Everything listed under: Jeff Pipe

  • 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

  • My Other Wife Is A Harley

    My Other Wife is a Harley

    There was a period of several years – early in my marriage – where things were very difficult. It seemed that there was always tension in the relationship and I felt like nothing was ever enough to please my wife.  I didn’t understand why she wasn’t happy because I thought that I was a pretty good husband.  I was a nice guy who generally got along with people.  I was reasonably sensitive and a lot of fun.  I mean, c’mon, I’d written my senior thesis in college on “Family Ministry In The Church” - I knew how to be a good husband.  Nevertheless, my wife still seemed unhappy and her anger was never far away.  It seemed to me that she complained a lot and always wanted something more from me.  I could only conclude that this was her problem.  If she would just lighten up and listen to me, she’d be a lot happier and our marriage would be a lot better.  In my frustration, I started pulling away from her – distancing myself from an unpleasant situation for which I believed that I was not responsible.  Like the guy driving the old beat-up pick-up truck who wants to make sure that others know that his truck is not a reflection of his true investment, there were moments when I wanted to slap a bumper sticker on my wife’s rear end; maybe one that read:  “My Other Wife Is A Harley”.

    Feeling unappreciated at home, I directed my energy toward my job and my recreational outlets.  Life wasn’t all that I’d hoped for, but I was rocking along okay.  Then, around the sixth year of our marriage, a thought – hanging on eight painful words - popped into my head:  “You’re doing more to her than for her.”  I don’t know where those words – that thought – came from.  But once it was there, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  It haunted me for months before I seriously tried to understand it or act on it.  During this same period of time, I was studying the book of Ephesians and when I got to chapter 5, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was confronted with the call for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church.  I’d read the passage a dozen times before, but this time it penetrated my heart.  And as the picture painted in Ephesians 5 came into focus for me, I was terrified.  Could I say that I had given my life for this woman?  Dedicated each day to her growth and betterment?  Was she, as a result of my work in her life,  “radiant”, “blameless” or “without blemish”?  And what if I was, literally, asked to present my wife to Christ as he will present His bride, the church, to Himself?  I would be mortified.  A quick audit of how I used my resources - my time, my money and my passion – was damning; I’d clearly invested more of myself in my ministry and my hobbies than in my wife.  That moment of exposure felt like a nightmare coming true: the one where you suddenly realize it’s the end of the semester and somehow you never attended any classes!?  You stagger into the classroom dazed and confused, realizing that in the rush you forgot to put your pants on.  And as you become aware of what’s occurring in the classroom you see that the professor is handing out the final exam! That was the feeling; that was the nightmare - except this time there was no waking up.  It was real.

    By the grace of my God and my wife, I began moving out of the nightmare.  A little counseling and a little honest reflection made it clear that I wasn’t quite the husband that I’d thought myself to be.  Awash in my own self-serving and self-protective way of relating, I’d invested my heart and energy into those things that made me feel good about myself.  I now see that I had, in fact, done more to my wife than for her. I started investing more of myself – my time, my passion, my money - in her and in our marriage.  Although this new investment cost me something, the return quickly equaled – and then exceeded - my investment.  Twenty years later, we share a passion and sweetness in our marriage that I could never have anticipated.  As a marriage therapist, I now find myself asking men the same questions which I had to face.  Have you disinvested yourself from your wife and marriage? …pulled away? …taken on a passive stance?  …invested your time and energy into something that provides a more immediate and predictable return?  If so, I would challenge you to invest as much of yourself into understanding and bettering your wife as you have invested into your career, your hobbies… your Harley.  If you genuinely do, I can almost promise that you will be surprised by what you get back in return.

    -Jeff Pipe

  • Safety

    Last Summer I was reminded why tubing behind a ski boat is for people much younger than myself. After watching my friend Phil throw a couple of young guys off of a tube tethered behind his boat, I told him that I was ready for a ride. As I climbed out of the boat and onto the tube I was overcome by what I must now assume was some form of brief psychosis; temporarily separated from any cognitive awareness of my age, strength and weight at the time, I taunted the power of Phil’s boat and questioned his ability to dismount me from the tube.

    Sixty seconds later, with whitened knuckles clenched to a pair of canvas straps and my heart struggling to circulate blood to gelatinized muscles, my insanity remitted and I became aware of my imminent death. The water that had looked so soft and inviting earlier, now felt like concrete as my feet – flailing behind the tube – skipped across it’s surface. Struggling to retain some appearance of masculine adequacy before the family and friends watching me, I forced my face into a smile as I contemplated whether my impending mutilation would require a closed casket. Each skip of the accelerating tube dislodged exhilaration and replaced it with terror. With the boat exceeding 100 mph (I was later told it was only 15mph but I know better), I decided that the most honorable thing to do would be to release the tube volitionally and, thus, relieve Phil of the guilt he would most certainly feel for killing me himself. After a brief skim across the water, my terror came to an end as the water that threatened me only seconds earlier, now enclosed me in its soft warmth. Upright, conscious and still possessing all limbs, I was successfully able to stop crying before the boat circled back around to pick me up.

    Safety in a marriage – a sense that your spouse is invested in your well-being - is fragile. When you have it, you can risk things once feared and explore terrain previously avoided. When you lose it, even simple daily interactions feel tentative, uncomfortable and frightening. Blaming, name-calling, non-verbal expressions of contempt, criticism, defensiveness and even silence can quickly compromise a sense of safety in a marriage. And if you don’t have safety in your marriage, you don’t have anything. Without safety, establishing any meaningful communication, agreement or intimacy is impossible. Research indicates that once your spouse feels unsafe – and their heart-rate rises above 90 bpm – they are no longer capable of accurately hearing or interpreting what you are saying to them. Rather - if they “hear” anything - it is not what you’re saying, but what they expect to hear you say (which is typically not good news!). You can tell when it happens… their face hardens or they shut down… and on some level you recognize that they are no longer hearing what you have to say. Unfortunately, such a reaction probably triggers your anger and – if you are like most couples – this quickly escalates into what feels like the same old fight yet again. Without safety, even simple conversations deteriorate into destructive and hurtful interactions.

    What have you done to help your spouse feel safe with you recently? In Psalm 32 David says of our God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” If this is true, then even during difficult times in your marriage your safety is insured – and you, in turn, can offer safety to your spouse. If you have not recently made an intentional effort to offer your spouse safety, let me encourage you to do so with the following.

    • Express a commitment to take criticism and contemptuous actions or words out of your marriage
    • Once a day – for the next three days - affirm one positive character trait you genuinely respect in your spouse
    • Once a day for the next 10 days, express appreciation for something – big or small - which your spouse does for you and/or your family
    • Remind your spouse that you are committed to them and that you will not leave them
    • The next time you get into a disagreement with your spouse, set your agenda aside and strive to understand and affirm their position on the matter; the benefit of surrendering your agenda for the sake of understanding your spouse will usually far outweigh the loss of any individual debate or decision
    • Ask your spouse to tell you about things which you do that leave them feeling more or less safe/secure in the relationship