The Tapestry Blog

  • Marriage is Hard Work, But Good Work (#5 of 12)

    12 Lessons In Marriage:  #5

    If you’re smart and have done your homework, then after the limmerance bubble pops in your marriage you figure out that your expectations were impossible.  You realize that marriage was never meant to be the end-all… its just a living metaphor… to point us to the end-all.  You embrace this and you start building a more realistic marriage.  At a core level, you realize that your needs will only be met in Christ and - not denying your disappointment - you let it lead you toward a deeper and more immediately relevant experience of His provision.  You shortcut the anger and resentment, and - not denying your spouse’s weaknesses and failures - you offer them grace and forgiveness.  The demand that they come thru for you in some way dissipates and you come to experience some level of contentment.  

    In like manner, you recognize that you could never really meet your spouse’s needs.  You come to peace with the idea that you are not responsible for their happiness or emotional fulfillment… you’re just a participant.  You get to give to them and care for them, but you are not responsible for them.  You recognize that you do, in fact, suck as a spouse.  But its OK because you know that there is grace and forgiveness for you - ultimately in Christ, but maybe from your spouse as well.  And instead of that making you lazy, you find that this grace really frees up the love and affection you have for your spouse.  You don’t need to avoid them and you lean in.  And when you do disappoint them, you don’t get defensive.  Instead, you feel compassion and empathy for them.  And, really, that’s all they wanted anyways - to know that they weren’t alone. 

    So, you work hard and you begin building a more sustainable sense of connection and teamwork.  You figure out how to manage - maybe even enjoy - the strikingly different personalities, interests and values you bring into the marriage.  You learn how to work through conflict and disagreement.  Some of that earlier passion you had returns as the sense of security builds.  You hit a point where you genuinely believe that your spouse is connected to you and striving to care for your welfare - even when they can’t successfully do so.  Your first assumption is that they care and that they accept you for who you are… the good, the bad and the ugly.  You’re “one”.  

    And then something changes…  maybe you have a kid… maybe you graduate a kid… maybe you get a new job… maybe you lose a job… maybe a parent or friend or sibling or child dies… maybe you move… maybe you realize that your sex life has become predictable… or maybe you’re not as happy in the marriage as you were before.  

    But something will happen and it will disrupt what you’ve built.  Maybe it all blows up and you’re starting from scratch.  Or maybe it’s not so dramatic.  

    Then you go back to work.  

    Next: #6 Love is Passion (and Commitment)

    Previous: #4 On Addiction and Infidelity

  • On Addiction and Infidelity (#4 of 12)

    12 Lessons on Marriage:  #4

    Maybe your avoidant/withdrawn/detached coping strategy has left you disconnected from your own emotional experience - your insecurities and longings.  You haven’t yet recognized that you’re in a state of emotional need in the marriage.  You’re on auto-pilot and just coasting through marriage and family life.  Maybe work or some hobby has captured your attention.  Perhaps you’ll won’t wake-up until mid-life - or as the kids age out of the house.  Suddenly you realize that you’ve lost a decade or two.  And then there’s a sense of urgency.  

    Maybe you are painfully aware of the deficits in your marriage but you have some little addiction to help you cope.  Porn, alcohol, sexual acting-out, weed, over-eating and/or spending can all medicate the emotional turmoil of a difficult marriage.  They can also sate the underlying relational/spiritual needs.  In my profession, we call all of these activities “competing attachments”.  Like someone parking their car in the handicapped space, they illicitly fill the emotional/relational/spiritual space inside of you that your relationship with your spouse and your God were meant to fill.  Once that parking space is filled, there’s no space left for your spouse.  Although only a temporary salve that is ultimately self-destructive, they are often more reliable and more predictable than the challenge of engaging your spouse at a meaningful level.  

    Even worse (though not by much) you meet someone else along the way who shows you attention… or compliments you… or touches you… and your heart leaps in a way that it has not in a long time.  You can’t help but fantasize that you could be happier with someone else.  This idea is alluring enough that when this someone else seems to understand and accept you… to have more in common with you…. to genuinely make you feel enjoyed, known, wanted and happy again… you lean into them when you know you shouldn’t.  You get too close, say too much and your heart or your body gets swept away.  You jump in and ride the limmerance wave again.  It is an awesome ride… not all that different from a cocaine high, but all natural.  Strong threads of shame and guilt are woven through the relational euphoria this time, but as long as you are focused on them it’s manageable.  

      Eventually, you will find that the shock-waves of your affair reach further into your heart, mind and world than you had anticipated.  It effects you, your spouse, your children, your extended family, your friends, your church and your community.  It will impact your children directly - and their marriages - and probably the generation beyond that.  The damage to your own heart alone - even if no one ever finds out - is breath-taking in its extent and subtlety.  The effect on a spouse - even if they don’t find out - is profound.  The emotional distance necessary for one spouse to sustain the secret of an affair is disorienting and crazy-making to the other, altering their view of themselves and their way of relating.  

    If the affair comes out and your spouse stays - and if you work hard - it will take a couple of years to recover from the relational trauma.  If you don’t do the work, the damage of the trauma is like a toxin that will eventually kill your heart and the marriage.  Deception is ultimately more destructive than infidelity and even if you divorce, it will take your spouse years to recover from the betrayal of trust.  

    Next: #5 Marriage Is Hard Work, but Good Work 

    Previous: #3 You Probably Married The Wrong Person

  • You Probably Married The Wrong Person (#3 of 12)

    12 Lessons on Marriage

    If you’re not sure, then you’ve probably married the wrong person.  If you’ve not yet realized that the Gospel - and not your marriage - is the solution to what ails you, then you are probably lost in your disappointment or your shame and feeling like you married the wrong person.  After all, things aren’t working in the marriage…. and you can see that you weren’t really ready to marry when you did…and you didn’t really know what you wanted and needed then… you were too young… and now it seems clear that you married him/her for the wrong reason - you felt pressure from your parents, you got pregnant, you wanted to get away from your parents, you were just stupid.  You weren’t a good fit; you’re not compatible.  You don’t share the same interests or values - he’s just not as thoughtful or sensitive as you are; she’s so anxious and inhibited; he can’t appreciate your creativity; she’ll never be adventurous; he doesn’t… she can’t… Your building frustration and pain and shame are compelling evidence for the idea that you married the wrong person.  


    It’s a reasonable conclusion.  It’s not true, but it’s reasonable.  You just don’t have the perspective yet to realize that everyone marries the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong reason.  It’s not about who you marry, but what you do with the relationship.  In spite of the differences you and your spouse have, you are as well-suited for each other as any other couple out there.   You are no more socially attractive, physically attractive, intelligent or emotionally/relationally mature than your spouse.  “Crazy marries crazy.”  You don’t know that trading one spouse for another is, at best, trading one set of problems for a different set.  “Its six of one or a half-dozen of the other.”  Though your relationship  problems are unique to you in their quality, they’re no different in quantity from the challenges and conflicts other couples are confronting.  But, until you’ve burned through a couple of marriages, you really can’t see that.  

    Perhaps if you find someone more suited to you, the second marriage will be easier.  It won’t - it will likely be harder… but you won’t be able to scapegoat your spouse and you will be more motivated.  Nobody wants to divorce twice.  You can kick the can down the road for a little while longer with a second marriage, but you’ll eventually have to do the work you avoided in the first marriage.  But how could you know that yet?  

    Next: #4 A Word On Addiction and Infidelity

    Previous: #2 The Death Spiral and The Gospel

  • Weaving The Love of God Into Your Child's Heart - Part 1

    Today, Bev Elliott and Melissa King join us for a conversation about parenting children.  As a grandmother, a mother, a play therapist, a family therapist and a house parent, Bev has great   perspective on parenting and a wealth of wisdom to offer.  In today’s show, she’s going to present a broad range of information on parenting as she presents her “Tapestry” Model for parenting.  So buckle in and hold on because we are going to cover a lot of material today!

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  • The Death Spiral and The Gospel (#2 of 12)

    12 Lessons on Marriage

    Until you come to a point of realizing that the relational/marital expectations you had prior to marriage were distorted by the limmerance buzz, misplaced and impossible, then you are ushered into a building sense of disappointment with your spouse.  They become the scapegoat for your un-fulfilled longings and you must get them to do the loving or romantic or protective things that seemed so natural for them before.  Their failures and weaknesses become the focus of your attention. Frustration, resentment and anger progressively build inside of you and eventually - maybe after a week or maybe after a decade - it begins spilling out.  

    Your ability to trust is immature; it feels like you can’t absorb any more disappointment or hurt and you’ve got to take charge.  Of course, you don’t think of yourself as controlling.  You’re just reasoning with them, or pointing out what they’re not seeing or calling out your own sacrifices and work in the hope that they’ll reciprocate.  You have to get them to do something - help around the house, help with the kids, make more money, plan a date, talk more - anything that shows you that they see you and care.  The tragedy is that anything you get from them in this manner can’t really be received as a reflection of their love for you… they only gave it to you because you threatened them, demanded it, earned it or cajoled it out of them.  Do they love you or are they just scared of you - even worse, obligated to you?  

    If you’ve got a modicum of self-awareness, your eyes turn inward and you see what’s below the surface:  selfishness and a fear that maybe the marriage - maybe you - are just not worth that much to them or, even deeper, that you’re just not worth that much to anyone.  

    Or, perhaps, you find yourself on the receiving end of a spouse’s disappointment and anger.  You say that you’d be fine if they would just relax.  Why can’t they be content with what they have?  It was good enough before you got married.  You scramble to try and please them, but never seem to quite get it right.  It starts to feel like no matter how much you do for them its never quite enough.  

    So, you resign yourself to failure and begin withdrawing and/or avoiding them.  You stay at the office a little longer (you feel adequate there and they seem to love you), get busy with a hobby or numb out in front of the television.   To avoid the inevitable conflict, you stop talking about real things with your spouse; better to keep it light.  Eventually, you build an emotional buffer around yourself.  

    If you look inward, you will come to see that they are threatening to expose your inadequacy.  You haven’t figured out yet that you can’t meet all of their needs and you’re not responsible for doing so.  So, their disappointment and anger is registering as a direct reflection of your adequacy.  Your spouse has become a mirror in which you see your own weaknesses, flaws and shortcomings.   So, you back away from the mirror - emotionally and then physically and then sexually - to avoid the pain and shame.   


    So, one of you is angrily trying to get your spouse to meet your needs and make something happen in the marriage - deal with the conflict, provoke action, facilitate engagement, initiate intimacy - while the other is desperately trying to avoid conflict, exposure and failure.  One of you is over-working and over-responsible, driving things forward for fear of what you would discover if you stopped.  You’re scared of being alone in an empty marriage.  But your increasing desperation and intensity is received by your spouse as criticism and rejection. Although the emotional buffer they have donned leaves them looking indifferent, they are deeply troubled.  Their seeming apathy and lack of emotion is a marker for their self-protective emotional withdrawal.  But they’re not withdrawing because you’re unimportant to them.  They’re withdrawing because disappointing and failing you feels intolerable.  It exposes their failure as a spouse and as a person.  They fear that if you see too much of them - if you see them for who they are - then at some point you’ll reject them.  But, of course, it doesn’t look that way and their withdrawal just confirms your deepest fears, driving you to work all the harder.  

    That pattern - that dance of pursuit and withdrawal, attack and disengagement - becomes a self-perpetuating marital death spiral that progressively escalates conflict and creates growing emotional distance.  And unless you are able to get to the fears undergirding it - find a way to talk vulnerably about those deeper insecurities - your relationship will eventually become what you fear.   

    The irony, of course, is that the Gospel is immediately relevant to those deeper fears and insecurities.  The Good News is that you are inadequate… you really have failed both your spouse and your God.  You are naked in the Garden and God is calling you to come out from behind the bushes.  The gig is up.  You deserve to be rejected and abandoned.  You are not worthy of love or care, not to mention a new car or more help around the house.  You deserve to be left alone.  But God is out there beckoning for you to come out.  His eyes are filled with compassion and forgiveness.  Jesus took care of it.  He knows you’ve failed and He accepts you anyways.  He sees the ugliness inside and still embraces you.  He knows your disappointment and your need; He wants to care for you.  

    If the Gospel is true, then you can risk engaging with your spouse even though you have come up short with them.  You can tolerate their disappointment because you are not responsible for it.  You can empathize with him/her in their disappointment because the God of the Universe has forgiven you and you stand clean before Him.  

    If God truly loves you and cares for you, then you can surrender your efforts to manage your spouse.  You can wait for your spouse to come to you.  You don’t have to get them to take care of you because your very Creator loves you and is close.  He has committed to care for you.  You don’t have to fear the loneliness because He is with you.  And those disappointments are purposeful - they mature hope, shifting your focus away from your spouse and toward the day when you will see Him face-to-face… the day when everything your heart longs for will be yours.  

    Next: #3 You Probably Married The Wrong Person

    Previous: #1 Love Is A Rush, But Marriage Is Hard

  • Love Is A Rush, But Marriage Is Hard (#1 of 12)

    12 Lessons on Marriage

    As a marriage therapist, writing something of value that might be helpful for for every couple is hard because every couple is different.  In my office, I know it is critical that I understand each unique relationship and the specific challenges they are facing. I ask questions until I find out what’s going on, how it went wrong and what needs to happen.  If there’s nothing else that 20 years of counseling couples has taught me, it’s that you don’t understand a relationship until you’ve heard from both sides and asked a lot of questions.  And even then, the most important things - the things that eventually make or break the marriage - are often subtle and hidden from awareness.

    So, before I say anything to you about your marriage, I have to confess that I don’t know you or your marriage.  I am painfully aware as I write, that some of the information I feel compelled to share - maybe all of if - will be off-target.  Even worse, in my effort to write in broad strokes that might be applicable to a larger group, I may speak to no one.  If I, thus, assert myself into your marriage or family without adequate understanding for what you have gone through, please forgive me. 

    With that acknowledged, I would like to offer 12 lessons on marriage.  Some are learned through 35 years of marriage to my wife Michele and some arise from the past 20 years of counseling couples.  Most are a merger of both.   These lessons provide little practical guidance or steps - to offer such would feel disrespectful to the complexity of your relationship.  Rather, these lessons provide a framework - some truths and principles - from which you can, perhaps, see your heart, your marriage and your faith more clearly.  Perhaps one or two of them will be helpful.  

    Lesson #1:  LOVE IS A RUSH, BUT MARRIAGE IS HARD

    I know that you’ve heard this before, but marriage is not easy.  It only feels like its going to be easy when you’re dating because you’re in a state of limmerance.  What you may not have heard before is that this “honeymoon” period involves a very real physiological and neurological change that accelerates the bonding process.  It lasts as long as 18 months, but more often less than that.  The “high” associated with it is triggered when you think about - or are with - your love.  Although it can become sexual, it is not fundamentally sexual. Rather, the chemical change produces a feeling of euphoria and, to some degree, an immunity to physical or emotional pain.    If you were struggling with anxiety or depression before, you’re probably not feeling much - if any - of it when you are in this stage with your person.  More importantly, the neurological re-configuration associated with the change in chemistry provides you with an illusory experience of oneness with the person to whom you are bonding.  You get the sense that they think and feel in the same way that you do.  So, besides experiencing a massive bump in mood, you feel a deep sense of emotional connection that may be like nothing you’ve experienced before.   

    But, it doesn’t last.  

    And somewhere in the midst of this emotional/relational crack high, you get married.  

    Then it goes away.  Maybe abruptly or maybe progressively, but it goes away.    

    Then you’re confronted with the realities of your shortcomings as individuals and differences as a couple and you feel like you’ve been duped… it was a bait-and-switch.  The “happy” is gone and you’re really not sure that you even like this person to whom you are now married.  During limmerance it really felt like your spouse could meet your emotional/relational needs for a lifetime and now they’re not doing it anymore.  When the party ends and you’re relational super-hero is exposed as being just another human being, you’re confronted with the challenge of some hard relational work.  You’ve got to learn how to navigate conflict and disagreement as you meld two very different personalties and backgrounds into a cohesive one.  You come to see that your spouse is more wounded and reactive than you’d previously perceived them to be.  Further, if you stop blaming them and are honest with yourself, you see that you’re more wounded and selfish and reactive than you’d previously known.  

    When the buzz wears off its a bit of a shock.  You thought you had a good relationship and you’re confused.  The good news is that the ground is razed, “demo day” is done and you are ready to start work.  You have the opportunity to build a real relationship… a real marriage.  It’s going to be harder than you thought and it’s going to take ongoing work to build it and then keep it vital.  But if you put in that work as a couple you can re-claim that passion you had earlier.  It will be a little different - less consuming, but deeper; less fiery hot, but more resilient; sweeter - but no less passionate.  But that reclamation process will take decades, not a few months or years. 

    Next: #2 The Death Spiral and The Gospel

  • Staying Connected With Your Teen

    Today Melissa King and Bev Elliott join me to continue our previous conversation about parenting adolescents.  Although the teen years are inherently challenging, in today’s show, Melissa is going to offer us some practical ideas for staying connected to your teen in a way that helps minimize conflict in  the home and foster development toward adult independence.  

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  • Understanding Your Teen

    Today Melissa King and Bev Elliott join us for a conversation about parenting adolescents.  In today’s show, Melissa is going to help us understand some key dynamics going on in the development of adolescents.  My hope is that today’s show will help you normalize your own experience at home in a way that both relieves some tension and allows you to be more present with your kids.  

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  • Relief From Panic

    Today we are continuing our conversation with Sarah Collier and Melissa King on anxiety and panic.  In today’s podcast, we are going to build off of our previous show and provide you with some strategies and resources for resolving panic and managing anxiety more effectively.  Sarah’s got some great ideas to help us stop avoiding our panic and deal with it.  

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  • Understanding Panic

    Today, Sarah Collier and Melissa King join me for a conversation about anxiety and panic.  While some of us are more prone to anxiety than others, my observation is that we will all go through seasons in our life where both anxiety and panic become a part of our experience.   So, whether your struggling with anxiety right now or not, I know that you're going to find some benefit from today’s conversation with Sarah as she helps us to better understand anxiety and panic.   

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