoring it and thereby reinforcing it. Any time we “wink” at something destructive, we thereby reinforce it. Let me offer a few examples:

• Your mate is consistently dishonest, but you’re tired of fighting about it, so you shut up and live with it---codependency;

• Your mate has an annoying habit, but when confronted they deny or minimize it and you decide to ignore it -codependency;

• Your mate manipulates you into doing things you’d rather not do. You give in and feel angry—codependency;

• Your mate has an anger problem. You’ve tried to convince him/ her that they need help, but they disregard your advice. You decide to tiptoe and hope the problem gets better---codependency.

Do you see the pattern? It is so easy to slip into settling for things being the way they are, especially since your mate is in denial about their problem. To persist in naming a problem, and insisting on change is to invite trouble. What do you do?

Most of us shift into an uneasy alliance—we decide to try to live with things the way they are, but inside we die a little more every day.

A recent writer, separated from her husband, wonders when to demand change.

Dear Dr. David. I’ve been separated from my husband for the past year. He left because he was tired of our fighting. Even though I was angry at the time, I’ve since seen his point and have worked on my anger. I’m learning more effective ways of sharing my feelings. In the meantime, he hasn’t had any counseling and hasn’t worked on his part of the problem. 

The problem now is that he has no intention of coming back, at least not now. When I talk to him about coming home, he says he’s not ready. He won’t go to counseling, but doesn’t want a divorce either. He doesn’t want to see me very often, and says he’s not ready to work on our marriage. If I pressure him to go to counseling, he gets angry and then I don’t hear from him for weeks. Please help me decide what to do.

Dear Abandoned. Your situation is quite complicated and there are several things to consider. It will require wisdom to determine if your husband is using his time legitimately to recover from past hurts and wounds, or his separation has become something else.

First, you suggest that it was your fighting that led to the separation. Assuming that to be the case, and that you played a major role in it, you must be wise about giving your husband enough time to learn to trust you again. Thus, patience is important. However, patience can also lead to enabling a destructive process.

Second, you’ve worked on your anger and have made progress with it, but he is unwilling to do his part. It has been a year and your husband seems stuck—he is not willing to go to counseling or work on your relationship. This suggests something else is at play here—like resistance to working on himself. I wonder what is happening in his heart.

Third, you cannot work on your marriage if he refuses to see you. Your marriage is clearly suffering from his absence. He must be confronted with his defended position. If you are to remain married, you need him to put his feet back into the marriage circle by working on the marriage. This is a time to “speak the truth in love.”

Fourth, invite him to share about his reservations and arrive at an agreement that works for both of you. While he is entitled to have reservations, the marriage simply cannot survive if this distance and abandonment were to continue. Additionally, your separation, and how you handle it, is something you both should be discussing. There must be a mutual agreement.

Fifth, be careful about enabling a destructive process. If, after careful consideration, you decide your husband is avoiding looking closely at the issues, you must be firm with him. He must enter back into the marriage and the responsibilities that go with it. Failure to do so could lead to you initiating more serious action—such as a legal separation or even filing for divorce.

Finally, be sure to seek Godly counsel about this matter. There is such a fine balance between giving your husband space to work out his issues, and enabling an unhealthy process to continue. As you seek counsel, and courage, you will know when it is time to set a firm limit with him. 

What counsel would you give this woman? What challenges have you experienced in finding the line between patience and enabling? What decisions have you made? We’d love to hear from you.

posted @ Tuesday, September 16, 2008 10:17 AM | Feedback (10)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Don't Repeat the Same Mistakes

We are definitely creatures of habit. We do the same things, each and every day, often in patterned behavior. While as much as we espouse being flexible, resilient and adaptable, more often than not we behave the same every day. 

Living in rituals and structure can be a good thing. This provides stability and predictability to our lives. But, it can also be destructive, especially if we are caught in a web of dysfunctional behavior. Sometimes it takes experiencing distress, perhaps even significant distress, to realize that what we’re doing isn’t working. We must stand back, face our patterns, and take a more objective point of view. This was certainly the case of a man who wrote to me recently.

Dear Dr. David. When I first met my girlfriend she was still married, but separated from her husband. At that time she told me she no longer loved him and hadn’t seen him in a long time. Shortly after I met her, I helped her move out of her house and into a rental home. During this time I found out she was still seeing her husband and sleeping with him. She called me crying, telling me she was being abused by him. When I told her to have him arrested, she wouldn’t do it.
Over the past few months I’ve learned that my girlfriend’s ex is an alcoholic and abuses drugs. I learned about her ex’s history of horrible abuse. She always makes excuses for his behavior. While she promises not to see him, she feels pressured by him at times and gives in to his pressure. I don’t trust that she is finished with him, even though they are now divorced.

My girlfriend’s behavior is erratic and I don’t know if I can trust her not to see her ex. Even though she makes promises about her ex, she breaks them again and again. I’m not sure if I should believe her, and put my trust in her, or if I should run. She wants to stay involved with me, and becomes hysterical when I consider leaving. Please help me decide what to do.
     ---Caught in a Mess

Dear Caught,

 One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While we are most certainly not forced to repeat old patterns, we generally will do just that if we don’t experience some form of intervention—a spiritual, emotional or physical consequence that brings a new awareness to the situation. In other words, without some “hitting the bottom,” or epiphany, we continue with old, learned behaviors. 

There are many issues to consider in your question. 

First, your girlfriend doesn’t seem to be emotionally finished with her ex. While she claims to be finished and is legally divorced, she doesn’t appear to be emotionally divorced. She remains entangled with him, and thus she is not truly available to you. She is not emotionally free to pursue a new relationship. That puts you in a very precarious situation.

Second, your girlfriend exhibits very poor boundaries. Boundaries are something learned, and if we haven’t learned them—how we treat others and how we allow others to treat us—we’re in for a chaotic life. Your girlfriend’s involvement with her ex-husband not only exhibits poor boundaries, but very questionable judgment. If you remain involved with her, expect more trouble down the road.

Third, your girlfriend is probably not fully aware of her troubled behavior. While she may have moments of insight, she needs separation from both you and her ex, along with counseling, to truly examine her life. As she remains enmeshed with him and you, she is likely to continue to experience confusion. She needs understanding and wisdom that comes from objectivity. You can help give that to her by refusing to participate in her chaotic lifestyle. 

Fourth, while you hope things will be different, you have little reason to believe they will actually be different. Since the best predictor of the future is the past, and she continues to repeat old, troubled behavior, that is sadly what you can expect in the future. If you continue doing what you’re doing, without significant intervention, and expect different results from her, you’re going to be very disappointed. 

Fifth, you cannot stay with her out of guilt. While she needs and wants you, she needs to become healthy. She comes to you with much unfinished business, and if you continue to see her, you’ll be caught in her messy past. Point her in the direction of healing and lovingly step out of her life, at least for the time being. 

Finally, both you and she need to pull back and consider matters from a spiritual perspective. The Scriptures tell us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6) This certainly seems to be a time to pull back, allow your girlfriend to finish business with her ex, learn healthy boundaries, and then in time, determine if she is healthy enough to begin a new relationship. 

Please respond to this column. What would you do if you were in this man’s shoes? What counsel would you give him?

posted @ Tuesday, September 09, 2008 4:06 PM | Feedback (3)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Teenagers and Addiction

There are 22.6 million Americans addicted to drugs and alcohol. To say that America has a problem is an understatement. There are nearly 35 million families with children at risk for drug and alcohol addiction.

But what if this American tragedy strikes close to home? Specifically, what do you do if your son or daughter lapses into drug or alcohol addiction? This is a question facing far too many parents today.

There was a time when our greatest fear as parents was whether our children would flunk a class or get into a fight at school. We worried about them picking up bad habits, perhaps learning language that was didn’t fit our family values. Those are no longer our greatest fears. We now fear that our children will be among the statistics: the average age for a youth experimenting with illegal drugs is 14.5 years of age!

As parents, this ought to concern us. I explain in depth in my latest book, Breaking Everyday Addictions, that drugs, alcohol and other addictive activities and substances, steal our freedom. They lead to a downward spiral of loss: loss of health, loss of vitality, loss of relationships, loss of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Not only does teenage drug and alcohol addiction affect the teenager, but of course the entire family as well. Listen to a recent email from the mother of a daughter who is engaging in risky behavior, as well as involvement with drugs and alcohol.

Dear Dr. Hawkins. My husband and I are sick to death about what we see happening to our sixteen year old daughter. She has always been a good girl, but lately she has been hanging out with a bad crowd, and we suspect she is involved in drugs, alcohol and possibly sexual activity. Her grades have been dropping and she has developed an attitude against our authority. Please understand that this is all unusual for her as she has always been a very wonderful daughter.
My question is this: What can parents do to protect their children from these kinds of activities. We hate to see such a wonderful daughter turn to something that could change her life forever. Please offer help.
       --Troubled Mom

Dear Troubled.
Your concerns echo those of thousands of other parents watching their children make disastrous choices that often alter their lives. Let me offer several things to consider in regards to your daughter and what you can do as concerned parents.

First, I am glad that you and your husband are interested parents, concerned about your daughter’s welfare. I wish this were true of all parents. Your concern and involvement will certainly help your daughter, and at some level she appreciates your love and caring.

Second, your concern and involvement must lead to closer supervision. Know where your daughter is and what she is doing. Don’t be afraid to step in and assist your daughter in understanding that responsibility leads to freedom, while irresponsibility leads to less freedom. Make certain that you are reinforcing that principle. Learning the impact of violating boundaries now can save her from a lot of heartache later in life.

Third, ask questions. Talk to your teenager. Studies confirm that involved parents, those who ask questions, actually help their children make better choices. Fear of asking the tough questions won’t help your daughter. Communicate with her. Talk to her. Maintain a relationship with her.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to insist on random urinanalyses if you suspect drug and alcohol involvement. If your daughter is using illicit drugs, it is likely she will need treatment. Also, don’t be afraid to seek assistance from your local teen drug and alcohol treatment facility. Get information. Take your daughter with you to talk to the professionals. Know the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use and abuse.

Finally, maintain high moral and spiritual values in your home. The Scriptures are clear that when we “Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he (she) is old he (she) will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22: 6) These are powerful truths/ promises that will help you in the days ahead.

I’d like to hear from other parents. What would you like to tell these parents? What have you done that has helped or hurt your teenager?

posted @ Tuesday, September 02, 2008 2:14 PM | Feedback (4)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Myself, My Wife and Porn

I was reluctant to write another column on pornography, however, the emails keep coming in about the absolutely devastating impact this addiction has on marriages.

In my book, Breaking Everyday Addictions I note how sexual addictions are more rampant than anyone realizes. From men who have serial affairs, to those who are addicted to pornography, sexual addictions are particularly malignant and destructive to marriages. 

As with all forms of addictions, sexual addictions become secretive, are fraught with denial and minimization, and are progressive. Destructive behavior continues in spite of the positive intentions of the addicted person. No longer free to choose their behavior, they are instead driven by secret, shameful compulsions.

One of the most difficult aspects of sexual addictions concerns the issue of “coming clean.” The spouse of the sexual addict often wants to know the full extent of the addiction, and because of the very secretive nature of the addict, that information is either not forthcoming, or is not believed. The couple is left with rampant distrust.

Consider this recent email on the issue:

Dear Dr. Hawkins.  I am forty years old and have been married to the same woman for twenty years.  I went in and out of pornography for the first fifteen years of our marriage and was caught repeatedly at it.  I finally had victory over it because a friend of mine and I formed an accountability group.  That helped me immensely.  However, people stopped attending the group and it sort of fell apart.

Unfortunately, my oldest son got hooked on it, brought it into the house and the subject of porn became a constant subject between my wife and me.  We ended up asking him to leave the house.  But the temptation started again and I started viewing it on the web.  For six weeks I would view it, save sites and then erase the whole thing.  I even viewed bondage porn.  My wife caught me and as can be expected it was like dropping a hand grenade into our marriage.  I ended up going for counseling, contacting a very strong Christian man and asking him to allow me to be accountable to him, to which he agreed and put a Covenant Eyes program on my laptop to track what sites I looked at.  That all happened at the end of April.  The man who agreed to make me accountable told me that I had to put up with whatever she wanted to dish out for six weeks, the approximate time I'd spent dipping into and out of porn sites.  I did.  However, since then, she has vented in loud screaming, swearing at me, throwing books and plates, not at me, but across rooms and even now we have arguments that last for a day or two.  I was reading your articles on 'Crazymakers' and I think that some of the characteristics apply to both of us.  However, we just don't seem to be able to communicate calmly or respectfully.  She claims that I'm not interested in what she has to say. My perspective is she wants to be able to say anything, whether it is true or not, and not let me have a say.  She clings to every mistake I make and then whips me with it.  I know that I probably do the same things she does, but our arguments sometimes last for days and I feel emotionally drained. Help!

First things first. You need to deal with your sexual addiction. Take whatever steps are necessary, including the possibility of an inpatient program, or a community-based program such as Sexual Addicts Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery to deal effectively with your sexual addiction. You found some success with an accountability partner but this is not likely enough. Consider taking dramatic steps to recover from this serious problem. Until you do, your wife will remain distrusting, angry and resentful. 

Once you have dealt honestly with your addiction, complete with accountability, then you can work on your marriage. You cannot expect your wife to act rationally when there is incredible chaos, deception and destruction occurring in your home.
I’m also concerned that you talk as if you’re the victim, while expecting your wife to act like nothing terrible is occurring. She is the victim of incredible betrayal, deception and disrespect. You have relapsed again and again, undoubtedly making her feel betrayed again and again. Part of your recovery will be to make amends to her for your actions and assuring her you are serious about recovery.

This principle, incidentally, fits for any addiction. Wherever there is addiction—and our homes are plagued with everyday addictions—there is deception, excuse-making, rationalizing and other forms of unhealthy communication. Addiction breeds bondage, idolatry and “crazymaking.”

After you have fully faced the severity of your addiction, and taken steps toward healing, then I recommend marriage counseling to learn effective communication and conflict resolution skills. There is absolutely no reason to be fighting for days. Your wife may need to be involved in her own recovery program as well, simultaneous to your program.

Unfortunately, finding psychologists and specialists in this field may be somewhat difficult. Don’t give up. As you suggested, you may have to start your own chapter of SAA. Remember, half measures don’t change anything.
Addiction impacts everyone in the family. Both of you need to heal from the years of betrayal, and develop strategies for keeping your home free from pornography in the future. Understand that it will take time for your wife to trust you again, and she may need her own counseling to recover from your addiction and unhealthy patterns of communication she has learned. Thankfully, you both can recover and your marriage can be restored if you want it badly enough.

Please share your experience with this problem. Let others know what has been helpful to you. Are you aware of other programs helpful for sexual addicts and their mates? Feel free to contact me through my website for more information.

posted @ Thursday, August 28, 2008 4:41 PM | Feedback (8)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Accepting Yourself

Perhaps it is because I see so many people who are plagued with self-doubt, guilt and self-recrimination. It may be because so many of my clients slip easily into depression and hopelessness. For myriad reasons, people are terribly hard on themselves.

While I’m aware that many believe we are a self-absorbed nation, focused solely on doing whatever feels good at the moment, I’m also aware of so many people who, at their deepest level, don’t like themselves. 

Yes, this is an apparent contradiction. Self-centered people who don’t like who they are. Obsessed with meeting their every need and yet never satisfied. Perhaps it isn’t as much of a contradiction as we might imagine.

See if the following doesn’t fit you to some extent:

• Having so much, yet never satisfied;
• Enjoying physical comfort, yet always uneasy;
• Living longer, yet enjoying the years less;
• Having more opportunities for friendship, yet having fewer friends;
• Having more opportunities for work, yet enjoying your work less;
• Having greater access to counseling, yet feeling less happy.

The common denominator to the above list of symptoms is the lack of a general sense of well-being. So many of us feel that we don’t measure up, aren’t successful in our work, family or marital life. We have an underlying feeling of failure.

Consider this recent email from a woman clearly struggling with issues related to self-esteem:

Dear Dr. David. No matter what I do, I never feel like I do enough. No matter how much I perform at work, church or in my marriage, I never feel satisfied. I’m always afraid someone is or will be critical of me. The truth of the matter is that I’m critical of myself.

No surprise, but this isn’t a new feeling for me. I grew up feeling abandoned and neglected. I have fought my entire life to get rid of the feeling of not measuring up. Now, no matter what my husband or pastor tell me, I feel insecure. Is there any hope for me?

 --Low On Myself

Dear Low,
Sadly, you’re rejection as a child is still having a profound impact on your as an adult. Many who have experienced profound neglect as children carry feelings of insecurity and inadequacy into adulthood. That’s the bad news.
Now for the good news. Like the saying goes, ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’ What that means is we can, as adults, learn to accept ourselves. We can, especially with God’s help, accept ourselves, treat ourselves with value and see ourselves through God’s eyes of love. 

Let me offer a few more specific suggestions.

First, get into counseling. You need to talk about the rejection you experienced and specifically, the lies you have come to believe. For example, you may be carrying around a message that nothing you do is good enough. You will need to combat those lies and discover the truth—that you are good enough, not because of anything you do or don’t do, but because you are a child of God’s. 

Counseling can also help in giving back the shame you may be carrying from your parents. While our goal is not to blame parents, it is important to let go of feelings of shame you may have picked up from them. As the saying goes, “That’s not my stuff!”

Second, make an asset inventory. Each of us has been created with unique talents, none identical to others. What are your unique strengths? What can you do that few others can do? You may have to think hard about this, but I’m sure with a little help you can smile at your unique attributes. We aren’t encouraged often enough to celebrate ourselves, but remind yourself that God delights in us!

Third, give up comparisons. Comparisons kill. Any time we compare ourselves to others, we will find others better at something, and of course some who are worse. The key is to discover your unique, God-given abilities and spiritual gifts and embrace them. See Romans 12 and read about the gifts of the Spirit. 

Fourth, associate with those who build you up. There are those who steal our joy and those who give us joy. There are those who put us down, and those who build us up. Hang out with those who build you up and celebrate you.  

Finally, forgive yourself, again and again. You are only human and have undoubtedly made a lot of mistakes. It is important to remember that we’ve all made mistakes—in fact, we all make mistakes every day. No one’s mistakes are worse than others. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3: 23) In spite of our shortcomings, we are loved infinitely by God. 

I’d like to hear from others. How have you coped with chronic feelings of low self-esteem? What has helped you overcome them?

posted @ Tuesday, August 19, 2008 11:58 AM | Feedback (11)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Controlling Woman

When it comes to issues of control, we most often think about men being the controllers and women being the victims of that control. While I believe that men are often guilty of being controlling, I receive many emails from men who feel controlled by their mates. 

Are these isolated examples of controlling women, or are there more cases than we might want to admit? It’s a topic that is understandably uncomfortable because it flies in the face of our gender stereotypes—men being more dominant and women being more passive. 

While I’m not prepared to offer any generalizations on the topic, I do want to respond to some of the emails I receive from men who feel their mate has issues with control. I’ve received many responses from my book, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, where I outline traits of Control Freaks. 

Let’s review some of the traits of the Control Freak:

• Black and white thinking
• Control of conversation
• Must be “right”
• Attempt to prove you wrong
• Rewrite history to make their point
• Use of intimidation
• Rigid
• Coercion and forced agreements
• Shaming

Control Freaks are not only domineering, but tenacious as well. They are like a bulldog with a bone—there is absolutely no way you will dissuade them from their point of view. Any attempt to do so will only lead to frustration on your part. They are relentless, narrowly focused, and doggedly determined.

We might expect a man to have these characteristics. But, what if these traits fit a woman? Is it even possible for a woman to have these traits?

Consider this email message from one woman:

Dr. David,
I read your article about the Control Freak and I noticed that a lot of what you wrote was me!  Now I am worried that I have caused my husband to shut down when it comes to his feelings and point-of-view. When trying to figure out where this destructive behavior stems from it seems that I grew up in an environment with the same type of behavior.  How can I reverse this, so that my husband can feel comfortable and open with me?
     ---Recovering Control Freak

 Dear Recovering,

I am impressed that you are taking responsibility for behaviors that are destructive to both you and your marriage. You notice, appropriately, that your controlling behavior has probably caused your husband to shut down emotionally. In fact, controlling behavior and attitudes will do just that—cause others to feel unsafe in our presence. They will hold back from sharing their feelings and opinions because those feelings and opinions will not be safe from judgment, and no one wants to be judged. 

What can you do now? You have taken a huge first step by acknowledging the behavior. While it may be important to understand where you learned such behaviors, it’s more important that you practice reversing thse patterns—what I call pattern interruption.

Practice the opposite of controlling behavior, which is accepting attitudes and behavior. Share your sincere apology with your husband and let him know you are endeavoring to be more accepting, tolerant and filled with grace. Encourage him to tell you when you step across his boundaries, and create a space in your relationship for forgiveness and growth. 

Are there other women who believe they have been controlling? What have you done to rectify the situation?

posted @ Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:22 PM | Feedback (15)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Balance Pleasing Others and Yourself

Many seem to feel the freedom to tell us what we ought to think, how we ought to behave and even what we ought to feel. They know what’s best for us and exactly how we should live our lives. 

These people are not evil, and I doubt that they have bad intentions. They are our sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers, neighbors and sit next to us in church. Having questionable boundaries, and believing they have special insight into our lives, they share freely with us.

Unfortunately, our boundaries are often no better. Being confused, we allow people to overly influence our decisions. We want their approval, and in some cases are desperate for it. We live from the outside in, according to other’s expectations, rather than from the inside out, according to our authenticity.

Living codependently, our minds get muddled. We become more confused about what we think, feel and want.

Sometimes we even feel guilty tuning into our own desires, feeling selfish for having them. Hearing so many voices, we can’t distinguish those coming from ourselves, others or God. Simply put, there are too many people in our heads. 

A recent email summarized many of these issues:

Dr. Hawkins,
Your comments on people pleasing and living from the inside out stirred me. Your book, “When Pleasing Others is Hurting You” has challenged me. I am growing away from being a people pleaser, but it is painful changing your MO…at times.  Thank God for the Holy Spirit.

Growing up my parents fought every day of their marriage, and moving many times in several years while living with my family does not exactly create an emotionally stable situation. But, being the oldest of 4 siblings I learned to cope and hide my feelings…we had no feelings or opinions growing up.  My Dad had all the opinions, and believed he knew every thing. And, was a very critical person toward my Mom, outsiders and generally everything.

My question:  What do you mean by “living from the inside out rather than the outside in"? When do you know you’re out of balance when serving others versus people pleasing?

Dear Confused,

 You are part of a huge number of people who were raised just like you—to please others. You were raised to keep quiet, watch out for conflict and protect yourself, because no one was going to protect you. 

Tragically, like many others, you weren’t taught that you were a precious child of God’s, One who knew you and loved you even while you were in your mother’s womb. (Psalm 137) You weren’t taught how to keep yourself safe, or how to honor your feelings and thoughts. Instead, you survived by tuning into others and learning to be sensitive to feelings outside yourself. 

Recovering from codependency is much harder than it first appears. If you’ve lived a long time silencing your own thoughts and feelings, bringing them back to life can be a difficult task. Honoring your individuality and authenticity can be a daunting prospect—but it is possible. 

There are several steps to recovering from people pleasing:

One, practice listening to your own thoughts and feelings. Make a point of acknowledging your feelings, remembering that God created us with feelings, and they are legitimate ways of perceiving what is happening in our life. Feelings are e-motions---energy in motion—and can be harnessed to help us make decisions. (See my book, The Power of Emotional Decisionmaking.)

 Two, share your thoughts and feelings with others. Practice sharing your thoughts about things. Practice saying ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ or even ‘I disagree’ or ‘I agree with you.’ These simple practices will strengthen your individuality. 

Three, practice being in prayer. Your relationship with God is a powerful way to know what is right and true in your life. Listen to the voice of God, and what God has to say to you on matters in your life. 

Four, set boundaries. Don’t allow others to tell you what to think, how to feel or what to do. While you want to respect others, and live in harmony with them, this does not mean you have to be a clone of them or allow others to rule your life. 

Fifth, respect others as well as yourself. Practice respecting other’s boundaries. Don’t tell others what to think, how to feel or what to do. Allow them the integrity to make their own decisions, offering counsel only when invited to give it.
 Finally, don’t be confused about people pleasing. We’re never called to please others. We are called to be at peace with others, to encourage and respect them and to show them honor. We are not called to compromise our values in order to get their approval. 

I’d like to hear from others who are trying to set healthy boundaries. How are you doing with it? What are the challenges and what are the benefits?



posted @ Tuesday, July 29, 2008 4:02 PM | Feedback (3)

Monday, July 21, 2008

When You Hate Your Daughter's Date

Parents have a challenging task—to raise children in a loving environment with Godly values and to the point where they have their own wings, and then to let go and watch them fly. 

But what if your children struggle, flounder and lose altitude in their flight? Worse yet, what if they rebound back into the nest? What should parents do then? 

These are incredibly difficult questions. When children grow up and leave home we, as parents, are forced to let them go. But, when they struggle and maintain dependence on us, well beyond their youth, our job title becomes murkier? Boundaries are muddier. We become unclear about how much counsel we can rightly give, what kind of limits we can legitimately set and exactly what our role should be. 

In a recent email the parent of a grown daughter asks what to do if his daughter is dating an egotist. He shares his feelings of confusion about his role, given that his daughter is still living in their home, but is old enough to make her own decisions. He and his wife watch her making mistake after mistake, yet feel helpless to intervene.

Dear Dr. David. I’ve been reading your book, “Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life,” and fear that my twenty-five year old daughter is dating an egotist. He is full of himself, thinks only of his needs and treats our daughter badly. He’s older than she is and has been married before and has children from another marriage. Our daughter has never been married.

My wife and I believe this man uses our daughter who has come back to live with us. When we try to talk to her about what we see, she become defensive. While she seems to love him, we don’t think he is good for her. In spite of everyone’s advice, she keeps trying to make this impossible relationship work. She works much harder at saving their relationship than he does. But, what can we do? She ignores our advice and in fact seems to resent it. As her parents, is there anything we can do to help her with this relationship? It is so hard to watch a child you love continue on a path of destruction. Why does someone stay in a destructive relationship? Any advice would be appreciated.

Your letter is certain to interest many readers, especially parents who have “boomerang” kids and those trapped in destructive relationships. Your daughter appears to be both a “boomerang” kid as well as one who is involved in a destructive relationship. What can parents in similar situations do?

First, we must remember that our grown children are responsible for their own lives. While it is easy for us to look over their shoulders and second-guess their choices, they are the ones responsible for their actions. Your daughter may, sadly, need to learn some difficult lessons before letting go of this destructive relationship.

Second, while we may view their choices as destructive, this reaction may be simplistic. In other words, there may be more to your daughter’s relationship than meets the eye. Is it possible that her boyfriend has some wonderful traits that you’re overlooking? You are focused on the destructive aspects to their relationship and may miss some of their positive qualities.

Third, destructive relationships can be particularly binding. Research suggests there is a dynamic known as “trauma bonding” that occurs in relationships that have a mixture of very positive and very negative qualities. These relationships can be very strong, in a negative way. It may be that your daughter is caught in the throes of an abusive relationship. Sadly, it may take her hitting some kind of bottom before she lets go of him.

Fourth, since she is in your home, you still can set some limits on her. You have the right to determine such issues as curfew and behavior within the home. You should not be expected to tolerate any abusive behavior that occurs in your home, to you or to your daughter. Should your daughter fail to abide by your boundaries, you may have to ask her to leave.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of setting a positive example for your daughter. As you exemplify a loving relationship between you and your wife, her mother, you provide a power example that will impact your daughter. You can pray for her and be available to her for counsel when she hits the hard times that seem to be inevitable.

We would love to hear how others have handled both “boomerang” kids, as well as giving counsel to adult children who are making poor decisions. What works and what doesn’t?

posted @ Monday, July 21, 2008 4:26 PM | Feedback (3)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Can Fairy Tales Come True?

There is something very appealing about fairy tales. We all want to believe that Cinderellas can become princesses, and that men can become White Knights, saving damsels in distress. 

But, fairy tales are just that—fairy tales. Or are they? 

Is it possible to learn something from fairy tales? Is there something in these stories that holds out hope for us when we’re feeling discouraged? Are there possibilities hidden in the magical language that might serve as reminders of what we can be and do, if given the chance. 

Recently a young woman wrote, sharing her discouragement about her new marriage. Having been married only a few months, you’ll read about her loss of innocence and questions about the dreams she once held for her marriage. 

Dear Dr. David. I have only been married a few months and already I’m questioning whether or not I made the right decision. My husband treated me very special before we got married, but soon after he began to change. Instead of treating me like a princess, he began to take me for granted and treat me like a slave. He expects things to be done for him, and doesn’t recognize all I do. 

I have tried to talk to him about how I feel, but he doesn’t seem to get it. He doesn’t think he has changed, but I can tell you for certain that he has. When I ask him to help around our house, he complains and says he is too tired. When I ask him to take me out for dinner or a date, he says he is too tired. 

My question for you is this—is this what I can expect from marriage? Some of my friends tell me ‘the honeymoon is over,’ and to face it. Others tell me the honeymoon never has to end. Which do you think is true? I need some answers. 
-- Discouraged

 Dear Discouraged. You’re talking to a hopeless romantic who never thinks the honeymoon has to end. While there are certainly changes that take place after a couple has been married a while, there are ways to keep the spark alive and burning brighter than ever. A husband can always be made to feel like a prince, and a wife can always be made to feel like a princess. 

 One of the things that jumped out at me in your note was the fact that your husband is tired. Tiredness and exhaustion are absolute killers to a marriage. We need energy to create enthusiasm and excitement about a relationship. Without energy, we’re like a car running on fumes. We have just enough energy to take care of the necessities, and little energy for the extras in our life.

So many marriages are drying up because of two tired, irritable people coming home at the end of the day, with nothing left to give to one another. String together a few months of this kind of monotony and you’ll have a marriage heading swiftly for trouble. 

Having said that, there are other concerning indicators in your note. I wonder about each of your expectations. Does your husband value romance? What were his expectations for after the marriage? Did you two talk about those expectations?
 Many men founder in the “love making” category because they don’t have a clue about what romance looks like. While they’ve seen a few Chick Flicks, these are hardly “how to” guides on being loving with their mates. Sadly, men need to be taught, encouraged and even expected to bring more to the table than a paycheck.

It’s time for a serious “heart to heart” conversation with him. You will need his undivided attention. He must know the seriousness of this conversation. He must know that you mean business. Ask for his attention in a clear, calm but convicting manner. 

Choose a time when he has some energy, and once you have his attention, share your expectations with him—specifically. Be prepared with a simple list of things you’d like in your marriage that would make you both feel special. You may have to be the impetus in this matter—but don’t be thrown off by that. Many men will step up to the plate once they know they must. Given the right set of instructions, men can learn how to be better romantics. 

So, get out your list. Make it simple. Take the lead. Be romantic yourself and encourage him to enjoy the marriage. Encourage movement in the right direction. Avoid criticism and scolding as these are likely to push him away. Catch him doing things right, and get some momentum going. Prepare for some increased sizzle in your marriage. 

So, what have others done to renew the spark in a dying marriage? How have you gotten your man to see romance as more than hot dogs and a soft drink at a baseball game? I’d love to hear from you.

posted @ Tuesday, July 08, 2008 5:05 PM | Feedback (5)