Do This One Thing to Improve Any Relationship

People who want to improve a relationship often talk about talking. That is, they bring up what happened, what went wrong in their experience, and come up with solutions. Here are some examples: Remember when I said I needed space and listening, not solutions and homework assignments? It happened again; let’s fix this. I don’t want to sound childish, but I’ve been trying to be more open about the job problem, and it still feels as if you want just good news from me about work. I really need you to hang in there with me. It feels as if you’re impatient with me when I go to a deeper level now, as if I ought to have my act together. That’s hard for me; are you really feeling that way? When I brought up the problems I have with my dad, you lost eye contact and started talking about something else. This is really important for me; are you okay with all this? Is there a way I can do this differently, or do you not want me to talk about this with you? If you want a better relationship, be a team player with the other person. In... Continue Reading »

A Guaranteed Way to Create Trouble in a Relationship

I (Dr. Cloud) can still remember what happened that day when I was eight years old. I made a big mistake, but I didn’t know it at the moment. I thought I was getting back at my sister, who was sixteen at the time. Opportunities for revenge were few and far between, and I was not about to let this one slip by. Sharon and her friend were goofing around in the den when one of them threw a pillow and broke the overhead light. They quickly figured out a way to arrange the light in such a way that you could not tell it was broken. They thought that they were off the hook. Little did my sister know that she had a sociopathic little brother with a plan. When my father came home, I could not wait to tell him what they had done. I told him that they had broken the light, and he asked me to show him. I led him into the den, not knowing that Sharon and her friend were still in there. I was caught. Here he was, asking me about the broken light, and there they were, watching me seal my fate... Continue Reading »

You Are Not Responsible for Your Spouse

When you marry someone, you take on the burden of loving your spouse deeply and caring for him or her as for no other. You care about how you affect your spouse; you care about your spouse’s welfare and feelings. If one spouse feels no sense of responsibility to the other, this spouse is, in effect, trying to live married life as a single person. On the other hand, you can’t cross the line of responsibility. You need to avoid taking ownership for your mate’s life. The law of responsibility in marriage is this: We are responsible to each other, but not for each other. The Bible teaches it this way: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and “each one should carry his own load” (see Galatians 6:2, 5). The word burden indicates a backbreaking boulder, such as a financial, health, or emotional crisis. Spouses actively support each other when one is carrying an overwhelming burden. The term load, however, indicates one’s daily responsibilities of life. This includes one’s feelings, attitudes, values, and handling of life’s everyday difficulties. Spouses may help each other out with loads, but ultimately, each person must... Continue Reading »

Say “Yes” to Respect in Dating

Respect is a necessary element for any couple to grow in love. Each person needs to feel that they are respected by the person they are getting to know. This involves creating boundaries in dating where both parties have esteem or regard for all aspects of the other. Respect is different from empathy, though any relationship needs both to be hand-in-hand. Empathy is the ability to feel another’s experience, especially painful ones. Respect is the ability to value another’s experience. You may not be able to actually empathize with someone, but you can always take a position of respect for them. For example, a guy may restrain himself from pushing his girlfriend sexually for either reason. He may feel deep compassion for the dilemma he is putting her in. Or he may restrain himself because he respects her right to make her own moral decisions. Relationships develop best when both empathy and respect are in place. When respect is present, the other person feels that he can be free to be who he is. He can be honest, and still feel connected and safe. He doesn’t worry that he will be attacked, humiliated, or treated poorly. When respect is absent,... Continue Reading »

Are You Ridiculously in Charge as a Leader?

Recently I (Dr. Cloud) was discussing personnel issues with a CEO. I asked him why he thought those problems were there. He talked about some reasons, most of which had to do with the various players involved, and also the “constellations” of a few teams. But then I asked him a simple question. “And why is that?” I asked. “What do you mean? I think it is the reasons I just said.” “I know the reasons you said, but why do those reasons exist?” I continued. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?” he asked further. “Who is the leader? Who is in charge of the culture? Who is in charge of the ways that it is working, the fact that all of that exists?” I pushed. He just looked at me, and nodded. “I am,” he said. “So what kind of culture would you like?” I asked. “What kind of culture would drive the business forward if you had it?” When he thought about that, he looked upward, lost in thought for a moment. Then he got out of the “problem-speak” mode, and I could see a shift in his energy as a new vision of a different... Continue Reading »

Why Teens Should Get Angry with Parents

Boundaries with Teens

Adolescents get angry a lot. They live in protest mode, so it is second nature for them to get mad at everything in the world, especially their parents. But some parents are conflict-phobic — they are uncomfortable and afraid of being the object of their teen’s wrath, and so they avoid setting boundaries with teens. However, this teaches adolescents that if they throw a tantrum, they can get out of a limit. Teens who learn this will also have difficulty experiencing healthy adult relationships. To help your child avoid this relational future, you’ll want to teach him to accept responsibilities in relationships without having outbursts. Many parents who fear their teen’s anger have either had little experience in dealing with anger or had some very negative experiences. Whichever the case, these parents have few tools to deal with angry people, so they avoid confronting them because it’s too uncomfortable. If this is your struggle, in addition to fearing your teen’s anger, you may also fear the strength of your own anger. To resolve this fear, learn to experience and normalize anger — your own and others’ — as a part of life. Make this an intentional item of growth for... Continue Reading »

Setting Boundaries with the Sins of Your Family

Susie had a problem that I (Dr. Townsend) had seen countless times before. This thirty-year-old woman would return from a visit to her parents’ home and suffer a deep depression. When she described her problem to me, I asked her if she noticed that every time she went home to visit, she came back extremely depressed. “Why that’s ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t live there anymore. How could the trip affect me this way?” When I asked her to describe the trip, Susie told of social gatherings with old friends and family times around the dinner table. These were fun, she said, especially when it was only family. “What do you mean ‘only family’?” I asked. “Well, other times my parents would invite some of my friends over, and I didn’t like those dinners as well.” “Why was that?” Susie thought for a minute and then replied, “I guess I start to feel guilty.” She began to recount the subtle remarks her parents would make comparing her friends’ lives to hers. They would talk of how wonderful it is for grandparents to have a “hands on” role in raising the children. They would talk of the community activities her friends... Continue Reading »

The Power of Painful Consequences

Trespassing on other people’s property carries consequences. A “No Trespassing” sign usually carries a threat of prosecution if someone steps over the boundaries. The Bible teaches this principle over and over, saying that if we walk one way, this will happen, and if we walk another way, something else will happen. Just as the Bible sets consequences for certain behaviors, we need to back up our boundaries with consequences. How many marriages could have been saved if one spouse had followed through with the threat of “if you don’t stop drinking” (or “coming home at midnight,” or “hitting me,” or “yelling at the kids”), I will leave until you get some treatment!” Or how many young adults’ lives would have been turned around if their parents had followed through with their threat of “no more money if you quit another job without having further employment” or “no bed if you continue to smoke marijuana in my house.” The Apostle Paul is not kidding in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 when he says that “if anyone will not work, don’t let him or her eat.” God does not enable irresponsible behavior. Hunger is a consequence of laziness (Proverbs 16:26). Consequences give some “barbs”... Continue Reading »

Love Only Exists Where There Is Freedom

“His irresponsibility is making my life miserable,” Jen began. She then went on to tell me (Dr. Townsend) a terrible story of how her husband had successfully avoided adulthood for many years at her expense. She had suffered greatly at the hands of his behavior, both financially and sexually. As I listened, though, I could see that her deep sense of hopelessness kept her in prison. I could see countless ways she could be free from her husband’s patterns of behavior. She could make numerous choices to help both herself and the relationship. But the sad thing was that she could not see the same choices that were so clear to me. “Why don’t you stop paying for his mistakes and bailing him out? Why do you keep rescuing him from the messes he gets himself into?” I asked. “What are you talking about?” Jen asked, alternating between muffled sobs and a scornful expression. “There’s nothing I can do. This is the way he is, and I just have to live with it.” I could not tell if she was sad about what she perceived as a hopeless case or angry with me for suggesting she had choices. As we... Continue Reading »

Boundaries Protect, But They Also Do This

To see how setting limits plays out in relationships, it’s important to understand that there are two types of boundaries – defining boundaries and protective boundaries. Each kind of boundary has a distinct purpose. It’s important that you learn the difference, because defining should become permanent in your life, while protective boundaries are the ones you can move “beyond.” Defining boundaries are values that establish who you are and who you are not. They are at the core of your identity and reflect what you believe is important and valuable in life. Here are a few examples: I follow God and his ways and will always live my life in him. I love my family and friends, and I will treat them with grace and truth. I know my mission and purpose in life, and I will not divert from it. I say and receive the truth; I’m neither silent in saying it nor defensive in receiving it. These defining boundaries help you and others know the real you, the person who has substance and stands for things that matter. They help guide your decisions and directions in life. Here are some examples of how defining boundaries might be used... Continue Reading »