The Tapestry Blog

  • Recovering From Divorce #2: The Blame Game


    We’re cogs in a machine, to put it one way.  We go about our lives spinning away, connecting with other cogs, disconnecting from others.  Along the way our cogs and the cogs of others get worn, some even get chipped or broken if the relational coupling was traumatic.  The point is, when two cogs couple for life, they are not pristine, perfectly machined, perfectly lubricated workers.  Rather, they come together in a miraculous coupling of imperfection.  The goal is to spin together for life, but for some reason or another, about 40-50% don’t (APA, 2016).  Coupled cogs that collide rather than spin complimentarily through relationship are going to fail.  Some catastrophically.


    Blaming the other cog for the relational problems that led to the divorce is common.   Which cog is to blame?  Well, obviously it is the one that’s the most broken and screwed up, right?  Those believing its the other’s fault adjusted more positively post-divorce, according to one study.  Those who take responsibility for the marriage failing have a more negative view of themselves post-divorce (Amato & Previti, 2003).  Well, if that cog wasn’t so jagged and screwed up, why did the “pristine” one decide to marry it?  Why did the “broken” cog decide to couple with the “pristine” one?  Well, obviously, the broken believed they could be healed by the pristine.  Or is that what the pristine one thought?  Maybe the broken one doesn’t even realize they’re broken.  But it’s so obvious, isn’t it?  What if the pristine one really isn’t all that pristine, but rather quite broken, too?  What if the broken cog is actually spinning more smoothly than the pristine cog?  What if the pristine cog’s expectations were set so high that the broken cog, regardless of its true condition, could never meet those pristine expectations?  What if the broken cog is just broken and will never spin smoothly in conjunction with another regardless of the circumstances?  Which cog is to blame?  Enter divorce: it doesn’t matter.


    If relationships are viewed as cycles of interactions, then there is no real beginning and no real end.  Where does the water cycle begin?  Where does the astronomical cycle begin?  Relational cycles follow a similar pattern of no real beginning and no real end.  In relationships, trying to pinpoint who is to blame is only a distraction from the real problem—the cycle itself is to blame.  Some cycles are more likely to fail and do.


    For those struggling with divorce or who have gone through a divorce, the blame game is probably something you’re very familiar with.  The blamer and the blamed have a rough life ahead of them if they believe the faulty thinking that someone is to blame for the failed marriage.  There are definitely some overt actions or behaviors that led to the divorce: an affair(s), drugs, alcohol, abuse, neglect, or work.  All of these actions or behaviors, however, did not occur in a relational vacuum.  The cycle of interaction led to many of these behaviors.  Many of them were brought into the relationship prior to the marriage, but they were maintained or exacerbated by the relational cycle.


    The hardest lesson to learn from a divorce is that the marriage was a cycle of interactions and for every action there is a reaction.  For every relational need unfulfilled is an attempt for it to be filled.   In other cases the need simply gets muted, only to fuel resentment and contempt.  Some attempts at fulfillment were way outside the marital bounds and others were so armored in anger that they got lost in the escalating arguments.  We communicate our feelings and needs in the best way we can given the emotional circumstances.  Often our best isn’t good enough.  Our abilities as husband and wife are often overwhelmed by the cycle.  When there seems to be no other way out, enter divorce.  


    The good news is the cycle doesn’t have to repeat itself.  The cycle, though it destroyed one relationship, can be reconditioned to aid in new ones.  Cogs don’t have to hammer away at each other but can be realigned and smoothed out so that they spin together in harmony.  That process begins with self awareness: understanding how you interact in relationship with others.

    Ultimately, it’s our brokenness from being fallen beings in a fallen world that results in circumstances such as divorce.  Brokenness will be the focus of my next installment.

  • Boundaries: What's Mine and What's Yours


    What do you first think of when you hear the word “boundaries?” Lines? Fences? Walls? As a helper and recovering people pleaser that word tends to feel cold and mean to me. I visualize separation and loneliness. My whole life I’ve struggled with where to put that line with people to be genuine and intimate but also guarded and appropriately cautious. I’ve been guilty of having too many walls which led to loneliness and isolation and I’ve also been guilty of not having enough walls and letting go of too much of myself and being taken advantage of. I’m only just learning how setting proper boundaries with everyone in our lives is not just not mean, it’s the most loving thing we can do for others and ourselves.

    We are wired for intimacy, but what is intimacy actually? It’s the knowing and sharing of yourself and receiving that of the other. The only way we can truly know others and ourselves intimately is knowing where we end and where others begin. That line is different for everyone and it can evolve over time. We have to define what makes us who we are, who we are uniquely called and created to be by God, what our identity is, what’s ok and not ok; defining where our control lies and doesn’t and what our choices are. By knowing how separate we are from others, we are then able to see where we fit with others.

    Reading the book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend was the first step to me truly having my eyes opened to this concept. My mind was opened to the concept that having appropriate and responsible boundaries with others and myself is the most loving and freeing thing. It allowed me to find true intimacy with others and also to stand up for what’s not ok. Boundaries also led to opportunities to teach others how to be in relationship with me, equipping them to know me more.

    I learned to assess my thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviors, choices, desires and values and see what belonged to me and what didn’t. I learned that I was not responsible for others’ thoughts and feelings and they are not responsible for mine. Understanding that took so much pressure off of so many confusing interactions and took away the guilt and turmoil I felt when I owned too much. I realized when I take ownership of someone else’s thoughts or feelings, I’m actually crossing their boundaries.

    Sometimes, when a friend asked something of me, I would said yes begrudgingly because I felt responsible for the disappointment I anticipated I would cause them to feel if I said no. This would only lead to frustration and resentment on my part, while my friend was left thinking that all was well. In so doing, I would cheat both myself and them of a more honest interaction. I would miss an opportunity to show that person what I’m actually able to do or not do and equip them to know what to ask of me in the future. And if that person felt upset that I said no, then that is their issue to grapple with, not mine.

    When I thought about boundaries initially, it seemed like the opposite of the way we’re called to be as Christians. It seemed unkind and selfish. But the more I dove in, the more I realized it’s the best way to be a Christ-like example. We demonstrate loving ourselves and others properly and honestly, when we stand up for what’s ok and not ok, we keep our word and speak clearly, we equip others to connect to us, we do not take control of something that is not ours to control and we are not slaves to the fear, guilt and anger that comes when we are irresponsible with boundaries.

    When is a time where your boundaries were crossed? 

    Where have you crossed someone else’s without realizing it? How did it feel to discover it later?

    Why is it so hard to say no and be honest with what’s ok and not ok?

    How can you grow in being more free and honest with others and yourself?

  • Feeling Out of Control? Just Breathe...

    Frustration.  Anxiety.  Aggravation.  These are some of the feelings I have when things happen that are outside of my control.  I had to take a test the other day.  I prepared for weeks and felt pretty good about it.  I was ready to get it over with.  I got to the testing center the next morning and lo and behold, the test facility was having technical difficulties and could not sign anyone in to take the exam.  Wow!  That’s great.  I never thought a test could get postponed, but it did.  It was aggravating.  I just wanted it over with and now I have to reschedule it.  Was it a “God-thing”?  Quite possibly. I now have more time to study.  Maybe I wasn’t fully prepared.  The point, however, is that I had no control over the situation and I felt very frustrated.


    Another instance of frustration is when people feel things that I do not want them to feel.  My brother is getting married and my wife and kids are not able to stay at the same hotel as the rest of the extended family.  I’m fine with that, but my dad said it kind of bummed him out.  I hate that he feels this way.  I want him to be perfectly fine with us staying a little farther away, but he’s not.  I feel anxious and upset that my dad is bummed.  His feelings are completely out of my hands.  I can’t control his emotions.  I can’t control the emotions of anybody, however hard I try!  


    So much of our lives is not in our hands.  We have no control over traffic.  We have no control over our peers and colleagues.  We have no control over anything outside of our bodies; and even with our bodies we don’t have a whole lot of control.  We get sick.  We get tired at inopportune times.  We become upset.  So, our bodies are frustrating us as well.


    I read an article during lunch that was really depressing and I said to myself that “I can’t let this happen to me.  I can make a difference in this world.  I can be a positive influence,” and I get home and the last thing I want to do is continue in that vein—it’s too challenging.  Where would I begin?  I don’t have the resources.  I’m powerless.  I’m frustrated.  I’m sad.


    I’m stuck.  I’m stuck in this position of wanting to make a difference—to have control, but I don’t.  Why am I in this place?  Why am I stuck here?  Where is God in all this?  Doesn’t He know that I want to be special?  Doesn’t he know I want to be a difference-maker in this world?  Doesn’t he know that traffic ruins my plans to make it home in time to binge watch The Mindy Project on Hulu!


    May I suggest in these situations where a lack of control elicits frustration, anxiety and/or aggravation is to just breathe.  Breathe in deeply and then exhale very slowly—for about 5 minutes.  Just do that.  You’re body will regulate itself and you may feel a tiny semblance of control, which is all we really got.  We can control our breathing.


    Here are some other things we can control: our behavior, our thoughts, our emotions (to a large degree), what we focus on, what we believe, who our friends are, how disciplined we are, what our influences are, and lastly, the choices we make.  But they are all a lot less sexy than what we really want to control: the weather, our peers, our loved ones, traffic, the government, the economy, results, and if we’re really honest, the whole world.  Yep, we want to play God and design the world to our liking.  That would be awesome.  Back in reality we have little to no control over any of those things (at least most of us don’t).  The things we have control over are largely personal to ourselves.  They are also the things for which we should take full responsibility.  Whatever we control is also our responsibility.  


    With the blame game we indulge to protect ourselves from failure, shame, guilt, responsibility, and whatever else we want to avoid facing.  Maybe having so few things which we can truly control isn’t such a bad thing after all?  We fret over so many things that are outside our realm of control; we expend so much time, energy, and thought over these things in an exhausting attempt to feel power over them and yet we’re left worn out with nothing to show for it.  Maybe what we really need is a little courage to face the person in the mirror and deal with the things we can control, however small and insignificant they appear, and watch as our lives become a little more peaceful and pleasant and quite possibly more successful.

  • Recovering From Divorce: Introduction

    The label doesn’t help: Divorced.  


    All of a sudden your entire identity is pressed through this meat grinder and what comes out seemingly doesn’t look very appealing.  Not only that, you don’t feel very appealing.  There is both an internal and external stigma to divorce; no other life experience can really relate to this ordeal.  It is often said that divorce is “the death of a relationship.”  The problem with that analogy is that most people aren’t accused of killing their loved one, whereas in divorce, there is the perception that everyone is thinking that.  The question of who’s at fault gets tossed around like a hot potato by participants, family members, friends and colleagues and the stigma associated with being the one “to blame” doesn’t sit well nor is it entirely accurate.


    Divorce is an unintended consequence of brokenness.  We are all broken.  It cannot be said that all divorces are bad and without merit.  Such black and white thinking dismisses the complex brokenness and infidelity of human beings.  For some, divorce can be a life-saving ordeal, freeing them from an abusive spouse.  For others, divorce is an escape from an unhealthy relationship destined for failure.  It behooves me, for those not experiencing remorseless abuse or physical violence, to seek help in repairing or rekindling a broken marriage, but such endeavors for reconciliation will be fruitless ventures if both are not on board to work through the mess.  And it is a mess.


    Whether you initiated the divorce or you are on the receiving end of it, the experience leaves one feeling a wide range of deeply disturbing emotions.  Only a psychopath can go through the process of divorce and not endure some incredibly powerful and, at times, contradictory emotions.  Maybe the worst part of divorce, emotionally, is the ambivalence.  You cannot simply have one set of complimentary feelings, either good or bad, to deal with throughout the process—they have to shift and change and you feel tossed about like the old man and the sea.  One minute you’re feeling the some semblance of acceptance and the next you are reeling from the incredible anger and hurt.


    Even when a divorce is understandable and biblically grounded, the road for the initiator is not an easy one.  Shame and guilt are probably the two most prevalent emotions, but those emotions can be mixed with relief, sadness, resentment, bitterness, doubt, and anxiety.  Depending on what happened during the marriage and the reasons for the divorce, those emotions, if not processed and dealt with, will follow that individual into the next marriage.  This is one potential reason for why divorce for those married a second time jumps from 50% to 60%.


    The Journey for the recipient is a rollercoaster of fear, anger, anxiety, depression, and abandonment and rejection.  For some, building a wall of resentment and blame for the divorce provides cold comfort, but for those longing for future companionship any future relationship will be viewed through this lens of hurt and pain which will not go unnoticed.  In other cases, maybe those taking full responsibility for the divorce, will live life a shattered individual feeling inadequate or unworthy to try marriage again.  Roughly 53% of divorced individuals attempt marriage again.


    Everything gets questioned going through a divorce.  It’s the uncommonly strong individual, or the sociopath, who doesn’t question their faith, value system, mental wellbeing, or personal choices while going through a divorce.  How can a good God let this happen?  How could I have married such a person?  What have I done?  I can’t believe this is happening to me!  How did I screw this up?  What’s wrong with him/her/me?


    What about the kids?  The best case scenario for divorce is that there are no kids forced through this relational demolition.  The roles of husband and wife may be over; the role of parent never ends.  The problem with human emotion is when it is flooding our bodies, we become incredibly egocentric.  It’s self-preservation.  Kids don’t see it that way.  Often they feel left by the wayside by parents who seem too preoccupied with their own situation and affected emotions to deal with the kids’.  in order to reduce the damage divorce does to the children parents should be aware and seek out how the children are doing emotionally.  Simply asking about their day and getting them to soccer practice won’t cut it.  Parents need to engage the children on how their feeling, reassure them, validate their feelings, and help them feel as comforted as possible.  Remember, even if divorce is ultimately a good thing, change is never easy and straightforward.  Children handle divorce in different ways at different ages.  Being able to meet the child where they’re at developmentally is essential to helping them cope.  This is making the best out of a bad situation.  Unfortunately, no one escapes the collateral damage.


    The divorced make up a greater percent of the population than the widowed in the 21st century.  This is a relatively new phenomenon.  For millennia, death was the most common reason for marriages to end. Today, it is divorce.  Divorce should not have to be something you go through alone.  There is hope and there is help for those experiencing the collateral damage of divorce.  In an upcoming series of blogs, I hope to offer insights, perspectives and resources to help you in working through  recovering from the heartbreak of divorce.   

  • It's Time To Get Your Family Outdoors Because… It Is Restorative.

     

    As a psychologist and therapist, my job is often emotionally taxing and several years ago I found myself confronting burnout and compassion fatigue. I felt like a zombie; empty and depressed. My body, my heart and my mind seemed sluggish and unresponsive. With the help of some key friends, I began re-evaluating my heart and the way I was living my life. I was reminded that it had been well over a year since I’d last spent a night in the woods. So, I resolved to get outdoors at least one weekend each month. I grabbed a friend, loaded my backpack and headed for the mountains. Two days of hiking found us atop a mountain ridge just South of the Smoky Mountain National Park. An evening thunderstorm interrupted the humid afternoon heat - and our dinner - forcing us to temporarily retreat into the tent. Just before sunset, the sky cleared leaving a mist in the valleys unfolding below. As the sun passed below the horizon, the sky filled with color. I found a place to sit on the edge of the ridge as the shadows defining the ridges below me deepened. Transfixed by the beauty of the scene, I found myself unable to move until the sky eventually turned black and the stars began to show themselves. Like one on the brink of starvation, the experience was nurturing my mind, body and soul. Something inside of me loosed its grip and a longstanding tension of which I had lost awareness began to drain from my body. By the end of our trip, I found that I was not only more relaxed, but that my thinking was sharper and more spontaneous again.

    Certainly, the conversations with my friend had played a role in the restoration I was beginning to find, but I am also convinced that the sounds, scents and sights of creation – the realigning of my own body’s rhythms to the rhythms of the natural world – had also played a significant role. When I spend time outdoors, I am often reminded that for all of my knowledge and skill as a psychologist, I have no healing balm that compares with the power of God’s creation. Immersion in His natural world reboots the mind and body, restoring energy, heightening senses and bringing greater clarity of thought. I know this and, yet, prioritizing time outdoors is neither intuitive nor easy. Culture and technology offer a convenience and comfort which too often insulate me from the natural world.

    Author and Journalist Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to explain the array of emotional, cognitive and social difficulties that develop when one is over-exposed to electronic devices and under-exposed to the natural world. Although elements of human culture are rich and modern technology offers great conveniences, there is something deep within our psyche that is nurtured when we are exposed to the beauty and expanse of the natural world. When we give ourselves away to a day in the woods, structured schedules are replaced with the rhythms of the natural world. Intentional and mentally demanding efforts to direct our attention toward the tasks and problems of daily life are replaced by the fascination of a natural world that captures the mind’s attention, restoring – rather than depleting – mental energy. Research suggests that children and adults who live in proximity to green space and involve themselves in outdoor activities are more physically and emotionally healthy; they have greater emotional intelligence, higher self-esteem, spend less time with electronic devices, have lower blood pressure and are less likely to be obese.

    And you don’t have to move your family to a rural or remote location to gain these benefits. Research suggests that even small doses of “Vitamin N” – 30 – 60 minutes outdoors a day – can foster significant benefits to cognitive, emotional and relational functioning. We’ve now confirmed what artists have long known, being outdoors fosters inspiration and creativity. For years I avoided local parks like the Chattahoochee River Parks and Kennesaw Mountain because I did not consider them to be wild enough. More recently, I have discovered how wrong I was. I’ve made weekly hikes in these smaller, but no less natural, areas a part of my weekly routine and it makes a difference to my mental, physical and spiritual health. Even sitting out on the back deck of my suburban home – where the sound of the birds is diminished by the drone of passing cars, lawnmowers and the HVAC unit – is now a fundamental part of my personal maintenance program. So, get yourself and your children outside; allow His creation opportunity to bring you the healing and nurturance it offers.

    The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul – Psalm 23


RSS Feed

Tags

Archive