Posts

Valuable Relationships Make You a Better Person

Good friends can help you be a better version of yourself.

Can valuable relationships make you a better person? We’ve all heard someone’s “value” calculated as their Net Worth, but what about cultivating the value of your Network? I’m talking about your true friends, accountability partners, and mentors. People that know your goals and will help you achieve them.

Those valuable relationships don’t happen by accident. We have to be open to them. We have to be intentional. We have to invest. Often, when I need those kinds of people in my life the most, my instinct is to go into hiding. I run the opposite way.

I find ways to build taller fences, not longer tables.

  • This isn’t where I point out that according to recent research, Americans report being more lonely than ever – but they do.
  • This isn’t where I point out that social media Friends, Followers, Shares, Likes, and Upvotes aren’t the true measure of your Social Capital – but they aren’t.
  • I’m not even going to say that old-fashioned, healthy, Rugged American Individualism has often changed us into unhealthy, Radical American Individualists – but it has.
  • I’m just going to quote something my father drilled into me: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” He was onto something.

It’s easy to surround yourself with people that always agree with you or always take your side. I get it. I do it. That can feel good. It also feels good to have people in your life that you can have fun with and be yourself. But who in your life is helping you be the best version of yourself?

Who is truly helping you be the best spouse or partner, the best parent, the best person that you can be? Who in your life has permission and is willing to confront you and say the hard things? (You know, those things that sting a day or two, but you know they’re true.)

Community, true Social Capital, is more important than ever:

  • I never once got a job solely based on an application. It always involved someone I knew and built a connection with before I even knew a new job was even a possibility.
  • My wife taught me the value of finding married couples deeper into the season of life we were in or heading toward and risking getting real with them.
  • The best thing we did as parents was to connect with other parents for coffee or dessert just to talk about parenting stuff – especially parents with kids heading out of the stages that our kids were heading into.
  • I’ve never regretted cultivating relationships- real friendships- with a couple of guys that I could be honest and transparent with, knowing that in return they would ask me the tough questions about the kind of husband, father, and man I am.

These kinds of people and couples and parents that become valuable relationships can be difficult to find. Maybe the best way to find them is to first work at being that kind of person for other people.

I could not begin to tell you my Net Worth. It probably isn’t much. I’m positive it isn’t much. My Network though – priceless. Where are you investing?

Looking for more resources for healthy relationships? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

When things seem hopeless, it can be really hard to think you’ll ever find hope again.

Dyan and Alik fled their war-torn village in Sudan in 2012, but they were separated as they tried to get to refugee camps in Africa. While fleeing, evidence of their marriage was destroyed.

The camp processed Alik as a single mom. They processed Dyan as a single man, however. This made him a very unlikely candidate for resettlement in the United States.

Alik arrived in Fort Worth, Texas with her two children and their third child on the way. She didn’t know if she would ever see her husband again.

Enter Molly and Mary Claire, two moms looking for a way for their families to serve others. These two families were paired with Alik and her children. As they developed a relationship with Alik, she shared with them about her husband being stuck in a refugee camp in Egypt.

When Alik spoke with her caseworker about getting her husband to the States, the caseworker gave her little hope. Molly and Mary Claire spoke with immigration attorneys, members of Congress, and anyone else who might be able to help them reunite this family. They also were told repeatedly it would be a real miracle for Dyan to join them.

After four long years, and reams of paperwork, Dyan rejoined his family. You can watch the video here.

Perhaps you’re dealing with a situation that seems hopeless, too. Unemployment with no possibilities on the horizon, a persistent illness, marital strife or a family member dealing with addiction. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up hope.

If you’re struggling to find hope, here are some suggestions to help you keep going.

  • Find a community to engage with. It is likely that while both Dyan and Alik kept hope in their heart, there were probably times when they thought their efforts were futile. Their friends helped them keep going.
  • Be aware of your own self-talk. Negative thoughts will almost certainly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” points out, self-talk is very powerful. Statements such as, “It hasn’t happened yet, I will eventually find a way,” “This is temporary,” and “Even in the midst of the storm, I am learning,” are very different than giving up hope.
  • Do something. Maybe you can’t do what you planned, but you can do something else while you wait. Alik continued to live her life while she was pursuing getting Dyan to the States. While she may have doubted she would ever see her husband again, she made friends with Molly and Mary Claire, cared for her children and participated in activities.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” So often, people throw in the towel just before things start to turn around.
  • Phone a friend. Sometimes talking with someone helps.
  • Volunteer. Use your skills to help others while you wait. It may help you feel better about yourself and your situation, and you never know who you might meet while you volunteer. You might be able to encourage someone else, too. Or, you might work alongside someone who can help you with your current circumstance. Either way, it’s a win.

Desmund Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” If you are still on this earth, you can still find hope.

Image from Unsplash.com

You don’t give in to peer pressure, right? That was so Middle School! Surprisingly, adult you is still rather impressionable. Your chances of divorce just went up!

A study from researchers at Brown University, UC-San Diego, and Yale University has found that having a divorced friend can increase your own risk of a breakup by 75%. Similarly, more recent studies have found that being friends with someone who gets divorced makes someone 147% more likely to get divorced themselves. A person who has a sibling who gets divorced is 22% more likely to also split from his or her spouse. Similar findings related to infidelity have been discovered, too. (Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce, after all.) What’s going on here?

Let’s try to understand why this happens and then think about how to avoid it. (And maybe even how to use this dynamic for good!)

This is known as “behavioral” or “social contagion.” It’s like an idea or lifestyle virus. The general concept is that one person introduces a new social norm into a group (divorce, infidelity) which reduces the social constraints against it or takes away some of the pressure to avoid it. They even make it seem more normal. The other members of the group then begin to look at themselves and their marriages differently.

They hear the benefits of divorce or infidelity from the person that introduced the “virus” and then reevaluate their own happiness. They look at their spouses and partners in a new, perhaps, unflattering light. Then the next person in the group takes the plunge, reducing social constraints even further and making divorce even more normal, which makes it even easier for the next person, and so on.

I’ve seen it spread in a social group with divorce and infidelity in about a year.

The tighter-knit the group is, the easier and quicker the virus can be passed around. It doesn’t take someone saying, “You know, you should really consider divorce, sweetie…” and applying what we would call direct peer pressure. It can all happen on a level that we are not even directly conscious of.

The study, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample” did discover something extremely hopeful.Interestingly, only outside support from friends and family predicted marital success in the time period examined.” Did you catch that?

Even as they proved the validity of the “social virus,” they also discovered the cure. Being tightly connected and supported by friends and family that are FOR your marriage “inoculates” you against the “social virus” and reduces your susceptibility.

To carry the analogy further, having friends and family that believe in and are committed to their marriages and faithfulness helps build up our “immunities” to divorce and infidelity. The same social dynamic can work in a positive way, too!

None of this is to say you should run away shrieking in terror from anyone who gets a divorce. Maybe they were the victim of domestic violence and need your support. On the other hand, it is a great reminder that none of us are above being influenced. Keeping toxic, negative people that don’t share our family values close to us may influence us much more than we care to acknowledge.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for more resources for your marriage? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

How do you typically deal with the unexpected things life hands you? How you handle these situations – whether it’s a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair – can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless.

How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong.

This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything.

People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.

Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you.
  • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need.
  • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

Will Counseling Work For Me? Will beekeeping? Homeopathic remedies? Fixing your own transmission? Doing the same thing over and over again work for you? I dunno.

You are unique. Going to a professional counselor might not work for you, but there are some very compelling reasons to give it a try. The better question might be, “Will you work at counseling?

Why Don’t We Go?

Some people feel like going to counseling is like waving a “white flag” on their life and represents quitting. “I should be able to handle this! It is, after all, my life! Why do I need someone else poking around in it?

Going to counseling is not “giving up.“ Far from it, it can be an incredibly courageous step and can help you regain control of your life. But it does involve surrender.

You are surrendering the idea that you have all the answers. (And surrendering the idea that you have all the questions!)

You are “giving up” on the notion that you’ve got this, you are managing this, this is under control, the idea that what you are currently doing is getting you the results you want in your life and relationships. It might be time to “give up.”

Some people won’t go because they are embarrassed or they think there is a stigma attached to seeing a counselor or therapist. Some think that they will be paying someone to just listen to them, and hey, they have friends that will do that for free.

This is tragic because more and more people are going to counseling or have gone at some point and benefited from it.

According to one recent study, 4 in 10 American adults (42%) have seen a counselor at some point in their lives. Another 36% reported that they are open to going. (The numbers are about the same for men and women.)

You are probably surrounded by people who have talked to a mental health professional at some point. They are people you admire, people you think “have it together.” Yup, they have probably seen a counselor or therapist. You just didn’t know because they didn’t have a sign over their head that read, “I Am Seeing  A Counselor.” Don’t worry. You won’t have a sign over your head either.

Quick Question: Would you be “embarrassed” to take your car in to be seen by a mechanic? If you were diabetic, would you be “embarrassed” to go to a doctor for insulin? Nope. Not at all.

When it comes to mental and emotional health, when it comes to relating to ourselves or to others, the least “embarrassing” thing we can do is see the pros.

[Word to the Fellas: Sometimes going to counseling or seeing a therapist is a bigger step for us. Some of it is just male ego, but some of it is very legitimate. 

Generally, guys don’t bond by expressing themselves to strangers. They have to have a bond in place before they can express themselves, so it can be extra difficult to find the right counselor and take time to build that bond.

Generally, guys don’t process thoughts and emotions by talking them out as easily as women do. That’s just not how we are wired. Don’t let these things keep you from counseling. I’ve connected with great counselors who not only gave great advice and had awesome insights, but they turned me on to movies, music, and books that applied to my situation and that’s what we talked about at my next visit. Very cool.

Ladies, your man struggling a bit with counseling does not mean he isn’t invested in the relationship. Be patient. We’re different.]

Why Give It A Try?

Blindspots.

Sometimes we have blind spots and are just not in a position to see ourselves or a situation clearly. An outside, objective perspective is just what we need to shed some light on certain areas of our lives and relationships.

Pattern Recognition.

Even though our lives and our relationships are unique, a counselor may recognize patterns we don’t see, patterns that keep us from being our best selves or having healthy relationships.

Maintenance.

Car maintenance always costs less than repair. When it’s our lives, the costs can be devastating. Counseling can be looked at as a check-up or letting a mechanic “pop the hood” and make sure everything sounds good and is running smoothly so we don’t wreck down the road and hurt ourselves and others. You don’t have to have “problems” to see a counselor; you can go to avoid them.

Professionals.

Things like addiction, anger, depression, anxiety, relational problems, issues that “run in the family,” traits that were inherited or go back to our childhood are often just flat out bigger than us and require a professional trained to help us handle them. Get that help!

Decisions.

Sometimes we are on the cusp of making very big life decisions or changes and it is totally helpful and healthy to talk to someone about it first. They might just give you the clarity and confidence you need.

Mediation.

Whether it is a spouse, partner, teenager, or the entire family, sometimes it really helps to have a mediator, or go-between, to handle difficult conversations or situations. The counselor can keep things from escalating, ask the right questions, maybe even say the things that are too hard for you to say. Their office just might be a “safe” place to talk things out.

Listen, I’ve gone to individual counseling and marriage counseling during different seasons of my life. Two of my children went to counseling as teens.

It took some phone calls, even some trial and error to make the right connection, but the benefits were enormous and I have no regrets. Counseling, for me at least, was way better than beekeeping.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

If you’re in the midst of raising children or grandchildren, managing a career and caring for an aging parent or relative, you are not alone. In fact, a 2012 Pew Research report found that about half of all U.S. adults in their 40s or 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child.

When our parents have strong desires to remain independent and we have strong desires to care for them, it can be a real challenge.

“I always like to focus on the things that are necessary for aging parents to stay as independent as possible,” says Amy Boulware, (LAP, MSW) Geriatric and Special Needs care manager for Chambliss Law. “The desire to remain independent is so strong, sometimes parents are willing to go to great lengths to keep up the appearance they are doing well on their own. I call this ‘malicious independence.’ They know they aren’t doing well, but they keep it from their family members. The sad thing is, often, they have already lost their independence because they are isolating themselves and not getting to do the things they enjoy doing.”

Getting older and more fragile is a hard thing to deal with, but things do happen as we age. Boulware believes the goal of providing good care to our parents is to avoid making decisions in the midst of a crisis.

“If we can help parents think about the things that are becoming more difficult for them such as going to the grocery store, cooking or keeping the house clean, then we can develop a plan to remove some of the burdens and help them stay as independent as possible,” Boulware says. 

“Most people do estate planning, but few think about doing elder care planning,” Boulware shares. “Inevitably, something happens and then you are thrown into making quick decisions.”

So, how do you have that hard conversation? Boulware suggests that you begin the process by asking questions like:

  • What are the things that are important to you as you age?
  • How can we work together to help you have quality care later in life? What does that look like for you? 
  • What are the lifelong behaviors or details that make you tick that would be very important to know? For example, do you have a nightly routine, always have a certain snack, use something to help you sleep at night, etc.? There may be routines and rituals that you know nothing about that if discontinued, could cause agitation, fear or frustration for your parent. 
  • Who would you like to designate to make decisions should you become unable to do so? When do you think would be a good time to take care of that? 
  • What can you afford?
  • If we see you struggling, how would you like us to handle that?

If you try to have the conversation and your aging parents won’t let you, seek help from a trustworthy third party.

This conversation in particular is often one we put off because it’s just plain uncomfortable and nobody wants to think about the end of life. Mapping out a plan ahead of time can pave the way for smoother transitions in the future. It can also strengthen your family relationships because the choices your parents make are truly theirs and it will be easier to honor them by following through with their wishes.

*Note: I’m an early riser. Always have been, always will be. My husband, on the other hand… not so much. Being newlywed and trying to stick to a routine, I’ve learned to let him sleep until I’ve had my coffee, had my shower, and have start working on breakfast. And for about a month, it has actually worked! That is, until one morning, I had gotten my coffee and was in the shower when I heard that knock….

“Hey, Caroline?”

Surprised that he was even awake enough to voice a question, I responded, “Yes…?”

“I really need to use the bathroom. Are you done yet?”

Me, knowing that I probably didn’t want to be in the bathroom once he came in, but also in the middle of shampooing my hair, responded to his question and said, “Not really, but hold on… I can step out in just a second.” In slight frustration, I quickly rinsed the shampoo, turned off the water, and grabbed my towel.

You see, my husband and I are trying our best to save for a house as soon as we can, which meant signing a lease on a tiny apartment for the time being. One bedroom. Barely enough space for a couch in the living room. And, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, one bathroom.

Moving in, neither of us thought it would be a problem! I’d just get up early, get things done, then he would be able to do the same after me. But, as with everything in life, things don’t always go according to plan.

That morning threw off the rest of my day, and it took me quite a while to understand why.

But by that evening, I realized something: I was frustrated with him, despite neither of us being to blame for the situation. I was upset, not because he had to use the bathroom, but because it wasn’t a part of our original plan. I wanted to be in control.

Yes, it seems a little exaggerated to get to that conclusion from a disrupted morning routine. But let me tell you. It opened my eyes to a whole different perspective of myself that I was not at all aware of.

So many people warned us that marriage is a great magnifying glass on all your flaws. But I didn’t realize how true it was until the honeymoon phase had left, and our true, imperfect selves showed again. Since that day, I have been very conscious of what I can and cannot control and my reactions to those things.

So, bottom line. Never assume that just because you have a plan or routine in your newlywed relationship, everything will go according to plan. A spouse is not there to point out your flaws, but to walk with you. They are there to support you and grow with you through each and every interruption.

Lastly, and most importantly: if possible… have more than one bathroom for your first year if you can.

Looking for more engagement resources? Click here!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Are you considering counseling? The Counseling Problem:

I don’t want people to know that I’m getting counseling! We can work this out ourselves! Counseling might do some good for other people, but I don’t need it.

Counseling is one of those things that sadly often gets stigmatized or viewed as good for other people. If you are brave enough to bring it up, you’ll see it is helping many of your friends work through issues in their relationships and their lives. Don’t write off counseling as a tool.

Have you ever had a friend who shared a problem with you and you were able to see the solution so clearly, you passed on some awesome advice? Problem solved!

But, when it comes to your life and your problems, that clarity is all out the window and you have no clue what to do.

Why is it sometimes so easy to see other people’s problems clearly, but our own problems feel so much more complicated? The difference between your friend’s problem and yours is that it’s difficult to see our own situations objectively (or from a third person perspective). We have all kinds of blind spots, biases, and really only have one perspective – ours.

The Counseling Solution

Our own inability to see our problems clearly is why counseling can be so helpful. There are several BIG benefits to seeking counseling or therapy, either individually or as a couple.

Benefits of Meeting with a Counselor:

  1. They help us see those things that are in our blind spots. This is often the biggest hurdle – admitting that we don’t see it all and know it all about ourselves.
  2. The counselor can help us talk about things that are difficult to talk about. They can be a safe person to talk to. They can function as a mediator and ensure that a conversation doesn’t become a confrontation.
  3. Some problems we wrestle with are flat-out complicated – they might involve chemicals in our brains or generations of our family history. We might not have the tools to tackle those issues.

Hopefully, you have some good friends that can help you can talk through problems, but don’t forget, sometimes you need to consider counseling. And, that’s totally ok.

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com