Everything listed under: Jeff Pipe

  • Criticism vs. Disagreement

    Epic Love
    Setting:  The Six Elements That Determine the Tone of Your Love Story  
    Element #1:  Critical vs. Disagreeing

    In the same way that the setting for a movie puts limitations on – or creates the potential for - a certain set of outcomes in a story, the setting or tone of a marriage creates the potential for longevity and joy or frustration and divorce. While forecasting the quality or depth of a marriage is challenging, the research of John Gottman and others has shown us that the presence or absence of six relational variables can predict with a high level of certainty whether a couple will end in divorce. In the same way that the dramatic bass in the movie, Jaws, foretells of a shark attack, the presence of contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, conditionality and externalized responsibility cast a dark tone over a relationship, foreshadowing conflict, distance and, eventually, the death of the relationship. In contrast, disagreeing, vulnerability, validation, empathy, commitment and personal responsibility create a relational tone of safety, minimizing the likelihood of tragedy and fostering intimacy. The next six Epic Love blogs will focus on these six critical elements which create the setting or tone for your marriage.

    Whenever you merge two different personalities with two different backgrounds into a shared life, disagreement is inevitable. Expressing disagreement is a natural and healthy facet of an intimate relationship. The differences of perspective, preference and opinion facilitate growth and bring a richness of experience. However, when expressing disagreement devolves into a verbal assault on your spouse’s person or character, criticism has emerged. The dividing line between criticism and disagreement is talking about what your spouse does as opposed to who they are. To express disagreement with my wife’s decision to put plates on the top rack of the dishwasher is legitimate. To suggest that she is silly, lazy or thoughtless person for doing so is critical. The contemporary research of John Gottman – who refers to criticism as one of the four riders of the apocalypse to a marriage - validates the age old wisdom of Solomon, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The following examples illustrate the difference between criticism and disagreement.

    • Disagreement: I don’t think it was a good idea to spend that much money on a new guitar when our savings account is as low as it is.
    • Criticism: You’re selfish and reckless with money. You’re just like your Dad.
    • Disagreement: When I’m trying to share a story with you and you pick up your phone to send a text, it hurts.
    • Criticism: You’re just rude.
    • Disagreement: I don’t like it when you yell at the kids like that. It scares me for them.
    • Criticism: You’re mean. You’re just like your mother.
    • Disagreement: When you leave your clothes out on the floor like this it makes me feel like you don’t appreciate the work I do to keep the house clean.
    • Criticism: You’re such a slob!

    “I have to tell him how to do things because his family was so backward that he just doesn’t know any better”, a well-intentioned wife recently told me. As she expressed her frustration with her husband’s seeming inability to lead their young family, she subsequently ticked through a list of those things he simply did not understand about being a husband or a father. Each bullet point on her list reflected another weakness in his person, another reason why he was unacceptable to her. As she continued, I could see him drawing further and further within himself as the shame mounted.

    Criticism implies rejection and inflames a sense of inadequacy. Women are more prone to criticism and men are particularly sensitive to criticism. For some men, just seeing disappointment, hurt or anger on their spouse’s face evokes a sense of failure and feelings of inadequacy. When those emotions are subsequently expressed with critical words, the message received is one of rejection. Who you are is wrong. Who you are is not enough. Criticism can be temporarily effective, evoking immediate efforts to change behavior or fix a problem; but across time it leads to withdrawal and disengagement. As a spouse feels increasingly inadequate, they begin losing hope. “It will never be enough for her. I’ll never be enough for her.” “I just can’t please her.” Long after the initial sting of rejection is past, the shame of inadequacy lingers. I heard one man tell me that with each critical word he received from his wife, he placed a chink of armor on his heart to protect himself. Then one day – about a decade into the marriage – he realized that the suit of armor was complete. Any affection for his wife had been closed off behind the same armor that protected him from absorbing her criticism.

    Of course, expressing healthy disagreement can also evoke strong feelings and conflict. However, the conflict inherent to such arguments is organized around the matter at hand and not one’s standing in the relationship. If I want to schedule a fishing weekend with some friends and my wife tells me that my idea is ridiculous or that I’m selfish for even thinking about a fishing trip right now, I'll experience that as criticism and react strongly. The ensuing argument won't be about fishing, but about defending my judgment and worth as a man and a husband. To accept such a criticism as valid, would seemingly invalidate me as an equal in the relationship and render me as nothing more than an employee to my wife. When I’m fighting for that, watch out; the argument is liable to get ugly and destructive. However, if my wife expresses concern about our budget for the month and suggests that this may not be a good time for me to charter a boat, I get irritated and frustrated. I really like fishing and my views around money are more liberal than hers. I’ll argue my case – I need a break and I think we do have enough money in savings. However, at the end of the argument – whether we decide for or against the fishing trip – all I was ever fighting for was a fishing trip. I never lose sight of the fact that she loves me and is looking out for my best interest. Most importantly, out of the disagreement between us - the confluence of our differing perspectives, experiences and opinions - emerges a wisdom and balance that enriches our life together.

    -Jeff Pipe

  • Dangerous Hope: The Confessions of a Man with Too Many Christmas Lights

    I own entirely too many Christmas lights for a man of my age and each November I waste about 24 man hours installing the 18,108 mini lights I own (Yes.  In 2008, I counted them).  Lest you worry that perhaps this may be too many lights for a residential home, please know that I am cautious; after blowing any given breaker, I always remove one strand from the offending line before I flip the breaker back on and then secure a new outlet for the subsequent battery of lights.  I have never started anything more than a small house fire and outside of the occasional tingle up the arm that occurs when you grab hold of a bare light filament, I have not seriously electrocuted myself more than 2 or 3 times in the last decade.  I am an artist and when working with more than 10,000 lights, I’ve learned the importance of maintaining tasteful sensibilities.  I start with a clean canvas of white lights tracing the outline of the home and I limit the use of colored lights to wreaths, bows and an occasional candy cane.  LED’s, blinkers and tracers are an offense.  In 2010 I tried to embrace the inflatable movement – adding an 8’ tall snowman, 3 little penguins and a collage of woodland creatures decorating a Christmas tree – but I found them beneath my sensibilities.  For the sake of the neighborhood children, I restrict the number of plastic Santas I mount, insuring that only one at a time can be seen from any particular vantage point.  In 2006, I suspended a sleek, plastic santa’s sleigh and three tiny reindeer from a steel cable which I ran from the upper level of the house to a tree in the nearby woods.  It was sheer genius and when viewed from the middle of my cul de sac through squinted eyes, it almost looks like the real Santa Claus is swooping in for a landing on my roof. 

    The night after Thanksgiving, I throw the switch, walk out into that cul de sac with my family and turn around to enjoy the lights.  As I scan the scene, my eyes widen and against all reasonability I cannot help myself.  I’m transformed by the same 18,108 lights that moved me the year before.  I’m 8 years old again and filled with wonder and hope.  My heart skips a beat and for a moment I can’t help but think – perhaps believe - that Santa Claus is real.  In the morning I’ll awake to discover that not only is he real, but that he came to my house…. that everything I hoped for – that 5-speed Schwinn with the banana seat and sissy bar, that Red Ryder BB Gun, the Hot Wheels, the Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots – are all under the Christmas tree for me. 

    Headlights from the neighbor’s car sweep across my feet and as he passes by he smiles.  “Nice work Clark Griswold!”  As I turn to wave, I see that the light in the plastic Santa atop my chimney has just blinked off.  I feel the door closing on that 8 year old’s Christmas heart and I am pulled back into the tangible realities before me.  But in the split second before the door closes on that child-like hope, I catch a glimpse of something unexpected.  I see the face of Christ and it takes my breath away.  It seems ridiculous… I thought this was about childhood, Santa Claus and a profundity of Christmas lights.  Was that Jesus I saw?  Is that why these silly Christmas lights move me so?  Is my silly Christmas heart really longing for Him?  Is it, perhaps, true that there is a God whose love for me is so wild and unbounded that He would take on human flesh to reach me? Do I dare hope that some day I will look into those eyes and feel that embrace? That some day I will see things set right - hearts, minds and bodies healed?  Relationships restored and justice established?  Is it possible that this 50 year old heart could believe – could hope - that these things will be?  Barely, but yes.

    As my heart opens, I am reminded of how dangerous this is.  Though the hope of Christmas is, of course, for something eternal, such hope often spills into the temporal.  A willingness to place faith in such a wild and unpredictable God opens the possibility that he could create a hope for something more in this life as well.  Romans 4 tells us that God promised Abraham a son and against all reasonability, Abraham put his faith in this God.  He hoped that a barren wife would produce him a son.  Genesis recounts the story and the implication cannot be denied; for 30 years, this man made love to his wife in the hope that this would be the time that she became pregnant.  And each month, for almost 30 years, he confronted the disappointment of her infertility.  Were you never crushed by this disappointment Abraham?  Did you never curse God for his seeming cruelty and close your heart off to this hope? 

    Hope is a dangerous and powerful force.  It compels us to risk and reach for things beyond our grasp.  Seeing that which is not yet real, it allows us to persevere in the face of obstacles and setbacks.  But hope also sets us up for disappointment and pain.  And the more disappointment we suffer, the more our hearts close off to protect us from further heartache.  In this Christmas season, do you dare to listen to your heart’s longings and consider the possibility that some of that for which you long may be a reflection of God’s heart within you?  Would you dare allow your heart to hope for more?  Restored relationships in your family?  Healing and deepened intimacy in your marriage?  Passion and fulfillment in  your vocation?  Meaningful friendships?  Freedom from fear, depression, addiction?   Let the Christmas lights do their work.  And if there aren’t enough in your neighborhood, come take a drive through mine. 

     - Jeff

  • A Sadness That Speaks of Something More

    The waves of the Salish Sea caress the side of the kayak as my wife and I watch the sun drift across and below the horizon.  The snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountain range preside over the landscape.  Like gods, they expose my frail and transient existence, calling me to lose myself.  The brilliant blue that had previously owned the sky, slowly yields to the deeper hues of orange, red and purple.  The beauty of the moment fills and expands my soul.  I am awed and broken by it.  Yet, as the light seeps from the sky, I am aware of a familiar ache pressing into the center of my chest.  It informs me that such beauty is only a transient guest in my life – one that cannot be compelled to stay longer.  Aware that it is passing, I loosen my grip on the moment and acknowledge the sadness that presses in. 

    As a younger man, I would have tightened my grip on such a moment, fighting to extend, if not capture the moment.  “Let’s stay a little longer… Let’s buy a beach house… Let’s move.” I would’ve said to my wife.  As if such beauty – such transcendence - was something to be conjured, scheduled or, even, purchased.

    More recently, I have come to see that such moments of beauty and fullness are only transient gifts in this life.  Never meant to fully satisfy, they only whet the appetite and bring clarity to that for which my heart longs.  They remind me that I am only a stranger in this world; life is not to be found here and striving to do so is futile.  Like my spiritual fathers, I am “longing for a better country – a heavenly one.”  The joy that does visit this life is inextricably bound to a groaning; to embrace the beauty of this moment, guarantees the sadness of the one that follows.   

    My eyes fill with tears as I allow the waves to turn my boat toward the now darkened landscape behind me.  Little dots of light – fires lit by those camping on the shore - mark the landing.  With each stroke of the paddle, the sadness washes over my heart, rocking it like a piece of driftwood on the shore - each wave incrementally turning my heart away from this moment, away from this world.  Surrendered to something beyond, a hope strengthens me as I paddle back into the darkness. 

    - Jeff Pipe

  • When the Climb Feels Impossible

    Picture Credit: Jeff Pipe

    I’d forgotten how much bigger things are out West.  My wife and I were 8,000 feet below the summit of Mt. Rainier when we moved out of the tree line and onto a snowfield.  We had no intention of making the 14,000 foot summit, but picked a craggy ridge toward the top of the Muir Snowfield as our goal for the hike.  The ridge looked no more than 15 or 30 minutes away and the slope leading up to it appeared challenging, but not threatening.  Though we planted each step heavily into the snow, the icy and slushy mix broke loose every third step, limiting our progress.  As lowlanders, our lungs strained to draw oxygen from the thin air. As heart rates escalated, the speed of our stride slowed.  Resolved to complete the climb we put our heads down, focused on each step and pressed upward.  The cold wind evaporating the sweat off of our bodies chilled us when, after 20 or 30 minutes of steady climbing, we stopped for a brief break.  As I scanned up the snowfield, my heart sank.  By all visible evidence, we had made no progress.  Though exhausted from the energy spent, the seemingly small crag which had been our goal appeared no closer now than it had 20 minutes earlier.  Only upon looking behind us could we observe that we had, actually, progressed forward a couple hundred yards.  However, as we moved further up the snowfield, the view behind offered no more comfort than the view before us.  Only after two hours of solid climbing – one energy-draining step after another - did we begin to approach.  Six hours after placing our feet on the trail, we sat down below the rocky crag. 

    Last week I had a couple in my office ask a question that I’ve heard many times, “Why is this so hard for us?  Shouldn’t it be easier?”  They were frustrated because they’d slipped back into an old pattern of relating – one that had dominated their relationship for decades.  A week of isolation and tension had left them raw.  “It seems like two steps forward and three steps backward.”  They despaired of gaining the security and intimacy for which they had been reaching.  Like this couple, we all pass through periods of time where it feels that our marriage is stuck or at an impasse.  We still know what we long for – acceptance, closeness, passion - that’s wired into the fabric of our hearts, our souls and our minds.  But we don’t know how to get to it and we suddenly become aware of how very far it is from us.  We dig in and try to move toward it, but every third or fourth step the ground beneath us gives way. There’s just too much conflict and the backlog of unresolved fights is overwhelming.  At some point you realize that you don’t know how to talk to your spouse anymore.  There’s no way to reach across the chasm that’s between you.  It feels like its always been this way and it will always remain this way.  Hopelessness crowds in and the questions follow:  Should it be this hard?  Did I choose the wrong person?  Are my desires wrong?  Do I have what it takes?  The mountain’s too steep, too slick and the top is so far away. 

    What now? 

    • First, don’t quit.  Don’t run away, don’t shutdown, don’t give up.  Don’t try to control it or force it to happen.  Just keep leaning into the relationship.  There’s good reason to hope. 
    • Second, don’t be stupid.  It’s not about who you married, but about what you do with them. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you married the wrong person.  Trading spouses is like trading used cars; you just exchange one set of problems for another.  
    • Third, be smart.  We’ve all got issues; you’re not alone and you’re not the first couple to face what you’re confronting right now.  Reach for help.  Talk to trusted friends.  Talk to older and happier couples.  Read books.  Attend a conference.  Get counseling.  Put what you learn into practice. 
    • Fourth, persevere. Real growth and real change happens across years and decades, not weeks or months. Real intimacy and passion in a marriage is only achieved through long-term investment.  It takes thoughtfulness, risk, hard work and, above all, perseverance. 

    After sharing a drink, a snack and a beautiful view, my wife and I headed back down the mountain together.  I have to tell you that it was the most fun that we’d shared together in years.  Side-by-side, hand-in-hand, we walked, ran and slid down the mountain.  What took us 6 hours to ascend, only took us two hours to descend.  The same snowfields that had been so daunting on the climb up, offered a giant sledding hill for the delightful trip down. 

    -Jeff Pipe

  • We are Wired for Connection

    As I walk away from the office, my mind is occupied by the day’s events and concerns.  My body is tense and a headache threatens.  Unruly thoughts and questions intrude on my awareness like enemy scouts probing for weakness; futile ruminations over things said and done crowd my consciousness:  Should I have?  Could I have?  What now?  I call my wife to confirm our dinner plans at a nearby restaurant.  Task accomplished, I find myself reticent to hang-up and for reasons I do not yet understand, I ask if she will stay on the phone with me longer.  I’m reaching for something.  The topic of conversation is irrelevant; the significance is in her voice  - it alters my experience, filling my mind and pressing out those worries and ruminations threatening me.   

    Ten minutes later, she greets me in the parking lot with a kiss.  I reach for her hand and as her fingers press between my own, I feel my heart slow.  We walk across the lot – side-by-side, hand-in-hand – and my body relaxes as I become aware that I have been looking forward to this all day.  Not long after, we are sharing a meal and conversation with good friends; I become aware that my body is relaxed, my mind is clear and I am present in the moment.  I am reminded of what I was reaching for earlier; it is clear to me again. 

    The power and value of healthy relationships is so easily forgotten in the busyness of the day.  Yet, research tells us that even a simple touch and a kind word can have a dramatic impact on the body as they provoke the release of oxytocin, “the love hormone”.  More than just the antidote to a long day at the office, this peptide quickly neutralizes the effects of cortisol and anxiety, relaxing the mind and body.  Its direct effects are startling, compelling us to protect the fidelity of relationships while moving us toward deeper relational bonds, trust and generosity.  No less significant is the value of healthy marriages, families and friendships to reduce stress, improve physical health and bring meaning to life. 

    At Tapestry, we’re all about relationships and we’re convinced that our most basic human need is for love, acceptance and closeness.  Since the 50’s, psychological research has pointed toward the notion that people are psychologically and physiologically wired for relational connection.  We live for it; we die without it.  Contemporary research is so consistent with this notion that some researchers have started referring to the brain as the “social organ” of the body.  As believers in Christ, we recognize that we were designed for relationship and connection.  Ultimately, this deep human need for acceptance and love is fulfilled in our relationship with God and, then, only through the sacrifice of Christ.  However, temporally it is played out in those human relationships to which we are called.  From the creation narrative to the book of Revelation, the scriptures highlight the centrality of relationship.  When asked about the most important endeavor in life, Jesus responded, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

    Have you invested in your relationships lately or have you allowed the busyness of life to distract you with secondary matters?

     

  • I Don’t Think I Should Still Be This Insecure

    Last week was a tough week.  I had an awkward conversation with some friends and said some things that I ruminated over for days afterward. I had to confront a difficult issue with someone who was out-of-control and made them angry.  Although I had no regrets over the confrontation, I was troubled by the interaction and couldn’t put it out of my head.  While relaxing with my wife later that evening, I perceived her to be distant and distracted; it seemed like she wanted to be anywhere other than with me.  But when I called her out on it she gave me that look – the one that says that I have most certainly lost my mind.  So I did what any reasonable adult male would do, I got up, left the room and pouted. After only a few minutes I found myself thinking, “Dear God.  I’m acting like an 8 year old girl.”  But because I wasn’t done pouting yet, that awareness just made me mad… and a little embarrassed.  I wanted to work up a good lather of anger and go smash something or shoot something or at least lift something heavy… anything that would make me feel less weak.  But the shooting range was closed and there was nothing handy to smash and it was getting late, so I did the dishes instead.

     It was just me, the dirty dishes and an inescapable feeling of insecurity.  It was embarrassing.  I’m 49 years old and I’m a man and I’m a PSYCHOLOGIST and I claim to love Jesus. I don’t think that I should still be this insecure at this point in my life. It’s like I’m back in the 7th Grade again and Leesa Haynes just told me that I have skinny feet and I’m pretty sure that everyone is looking at me and thinking, “Wow.  Pipe has skinny feet.  That’s really strange.”  I feel like a moron and I’m certain that no one likes me; I’ve got nothing to offer the world.  When my wife figures out who I am she’s going to leave me and then I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.  That’s the way it feels. 

     This insecurity seeps into my heart like an incoming tide, slowly and irresistibly.  It diminishes me, eroding my sense of worth, poisoning my standing with others and draining my passion.  I know that it’s irrational.  It is embarrassing and its my thorn in the flesh.  I hate it, but I can’t block it from invading my world.  At the same time, I can’t deny that it’s been a valuable teacher to me.  Its presence has shown me facets of myself that I would not have otherwise seen.  And when I am willing to let it teach me, it enriches my life. 

     My insecurity teaches me to remember the past.  It reminds me of those times when I’ve felt this way before and with a moment of reflection those periods and events marked by insecurity return to me:  the 7th Grade, the 8th Grade, the 9th Grade, my first semester of college, that time I lit my hair on fire, every time I was asked a question I couldn’t answer in grad school, that time I showed up at the office with my fly down, whenever I tried to be funny and it didn’t work, when I sent my 5 year old daughter to school sick, every time I’ve walked into a room full of strangers, every time I’ve walked into a room full of friends, when our water got cut off because I forgot to pay the bill, the hours preceding a presentation, the hours following a presentation and the hours after I post a blog.  I remember that I felt this same insecurity all of these times and more.  I remember that I came out the other side of these events without losing my friends or my wife or all that much of my dignity.  My insecurity reminds that sometimes when I’ve felt the most insecure, I have discovered that I was most deeply valued and loved.  I remember that I have felt this way before and that this emotion cannot be fully trusted. 

     I have learned to lean into my insecurity rather than run from it.  I tend to manage my insecurity like a game of “hot and cold”.  The closer I get to the situation or person I fear, the stronger the emotional cry, “Warm, hot, hotter, boiling hot!”  Historically, I’ve played the game in reverse, actively directing myself away from the heat and toward “colder” ground whenever possible. If I could avoid that roomful of strangers, I would be glad to stay home and watch another episode of Gator Boys.  But what a lifetime of battling this insecurity has shown me is that the more I avoid those things I fear, the worse the insecurity gets.  The more intense the insecurity, the more clear it is that I need to confront it.  Whether its confronting a difficult person, exposing a failure on my part, engaging with a confusing situation or walking into a room full of strangers, the longer I put it off, the worse it gets.  However, when I confront that which provokes my insecurity, leaning into the “heat” I’m almost always surprised by how well things go.

    My insecurity shows me how desperately I need others.  My intuition drives me to isolate – to retreat from the messy people and relationships that provoke my insecurity.  And I often fantasize of a secluded mountain home where I can live my remaining years in peace.  But my insecurity has taught me that my intuition is wrong.  I need people.  I cannot manage this on my own.  For decades I tried to do my life independently and I simply could not do it.  I need trustworthy people around me for whom I can reach when these waves of insecurity wash over me.  After I was done pouting the other night, I apologized to my wife and told her I was tired from a hard week.  I told her that I was feeling insecure.  And, in spite of my bad behavior, she held me and reminded me who I am; she told me that I’m loved and valued.  The next day I called my friend Henry and he reminded me who I am.  And he told me that if God could use Balaam’s ass then he could surely use me.  Then I touched base with a few more friends and, just because they’re willing to hang out with me and listen to me I start to believe that I’m not all that worthless. 

    Finally, my insecurity teaches me not to anchor too much hope in this life.  In this way, my insecurity is a reminder of the truth of this life:  I am a broken person living in a fallen world.  Groaning is normal; pain is evidence of life (Romans 8:22).  My hope cannot be anchored in my ability to reach some level of emotional, personal or spiritual maturity.  My hope must be anchored in the promises I’ve found in the Scriptures and in the work of Christ.  My hope is that some day I will see Jesus face-to-face and, in so doing, I will experience a love that not only evaporates my insecurity, but rewires my soul and makes me whole.  In the meantime, my insecurity is a marker that I’ve misplaced an anchor – set it in temporal, rather than eternal soil.  It compels me to loosen my grip on this world a little more and shift my reach toward the next (Hebrews 11:16).  It reminds me that only there and only then will I find the freedom and security for which my heart longs. 

    - Jeff Pipe

  • Are you listening?

    The only thing I find more disappointing than bumping into a slow driver in the left lane on I-75, is trying to share something important with someone who doesn't listen well.  They'll both take the wind right out of your sails and deflate an otherwise exhilarating opportunity.  So, because I have no idea what to do with those who insist on holding tight at 65 in that left lane, I will offer the following tips to those in need of a listening tune-up.

     #1 Check your agenda at the door.  Most people don’t listen well because they enter a conversation clouded by their personal agendas and assumptions.  Good listening requires that you set aside the personal feelings, opinions and assumptions you hold about your friend or the topic of conversation at hand.  While you may not necessarily agree with your friend’s position, if you maintain an open mind you can come to understand it.   

    #2  Attend closely.  Because your mind’s ability to process language and information greatly exceeds the rate of speech at which most persons talk, its easy to start thinking about other things while you’re listening.  However, good listening demands that all of your attention be directed at the friend or spouse to whom you’re listening. 

    #3 Keep eye contact.  I recently read a study suggesting that only 7% of meaning is communicated through words; the other 93% is derived through the interpretation of nonverbal information.  A good listener keeps the eye of the speaker because it allows them to better take in the subtle nonverbal cues that tell you not only what another person is saying, but the deeper emotional content and meaning inherent in what they are sharing.

    #4 Reflect back what you hear.  When your friend or spouse gets to the end of a thought or idea, reflect the key points back to them to make sure that you’re hearing them correctly.  You’ll be surprised by how often you’re getting it wrong. 

    #5 Express your understanding.  When you think that you’ve come to understand your friend or spouse’s perspective, let them know. This usually occurs when you either understand their flow of logic or find yourself connecting the dots between the current conversation and other facets of your friend’s personality or experience.  It also happens when you find yourself recalling a situation where you experienced something similar.  When this happens, let your spouse know; but also be careful not to say so much as to direct the attention away from your friend or spouse and toward yourself.  

    #6 Express your empathy.  Once you’ve come to genuinely understand what your spouse or friend is sharing with you, it’s very likely that you’re also feeling empathy for them as well.  Empathy is the emotional experience that parallels that of the listener’s.  It is feeling something with or for someone as opposed to feeling something toward or at them.  While the latter emotional reaction may be important later on in a dialogue, an accurate empathy is the marker for good listening.  

    Give a gift.  If you've camped your Prius in that left lane and there's a line of cars behind you, give it up.  And the next time you find that someone you care about is trying to share something important with you, slow down and listen.  Give them a gift.  Feeling heard, understood and cared for by another person is a powerful and healing experience.  In a good friendship or in a good marriage, its the glue that solidifies a bond and deepens intimacy.  

    - Jeff Pipe

  • The Rule of Complementarity

    Some would say that opposites attract, but I would argue that opposites form.  There is a certain rule – let’s call it the rule of complementarity – that influences marital relationships.  As relationships evolve, people tend to move toward opposite poles to maintain balance in a relationship; where one spouse takes a more conservative stance, the other becomes more liberal.  This tendency to gravitate toward some form of equilibrium in a relationship can happen with any number of traits or values such as spending (vs. saving); planning (vs. spontaneity); emotional reserve (vs. emotional expression); maintaining harmony (vs. dealing with disagreement/conflict); humor (vs. seriousness).  Unfortunately, we tend to think that shifting one’s spouse’s opinion is like winning a tug-of-war; the harder you pull on your end of the rope, the more likely you are to get your spouse over to your side.  In most instances, this doesn’t work and, in all likelihood, it will compel your spouse to dig their heels in even further.  Rather than understanding this tendency through the tug-of-war metaphor, I’d suggest that a see-saw metaphor provides a more accurate picture.  The Rule of Complementarity suggests that on any given trait, spouses tend to balance each other out like two people standing on the ends of a see-saw; when one person steps out away from the center – toward a more extreme position - the other person is compelled to take an equal step in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance.

    Within the first year that my wife and I married, we took a personality test that, among other things, measured the trait of spontaneity vs. discipline.  High scorers were very disciplined planners who carefully thought through matters before making a decision; low scorers were spontaneous action-takers who learned through trial and error.  On a scale of 0 – 100, with 0 being Spontaneous and 100 being Disciplined, I scored a 2 and my young bride scored a 98.  We were so proud that our score totaled up to a perfect 100!  But, as we were soon to discover, the joke was really on us.  And you can probably imagine what the early years of our relationship were like.  I was a fun-loving, but reckless adventurer who was up for any opportunity regardless of the cost; my wife was cautious and conservative, weighing the financial and temporal cost of any activity.  Her reticence to jump in or go with the flow frustrated me as much as my spontaneity (which she errantly mislabeled as impulsivity!) frightened her.  In fact, this was a source of substantial conflict early in our relationship.  My inclination was, of course, to attack her conservatism while pushing hard for her to join me on the latest adventure.  However, what I found was that the harder I pushed, the more she pushed back; and the more frustrated I got, the frustrated and frightened she got.  Nevertheless, across the first few years of our marriage I did a lot of growing up and learned – predominantly the hard way – the value of a little planning and discipline.  As I grew, genuinely trying to be more responsible, I was surprised to find that my wife began loosening up.  In fact, somewhere around the 7th year of our marriage, I distinctly remember realizing that she’d become almost as fun as me.  Ironically, around that same point in time we were in a situation where we could, again, take the same personality test that we’d taken in the first year of our marriage.  Much to our surprise, this time I scored a 40 (still weighted toward spontaneity!) and my wife scored a 60!  We were still a perfect 100, but we had changed substantially. 

     Across the years, I have seen couples make similar changes in fundamental traits.  Like that imaginary couple on a see-saw, when one person steps in, altering their own behavior, the spouse is eventually compelled to take their own step in order to maintain balance.  So, the next time you find yourself locked into a battle with your spouse – pulling against some trait within them that you don’t like - try taking a couple of big steps in their direction.  You may be surprised by the response you get. 

    - Jeff Pipe   

  • Self-Confidence

    I enjoyed a beautiful ride on the mountain bike the other day.  The afternoon sun heightened the color of the leaves as I biked through the wooded ridges of my favorite trail system.  It was one of those rides that made me feel strong, good about myself and good about my life.  Zipping down a rather steep ridge on a narrow trail, I was surprised – to say the least – when I became aware that I was no longer attached to my bike. In the blink of an eye, my bike came to sudden stop when it hooked a root protruding from the ridge. However, while my bike stopped, my body did not.  Unaware of what was happening, how it happened or even which direction was up, that second in the air – before gravity completed its job - felt like an eternity.  And in it’s panic, I grasped at the air for something solid with which I could re-orient myself.  But even when I found the ground – landing with a loud whumph - it offered no more stability than the air as dirt, then sky, then dirt, then sky raced across my field of vision before my tumble down the ridge came to a stop.  That moment of surprise, then panic is unforgettable, but not unique.  That blink-of-an-eye when confidence, certainty and strength vaporize as they are replaced by fear, confusion and vulnerability. 

    I am at a point in my life where I am acutely aware of those things which are too important for me to readily relinquish to God:  my daughter, my wife, my vocational success and my reputation to name a few.  I have seen how God works.  His idea of good, fair and safe are not consistent with mine.  Physical and emotional suffering, catastrophe and death are all clearly within the bounds of what He will allow.  Children suffer and die, spouses are betrayed and abandoned, children are neglected, the humble are destroyed and the proud succeed at elevating themselves.  He is not afraid to let His people suffer and I am reticent to fully entrust myself or those I love to Him.  Don’t take me wrong, I recognize how un-biblical this.  Furthermore, I recognize how illogical this is.  I am a small, weak person and I recognize how limited I am in my ability to care for myself, no less anyone else.  Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, my first impulse is to take care of things on my own for fear that God will either disappoint me or compromise the well-being of someone or something important to me for the sake of His agenda.  When those for whom I care are threatened by pain, disappointment or failure, I turn to my own resources first.  And with that move, begins a slow progression from dependence on God to dependence on self.   

    Humanly speaking, I am a reasonably intelligent and resourceful person.  And I can operate independently about as good as the guy next door if not a little better.  For extended periods of time, I may experience success and find my confidence in myself.  I have even reached points in my life where I have entertained the thought that I really don’t need God and that he has probably never been anything more than a crutch anyways.  However, as my self-confidence and independence are growing, a foundational shift is underfoot.  Freedom is exchanged for caution; internal tension quashes passion and spontaneity.  The confidence of trusting a Father whose resources and plans transcend my own is lost as a dependence on hard work, thoughtfulness and competence grows.  And then the inevitable happens:  I miss something and make a mistake, someone I care for does something stupid, a marriage collapses, someone gets sick, an unexpected bill breaks the bank – the hardness of life bursts my fragile illusion of independence.  My house of cards begins to collapse and, as it does, the foundation upon which I’ve built my identity and value is compromised. 

    Into my panic, Galatians speaks.  “Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort (Gal 3:3).  And, then, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  (Gal 5:1) And then I return to the reality that it was never about me or my competency; that it was always about Christ – His work in me, His work in others, His providential working for the best of all who belong to him.  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”(2:20).  And there is freedom here.  Freedom to believe that God has put me where he has for a reason; that I have something to offer those for whom I care; that he uses me in my strength and in my weakness; that He is doing something good when I see something bad; that he redeems failures for success; that His plan is bigger and better than my own.   

     - Jeff Pipe

  • The George Costanza Rule

    My father is a funny guy. He likes to be goofy and tease. I called him the other day and he answered the phone, “Hello Tonto. This is the Lone Ranger.” “Dad” I replied, “You know that you are the cause of my weirdness.” Because I enjoyed my Dad’s humor as a child and connected with him through it, it became a part of my life as well. And by the time I married my wife, I had mastered the Funny Arts and received an advanced degree in Sarcasm. While my wife has a good sense of humor and enjoys most of my humor, she is a literal-minded thinker and she has never really appreciated my sarcasm. She doesn’t get and she doesn’t like it. And, if I’m honest, I have to admit that it has always been a little disappointing that one of my favorite persons in the world couldn’t appreciate one of my most developed talents. Even my daughter, by eight years of age, had learned to recognize and laugh at my sarcasm (as a little girl, she called it “my lying voice”). As a young woman, she has come to recognize sarcasm as the sixth love language and I’m confident that she has included it as a trait that she hopes to find in a mate. Unfortunately for me, even the added social pressure of being “the odd man out” wasn’t enough to shift my wife’s feelings about this facet of my humor. So, last week when she asked me how she looked in a new dress and I sarcastically said, “I like the color, but it makes your butt look big”, I should not have been surprised when she became upset. In an effort to defend myself I asked, “Why, after 28 years together, do you still not realize that I would never literally say such a thing to you?” To which she effectively countered, “Why after 27 years of marriage (oops - did I say 28?) do you still not recognize that I don’t like it when you’re sarcastic!” Yikes! That’s honestly a very good question. Why would I keep doing the same thing expecting a different response? Isn’t that the definition of insanity? I’ve known this for over two decades and, yet, when presented with an opportunity to be sarcastic and get a laugh from her, I almost always take it. Even more embarrassing is the recognition that, in spite of directly witnessing several thousand failed attempts at sarcasm each year, on some level I still expect that she’s going to get it this time and laugh! I am a moron. I am George Costanza.

    If you are a Seinfeld fan, then you know George Costanza. George plays the role of the consummate loser. He consistently does the wrong thing and repeats the same mistakes. In one show, (www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKUvKE3bQlY) George has a flash of insight and decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be. George tells this to Jerry who convinces him that, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right”. George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally. The change is dramatic and he quickly goes from being the loser to being well-liked. He gains the affection of a gorgeous woman and gets a new job working for the Yankees. Eventually, he confesses to Jerry that the change is exhausting and goes back to being to his normal self.

    Like George (and me), we all have an intuition that informs our interactions with others. Though a part of our design, this intuition is housed in our humanity. It is informed by our past relational experience and organized around the goal of gaining security in our relationships; it alerts us to relational threats, as well as opportunities to deepen affection or closeness with others. However, because this emotional learning is anchored in specific relationships and experiences in our past, it is not always accurate and it does not always generalize to our current relationships. In fact, there are many situations where it is exactly wrong! Thus, those very funny actions that foster a father-son connection only frustrate a husband-wife connection.

    I sat with a couple recently where the husband’s primary complaint was that his wife over-reacted to little things. In defense of his conviction, he described witnessing intense conflict in his childhood home and articulated a resolve to do things differently within his own home. His conflict-riddled childhood home had sensitized him to negative emotion and taught him to intervene quickly, with a logical counterpoint and a calming tone. In subsequent conversations, his wife disclosed that she had not always been as vocal as she was in her current marriage. She was quiet as a young girl and, in her first marriage, she acquiesced to his preferences and plans. Unfortunately, in that first marriage she was mistreated and betrayed by a selfish man who exploited her quiet manner, discounted her needs and eventually betrayed her trust. Having been burned deeply in this relationship, her intuition alerted her to situations where her best interests might be overlooked and compelled her to express her “voice.” However, whenever she got emotionally charged with her current husband – energized to represent her needs, desires and opinions - her husband intuitively (and predictably) responded with reason and alternate perspectives, minimizing her emotional intensity and striving to calm her down. Unfortunately, his efforts to protect the marriage only frustrated his wife and provoked her fears. Feeling unheard and at risk for being discounted by him, her intuition predictably compelled her to escalate her intensity which, as you can imagine, further triggered her husband to calm the situation down. And round and round the mulberry bush they ran! The very intuition which might have served them well in past relationships, caused them substantial grief in their marriage.

    Enter the “The George Costanza Rule”: in certain instances, your intuition is exactly wrong and it may well be best to do the opposite of what you feel inclined to do. For this husband, it meant learning to get emotionally involved with his wife - learning to not only tolerate her emotion, but to understand her, feel with her and affirm her; to believe that she was as committed to developing a harmonious relationship as he was. For her it meant learning to express her needs in a direct, but calm manner, trusting that her husband was looking out for her and desiring to know her needs and perspectives. The responses of this couple, though grounded in their unique pasts, are not uncommon. In many marriages, men intuitively withdraw and avoid their wives in those moments where their wives most need them to engage, understand and get involved. In a complimentary manner, many women intuitively become critical or demanding at those times when their husbands need them to be patient and affirming. Where in your marriage do you tend to most consistently do the wrong thing? Where might you need to apply “The George Costanza Rule”? 

    -Jeff Pipe