Writing the Next Chapter in your Relationship Story

When my co-author, Sally, and I first decided to write books together, we imagined a trilogy. The first would be a book on friendship, the second would be a book about kids (both published by FaithWalk in 2005/6) and the final book (that never got written) was supposed to be about marriage.

Pondering the last project in the series, we bantered back and forth via phone:

“I’m not sure I have much to say about marriage. Sally, this book needs to wait until we’re old and grey and we have more wisdom on the subject.”

I’m pretty sure she was lounging in front of her fireplace during this conversation, crunching on homemade kettle corn, because she kept apologizing for munching loudly in my ear.

“Cher, collectively, we’ve been married for thirty years. That’s valuable life experience. I know we have something to say about relationships: the unexpected gifts, the wrenching disappointments, the mystery of it all!”

How ironic that in lieu of writing that book, and now 22 years into my own marriage, I’m pursuing a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Now, I listen to other people’s relationship stories. And I love it. Most couples are focused on what’s not working when they first come in, but it’s rewarding to discover what is working, and to help people find creative ways to partner.

Thanks for the privilege of working with you for the past year, and for teaching me that:

  • Conflict is inevitable, and everyone has a different way of dealing with it. Whether your style is more animated and feisty, or reserved and methodical, the question is: do you have the skills needed to effectively problem solve?
  • Relationships are as unique and varied as the rows and rows of paint swatches at Home Depot. I mean, how many yellows can there be? You simply need a shared vision of how you’re going to work and play together to create the changes that you need.
  • Relationships can be challenging, so why not have some fun along the way? I like to dig in and help you work on the tough stuff, but I also like to laugh. I’ve learned to balance “heavy” sessions with “lighter” sessions to encourage perspective.

Remember, it’s never too early to reach out for support! Think of it as an opportunity to write another chapter in that relationship book that is yours and yours alone. What will the title of that new chapter be?

Cheri Mueller, Marriage and Family Therapy Intern

Work it! Making the Marriage Dance serve You.

Last time I talked about the marriage dance, and how it related to having a systemic perspective. A systemic perspective can be quite advantageous, as it is team focused and empowering, rather than demonizing, oppositional and helpless.

So practically speaking, how would a systemic perspective play out in a real live marriage?

Two common examples, the parent/child and pursuit/disengagement dynamics.

Now, if you’ve been married for any length of time (or even in a relationship past the honeymoon phase), chance are you know exactly what I’m referencing.

The parent/child dynamic is where one partner feels like they have to be a parent because their partner acts like a child, whilst simultaneously the other partner resents their partner for acting like a parent and treating them like a child.

The pursuit/disengagement dynamic is where one partner pursues, to which the other retreats or disengages. This in turn elicits a more “inspired” pursuit, which gives way to ever increasing disengagement or retreat (read, “runs away”).

Can anyone relate here?

These two dynamics alone can be extremely frustrating. The maddening part is that they feed into each other. That’s the dance. Using myself as an example, the more I pull away, the stronger and more panicked my wife pursues. And if her pursuit was off putting in the first place, her doubly intense pursuit is twice as off putting, resulting in my doubly pulling away, which is then 100 times more terrifying to my wife. You may have noticed a slight unaccounted for escalation in my math there. This is because, after careful study, I have found emotions tend to care less about accounting and do not feel the need to make sense.

This plays out identically with the parent/child dynamic, wherein the more a spouse acts like a parent – the more we are literally encouraged and trained to act like a child. And no one is happy.

Madness.

The good news is, it only takes one person to change the system. Either I, or my wife can do something different. I can engage my wife, and more than likely she’ll back off the intensity. My wife can treat me like a grown man (she does!), and more than likely I’ll start acting more like an adult*. So if you’re reading this, be encouraged! You can start the ripple effect, break the cycle, shift the dance and change the system! It all starts by recognizing your own power and influence in THE DANCE.

*I should mention that, treating one like an adult does not necessarily mean leaving them alone. It more entails respect and conversation between equals – i.e. children are scolded and told what to do, adults collaborate and negotiate. More on this later.

Where is Spring?

SNOW IN APRIL?!?!? I just got done plowing the driveway and am greatly anticipating temperatures greater than 40 degrees!  I am in the same boat as most Minnesotans at this point of the year, wanting spring to start and the snow to vanish. As I type schools are delayed, accidents are occurring, and roads are being plowed. On the flip side kids are outside playing, snowmen are coming to life, and families are enjoying life together. 

Comparatively this much snow in the southern part of our country can be crippling, but Minnesotans are prepared. We are ready for battle. We throw on our winter jackets, mittens, and scarfs; take out our shovels and blowers, and move forward. We adapt to the elements, we invest in tools that will help us through, and we turn snow into sport (snowmobiling, ice fishing, skiing, etc.) Snow is a way of life for some; we embrace it. Others may struggle and complain each time it snows, but we all get through it! We  have hope spring will come, it always has; trees bud, flowers grow and temperatures warm. It may not arrive on our terms or as soon as we'd like but it comes. For some our hope weakens, and fear we may enter another ice age. For others we take vacations to warm locations, we look longingly at pictures of warm beaches to help us through the winter months.

Snow in April may reflect how your marriage or relationship has felt recently. You may be going through a season of life where there seems to be little change. Another hardship or argument has added greater stress or demand into your daily life. You might have recently discovered an affair. You may be uncertain of what will happen next, or even what your next step might be. Whatever it may be, know that there is hope! Know that spring is coming and you have tools available to help dig you out. Counseling can be much like a snow plow, we help you to make a path through the snow so you can drive on, so can see clearly again, so you can take your next step and get back on your feet. If you are frustrated with a recent argument, if you are losing hope, if you don't know what next steps to take, then maybe now is the time to consider counseling. Today is an opportunity to change your circumstances. Today is an opportunity to see clearly again. Today is a day for hope!

Spring is on its way!

Hello World...

No, I’m not a computer programmer. Far from it actually. But I thought a brief introduction might make any encouragement and challenges I make here, a little more personable. Therapy is after all, all about the relationship. That being said, allow me to sincerely extend both my appreciation for reading and to applaud your proactive interest in self-improvement, relationship improvement and very possibly other/spouse improvement (don’t worry I won’t tell them).

If you have already read my profile page, located here -> http://www.lifecounselingmn.com/scott_steinbarger/ then you already know the main things. I’m married to a woman I don’t deserve and am passionate about people, marriage and masculinity. Beyond that, I hope to offer encouragement, challenge and a novel perspective. A perspective that is maybe different from yours, a perspective that might help, a perspective that could possibly illuminate a way out by looking up when there were no doors all around. I just might challenge you too. I may challenge you, but only ever to build you up, only ever to rise to the occasion. To triumph, to believe in yourself. Because that can often be challenging. And I hope to offer some encouragement. Encouragement that you’re not alone, you are not crazy and there is hope. If I’m really on, I’ll encourage you with a challenging new perspective. Lastly, I should mention that I am a Christian. I mention this, because from time to time I may throw in a verse or two to help me paint the picture. There won’t be any preaching (that’s my brother’s job), but you work with what you’ve got, and that’s part of my reference point.

For today though, I’d like to share a quote I find both funny and profound.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” — Lao Tse

Indeed.