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 »

How to Test the Quality of Any Relationship

Usually the quiet one in her group, Debbie spoke up. The topic of discussion was “conflict resolution,” and she couldn’t be silent another second. “I know how to present facts and arguments about my opinion in a caring way. But my husband will walk out on me if I start disagreeing! Now what do I do?” Debbie’s problem is shared by many. She genuinely believes in boundaries, but she is terrified of their consequences. Is it possible that others will become angry at our boundaries and attack or withdraw from us? Absolutely. God never gave us the power or the right to control how others respond to our no. Some will welcome it; some will hate it. We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a “litmus test” for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our “no.” They only love our “yes,” our compliance. So what does Debbie, whose husband is an avowed “boundary buster,” do? Will her husband carry out his threat to walk... Continue Reading »

Why Your Spouse Will Fail You and What to Do About It

I (Dr. Cloud) was leading a seminar, and I asked the audience of married couples to stop for a moment and think of their spouse. I told them to think of all of the wonderful things that they love about their spouse and to concentrate on how awesome that person is and how much they love him or her. “Think of the wonderful qualities that you admire and that attracted you to that person. Let those feelings fill you,” I told them. Then, after they were feeling all giddy and in love again, I asked each person to turn to their spouse who was idealizing them at that moment and to repeat after me, “Honey, I am a sinner. I will fail you, and I will hurt you.” You could feel the sense of discombobulation in the room. In one moment, they were shaken from the ideal to the real. Some began to laugh as they got it. Some felt even closer to each other. Some looked up confused as if they did not know what to do with my invitation. But that is reality. The person you love the most and have committed your life to is an imperfect... Continue Reading »

How Intimacy Can Be Realized Through Conflict

What is your normal reaction when conflict occurs in a new relationship? Are you comfortable addressing the issue? Or, do you stuff the issue out of fear or a desire preserve the peace? Honesty is the best policy for two important reasons: Being honest helps resolve the hurt or the conflict. When you are honest, how the other person responds tells you whether a satisfactory relationship is possible. If you are hurt in some way, bring it up. Don’t harbor bitter feelings. Or, if there is something that the other person has done that you do not like, or goes against your values, or is wrong, it must be discussed. If you don’t, then you are building a relationship based on a false sense of security and closeness. And it is possible that your feelings will be confused by hurt and fear. A lot is lost in not finding out who the other person is and where the relationship could really go, if one or both people are not facing hurt and conflict directly. In reality, a conflict-free relationship is probably a shallow relationship. Second, you need to find out if the person you are with is capable of dealing... Continue Reading »

How to Guarantee that People Will Want to Be Close to You

Amy and Randall had been married for eight years, and they loved each other. However, when he was angry or upset, Randall became moody and would withdraw from Amy and the kids, except for occasional outbursts of anger. When his manufacturing business was struggling, he would sit silently through dinner. Once, during this period, the children were arguing at the dinner table. Out of the blue, Randall said, “Amy, can’t you keep these children in line? I can’t even have a moment’s peace in my own home!” And with that, he stormed out of the kitchen into his home office, turned on the computer, and stayed there until the kids went to bed. Amy was hurt and confused. But she had a pattern of “handling” Randall’s moods. She would try to cheer him up by being positive, encouraging, and compliant. “He has a hard job,” Amy would think. “Nurturance is what he needs.” And for the next few hours, and sometimes days, she would center the family’s existence around Dad’s mood. Everyone would walk on eggshells around him. No one was to complain or be negative about any subject, for fear of setting him off again. And Amy would constantly... Continue Reading »

When Setting Boundaries Feels Scary

A woman came to see me (Dr. Cloud) once for help in her marriage. She described her husband as so “powerful” and “intimidating” she just could not find it in herself to talk to him about things bothering her. “Why don’t you just talk to him about these things?” I asked. “Oh, I just couldn’t do that,” she would reply. “He’s too strong. He’s so intimidating. I just don’t know what to do.” After seeing I wasn’t getting anywhere by suggesting she talk to her husband, I asked her if her husband would come in to see me. She said she would tell him I would like to talk to him. I had no idea what I was in for. On the day of her next appointment, I went into the waiting room to find the woman sitting there with a small, frail-looking man. He stood and said, in one of the least intimidating, squirrelly little voices I had ever heard, “Hi, Dr. Cloud. It is so nice to meet you!” I remember describing him later as “mousy.” He came across as just a whisper of a person. I could see immediately that his wife and I had some work to... Continue Reading »

Why Saying “I Love You” Is Not Enough

George sat in my (Dr. Cloud’s) office, despondent. His wife, Janet, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, George seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Janet had had enough. “I love her so much,” George said to me. “Doesn’t she see that?” “I believe that you love her,” I said. “But in reality, I don’t think that she sees your love. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children, and she asks herself, ‘How can he love us and treat us this way?’ You cannot just say you love someone and not deliver. Love without the fruits of love is really not love in the end. She feels very unloved because of what you have put her through.” If George was to have a chance of winning Janet back, it would not come through one more empty promise. He needed to develop boundaries to gain the self-control that... Continue Reading »

How Confrontation Creates Connections for Couples

When my wife, Barbi, and I (Dr. Townsend) were first married, we used to have conflicts about conflict. Looking back, it’s kind of funny as I later went on to write a Christian relationship book called Boundaries in Marriage. Imagine watching us have boundary conversations about how bad our marriage boundaries were. Barbi’s approach to conflict was to avoid it. My approach tended to be more blunt. We’d talk about a problem and it wouldn’t go well. One of us would misunderstand, we would pull away from each other, and the problem wouldn’t get solved. One day, I asked Barbi, “When we argue, I never stop loving you. Is there anything I can do to make this better for you?” She thought a minute and said, “Maybe if you let me know you love me before you confront me, that might help.” I thought that was a good idea, so I agreed. The next time I wanted to have a talk with her about a concern, I walked in the room and said something like, “Honey, I just want to let you know I really care about you and I hope you feel safe with me.” Then when I brought... Continue Reading »

Finding Hope for a Hopeless Marriage

I (Dr. Cloud) was once meeting with a couple who had given up hope in their relationship. I knew that they were at the end of themselves. From their perspective, divorce was the next option. At the same time, I knew that their problems were curable. I felt that we first needed to put this couple’s hopelessness on the table, so I asked, “Do either of you have any hope for this marriage?” “No, we don’t,” they both finally admitted. Then I said something that threw them: “Good! Now we can get to work.” “What do you mean?” they asked, surprised. What they did not know was that I knew they both had a deep love for God and, although they were ready and willing to forsake each other, they were not ready to forsake Him. I trusted their faith in God. I knew that if they could stop lying to themselves about wanting to change “for the other,” we could get to someone for whom they would change: God. So I told them so. “I think that both of you are so disappointed in each other and in your relationship that you have very little hope of solving your... Continue Reading »