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 »

How to Risk Trusting Someone Again

When you’ve been let down by someone who matters a great deal to you, moving beyond boundaries is not easy work — but it is important. One thing you can do in this regard is to figure out if the problem that was previously an obstacle is truly being transformed. In other words, is this person really changing? Is the big problem being solved the right way? Here’s an example. I (Dr. Townsend) worked with a couple in which the husband, Bill, was a nice guy but irresponsible. He was one of those likeable people who loves to hang out with others and is a lot of fun. But Bill’s performance in life did not match up to his personality, especially in the area of finances and spending. He overspent on cars, gadgets, and entertainment. He also hid his spending habits, which meant his wife, Pam, was routinely surprised by huge credit card bills. These patterns took a major toll on the marriage. Pam was terrified of an uncertain financial future with him. She was not perfect and had her own issues as well, but his behavior came close to breaking up the marriage. In our work together, Pam was... Continue Reading »

Sizzling Passion and the Myth of Hollywood Romance

To some extent, our society is afflicted by a Hollywood distortion about relationships. Don’t get me wrong—I’m (Dr. Townsend) not anti-Hollywood. I am a movie person, and my sons are in school studying film. But we need to free ourselves of a distortion embedded in the DNA of the movie culture: passion trumps everything. That is, if you deeply connect on a romantically passionate level, you have entered relational Nirvana, and your love conquers all. This is the stuff of lots of great entertainment, but it is not how real relationships actually go to the next level. For example, Sharon was dating Alex, a man to whom she was extremely attracted. He had many of the qualities she looked for: the same spiritual values, warmth, lots of friends, and ambition, and it didn’t hurt that he looked like a fashion model. Plus, he was an incurable romantic, and she loved that aspect of the relationship. Alex was the king of long nights, longing glances, flowers, endearing words, and great spots to have dinner. Sharon was smitten with this guy. Then, reality reared its ugly head in the form of a tendency for Alex to be financially irresponsible. He was laid... Continue Reading »

Why Unhealed People Attract Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealed relational wounds drive us to compulsive attempts to repair the damage. That is, without being aware of it, we seek out people we believe can “fix” what’s wrong with us or help us find a piece of ourselves we feel is missing. We function emotionally like the starving man who looks in a dumpster and sees lunch instead of garbage. His perception is so driven by his need that he is willing to eat something that might make him sick. Though we may not be aware of it, something in us wants completeness. God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and we long for him and the full life he promises. But if we remain unaware of the powerful forces at work within us, such as our family dynamic and how we responded to it, we can be blind to its influence and seek out the completeness we lack by making all the wrong choices. For example, consider the following scenarios: The overly nice person lacks assertiveness and the ability to confront, so he attracts controlling and aggressive people. The overly angry person can’t allow herself to feel helpless or sad, so she finds empathic people... Continue Reading »

The Truest Test of Trust

The extent to which other people are concerned about their impact on you is the extent to which you can trust them. You trust them because you know it’s not just you looking after yourself; they are looking after you too. For example, I (Dr. Townsend) was working with Steve and Lisa on learning this, so that they could connect on a deeper level. She had a tendency to criticize him in public. It wasn’t mean or harsh. It was more like he was always the idiot in her stories: how he dented the car, got the flight info wrong, let their daughter wrap him around her finger, and so on. He brought it up in our session. Here is how the conversation between the three of us went: Steve: “Sometimes I dread going to a party with you because I know I’ll be the butt of one of your stories.” Lisa: “I’m sorry, but it’s not that bad, and I don’t mean any harm.” John: “Lisa, if I heard you tell me that, I would emotionally shut down right now.” Steve: “Yes. I just did.” Lisa: “Why? I was just explaining…” John: “You were explaining. And you may even... Continue Reading »

Why Smart People Accept Unacceptable Relationships

When I (Dr. Townsend) guide people through a process of examining previous difficult relationships, the one question I have found most helpful is this: What was the “payoff” in your choice? In other words, what good things did you think you’d get when you began a relationship with that person? We wind up with difficult people for a reason—there was something we valued, wanted, or hoped for. And because the need was strong, we may not have paid attention to something unacceptable in that person’s character. We either minimized or denied some sign, some reality, some warning light that all was not well. And the character problem ended up being a bigger deal than we thought. When smart people accept unacceptable relationships, they tend to see traits and abilities in others that they think will make life better for them. We see positive aspects of a person’s psyche that we are drawn to or feel we need. A longing for them dulls an awareness of that person’s darker side. For some period of time in the relationship, the person may have had the following: Warmth: She was gentle and nurturing with me Affirmation: He saw the good in me Safety:... Continue Reading »

How to Discern Hurt from Harm in a Relationship

Great relationships are fulfilling. Great relationships involve risk. You can’t have the first without the second. Great relationships require that you be open to taking risks—risks of being misunderstood, of alienation, of someone being hurt by you as well. It doesn’t mean relationships aren’t worth the risks, for the good ones are. It is simply the price of the course. No pain, no gain. The challenge is that people who have been burnt in a relationship often have trouble with risk. They get out of balance. Sometimes they insist on no risk and try to control the course of the relationship. This can actually be boring and unfulfilling. And sometimes they allow behavior that is unacceptable in the name of taking risks. In other words, they don’t quite know the difference between risks that are worth taking and risks that are not worth taking. In order to move beyond boundaries and prepare yourself for openness and vulnerability, you have to clarify which risks are—and are not—worth taking. For example, Nick was a man who came from a harsh and controlling family. He had few choices as a boy and had adopted a compliant personality style to survive his childhood. He... Continue Reading »

The Desire to Reconnect Doesn’t Mean You’re Crazy

When my sons (Dr. Townsend) were small, they often argued and fought. Their disagreements erupted for any number of reasons, and sometimes, the best strategy seemed to be to separate them for a period of time.  When it appeared that they had learned a lesson and could once again play well, I let them get together again. For the situations in which there was a bad guy and I separated them, it would seem to make sense that the hurt brother would have had enough of his offending brother. You would expect that the mean one would want to reconnect and reconcile sooner than the hurt one. But that was not the pattern; there was no pattern. Both boys always wanted to get back together and play after approximately the same amount of time had passed. No matter who was the perpetrator and who the victim, the cooling-off period for each was similar. My best understanding of this is simply that their attachment trumped their desire to be away from each other. After a timeout, the desire to be together was stronger than their anger and fear. This dynamic doesn’t apply just to my sons or even just to kids.... Continue Reading »

Four Common Relationship Speed Bumps

Beyond Boundaries - Relational Speed Bumps

Today, we’re highlighting another one of the 17 free teaching articles by Boundaries co-authors, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in the Freebies section. We encourage you to take advantage of this great material and share it with your friends. —- Developing boundaries in love and relationships usually involves a learning curve as people go deeper with each other. For example, if a person just doesn’t get you or understand what you’re communicating or what behavior you need to have, don’t sweat it. It’s a speed bump – a snag, but not a derailment. The more informed you are about relational speed bumps, the more able you will be to deal with them successfully. There are some typical kinds that, once you understand them, will cover most of the obstacles you will encounter. Here are four of the most common relationship speed bumps that can happen between you and another person and what you can do about them. Read the rest of the article here.

Beyond Boundaries Video with Dr. John Townsend

Do you ever wonder when it’s the right time to reconnect with someone who broke your trust? Do you wrestle with knowing how to tell if someone has truly changed after you set boundaries with him or her? These are big questions that Dr. John Townsend answers in his book, Beyond Boundaries. Today, we are excited to feature a 50-minute online webcast that Dr. Townsend recorded. In this video, he explains how to move past earlier pain in order to experience the love we want to enjoy. Hurtful relationships violate our trust, causing us to set healthy boundaries. But, to experience the freedom and love God designed us for, we eventually have to take another risk. We have to be willing to go “beyond boundaries.” Watch as Dr. Townsend takes you beyond the pain of the past to discover how to re-enter a significant relationship. Whether you’re trying to restore a current relationship or begin a new one, his material based on Beyond Boundaries will help you: Reinstate appropriate closeness with someone who broke your trust. Discern when true change has occurred. Reestablish appropriate connections in strained relationships. Restore former relationships to a healthy dynamic. Learn to engage and be vulnerable in... Continue Reading »