Life as A Disposable Container

My husband offered me this analogy as I described feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

“You feel like a container.” 

He described what a container does:  

It holds things. 

It delivers things. 

It keeps things together.  

Containers are spaces for nourishment, growth, and possibility. 

As I listened, I thought, “I am grateful to be a container. I am good at being a container.

For me, my containing included listening, creating, nurturing, and joining parts. 

It seemed such a privilege and one that I delighted in. 

It also seemed like my calling. 

My gift. 

And yet, the reason I was feeling yucky was that I realized that containers were discarded.

Beyond my utility, do people love me? Am I lovable if I am not useful?


Over the past 8-months, and since I had resigned from my position as The Director of a city-wide ministry, I found myself processing new emerging emotions. 

For eight years, I breathed life and nurtured INSPIRE to carry out the mission of uniting Christian women together in heart and purpose.

The ministry had been fruitful.

Through the years of retreats and meetings, women formed small friend groups and deepened existing friend circles.  

Hundreds of women showed up to worship together and be encouraged by God’s word and community. 

Those who joined our leadership team considered it a privilege and delight. 

Even a few members of my leadership team had formed close friendships that surpassed the space of INSPIRE. 

The ministry was accomplishing its mission,  yet why did I feel alone for so many years?

My thoughts about myself in relation to INSPIRE seemed only to be part of a more significant equation, as my ideas about other roles I had amplified these feelings. 

I had teenagers now, and my role was shifting as a mom. 

The strokes I received from little kids who thought I knew everything and loved me on my worst day, diminished as my children moved into healthy teenage cognitive and emotional development, which included questioning and not appreciating your parents. 

With a new COVID lifestyle and teens who stayed up later, it became much more challenging to connect intimately as husband and wife.

All of these things contributed to the thoughts I was having that made me feel isolated, even among people. 

As a mom, wife, business owner, neighbor,  therapist,  life coach, and friend, I found myself holding space for others. 

Many relied on me for things they needed, yet I found I relied on very few.

Lately, I didn’t feel seen, appreciated, or loved.  

I found myself becoming weary of all the space I was holding.  

I didn’t feel inspirational.  

I joked (before Rich came up with the container analogy) that I had a fake diagnosis PLLD: Post Leadership Loneliness Disorder.

What I was feeling is pretty standard when you hold space for teams, employees, and participants.  

As a leader, you sometimes believe everyone else can drop the ball but you. 

And not only can you not drop your balls, but you must also pick up the balls other’s drop. 

The problem with holding space for others, if you don’t see that you have someone holding space for you,  your arms get tired. 


Although I found this container analogy comforting as it helped me find the words to what I was feeling, there was something that didn’t feel right.  

The comparison seemed accurate, and yet it seemed to reveal a pretense I was living under. 

I had fallen into the trap of thinking that I contained others’ things, and yet the only thing God called me to contain was His Spirit. 

I think this is what we call preoccupation with self.  

God had not called me to fix people, create things, solve problems, or get things done. 

He had called me to be loved and to be a catalyst for his Spirit to flow.  

That was it. 

It wasn’t about me. 

And when I got caught up in containing the wrong thing (anything but his Spirit), I began to block the flow of the Spirit. 

God’s spirit is dynamic, moving, transformative, living, breathing, and powerful.  Like a raging river, it flows endlessly, changing the space it passes through.

We do not hold space and contain the feelings, thoughts, or problems of people and organizations. 

Yes, we can, but when we do, we grow weary.  


I remembered as a child, praying, “Lord, make me a vessel.” 

In my youth, I longed to be used by God.  

I wanted to be in the middle of where he was working for His glory and honor.

And yet here I was feeling despondent because I was a disposable vessel. 

Yet, isn’t that the gift God offers us? 

He offers to fill us from the inside out. 

We, who are fragile jars. 

We, who are simply pots he formed. 

He offers to fill us with Himself!

II Corinthians 4 informs us that we are jars of clay.  

However, we do not contain people, problems, or matters of the flesh.

We do not hold space for organizations.  

We do not bring things together or deliver results.  

We are not even essential.

Had I forgotten?

As a container, my flesh is breakable, temporary, fleeting, unattractive, and unassuming.

What I contain as a believer and servant of Christ is the treasure of  HIM.  

This is good news!

I Corinthians 4, futher goes onto tell me that I am a container for his extraordinary power. 

He pours out of me.  

A broken vessel.

My flesh is disposable.  

And that’s okay. 

His glory is forever. 

And my spirit will dwell with him forever!

His love for me is everlasting.

And it is enough. 

It’s always about Him. 

Never about me. 

And so, I had to repent of  “me-ism”: My desire to be a beautiful container adored and held in high regard, rather than delighting that I am a disposable vessel where God dwells. 


For the past several weeks, I have moved from a place focusing on “my needs” and “loneliness”  to a place of repentance and worship.

I thought all my giving over the years had left me feeling weary, when, in reality, it was my forgetting that the giver, creator, and healer was always and only the Lord, not me.

The problem wasn’t what I suspected. It was not that I had overlooked myself; instead, I relied too much on myself. 

When our eyes are not entirely focused on Christ, it’s easy to see our brokenness rather than the extraordinary power we hold.  

It is easy to think we are holding things together when the reality is, he is holding us together. 

It is way more energizing to focus on Jesus than your contribution to the world.

As I repented and reoriented my perspective, I remembered Moses. 

For the Israelites to prevail in the battle they were fighting, Moses could not lower his arms. 

And yet this clay jar was growing physically weak.  

And so Aaron and Hur came aside Moses and not only did they hold up his arms, they found a rock and placed it under him so he could sit.  

Because we are broken, temporary, and fallible, we need others in our life that support us in our vision of lifting the name of Jesus. 

Self-sufficiency and people-pleasing get in the way of this. 

We need friends to come beside us and lift us when we feel weak and lose vision. 

As  I was suffering PLLD believing I was alone in carrying out my calling,  I asked the Lord for help, and he brought a few faithful friends to step beside me and hold up my arms. 

They even offered a rock for me to sit on. 

And when they did,  I kept my arms raised to heaven experiencing victory in my soul. 

Getting my eyes off my weariness, and the equally broken vessels surrounding me, the power of the Holy Spirit began to rush through my weary spirit and body like a raging cleansing river of life.  


I am a container. 

Fragile. 

Insufficient.

Disposable.   

However, this jar of clay contains an extraordinary power. 

WHEN TO GIVE UP (WITHOUT THROWING IN THE TOWEL)

If wanting so much from our husbands and our marriages we lose our sense of humor and good nature, then let us give it up.

Sometimes we need to try in a way that it does not all depend on us.  What our husband does and doesn’t do is a heavy load to bear! What if you gave up trying to change him and focused on changing you?

But you don’t know my husband.  He should not be acting this way.  He is wrong,

What if you gave up being right, examined all the ways you are wrong, and set loving boundaries if need be?

Boundaries are things YOU do when someone else behaves in a certain way.  It is different than setting an ultimatum. It does not focus on changing the other person. It actually allows the person to be who they are and do what they do, but it focuses on  what you will do.

This boundary comes from a place of love and respect.  It is kind. It isn’t haughty or right.

The work we must do is one of allowing others free will and exercising our free will.

When we let go of wanting to control another human being or think we know how they should best behave, we set our-self and our marriage free. We free up energy. We free up life.

When we give up without throwing in the towel, we start to try in a way that it does not all depend on us.  We tap into all the love that we already have as daughters of The KING.  Knowing we have all we need, we simply love.

YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS SIMPLY YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON

Many of us dreamed of falling in love.  We dreamed about it as though it were something that would happen to us.   We imagined another person would be so compelling that meeting them would make our life complete.

What if I told you that your experience with another person only consisted of your thoughts? In other words, your relationship was just a string of sentences in your head. The relationship was not something outside of you.  “Falling in Love” was not an event.

We do not actually “fall in love.” (Sorry to burst the magic of romance).  We simply meet someone and we experience thoughts about them that make us feel certain things.  It is the things that we think that make us feel love, desire or delight. 

So it’s not the person.  It’s the thoughts.  Our brain is the filter in which we take in the world and other people. What we think creates our feelings.  Someone is lovable, not because of who they are or what they have done, but because of how we think about them.

What are some feelings you had for your husband in the early days of your relationship (attracted, interested, curious, amused)? What thoughts made you feel those things?

SEPARATE LIVES (LIVING UNDER THE SAME ROOF)

There is a marriage certificate with both of your names on it.  You still share a bed (or maybe that is debatable).  You have kids together.  You certainly have the same roof over your head.  

And yet, you feel like separate lives.

When you feel isolated, lonely or disappointed it impacts how you show up as a wife. 

You think you are feeling those things because of something your husband is doing or not doing. However, you are actually feeling those things because of what you are thinking about his actions.  Your thoughts create the feelings that lead to inaction on your part.

When we quit turning toward our partner, stop asking how their day was, cease to feel curious about their inner world, and continue to build evidence that they are unlovable, we will experience our relationship as two separate lives living under the same roof.

The good news is, nobody can tell you what to think.  You get to think whatever you want about your husband.  The thoughts you currently have  are just your thoughts—they are not facts. 

When you open yourself up to the idea that you can choose different thoughts about your husband, only then can you begin to create new feelings about your relationship.  And when you create new feelings about your relationship, then you can change how you show up.

When you show up 100%,  you change your experience from “we are two separate lives living under the same roof” to an experience of “I am connected to my man.”  

FOR THE ANTI-ENTHUSIASTIC

Have you lost that loving feeling? Do you lack interest or concern about your man?

I don’t care.

Forget about it.

Oh well.

You vacillate from caring deeply to total apathy.

Indifference.

You neglect yourself. And you neglect your relationship.

If you find yourself avoiding, ignoring, escaping or hiding from your life and your marriage, you are probably caught in the pit of apathy.

Apathy is the suppression of all emotions.  It may be disguised as self care, R&R, taking a break. Yet we are not refueling ourselves. We are only hiding.

It seems easier to not care, and yet the cost is incredibly high.  Apathy leaves us feeling stuck and alone.

The opposite of being apathetic is being completely disciplined.

Discipline organizes, plans and cares for that which it values.  Indifference however is unorganized, unintentional, chaotic, messy and unpredictable.

Extreme discipline and care allow for growth, paving the way for freedom.  Discipline allows a relationship to flourish.

Discipline, intentionality and structure is  not trying to control your man and everything around you.  Rather, it says, “This relationship is important.  I care about it.  I find time and deliberate ways to honor my relationship.”

When you are unhappy and turn to apathy for relief, you may end up finding yourself in a cave of depression and isolation. 

But what if there were another way?

What if you sensed your unhappiness in the relationship and saw it as part of living in a fallen imperfect world?

​What if you used the unhappiness as a bridge to greater faith and deeper intimacy?

The truth is, you can change your life by taking responsibility.  Apathy says we have no control and are powerless. But we know this is a lie of the enemy.  II Timothy 1:7 tells  us, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. “

You are powerful my sister! Be loved, be bold and be disciplined as you care for this marriage you have been blessed with. 

MORE THAN ENOUGH

Have you ever “loved” from a place of lack?  If so, the result is probably feeling depleted, exhausted, maybe even bitter or resentful.  It is hard to give what we don’t have.  We don’t accomplish what we intended when we give from a place of not having.

Now imagine you have been given all these things in abundance:

  • Encouragement
  • Comfort
  • Partnership
  • Tenderness
  • Compassion

When we give from a place of having more than enough,  the result of giving is having more than we gave away. Our giving produces good feelings, multiplying as it goes forth.

Maybe you believe your partner does not give you the encouragement, tenderness and compassion you desire.  However, what if you already had all that you needed and did not look to your husband to supply this need?

If you are a believer, you have been given love, comfort and partnership in ample supply.  You have a full tank at your disposal.  You have more than enough.

What if the real problem is that you were tapping into the wrong supply line?

As the daughter of The King you have a power supply from :

The one who owns the cattle on the hills

The one who created man out of dust

The one who perfectly knit you together in your mother’s womb

The one who has assigned you your portion and your cup

The one who secures your lot

His provision is:

Enough

Generous

Abundant

He has united us with Him and gives us encouragement, comfort, common sharing in the Spirit, tenderness, and compassion (Philippians 2).  Because of this abundant reserve, we can be like-minded having the same spirit of love.  Because of what he gave us, we can:

  • Love our husband
  • Look to the interests of our husband
  • Humbly value our husband as our-self

We don’t love out of fear in an effort to gain favor. We don’t do “loving things” compelled by guilt because “we should”.  We don’t love from a place of lack.

We love with no strings attached. 

We love because Christ first loved us and does so in abundance (He was willing to die for us). When we tap into this truth, our love flows gently and liberally.

NOTHING BUT A BIG RACKET

You can do amazing things.  Complete great feats. Follow the rules to the tee. 

Yet without love it doesn’t matter. 

People stay in marriages because it’s the “right thing to do”. And sometimes they are bitter, unkind, discontent and unhappy. 

God always starts with our hearts. He wants to transform them. He starts there, not on the outside.  Our interaction with the world must come from a place of love.  The actions are less about the actions, and more about the place they come from.

Our works are a reflection of our faith which is rooted in love and ample supply. Doing works without love is nothing but a big racket.

If we stay in our marriage as though it were a hardship so that we may boast, but do not love, we gain nothing.

I Corinthians tells us what true love is:

Love is patient.  Love is kind. Love is respectful.

Love rejoices in the truth.

It is not envious, nor proud.  It is not self seeking nor angered easily.  It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

When we operate from a place of obligation we feel dread, bitterness, resentment.  In turn, we might do the right thing, but act like a sourpuss.

You are loved my sister.  Amply. Prolifically.  Abundantly. 

The fruit you want to produce in your life is LOVE.

Remember the love that is available to you?  In faith,  grab ahold of the truth of who you are and the abundance you have been given.  See your man as the lovable person God made him.  See yourself as lovable.

From this place, you will feel love.  Love comes from a thought.  Love-driven actions will produce a great harvest in your life.  Like Paul shackled by chains in prison (Philippians 4),  you too can be content and rejoice in all situations because it’s not a situation that is making you disappointed. It is your thoughts about the situation. 

HIT REFRESH ON YOUR FRIENDSHIP

Remember when your relationship was new, fresh, fun, exciting?

If you don’t,  you have probably rewritten the narrative of your past in a negative light which is completely common to do when contempt has set in the present.  I bet if you married this guy you enjoyed him at some point.

When you were first  building your relationship, there were essentially 3 things happening. The Gottman Institute observed couples for decades, and here is what they discovered was at the foundation:

Love Maps

Fondness and Admiration

Turning Toward (vs. Turning Away).

Love Maps are the information we have of our partner’s world.  It is knowing and being known.  Think about how curious you were about your man when you first met. He was like a gift you wanted to open and discover.  You asked questions. You paid attention.  You wanted to know.

After years of marriage, you feel like you know him. Maybe you find him boring or predictable.  Yet, think about all that goes on in your inner world in a day?  Like you, there are thoughts and feelings guiding the things your man does and doesn’t do,  There are dreams he has, even if those dreams have moved into dormancy.  

Hit refresh. Be curious. Update your map.

Fondness and Admiration refers to just that.  It is liking, adoring, admiring. 

Building your relationship, you probably thought this guy was pretty awesome. Maybe you giggled at things he did.  You appreciated certain attributes about him.  You described him to your family and friends as (fill in the blank).

The relationship became a sort of mirror to show each other your best. You each reflected all the admirable and praiseworthy attributes of the other.  He was awesome. You were awesome. “Falling in love” felt good.

Continue to look for ways he is lovable. Like searching for Waldo, keep your eyes open for all the ways your husband is praiseworthy.

Turning Toward vs. Turning Away is sharing in all the little things (and the big things).  When your husband says, “Did you hear about the Rams?”  or he shares a headline from his news feed, he is making a bid to connect.

When we are turning toward, we are answering those bids to connect. It may be in watching a show together, pulling weeds, sharing  a meal, or simply acknowledging and engaging when our man shares.

Look for the most mundane ways to connect.  The alternate is “I will deal with this on my own,” which leads to a cascade of distance, loneliness and isolation.  It is always better to turn toward than to turn away.

We can’t decide how our man shows up.  But we can show up because that is who we are.  We are the wife who hits refresh, intentionally finds reasons to admire our man, and turns toward rather than away.  We do it regardless of the reciprocity and we find meaning in being the partner we are proud of. 

FLESH VS. SPIRIT

The flesh is dying.  It is selfish. It is prideful.  It experiences pain. Its moments are fleeting.

The redeemed spirit is eternal.  It is selfless.  It is kind and full of compassion.  It does not age or struggle.

When we receive Christ we become NEW creations.  The old dies. His spirit fills us and not only changes our destiny, but His spirit has power to quicken our bodies.

Though we have been made new in Christ we still live in dying physical bodies, so we find our-self in the middle, in the “already but not yet.”  We remain in this  fallen world  between two bookends of perfection: Eden and Heaven.

When we see evidence of our flesh we might become disheartened, frozen in shame, overwhelm or despair.  And yet “frozen in shame” contradicts the very gospel.  Shame focuses on our imperfection, our failure and leaves us stuck. 

Redemption tells us that we are imperfect and not good enough. We cannot make our-self righteous. Our works cannot redeem us. 

It tells us we need HIM.  It tells us the very sin and falling short in our life is the bridge to wholeness.

Paul asks, “Why do I do what I don’t want to do? What a wretched man am I!”  And furthermore he goes on to say, “It is not I who does it.  It is SIN living in me.”

So these two paradigms get to exist side by side: Flesh and Spirit.

The flesh is not who we are.  Sin is not who we are. 

The Spirit is our new identity. 

You get to choose which one you will feed.  Which one you will starve? Which one will grow bigger? Which one will dominate your days?

False pleasure makes big promises, but does not deliver. 

The flesh within us throws hissy fits and selfishly wants its way.

We experience sadness, pain and sorrow.

And yet we can rise up as we feed the spirit.  We can experience freedom, true joy and peace, even as our flesh feels pain. 

Rise up my sisters.  Take hope.  Have courage. 

Your spirit and flesh get to exist side by side. You get to decide day by day which one you will nurture and which one you will let starve.

​Victory, peace and is always yours.

CREATING AN IMPOSSIBLE MARRIAGE

Creating an impossible marriage starts with you.

You want it to start with him.  You want it to involve him changing, but you get to be the one who rises up and shines.  You shine because it’s fun to shine.  You want to shine.  You want to love your life and your man. You want to be married, so why not make it happy?

Ask yourself, if I felt fully loved and loving how would I show up as a wife?  List all the things you would be doing.  How would you speak? What would you stop doing? How would you love?

Now I am not asking you to change your actions immediately. Trying to change our actions when our brain is in the same place creates resistance. You are relying solely on will-power and you only have that in limited supply.  Actions come from our feelings which are created by our thoughts. 

You must do the brain and emotional work to get to a new you.  The best you.  You may have some deep rooted beliefs that are running your actions that you need to take a look at.  There may be some lies from the enemy that you have listened to for way too long.  There may be some things your husband is doing you want to feel sad about.  You will need to look at all that stuff.

The real question is, do you want to be married to your man?  You can say  you don’t respect him and yet you are choosing to be married to him. Why not go all in?  Why not find a way to experience the relationship the way you want to?  Why not quit existing one foot in,’ one foot out? What would your relationship be like if you went ALL in?

As you move to this impossible goal of being happy in your marriage it will require YOU changing.  Not him.  And the goal is not to make him happy. It is not possible to do that.  You can’t control his thoughts. But your goal can be about how you show up, view and feel about your relationship.

As you move toward this change there will be fumbles.

You don’t sign up for college and know everything you will  know 4 years later when you walk across the stage holding your diploma.  A freshman is not supposed to know what a senior knows.  When you learn to approach something in a fresh new way, there will be learning. When we set out to change our habits, we should expect failures and fumbles. That is all part of change.

Moving to an impossible goal we look at daily actions that ARE possible.  And we simply take the next best step.

That is it.  When you fumble, you go back to your belief and then you ask, “What is the next best step I can take?”

Commit to believing something  that seems impossible. Move toward it in faith.  Open yourself up to possibility.

When you pursue loving your marriage you end up with so much more.  It’s the person you become in the process of believing and leaning into it all that is the greatest gain.

YOUR MARRIAGE NEVER EXISTED BEFORE

When you get married, you are creating a culture that never existed before. 

All the time couples tell me how their relationship does not match up with how their family of origin did things, as though that were the right way. 

My father always helped with the housework.

My mother always cooked family dinner.

My parents always got along.

When we go into our marriage expecting the relationship to follow the blueprint we have adopted in our mind, then we are putting unrealistic expectations on the other person.  It is as if we have a manual of how the other person should behave and when they don’t follow the manual, we are disappointed as though they did something wrong.

When we quit resisting the other person or trying to impose our blueprint when that is not what they want, we open ourselves up to create something unique and beautiful that is just ours.

When you get married you are bringing 2 different cultures together and creating a culture that never existed before.  It is a culture unique to your family.  Together you form that culture whether you do it intentionally or by default. 

FACT OR FICTION: IT’S BETTER TO DEAL WITH THIS ON MY OWN?

The Cascade of Distance, Loneliness and Isolation starts with one thought:

It’s better to just deal with this on my own.

I remember a time when I felt I was reaching out to old friends, new neighbors and my team.   Crickets.

I was laying in bed and  turned to my husband, “Do you ever feel like your making bids to connect with people and all you get is silence?”  He responded, “Mhm.” And that was the end of our conversation.   Now he was probably tired and done for the day himself, but I  fell asleep feeling alone, my point reinforced.

Sometimes we make bids to connect, get rejected and so we stop.

Sometimes we get disappointed in others and preemptively dive into  disappointment head first by failing to connect in advance.  Its as though we believe we can avoid pain by not setting ourselves up.

Many times I see wives (and husbands) who become enlightened to the concept that their adult spouse has free will and does not have to follow their manuals.  In response, they turn away, deal with life on their own, feeling isolated in their marriage.

They put on the thought, “Adults get to behave as adults want to behave,”  or “Others are not responsible for my happiness,” (which can be freeing thoughts).  However as they apply it, they pair it with, another thought inference,  “It’s better to deal with things on my own.”

The problem with this belief is it leaves you disconnecting from those you want to connect with. 

When you are debating dealing with something on your own or turning toward your partner, it is always better to turn toward.

If we are upset, we may need to refine our thinking before we turn toward, approaching our spouse in  a different way. You want to be calm when you talk to them.  You certainly do not want to bring The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into the conversation. (More on these four  tomorrow!)

And so to do that, you will need new thoughts.  Thoughts that honor and respect not only yourself, but his intentions, desires, perceptions, and the bones of who he is.

You might want thoughts that create feelings of love, respect, connection, calm, peace, or acceptance.

Some helpful thoughts are:

My thoughts and feelings matter and so do his

I am committed to turning toward in a way that honors both of us

We are both doing the best we can

We are on the same team

We both want love

I can suggest thoughts, but like clothing, you will know the one that feels best for you.  A thought that helps me, may feel very different to you.

Learning to honor others perception of reality, intentions and desires, and not just impose your own manual is a process of learning.  As you implement this new concept, continue to hold the value of turning toward.

As you practice both, you will fumble and fall. You may experience frustration and confusion.  But just like learning to ride a bike, keep at it. Eventually you will figure it out my friend. This is part of growing and creating new pathways in your brain and relationship.  This is not easy work.  It goes deep. It transforms us. 

But you can do it.  And as you do, remember you are never alone.  You have your Creator and Father who loves you dearly and is always there.  As you turn toward Him and ask for new thoughts and new feelings about your man, He will partner with you and give you more than you could create yourself.  He will help you to love and see your husband the way that He sees Him. 

4 EASY WAYS TO KILL YOUR RELATIONSHIP (PART 1/5)

Dr. John Gottman has a reputation.  He can observe a couple for 15 minutes in disagreement and predict with 93% accuracy whether the pair will stay married or get divorced.  When he is observing these couples he is thin-slicing information regarding the presence, frequency, and intensity of what he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

What are these 4 Horsemen?

Criticism

Contempt

Defensiveness

Stonewalling

Every relationship will have them from time to time.  But when they run amuck, a marriage indulging in them, the outcome is bleak.

Criticism is just what it sounds like. A partner makes a complaint about their spouse in a way that is critical, as though something was wrong with them.  Obviously, this stance might be interpreted as an attack and does not invite open communication.

Contempt is criticism taken to a whole new level.  It can be expressed as sarcasm or even without a word through facial expressions and eye rolling.  Contempt expresses a dislike of the other person.  It may even vilify them.

Defensiveness is an instinctive response to feeling criticized but can happen in the absence of criticism.  When we feel misunderstood or believe that the other person is saying we are somehow defective we respond by refuting their words, offering explanations, or justification.

Stonewalling is when one shuts down and withdraws.  On the outside, it may look like indifference.  Often when someone stonewalls the partner will turn up the volume, even more, thinking that the other person does not care.  And yet, the opposite is true. The partner may care very much but is emotionally flooded and so they detach and shut down.  Stonewalling may happen unintentionally or it may be an intentional way of avoiding conflict. 

Now that I have introduced you to the  4 Horseman pay attention to which ones are you are most likely to invite into your conversations. 

The next 4 days, I will share with you the antidotes to these 4 habits so you can take them captive and create a thought life about your partner that serves you well.

ANTIDOTE TO CRITICISM (PART 2/5)

Yesterday I introduced you to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the saboteurs of any good relationship.  They are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.

If left to run rampant, they can ruin your marriage.

Today I promised you the antidote for Criticism.

According to The Gottman Institute, the solution for criticism is expressing yourself in a way that does not find fault with the other person.  It is accomplished by using a gentle startup. 

To soften our delivery  (an ACTION) two things need to happen:

1. We have to create a new FEELING.  We can’t soften our delivery when we come from a place of feeling critical or judgmental.

2.  We have to change our THOUGHT about our partner.  It is our thought that gives rise to the feeling. 

Thoughts create (–>)  feelings which fuel (–>) Action/Inaction.

One of my favorite ways to look at the results I am getting in my life is to use this simple Model I learned at The Life Coach School.  The Think Feel Act Model simply organizes the pieces so you can look at them:

Circumstance (C)–>Thought(T)–>Feeling(F)–>Action(A)–> Result(R).

Looking at the antidote to Criticism, lets use a specific example from my own relationship.

We start with a specific Circumstance (C).  The Circumstance is simply the facts. EVERYONE would agree on the Circumstance. In my case the facts are:

  • Rich says, “My favorite way to relax is watching movies.”
  • Rich has  hundreds of movies.
  • Rich watched  some TV everyday for the past 14 days.
  • Growing up Rich’s family had a TV in every room of the house except the bathrooms.

I have THOUGHTS about these facts. My thoughts are very different than Rich’s thoughts.  My thoughts are not facts. They are simply  my assessments and they are completely optional.

Thought (T):  TV is a waste of time.

What I think, creates a FEELING.  This particular thought makes me feel critical.

Feeling (F): Critical

When I feel critical, I criticize.  Or if I am trying to do the “right thing”, I keep it to myself.  If I try to resist the feeling of critical without really acknowledging the thought creating it, I might force a new feeling.  But forcing a new feeling, the feeling of critical eventually topples out in self righteous statements or condescending comments.  Just “acting nice” doesn’t cut it.

Action: Criticize, internalize and then make passive aggressive comments.

When I act this way, the result is, I waste my time.  Criticizing Rich is not productive and does not serve me or him. 

Result (R): I waste my time.

We have unearthed an Unintentional Model.  It shows us how I am getting the results in my life.  It is this:

C: Rich watches TV

T: TV is a waste of time

F: critical

A: criticize, internalize and make passive aggressive comments

R: I waste my time

This model shows us the cause of my Result line.  We can see it is my Thoughts that cause the Results. The Circumstances are not to blame for the Results. (But we like to think they are.)

The Result of me wasting my time is not caused by Rich watching TV. It is caused by my THOUGHTS about TV.  I know this is true, because Rich could have married someone else who LOVES TV and so this problem no longer exists.

If I want to change my Result to “I appreciate Rich and myself, ” I need to get rid of the criticism.  I ask myself, what would I be doing if I appreciated  Rich?

My Actions might be:

  • I let Rich enjoy TV while I spend time doing what I enjoy.
  • I share my thoughts and feelings in a non judgmental way (soften startup). 
  • I look for ways that TV is not a problem.
  • I  make requests without demanding (soften startup).
  • I turn toward by watching a show with Rich because I want to.

To create an Intentional Model, I ask myself some questions. 

What would I have to feel to show up that way?

Accepting. Loving.

What thoughts would I have to think to create feelings of Acceptance?  Here are some I might try on:

If Rich was married to Sally who loves TV this would not be a problem.

​This is only a problem because I don’t prefer it.

Rich’s brain works different than mine and he needs stimulation while I need quiet.

I want to honor Rich and myself.

Using this information we can create a new model using ONE FEELING and ONE THOUGHT:

C: SAME (we never change the Circumstance)

T: Rich’s brain works different than mine and he needs stimulation while I need quiet.

F: Accepting

A:  I share in a non-demanding way that honors our differences; I “let” Rich watch TV and I do things I enjoy; I watch a show with Rich because I want to.

R: I appreciate Rich and me.  

When we think about ourselves and our partner in a nonjudgmental way, we can make bids to connect without criticizing.  We can create an open posture when we bring up a circumstance, soften startup and value our partner and our-self. 

ANTIDOTE TO CONTEMPT (PART 3/5)

I introduced you to the Four Horsemen, the greatest predictors of divorce. The presence of them is a  reflection of thoughts. These thoughts are not benign, rather destructive.

Today we are looking at Contempt and how to take it captive.  Left unsupervised, contempt will destroy. 

Contempt is the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.  It is expressed in words as well as facial expressions.  You see it in sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mocking and hostile humor. 

Contempt is conceived in the filter located in our head.  This filter is made up of the thoughts we use to interpret the world around us.

The Antidote for Contempt is building an atmosphere of appreciation and respect.  It is extinguishing thoughts of moral superiority. 

Without examining the thoughts creating the emotion, we cannot simply change our behavior to eradicate contemptuous actions.  We must start LIKING our husband in our thought life. 

If we are married, then we want to be married.  We know that is true because we are still married!

We should quit telling our-self we don’t want to be in the relationship or we wish our man was different. He isn’t.  And you want to be married to him. Right?  Start telling yourself that.

Next, start telling yourself WHY you want to be married to him. What do you love about him?

Take a negative quality you are attributing to him and flip it. 

So for instance you think, “He doesn’t care about my thoughts or feelings.”

Flip #1:  “He does care about my thoughts and feelings.”  Now look for evidence.

Flip #2:  “I don’t care about his thoughts and feelings.”  Consider the evidence.

Doing this flip allows your brain to find evidence that he is praiseworthy.  It also invites you to challenge your thoughts of moral superiority. 

You can do it with the positive attributes you are giving to yourself.  “I am so selfLESS.”

Flip #1: “I am so selfish.”  Evidence?

Flip #2:  “He is so selfLESS.”  Evidence?

Bringing you negative thoughts into the light allows you to manage them.  Suppressed or indulged they will create trouble.

Contempt manifested as sarcasm is not having a sense of humor. It is not gentle.  Nor is it benign.   It is suppressed thoughts coming out passive aggressively.  It is thoughts you need to be aware of and manage.

Bring all moral superior and negative thinking into the light.  Look it in the eyeball and determine if it is  serving you. If not, choose new thoughts. 

It is so empowering to know that we are not at the mercy of our thought life, but we are the boss of it.  And when we manage our thoughts we can create amazing results. 

We can create an atmosphere of fondness and admiration starting in our brain. When we do this, we bust contempt.

ANTIDOTE TO DEFENSIVENESS (4 OF 5)

Today we are talking about the 3rd Horsemen:  Defensiveness.

(Start here for the series: 4 Easy Ways to Kill Your  Relationship)

It seems protective, yet it holds the power of death.

Defensiveness often will rear its head in response to Criticism.  However, I have seen Defensiveness when the other is simply expressing a concern. 

Defensiveness starts in the mind.

Perhaps at the root of this action are feelings of insecurity and lack. The thoughts creating this feeling might be, “I am not good enough.”  “I am defective.” “Something is wrong with me.” And so it interprets the other person’s complaint through this filter.

Defensiveness perceives an attack.  It feels threatened. It feels vulnerable.  

We see the first case of defensiveness in the Bible right after we learn about creation.

In the story of “The No No’s”  as my daughter liked to call it, Adam and Eve disobeyed.  Adam blamed the Apple Eating on Eve; Eve blamed it on the snake.  When questioned, defensiveness was the go to. 

Defensiveness wants to offer explanations and be understood. Yet, in offering explanations it silences the other person.  It refutes what they are saying.

The thoughts you have when you are defensive are about what you can’t control–someone else’s thoughts.

People get to have opinions.  Other’s get to think what they want about a circumstance.

When I am intentional and I feel defensive, I tell myself that my husband is trying to create closeness and that he is not against me.  Instead of getting defensive, I try to think  maybe he is hurting or concerned, not that there is something wrong with me. 

I can’t say I don’t ever jump to defend myself or offer an explanation, but I try to listen and understand where he is coming from.

The antidote to Defensiveness is to listen to your partner’s complaint without feeling attacked.   It would be better to say, “I am feeling defensive” than to get defensive. 

If you tend to feel defensive, ask yourself, what are the underlying thoughts that make me feel that?

Recognize that changing a defensive pattern takes practice.

Recognizing the feeling of defensiveness and breathing it in can help us feel the emotion without reacting to it and slow down the physiological flooding.

Once we are able to pause and recognize that we are wanting to act out defensively, we can identify other helpful thoughts that help us to actually listen.

My partner is really feeling what he is feeling.

My partners experience is valid and so is mine.

I am interested in what my husband is perceiving and experiencing.

When we share a complaint with our husband and he listens without becoming defensive that feels really really good.  We feel listened to.  Even if our husband disagreed with what we shared or wanted something contrary, if he first legitimately validated and appreciated what were were feeling, we would at least think, “wow, he gets where I am coming from.”

Wouldn’t it be great to offer that to him? Wouldn’t that feel good for you?  (and believe me once you quit resisting what you think is painful , pushing into it….it feels so freeing!)

When we feel listened to and understood, we are better listener’s ourselves. 

In thinking about how you want to show up, think about how you want your husband to respond to you when you share.  Offer that same non-defensive response, by reminding yourself that his opinions and perceptions are valid.  And so are yours. 

When you do this, you can listen without defense and seek to love, understand and honor in the way you desire.

ANTIDOTE TO STONEWALLING (5/5)

Today we discuss the last Horsemen that could be wrecking your relationship.  (If you missed the beginning the Series begins here 4 Easy Ways to Kill Your Relationship)

Stonewalling looks harmless. It isn’t aggressive. It doesn’t attack.  It doesn’t’ defend.  It doesn’t even seem to hate. 

It is silent.  Withdrawn. Quiet.

And yet it is deadly. 

Stonewalling is when a person shuts down and retreats without much of a fight.

The problem with stonewalling is, it is interpreted as not caring.  And the recipient of the stone wall often gets louder and more aggressive, trying to thaw out the hard silence.  Or they too may retreat, mirroring the silence.

The fact is, when people stonewall they really do care. They  aren’t actually indifferent. They are overwhelmed by the emotion, not sure how to deal with it and so retreating seems safest.  They may be thinking  “This never ends well,” and so in an effort to avoid a fight, withdrawal seems like a good solution.

Certainly if the other 3 horsemen are running rampant, hitting pause on a discussion that feels like a battle is essential.  Just so long as it does not turn into a stonewall.

If you become overwhelmed and shut down, it would be better to turn toward your spouse and share that than simply doing that.  Equally important is committing to come back and discuss the situation. This commitment and follow through break the stonewall. 

You might notice you are emotionally flooded, confused, afraid, overwhelmed.  If you notice you are wanting to fight or stonewall, pay attention to where you experience  this in your body and put a name to it.

Breathe it in.  Let it be without reacting to it or shutting down. This is where staying connected to yourself and your own awareness of your thoughts and feelings begins.  Staying connected within yourself is essential if you ever hope to show up for someone else. 

Here are some examples of turning toward, speaking these words to your partner (and yourself)  when you want to shut down:

I am feeling really overwhelmed. But I am committed to talking about this.  I need to go on a walk and calm down, but I’ll be back.

I am totally flooded and I love you and want to be able to talk about things. Can we discuss this after dinner?

I feel like I am shutting down but want to stay present.  Can we slow this down a little bit so we can talk about it?

Maybe you are not one to stonewall, but your partner is.  Interpreting his stonewalling differently can make a big difference in how you react to it.  Supporting your partner in self soothing by giving him the space to calm down and not forcing a conversation in a heated moment can work wonders.

When things are calm is also a good time to discuss this pattern in your relationship.

Committing to talk about hard things, turn toward kindly, asking for support and understanding are all helpful.  Supporting one another in self soothing is a great gift.  It is also important to establish a timetable of 10 minutes to 24 hours to come back to the subject so that self soothing does not turn into a stonewall.

ALL THE FEELINGS

It’s hard to talk about relationships without getting into emotion.

Emotion is at the heart of relationship. It is at the heart of adventure, conflict and passion.

The worst thing that can happen to you is an emotion.  Think about it.

It doesn’t get worse than feeling something.

Emotions are simply vibrations in your body.  They are caused by thoughts.  That is it.

And yet, many of us are terrified of feeling .

What if you weren’t?  What if you wanted the full human experience and wanted to feel ALL the feels?

What if feeling something were interesting and non-threatening? What if you were willing to feel ANY feeling?  You were willing because you knew it didn’t have power over you.  You knew it was harmless.

If you are willing,  there would be nothing to fear.  If you were willing it wouldn’t be powerful.

Learn to look at your feelings.  Be able to describe them.  Name them. 

When you can, they no longer rule you.  When you can name them, you can contain them. You can allow them.  Experience them. 

And when we can allow our emotions and manage them, we will do a much better job managing our relationships.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR FEELINGS

When you experience unwanted feelings, you essentially:  indulge, resist or allow.

Indulging in the emotion, you give it what it wants like you have no choice. If it were a person, you give it the keys to your car while you hover in the backseat. 

Because it calls, you answer.

You experience all the drama.

You create the drama.

Maybe you curl up into a ball and sleep all day long.  You yell at your kids. You eat the whole box of Oreos.  

Or, perhaps you resist emotions.  Resisting is such an interesting one to me.  It looks smart and logical. And yet, it gives away so much power.

Resistance sees the emotions as so threatening and so it wards it off.

Resisting an emotion accomplishes the opposite of what you are trying to do. Like ignoring a child, it gets louder and louder until you answer.

The resisted emotion may come out in head or body aches, chronic pain, passive-aggressive comments, delayed road rage, overeating, over-drinking, face-booking, or unwarranted shopping sprees.

Resisting emotion is like trying to push a beach ball under the water.  You push it away, but it pops back up.  The more you resist it, the more your energy is taken by it.

You may hide your feelings like junk shoved in a closet, but eventually, the junk topples out. Eventually resisted emotions get the final say.

Resisting sadness turns into depression.  Resisting frustration turns into anger.  Resisting anxiety turns into debilitating fear.

What you are resisting is the equivalent of a monster in the corner of a child’s room.  It is when you avoid it that it has so much power.  Turn on the lights, quit hiding and face it head-on.  You will discover what you fear is a chair piled with clothes under dark shadows.

An alternative option, Allowing Emotions welcomes all feelings.

It is not threatened by them.  It is not indulgent.  It is not resisting.

It is warm and welcoming.  It is gentle. Kind.  Patient.

It does not give the proverbial car keys to the emotion.  It allows feeling but does not surrender to it.

If you are rushing to get through emotion, to get it done and over, then you aren’t allowing.

If you are forcing a new thought to create a new feeling but find the thought not sticking, it is because you are forcing the new emotion without first allowing the less preferred one.

As long as it takes, let an emotion linger until you know you have welcomed it without resisting.  If you have spent a lifetime canning your feelings, it may be days or weeks you experience that emotion.  It is harmless. It is when you resist or indulge it that you crown it with power. 

How do you allow the feeling without indulging? 

You Breathe it in.  And as you do, you let everything around you relax. Kind of like getting a shot. You know it will hurt, but you just let it happen and you know it will pass. 

As you experience the feeling you can describe it.  Where do you feel it in your body?  Is it hot, cold? Flat, sharp?  Light, dark?  Now name it.  Is it frustration or anger?  Annoyed or really sad?

When you become an observer of your feelings you are no longer fighting, judging, or being controlled by them.  You see feelings are not WHO you are. 

Once you allow yourself to experience emotion, it dissipates.

You will discover what is on the other side that you have been resisting.  And when you quit adding all the extra drama and consequences that come from your reaction, then you really do shorten its life.

Hearing about these concepts they are easy to understand. You may easily see some of your own tendencies.  And yet it is a practice.  It is building a new skill. A new habit.  It’s committing to a new way of life.

When you really open yourself up to experience all emotions, you will start to change your experiences and your marriage.

BUFFERING FEELINGS

Imagine yourself getting dressed.  You wrap yourself in bubble wrap.

This is how you go through your day.  You drink your coffee, drop your kids at school, say good morning to your co-workers.  You go about  your day securely wrapped in a protective barrier. 

Now we may not look this ridiculous when we leave our house, but for so many of us, buffering is a way of life.  We numb the raw edges with a little cushion.

We buffer with False Pleasure. (not actual bubble wrap 🙂

In moderation  pleasure is pleasurable and harmless.

Yet, a steady stream of  pleasure (food, alcohol, caffeine, electronics, tv, social media, pinterest or shopping) can begin to rule your life.  

Buffering is when we use external things to make us happy.

The thing of it is, society normalizes this behavior.  It is built into our culture and very acceptable.   It is super easy to live life and not even know you are buffering, although you recognize something is wrong.

Don’t worry! I am not judging you! (If you feel judged you are only judging yourself.) 

I am only asking you to consider how you could be buffering your own emotions and missing out on your actual life.

 And it’s not your fault!

Culture tells us:

You should go eat something.

Go buy something.

Do that activity.

Have FUN!

Seek pleasure.

We get a great dopamine hit when we do these things.  So it must be good for us. 

So what is the big deal?

The more we get the more we want.  The more we eat, the more we eat.  The more we drink, the more we drink.

We become a slave to pleasure.  We feel entitled to have it all the time.  And in today’s world, it is immediately available.  And totally acceptable.

Buffering keeps us from fully experiencing our lives.  We use it to hide from reality.  We buffer to procrastinate.  We buffer to avoid negative emotions.

What if life could be better?  What if you didn’t have a steady stream of false pleasure, and life was actually more fulfilling? What might your marriage look like if you weren’t numbing away your hurts? What if you were no longer hiding behind false pleasure? What do you think is on the other side?

Great questions if I do say so myself!  You think about it, and I will share more tomorrow!