Category Archives: listening

Gottman’s Sound Relationship House

Depression, anxiety, and divorce are continuing to rise. The fallout on marriages and parenting is immense. It may be time to get back to core values of marriage and family. One question to ask yourself: “Is my home a place to get support and reduce stress?”

Luke 14:28-30 says that strong families don’t just happen on accident – it takes intentionality. Proverbs 24:3-4 adds that our goal is to build our house on wisdom.

One of the best resources for relational tools is Dr. John Gottman. He is the leading researcher on marriage and family relationships. He’s “the guy that can predict divorce and family break up with 94% accuracy.” He has provided the blueprints for what he calls a “Sound Relationship House.” A sound relationship house is made possible by two support beams: trust and commitment. Based on his research, Gottman outlines seven levels that predict healthy family relationships, which are highlighted below.

1. Build love maps.

There’s an advantage to knowing the best ways to love each individual in our family. Here are five tools.

Gottman love maps for couples and kids
List of favorite things or ways to feel loved
Love Languages
Our Moments card game (or similar game based on personal questions for each other)

What if once a day you did something for each family member that made them feel loved?

2. Share fondness and admiration.

This is known as the care and feeding of the relationship. What if once a day you shared fondness or admiration with each family member?Remembering your partner or family member’s positive qualities strengthens bonds. Keeping the positive in a conversation is key. To maintain respect amongst each other, avoid what Gottman calls The Four Horsemen: contempt, criticism, defensiveness stonewalling.

3. Turn towards instead of away.

Now what does that mean? Family members often make bids for connection, looking for a response. Examples of bids are making a statement, asking a question, expressing affection, or even doing work around the home. People wanting a connection are looking for a response. Will it be a positive response or a negative response? Turning towards the other means a positive response at a minimum of a 5 to 1 ratio. For every time that a bid for connection is missed or criticized, there needs to be five or more positive responses to maintain a healthy balance. Healthy relationships respond well 86% of the time while relationships breaking down respond positively only 33% of the time. Ask yourself what are some ways that your spouse or kids bid for connection?

4. The positive perspective.

94% of the time, couples who put a positive spin on their relationship’s history are likely to have a happy future. When disagreeing with a family member, taking an understanding approach from the other person’s perspective is better than taking it personally. This is challenging and may be impossible if feeling defensive. Seek to understand without judgement. It’s possible one has to take the first step towards looking into a positive way to connect.

5. Manage conflict

First signs of tension are arguments or trying to fix another person. Warning signs that the conversations about to get worse are criticism and defense. Danger signs for any relationship are the presence of high resentment or putting up a wall.

Instead, before you resolve anything, take turns using the acronym ACE. Ask questions, Clarify what the other person is feeling and thinking, and Empathize. If you notice you’re getting defensive when you disagree, it is likely time to disengage (and re-engage later).

Just make sure each side feels understood, then focus on making future agreements while allowing for your differences. The best agreements are based on good disagreements. 69% of conflict is due to personality differences that will not change, but good agreements and understanding can overcome this challenge.

I have found that the more I am able to disagree with someone comfortably, the more I’m able to empathize and appreciate them. Just because we may disagree does not mean that we don’t care. The hardest part is usually being able to let go of one’s ego and one’s need to be right.

6. Make life dreams come true.

What is important to our spouse and kids and how can we help? Can you identify what each family member is passionate about and contribute to it in some way? Sharing dreams together gives strength and connection to the relationship. “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else” (Erma Bombeck).

7. Create shared meaning

Over time families develop their own ways of doing things. For example: What is your family morning routine? How do you spend your evenings and weekends? What do we do for holidays or celebrations?

Maybe pick one step to practice at a time. No need to rush, and each step is meaningful in its own way.

For Christians, this is like a triangle, in which as two different people slowly become one as they each move toward God.

Marriage is the foundation of family and is symbolic of God’s love for the church. To quote author Russell Moore, “Let’s talk about marriage the way Jesus and the apostles taught us to — as bound up with the gospel itself, a picture of the union of Christ and his church.”

The gospel answers three questions.

Romans 3:19-20 says that the point of old testament law is to realize that you can’t fulfill it.

Galatians 2:21 says that we can’t add to what Christ did on the cross.

Romans 7:14 through 8:1 reveal that I should not be surprised when I sin. In light of our sin, there is no condemnation.

God’s love is freely given and unconditional. This is the model we’re given for marriages in Ephesians 5. Here’s a couple of verses from Proverbs and a couple of verses from Paul that are great reminders for family relationships.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 19:11: “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs”.

Paul says in Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”

Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:29. “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encourage­ment to those who hear them.

More support for marriages.

 

I Can’t Listen When Triggered

By Dan Blair Marriage Counselor and Family Therapist

Welcome to the club. Triggers are strong emotions that overwhelm our ability to listen effectively and think clearly.  They are essentially emotional memories that are part the past and part the present, and are difficult to unravel and separate. It is easy to think of positive emotional memories, maybe a certain smell of baking bread, a picture from your childhood, or an old song you used to love. Negative emotions, however, are more difficult to place in a sense of time because we are afraid of them.

Now, let’s say you feel those emotions but you do not remember why they are so strong. All you know is that you feel it now. That is a trigger. Feelings of inadequacy, rejection or abandonment work this way.

How do you respond to your triggers?

Psalms 56:8 says: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” It’s a beautiful description of how God cares for us. But it doesn’t end there.  We are also called to self-care.

Paul writes “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).  God asks us to move beyond our triggers into growth.

So how do we listen better?

Chances are you think you’re a good listener.  Just like most people think they are above average in a number of routine tasks, most of us think we are a good listener. We don’t interrupt, we act like we are listening, and we could repeat much of what is said. 

Research suggests effective listening goes a step beyond. The Bible seems to agree.

C larify the feelings and needs behind the message.

1 Peter 3:8: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

A sk questions that promote discovery, insight and build self-confidence.

“In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

B oundaries are issues and differences that are discussed openly with a goal of helping the person.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:29-32).

Signs of poor boundaries lead to a loss of trust in the relationship.  When one is defensive, or critical, boundaries are poor.  If communication can be collaborative, instead of competitive (listening only to identify errors), communication can leading to building up the relationships, and each person.  “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

Listen

When I ask you to listen to me
And you start giving advice
You have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way
You are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me
And you feel you have to do something to solve my problems
You have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I ask is that you listen
Not talk or do – just hear me.

Advice is cheap: the world is full of free advice.

And I can DO for myself. I’m not helpless.

Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.

But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel,
No matter how irrational, then I stop trying to convince you,
And can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.

So please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk,
Wait a minute for your turn, and I’ll listen to you.

10 Tips for Triggers

Effective Listening

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

What are some criteria for effective listening in the Bible? Some seek to correct more than connect when “listening” and find the discussion frustrating. Use the following as a checklist to accomplish effective listening:

 

Continue reading Effective Listening

Forgiving Versus Reconciling

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Many choose to forgive because forgiveness has benefits for the forgiver. Forgiveness is a canceling of a “debt”. One can choose to forgive so that anger doesn’t destroy one’s own sense of well-being, though this may require a grieving process. To forgive is to release oneself from an expectation that another person has to fulfill some requirement or redeem the relationship. It is no longer holding in hostility. Restoring the relationship, though, is a step further. A Biblical example of reconciliation, the restoring of proper relationship, is forgiveness and repentance. Repentance is a u-turn involving a realization of the impact of a wrong, full remorse, a commitment to change, and actual behavioral changes over time.

Seeing the impact of your behavior on another when there has been hurt is difficult. We are called to have a clear view of our actions (1 John 1:8). The Bible describes repentance as a knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25-26). Understanding the full impact of one’s actions requires compassion and patient excavation of the hurt person’s experience and emotion. Only that person can say when he or she feels understood.

Healthy frustration and sorrow over one’s actions sets the stage for legitimate change. The Bible distinguishes between sorrow that leads to valuable change and sorrow that destroys. Paul writes, “For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (1 Corinthians 7:9-10). Sorrow without change leads to depression, anxiety and addictions.

The first fruit of change is planning change. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). What internal changes are needed to make long-lasting external change? Producing fruit requires growth and learning to fully understand the emotions that drive unhealthy outcomes. An honest look at these “unacceptable” feelings requires a relationship that can accept those feelings and one’s failures so that the usual patterns of avoidance are disrupted. This is called grace, and is the only way to grow. Otherwise, instead of pruning and growing, one cuts down the tree. (The Bible uses this metaphor for judgment).

Finally, repentance is proven by change (Acts 26:20). It is making agreements and building trust by keeping those agreements. The Bible says let your “yes” be “yes” and “no” be “no” so that honest agreements will be kept (Matthew 5:37). A covenant represents honest intentions for a renewed relationship. “Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us” (Genesis 31:44).

While humans continue to fail, remorse and grace can lead to reconciliation by caring about the impact of one’s behavior, making personal changes that lead to lasting changes, and re-working honest agreements for the future. “Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10). God is able to forgive and reconcile based on repentance simultaneously, while we may have to separate the two processes.

Connection Before Correction

Connection Before Correction

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

While doing right leads to healthy relationships, the Bible also promotes the opposite: healthy relationships lead to doing right. Healthy relationships start between human and the divine, and then between humans. Here’s an example of the importance of relationships: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

What are some ways to maintain healthy relationships? These approaches can work when addressing difficult subjects. A positive start, humility, listening and understanding teamed with honesty is summed up by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Whatever is a good place to start? “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Starting on a negative note can automatically trigger resistance and defensiveness – a product of the “fight or flight response”. Paul said, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encourage­ment to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29). Avoiding such negativity will mean overlooking some offenses. “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19:11). “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Other times a negative cycle must be stopped. “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).

Next, comes the humble part. People are more receptive to hearing about their “human side” if they see a willingness to admit weaknesses. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). One who thinks he has done nothing wrong may have trouble accepting the human side. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalms 36:2).

Listening to others conveys that one understands and cares, regardless of agreement. On that basis of respect, a foundation allows a connection to be built. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 17:27, 18:2). Once the other feels understood, one has an ability to connect.

Speaking the truth about one’s own interests balanced by another’s forges the relationship. A one-sided relationship is lop-sided. “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Creatively looking for options breathes life into a relationship as opposed to one side flourishing at the expense of another.

God finds a way to confront us with truth but not without grace. Holding in the truth can result in passivity and resentment. But expressing the truth aggressively can leave you with the same feelings. “Picking your battles,” a positive or understanding start, quick admittance to your own faults, and leaving the other feeling understood, connecting before correcting can bolster any relationship. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Next Steps to Forgiveness