Everything listed under: Communication

  • How NOT To Read Your Spouse's Mind

    Today Daniel Peeks and Stace Huff join me for a conversation about mind-reading in marriage. We know how much you hate it when your spouse presumes to know what you’re thinking and feeling during an argument… and sometimes they may be right… but more often they’re wrong. So, in today’s show Daniel and Stace offer some insights into how that happens, why its almost always destructive and how you can learn NOT to read your spouse’s mind. If you’re married and you’re human, I know that you’re going to find today’s conversation helpful.


  • Communication in Marriage

    Today Daniel Peeks hosts a conversation with Bev Elliott about communication in marriage. They’re going to probe into those issues that precede communication breakdown and then provide some practical thoughts on how to improve the communication in your marriage.


  • Personally Responsible vs. Blaming

    Epic Love
    Setting:  The Six Elements That Determine the Tone of Your Love Story
    Element #6:  Personally Responsible versus Blaming.

    I gave my wife a call to check-in and let her know that I was on my way home from the office the other day.  We were chatting as I walked across the parking lot when it dawned on me that something was wrong.  You know, that vague feeling you get when something isn't quite right… something is missing.  In a flash, I scanned myself and my immediate surroundings and realized that my front pocket was lighter than it should have been… that the i-phone that usually rests in this pocket was not there.  And, because I rarely leave my phone behind or misplace it, I knew that someone else must have taken it from my office or used it and misplaced it.   Thinking out loud with my wife, I reflected on all of those persons who had come through my office that day.  And, because she had been in my office earlier… and because she often uses my i-phone to check the weather or get on-line… and because she doesn't always put my things back where she finds them… she quickly moved to the top of my list of suspects.    Without hesitating, I turned my questioning toward her.  And, when she remained silent and didn't respond – offering no confession of guilt, no defense of her innocence, I thought it odd.  Until, in that rather awkward moment, I realized what she already knew… that my i-phone wasn't missing… that it hadn't been stolen, lost or misplaced… that it was not in my pocket because it was in my hand… being used to speak to her… Oops.

    Photo Credit: Flickr @Kenny Louie

    When you a reach a place n your marriage where you find yourself more focused on your spouse’s bad behavior than your own, you’re in trouble.  If you want to improve your marriage; if something seems wrong or missing; if you find yourself thinking about what your spouse does and doesn't bring to the table; if you find yourself saying that things would be better if only he would…. If only she was…  Stop it.  The phone is in your hand.  Really.  Trust me.  Its there.  And if you haven’t found it there, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough.

    Let me give you some bad (or, perhaps, good) news.  Its unlikely that you are any more emotionally or relationally mature than your spouse.  As best as we shrinks can tell, people tend to marry people possessing a personal, relational and emotional maturity level comparable to their own.  Your spouse’s “issues” – their relational strengths and weaknesses – may be very different from your's, but when you add it all together they are usually equally problematic.  As I recently heard a divorce attorney say, “Crazy marries crazy.”  Furthermore, as you’ll learn later in this book, when a marriage is in distress it is almost always created and sustained by both partners equally.

    Even if you are in a marriage where your spouse has failed you in a more visible or dramatic manner – as with infidelity, substance abuse or domestic violence – there is mutual responsibility for the relational context surrounding the breach in the relationship.  While you are certainly not responsible for your spouse’s bad behavior, you are mutually responsible for the relational context in which their bad behavior occurs.

    In an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment, Donald turned to his wife and said, “I feel lonely in our relationship.  It seems that the kids and the house are more important to you than I am.”  Deanne looked surprised and then, a little perturbed as she turned toward me.  “I’ll tell you what Donald’s problem is.  He just doesn't know how to express his feelings.  I've been waiting for 20 years to see him feel anything; I'm not even sure he's human anymore.  His father was cold and his mother was just mean; its no wonder he doesn't feel.  I honestly feel sad for him.  Its just who he is.  But, then, he thinks that I’m going to have sex with him?”  “Deanne”, I interrupted, “It seems that you have some pretty good theories about Donald.  You’re a smart woman and I suspect that some of them are right on target.  But I’m wondering what happens in you when Donald told you he was lonely.  You looked surprised, but then you got angry.  What happened there?”  Not yet willing to look at her own fear - and particularly her fear of facing rejection - Deanne continued her diatribe on Donald's issues.

    As a marriage counselor, I find it amusing how well-versed most people are in their spouse’s problems and issues.  We are all “armchair psychologists” when it comes to understanding our spouse.  Unaware of her own culpability, Deanne continued to rant about Donald’s behavior.  However, what she couldn't see was the role that her own behavior played in their marital distress.  Her assessment of David’s emotionally closed and distant manner was fair.  However, what she couldn't see was that her own fear of intimacy and rejection fueled an anger that reinforced Donald’s emotional distance.  It communicated a lack of safety and placed all the blame for the couple’s marital distress at Donald’s feet.  Until she took personal responsibility for her own fears and the blaming which arose out of them, it was unlikely her relationship would change or grow.   In fact, her refusal to do so would eventually contribute to the demise of the relationship.

    - Jeff Pipe

    If you want to learn more about this topic or how you can make your marriage into an Epic Love, consider participating in an Epic Love retreat. Registration is currently open for the weekend of June 6-7. 

  • Stonewalling vs. Empathy

    Epic Love
    Setting:  The Six Elements That Determine the Tone of Your Love Story  
    Element #4:  Stonewalling vs. Empathy

    When defensiveness fails to protect from recurrent confrontations of contempt and criticism, stonewalling is the next layer of self-protection that finds its way into a marriage relationship.  Stonewalling is, in short, emotional disengagement.  As one man recently told me, “When she gets upset like that, I just push in the clutch and ease on out.”  When someone is stonewalling, they will typically stop responding to their spouse in any meaningful way.  They may offer short, one word responses or they may simply remain silent.  However, stonewalling is not defined by the lack of any verbal reaction, but by the emotional disengagement.  Because one spouse has emotionally removed themselves from the interaction, their posture, tone of voice and facial expressions remain flat.  They wear a “thousand mile stare”; though their body is present, their heart and mind have left the building. 

    Men are more likely to stonewall and by the time that a guy is stonewalling on a regular basis, a relationship is in trouble.  Men who stonewall are likely to do so because they feel themselves being flooded by emotion and stress.  They feel helpless to alter the course of an interaction and on some level they have begun to lose hope.  Unable to cope with their negative feelings or meaningfully confront the situation, they give up, flip an internal switch and emotionally disengage.

    Budweiser aired a very funny commercial illustrating stonewalling several years ago.  The ad opens with the picture of an infuriated football coach yelling directly into the ear of a referee standing on the sideline.  As the referee maintains a level gaze, seemingly unaffected by the coach’s rage, the game’s commentators marvel, “Coach Ferguson is beating the ref like a rented mule and the ref’s just tuning him out.”  They muse, “Boy, where do you train to take a beating like that” as the ad transitions to a scene in the referee’s home where we find his enraged wife yelling at him as he stares blankly at the television across the room.  “And you didn’t take out the trash yesterday like you said you would!  And you haven’t asked me out on a date in years!  And it wouldn’t hurt if once in a while you told me that you loved me!  And to think that I could have married Donald Hoffman!”

    Sally’s anger flashed so quickly that it startled even me.  “Don’t try to act like you don’t know what’s going on Ed!  I saw you look at that woman in the lobby of that restaurant!  I’m not crazy Ed!  You’re not going to play me for the fool again!”  Twice Ed opened his mouth as if to speak and each time Sally cut him off, voicing her hurt and anger with increasing intensity.  I watched as Ed gave up and then “left the building”.  He stopped trying to speak.  His eyes shifted slightly to the side of Sally’s head – far enough to the side so that he did not have to see or absorb the full intensity of her anger, but not so far as to make his disengagement obvious.  I allowed Sally to continue for another minute, noting that her anger was increasing as Ed disengaged.  “Sally.  What is it like for you right now as you’re talking to Ed?”  I queried.  “I’m just wasting my breath!  I don’t think he’s even listening to me!”  She was right. 
    In relationships, stonewalling is the emotional equivalent to cutting off someone’s oxygen.  The emotional detachment inherent to stonewalling is a form of abandonment and the effect that it has on a spouse is dramatic.  The initial feelings of terror – which are usually below the water line of awareness - are typically followed by secondary feelings of anger and, then, aggressive efforts to get some emotional reaction - any emotional reaction - even a negative one.  And when these efforts fail, the internal response for your spouse is predictable.  He doesn't care.  He doesn't love me.  He's left me. 

    Where stonewalling marks disengagement, empathy marks engagement.  Empathy is indicative of care and connection.  Genesis 2 records for us the power of the union between a husband and a wife.  Adam refers to Eve as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  The passage goes on to clarify that for the sake of the marriage, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  This union is more than sexual in nature.  Contemporary research highlights the substantial change that occurs to the structure of the mind when you establish an emotionally intimate and secure bond with your spouse.  Mirror neurons allow you to feel what your spouse feels, think like your spouse thinks and anticipate what your spouse might do next.  Internal, mental maps are dedicated to tracking the emotional, cognitive and even physical whereabouts of your spouse. Empathy - any emotional expression that shows your spouse that you are feeling what they feel - demonstrates connection.  While empathy may not necessarily ease your spouse's negative feelings, it lets them know that they are not alone in them. 

    My wife’s eyes begin to fill with tears and, even before I understand what is happening, my own eyes begin to water.  The reality that her emotional experience has become my own is unpleasant; I don't like to feel pain and I don't like to see her in pain.  I want to stop it - to fix it or make it go away - but I know that what she needs is to know that I am feeling it with her.  My empathy – my emotional response to her – tells her that I have not abandoned her, I am with her.  Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

    - Jeff Pipe

     If you want to learn more about this topic or how you can make your marriage into an Epic Love, consider participating in an Epic Love retreat.

  • Criticism vs. Disagreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Jeff Pipe

  • 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 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

  • Communication Doesn't Work

    “That’s not what I said!” Though his eyes were pleading for something more, the frustration and anger in his voice was clear. “That’s exactly what you said!” his wife countered, digging in her heels. What followed was the standard argument.

    While she unpacked her convictions regarding the incident and its implications for the marriage, he retreated into himself; his eyes rested on the wall behind her – far enough to the left of her eyes so as to protect him from actually absorbing what was being said, while not so far away as to break the brittle illusion that he was listening. Her eyes burned deep into his, unaware of his detachment; indifferent to anything beyond her own satisfaction of expression, she forced her words into him like a bent key into a lock. I allowed this to go on for several minutes before asking, “Do you think that he is hearing you?” After a long pause… she found herself unable to answer.

    Two days later, sitting with friends, I watch as a kinder and gentler version of the same is played out. My friend Billy is sharing the pain he has experienced since his divorce and the healing which God has – after five years – begun providing him only recently. His voice quivers with emotion and I am impressed by his courage, but aware of his vulnerability. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that my friend Sue has inched slightly forward in her chair. My stomach sinks as I recognize that she’s prepared her response to Billy’s situation. She’s no longer listening; she’s eagerly waiting for him to pause. When he does, she jumps in, offering her experience and opinion. They’re not bad thoughts – she’s a bright woman – but its clear that she is more invested in speaking her mind than pursuing Billy; in response, I see the subtle shift on Billy’s face as he retreats to safer emotional ground.

    After 15 years in the therapist’s chair, I am acutely aware of the value of listening. A man recovering from depression recently paid me a great kindness when he said, “I really feel like you get me… most of the time I feel like I’m living alone on the Island of Weird and no one understands me at all… but you keep asking questions until you get it. I don’t feel so alone.” While these words are encouraging to me, they also highlight the unfathomable emotional divide which characterizes most relationships and, more poignantly, most marriages.

    Ironically, research on communication in marriage indicates that it doesn’t work. More specifically, teaching couples in distant or conflictual relationships how to use concrete communication skills isn’t effective for fostering change. Within hours, days or – at best – weeks, these techniques are forgotten and unused at critical moments. However, that same research indicates that couples who establish emotional intimacy – a mutual emotional understanding and warm affection - easily adopt healthy communication strategies. Communication is, thus, only a tool - a means to establish intimacy; but if that shared emotional connection is not established then the tool is useless. Intellectual understanding is of little value. If you are not willing to set aside your agenda – your desires, goals and self-protection - for the sake of genuinely seeking to understand and respond your spouse, no amount of communication will make the difference. The question thus becomes, are you willing to strive for that understanding of your spouse? On behalf of your spouse, let me ask…

    • Do you hear who I am or do you hear who you expected me to be?
    • Do you hear my heart or do you only hear my words?
    • Do you listen to understand me or do you listen to appease me?
    • Are you listening for my needs and desires or are you listening for opportunities to forward your own agenda?
    • Will you dare to emotionally engage with me and hear all that I am saying - risking disappointment to listen beyond my words for the beating of my heart and the whirring of my mind?
    • Will you be curious enough to engage your mind and heart with me, asking questions until I make sense to you… until you recognize that I am not so different from you (and that I am so very different from you)… until you and I are a little less alone than before we started talking?
    • Will you recognize that words fail and understanding is hard earned, taking the time to tell me what you hear – insuring that you got it right… and I said it right - before you respond to me?
    • Will you listen and, in so doing, dare to acknowledge and bridge the frightening gap of emptiness that stands between us… the gap that leaves us both safe, but alone.

    Let me recommend a simple tool that provides an opportunity for you to better understand your spouse and begin to foster emotional intimacy in your relationship. Try making “90 Meetings in 90 Days” happen with your spouse. Once a day for the next 90 days, take 10 minutes to exchange the following information with your spouse: 1) What was your high for the day? 2) What was your low for the day? 3) What was something interesting or curious that happened to you today? Reflect back your spouse’s thoughts to them and seek to establish a new or deeper understanding of their experience. Once you’ve established understanding, you’ll find that you feel with them and then for them.