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 …
Romance is great. Sexuality is great. Attraction is great. But here is the key: If all of those are not built upon lasting friendship and respect for the person’s character, something is wrong.
A real and lasting relationship must be built upon friendship first. You are going to spend a lot of time with that person. As one friend of mine said about picking her mate: “He was someone I knew I could grow old with. I liked spending time with him. And he made me laugh.” She also shared deep spiritual values and other commonalties with him as well, as she would with any other friend. They have been married for nearly thirty years….
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: …
A woman complained to me (Dr. Cloud) about a coworker who would always interrupt her while she was trying to get her job done. She acted as if her tendency to be behind in her work was her coworker’s fault.
“Why do you talk to her?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she replied.
“When she comes in and interrupts, why do you get into a conversation with her?” …
One of my (Dr. Townsend’s) closest friends, Chuck, is a talented songwriter. When we were college buddies, I was visiting him in his room one day. Chuck picked up his guitar and said, “Want to hear my new love song?” I said I did, and he sang me the following: “I love you. Always have, always will. What’s your name?”
I never found out whether Chuck was referring to his dating history or simply observing college romantic life, but I knew I could identify with his lyrics….
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….
We sometimes reward (through actions) and praise (through words) our spouses, employees, children, and friends in ways that can actually harm them, even though it feels good at the time because it seems so positive. But what seems positive is not always what is best. A pizza slice or two is positive — but four can cause problems. These unwise reward/praise approaches, although well intentioned, create bad fruit. Remember — these are patterns, not isolated events. Doing these things every now and then would be all right, but when they become trends, they risk fostering attitudes of entitlement….
My (Dr. Townsend) three-year-old son, Benny, is now firmly ensconced in the “I can do it!” stage of life. The other day we were getting ready to go out to dinner, and everybody was ready but Benny. He’d gotten all ready except for his pesky Velcro-strapped tennis shoes. They just wouldn’t cooperate.
Being the helpful father (actually, the hurried father), I bent down to fasten his shoes for him. He quickly pushed my hands away, protesting, “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” And he meant it. So we negotiated….
I (Dr. Cloud) had a very interesting conversation recently with a leader who accomplishes a lot and is very driven and effective. I have always been a fan of his work. We were working on a project together, and he made a reference to a particular work habit of his, logging almost every thought he has about his work into a very complicated matrix in a journal, and I asked him about it.
Nothing wrong with carrying a little book around and jotting down good ideas when they come. But this was much more; it was obsessive….
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.”