Thursday, February 23, 2017

Can counseling actually help a marriage?

Some marriages, yes. If you love each other (as Carol and I do), and if you genuinely want your marriage to work better (ditto), and you’re willing to ’fess up to your own shortcomings so that you can learn and grow (which we do, somewhat), then yes. I’ll give an example of how this can work, from the life of an anonymous young couple:
The couple loved each other very much. Yet, when the wife spent a weekend at a women’s retreat (away from her new husband) she realized that she felt freer and happier at the retreat; she did not look forward to returning home. Her husband wanted/expected her to do XYZ (or so she thought), and although she didn’t like it much, and he knew it (or so she thought), she felt she should.

(XYZ isn’t relevant, though it’s not anything you couldn’t tell your kids.)

How much did the husband want his wife to XYZ? How aware was he of her feelings about it? There were other issues, but as I heard the story, someone at their church recommended a certain counselor, and they went for a series of visits. There they learned a technique for resolving an issue; it worked like this:

You agree on some object—this salt-shaker, say. One person, say the wife, goes first: while holding the salt-shaker, she is allowed to share her perception of events, her feelings, etc. As long as it’s the wife’s turn, her husband is not allowed to speak, except to clarify and confirm his understanding of what his wife said, for example:
So you’re saying that when I spend $_____ on a new ________ without discussing that with you first, you feel ________—is that right?
Once the wife is satisfied that her husband understands her concern, she places the salt-shaker back on the table, and their roles are reversed.
The technique brought better mutual understanding, peace, and happiness to this couple. Could they have read about the technique in a book or magazine, or on a blog? Sure they could have, but there are about 30,000 such techniques out there. The counselor didn’t give them 300 or 30 or even 10 techniques; they got one technique to try, and it worked well for them.
Several years later, their marriage is much stronger and happier. Whether they use that particular technique today I have no idea, but I’m certain they could, should the need arise.

Another example comes from our own lives, and I’ll try to summarize. Carol and I got into a huge fight. It was hurtful and demoralizing for both of us. She felt hurt by something I said, then she said something that made me crazy, and I said things I should not have said… we saw our counselor a couple days later.

Penny asked me to explain what happened from my perspective, to share my perceptions. So I said how we had decided upon something a few weeks earlier, and on Saturday Carol said something related to it, and I answered thus and so (based on our earlier decision).

It later came out that she felt unhappy about this, for other reasons that I didn’t understand. But when she expressed her feelings to me early Monday morning, I felt sorely vexed and said things that were unhelpful, and she felt even unhappier. I was getting more and more upset, I said, and I saw this was going nowhere, so I apologized loudly and repeatedly, and fled to work. En route, I listened to the daily prayer from and asked God for help. (As I recall, the reading was from Genesis 1, including “Let there be light,” and I prayed for light to shine in my dark heart.) There’s more, but I think that’s enough to give a general idea of the conflict.

How does a counselor help? The first thing is that we were under adult supervision, and we also wanted to make the session as productive as possible. Consequently, we did our best to be calm and rational. After I recounted my perception of events, Carol explained a few things. (When at Penny’s, we try especially hard not to interrupt each other.) Penny suggested some changes in the way we say certain things. Carol asked if a particular wording change would help, and I said it probably would. I requested that certain things not be said, and Carol agreed. (She really had no idea of the effect some phrases have on me.)

Penny encouraged me to tell Carol that I never intend to push her out of her comfort zone. When I did that, I added, “and I know, when I remember to think of it, that you never intend to do that to me.”

It’s important for Carol that she hear those things; it’s also important for me that I say them. As Merton writes, “we become real by telling the truth.”

We left Penny’s office with hopeful hearts, and have got along more smoothly since then.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 20:5 that The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (2011 NIV)

So a trained counselor has insight that can illuminate what’s going on. She or he may have techniques that can be conveyed. The office provides an environment where all parties do their best to be calm and rational (the clock is ticking and money is being spent). Another thing about the office is this: once you have a few successful talks there, your mind will think of it as a place of hope and calm.

For all those reasons, a counselor can indeed be very helpful for a couple who desire to love and understand each other better.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

a disturbing parable

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
What do you think? A man had two sons. One son said, "Biggest crowd in school history at my speech today!"

The other son said, "How could that be? A third of the students were home sick with the flu."

The first son said, "And as soon as I started speaking, the rain stopped!"

The second son replied, "But I saw the video; rain continued to fall during your speech."

If these were your boys, what would you do? If one of them were running for political office, would you vote for him? If he won the election, what would you think and feel?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

We have sinned, and the world suffers

Today's “This American Life” portrayed life at a transit center in Kenya shortly after Donald T signed his travel ban but before it was put on hold. “George” was leading what Ira Glass referred to as “the worst town hall meeting ever” because each person would stand up, say something horrible, and George would have to acknowledge that it is a bitter pill but the boss changed in the US, and the boss decided this, and that's “final for me, final for IOM (the refugee agency), final for you. We cannot do anything about it,” George says.

What kind of horrible things? One man had been in the refugee camp for 26 years, and within the past few weeks finally got his approval to come to the United States. He bought clothes on credit (how much credit? Over a month’s pay for the most highly-paid person in camp!) and now how can he repay the shopkeeper? This man’s travel permission will expire well before the initial 120-day period, and he would have to reapply, putting his dream on hold for perhaps years. Another man declined offers to settle in Canada and Germany(?) because he was set on coming to the United States. Full citizenship was on offer from Canada, I think. How he must rue his faith in us!

I listened to George as he addressed these refugees. He told the debtor that he would have to talk to the shopkeeper and explain what happened, and tell him that he would work to repay him. “That is something explainable to anyone,” he said. I thought about how terrible it must be for him to have to deal with the tremendous disappointment, and I have to say he's got my respect. I thought, “Here's a Real Man, so unlike the adolescent in our White House. We are so impoverished here in America,” and I just started weeping. How did we do this to ourselves? Not just to ourselves, but to the world? And I remembered this:

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame--the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you ….

from Daniel 9:4–11
We are a nation racked by violence and injustice; we have racism and sexism and ageism and lookism; we have not embraced the alien and the orphan and the widow and the poor as we should. And so God says to us, as he did to the Laodiceans:
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:17
Lord have mercy on us, and not on us only, but also on the world that you love better than we do.