Couple Connection–How to Cultivate a Stronger and More Intimate Marriage

Life gets busy and we tend to place our focus and efforts on the things we feel make us more “productive.” Doing this, however, often causes us to not prioritize our marriage in the ways that we need to and ultimately become disconnected from our spouse.

We tend to think that having a good, loving, marriage is a good thing on a purely human level but we also have a tendency to think that working on our marriage is somehow selfish. We believe that working on our marriage doesn’t build the kingdom of God like feeding the poor, or building a school or hospital, or even singing in the church choir does. We recognize that marriage–generally speaking–is a good thing, but we don’t really believe that God cares what our marriages look like. But he does!  

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Are you looking to cultivate a stronger and more intimate marriage?
Check out:

For Better… Forever!

A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

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The Theology of The Body reminds us that building the kingdom of God is really about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with each other. The Sacrament of Marriage is about healing the intimate bond that holds all of civilization together. If we don’t have strong marriages, we can’t have strong families, and if we don’t have strong families we can’t have a healthy society or a godly church. Focusing on doing all kinds of ministry while ignoring your marriage is like trying to build a third story on your house while your foundation is sliding over a cliff. God cares deeply about how intimate, passionate, loving, respectful, and prayerful your marriage is because everything else in his plan depends on it. If loving couples aren’t cooperating with God’s grace everyday to make their marriages stronger it allows Satan to get into the cracks and blow everything apart–not just that one couples marriage, but their family and all of society. The Church teaches that working on your marriage is a ministry that allows us to bear witness to the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, has for his bride, the Church. By working to create stronger, more loving, intimate, and prayerful marriages, we are working to save the world and build the kingdom of God.

Here are three ways to strengthen your marriage:

  1. Make the small moments count—When life gets busy, it can be difficult to make grand gestures or get a significant amount of time to focus solely on your spouse. The good news is, while those bigger moments are important, the little moments count just as much when it comes to building couple connection. What are the little things that your partner appreciates? This could include things like eye contact while talking, a little smile while passing through the room, being surprised by their favorite snack or flowers, a random hug while working in the kitchen. These little moments are the opportunities for us to say, “Hey, I love you,” even in those times where we might have a lot going on. Just like when we’re building a house, we need all those little pebbles in the foundation to make a sturdy house. That is what these little moments are, those moments of connection that create a sturdy foundation and connection for your marriage.
  1. Prioritize couple time first—When we’re planning our week, we tend to add all of the extra curricular activities, work events, or social obligations to the schedule first. And then somewhere in there we hope to maybe have time for some family or couple time. But this is where we set ourselves up for some challenges. To strengthen your marriage connection, prioritize making time for our marriage first. This means, plan time with your spouse on the schedule before any thing else—even if it’s talking a walk in the morning, one evening set aside for dinner together, or time to wind down in the evening together after the kids go to bed—then schedule other events around your couple time. This is one of the most effective ways to put your spouse and your marriage first, which even helps everything else in your week go more smoothly as well!
  1. Practice intentional communication—Often one of the biggest difficulties in couple connection is the disconnection that spouses experience throughout the day. Typically because of work schedules or family responsibilities, spouses don’t see each other for the majority of the day. Then they hope to get a couple minutes (never mind hours) in the evening to reconnect. To strengthen your couple connection, work on practicing intentional communication throughout the day. This can look like sending even little texts to each other such as “I’m praying for your meeting!” “How was your lunch?” Or, “Just letting you know I love you!” No matter how simple or detailed you make your communication with one another throughout the day, maintaining your connection even in little ways can ease the transition into evenings and your time together because you have maintained at least a baseline level of connection instead of trying to go from 0 to 100 with nothing in between.

For more resources on strengthening your marriage connection, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Three Keys for Cultivating Connection

Are you struggling to connect with the people in your life? Sometimes things like differences, disagreements, misunderstandings, or distractions stand in the way of creating connections with the people that we love.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we were created for relationship and that the most important things we can spend our time and energy on is cultivating as much closeness as we can in all the relationships we participate in. People tend to think that “building the kingdom of God” involves doing “big things” for Jesus. Doing projects. Volunteering at the parish. Getting involved.  Those things can be important, but the primary way we’re called to build God’s kingdom is by working to heal the damage that sin has done or wants to do to our relationships. The kingdom of God is discovered in the way we connect heart to heart and soul to soul.

We are destined to spend eternity in intimate union with God and the communion of saints. Doing the work we need to do in this life to make our relationships whole and holy helps to prepare us for that heavenly communion. It’s true that there are some relationships that can’t or won’t be healed or fully realized this side of heaven, but the more we focus our energy on at least attempting to cultivate as much closeness, intimacy, openness, and love  as we can with the people in our lives the more we are preparing ourselves to participate in the ultimate union of heaven.   

Here are three ways to cultivate connection in your relationships:

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1. Develop a Relationship Mindset–We are all too busy and most of us tend to focus, primarily, on “getting things done.”  It is certainly important to do good work and accomplish the important tasks that are set before us, but we have to resist the worldly temptation to put things before people–including projects and chores. One of the most important tasks of living an authentically Christian life is cultivating a relationship mindset.  That means, as you go about your day, asking yourself two questions. First, “What small things could I do in this moment to close whatever gap exists between me and the people in my life?” And second, “How can I approach the tasks I need to complete today in a way that lets me be as close as possible to the people I care about?”  These two questions allow us to make continuous micro-efforts to keep people close and fight the temptation to value accomplishments and projects over intimacy and people.  Cultivating connection doesn’t mean that you necessarily have any more time than anyone else does.  It just means that you keep the relationships you have and the people you love in the forefront of your mind instead of in the back corners.

2.  Make Small Steps–We have a tendency to think, “I can’t wait to get this big chunk of time to connect with the important people in my life.  Things will be great then.”  We live for date night, or vacation, or the weekend trip when we’ll get to “really connect.” But we ignore our relationships until then. Cultivating connection isn’t done in big gulps. It’s made of a million little steps. Cultivating connection involves sending those little “I’m thinking of you” texts through the day. Calling just to check in. Making time in the middle of a busy day to do that thing that makes a loved one’s life a little easier or more pleasant or makes them feel cherished.  If you want to be closer to someone you care about, challenge yourself everyday to do something that keeps you close or draws you a little bit closer. Making small relationship steps everyday is a much more effective way to cultivate closeness than hoping to cover the same relationship ground through occasional giant leaps.

3. Remember “A Stitch in Time…”–There is an old proverb that says, “a stitch in time saves nine.”  That means “solve little problems before they become big problems.”  This is a great rule for cultivating closeness in relationships.  Nothing creates more barriers to intimacy than resentment, suspicion, and estrangement caused by the piling up of unresolved problems or misunderstandings. Remember what St Gregory the Great said, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” When it comes to relationships, make sure to clarify misunderstandings before they become problems and resolve problems before they become crises. The more you commit to regular relationship maintenance, the closer and more rewarding your connections will be.

For more resources on cultivating connection, check out our books, videos, and services at CatholicCounselors.com!

Lending a Listening Ear–How Being Heard Can Impact Our Mental and Physical Health

It’s understandable how being heard can have an impact on our mental health, but can having someone there to listen to us impact our physical health as well?

According to a study out of NYU Grossman School of Medicine, researchers have found that having a good listener in our lives is associated with improved brain health and greater cognitive resilience.

In this study, researchers examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between cerebral volume and cognitive performance. The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience.

So what do we do when we’re struggling to be heard?

Theology of The Body tells us that love is the only appropriate response to another person.  Listening is an important part of loving.  To love someone means working for their good, but we can’t know what they need help with, what their goals are, or what they are struggling with if we aren’t willing to listen–and that goes for kids as well as adults.  Listening is hard, but it is even harder to feel loved by someone who is unwilling to really listen to us.

Here are three ways to ensure you can be heard:

1.  Be Direct–If you want to be heard, it’s best to be clear and direct.  Sometimes, in a mistaken attempt to be polite, we simply hint at what we want or even just describe a problem and hope others will come up with ways to solve.  But if other people don’t pick up the hint, or propose solutions that don’t really meet our need, we can become resentful and feel like we weren’t being heard. If you have a problem or need, it’s best to begin the conversation by saying exactly what you want from the people around you.  For instance, instead of announcing, “This place is a mess!” and becoming upset when you end up cleaning everything yourself, say, “Guys, listen up.  We need to make a plan for how we’re going to get the place cleaned up before dinner.”  The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely it is you will actually be heard.

2.  Always End a Conversation with A Plan–Often we don’t feel heard because we discuss a problem with someone but don’t actually end the conversation with any action items or a plan for following up. This is usually the problem when people say, “We’ve talked about this a million times, but nothing ever changes.”  That usually means that you talked about the problem but there were no clear decisions about what to do about it, who was going to do those things, and when you were going to check in with each other for how things were going and what else might need to be done.  If you end a conversation without a follow-up plan that determines who is going to do what by when, then chances are high that you will be talking about this same problem again–and again, and again–in the very near future.  If you want to be heard, make sure to end your conversations with clear action items, who is going to be responsible for following up, and when you are going to follow-up.

3.  Back Up Words with Action–If you’ve done all the things we’ve mentioned so far, and you still aren’t being heard, there’s a good chance the other person isn’t hearing you because they don’t want to listen.  It may be that things are working for them the way they are and they don’t want to change even if that means that you are being inconvenienced.  Of course, that’s not OK.  In those cases, it’s best not to use more words.  It’s time to take action.  Tell the person that you aren’t happy leaving things as they are and that you have decided to make some changes on your own, invite them to join you in solving the problem, but if they still refuse (or don’t follow through) go ahead and take that as permission to act alone to make some changes even if they affect the other person.  Taking action may just be the thing to do to get the other person’s attention.  Either way, you’ll feel better, because you’ve taken active steps to solve the problem.

If you need additional support or resources for being heard and strengthening your relationships with others, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Calming Conflict—Effective Ways to Avoid Escalation

Are you struggling in your communications with others—or at least one particular person? Tired of these conversations escalating and never actually going anywhere? In order to calm conflict and cultivate effective communication, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we are called to live in communion. Ironically, because we live in a fallen world, building that communion requires us to learn to deal gracefully with conflict. Our natural human tendency is to either try to avoid conflict as much as possible–even when we shouldn’t–or to get caught up in it and fan the flames, but neither of these choices are options for the Christian. In fact, both are sinful. Avoiding problems we could do something about is the sin of sloth. Escalating conflict needless is the sin of wrath. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with conflict, Christians have a third option: to be peacemakers. 

 To be a peacemaker is to work to restore the right order that God desires in a situation.  When conflicts arise, being a peacemaker doesn’t mean just keeping a lid on things any more than it means unnecessarily escalating the tension. It means starting disagreements by seeking God’s wisdom and grace, entering conflicts with the intention of working for the good of everyone involved (including ourselves), and doing what we can to both encourage everyone involved in the conflict through the tension and toward godly solutions. The peacemaker doesn’t run from conflict or fan the flames of conflict. Rather, the peacemaker is someone who knows many different ways to actively engage and extinguish the fire so that new life can spring up from the ashes.

Here are three ways to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict:

1.  Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement. That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue.  Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart.  When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?”  “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?” and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?”  Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive way

2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions.  Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior. Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully. For instance, you might say something like, “When you do this or say that, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?” Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future. Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat. It lets you work for change, respectfully.

3.  Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them. Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!” But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what they are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.”   Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room. It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings. Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.

For more resources on conflict management, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

New Research Describes The Negative Effects That Men Who Frequently Watch Porn Experience

Researchers recently presented their findings of a new study at the European Association of Urology Congress. The results revealed that 23 percent of men under the age of 35 who reported watching porn frequently also tended to encounter erectile dysfunction during sex.

“There’s no doubt that porn conditions the way we view sex,” stated study author Gunter De Win. He continued saying, “We found that there was a highly significant relationship between time spent watching porn and increasing difficulty with erectile function with a partner, as indicated by the erectile function and sexual health scores.”

The outcome of this study have led De Win to believe that the increasingly explicit nature of online pornography may leave some men underwhelmed by sex in real life. This explains why 20 percent of the men who participated in this study “felt that they needed to watch more extreme porn to get the same level of arousal as previously. We believe that the erectile dysfunction problems associated with porn stem from this lack of arousal.”

As this study and others like it continue to reveal, biology, psychology, and theology are all leading us to a better understanding of the negative impacts and effects of pornography on the human person. As Pope Saint John Paul II stated, “There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”

Have you or your partner been impacted by pornography? CatholicCounselors.com is proud to offer CONNECTED: Recovery from Pornography, an internet based group counseling experience designed to help men recover from the obsessional use of pornography and the damage it does to our mind, body, soul, and relationships. Pornography not only creates a distance between man and God, it destroys family relationships and reduces one’s own image and value of self, the only creature that God made in His own image.

In connected you will discover:

The pornography trap.

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Healthy attitudes toward yourself, sex, and women.

Identifying and meeting the needs masked by pornography.

How to receive God’s forgiveness, and forgive yourself.

How to heal relationships damage by your use of pornography.

Reconnecting with healthy (and holy) sex.

How to build healthy, healing relationships with God, yourself, and others.

Find out more at CatholicCounselors.com!

Family Feud! 3 Keys to Managing Family Conflict

Is your family caught in conflict? Are you struggling to know how to navigate those tricky disagreements? Family conflict can be especially difficult if each person has a different approach to communicating their hurts, needs, or frustrations. This is why it is important to turn to God to teach us His universal language to manage those challenging times.

Theology of The Body reminds us the families are supposed to be schools of love and virtue.  One of the lessons we all need to learn in the family school of love is how to manage conflict, tension, and differences of opinion gracefully.  As Catholic families, especially, we need to make sure that we’re not just “doing what comes naturally” when it comes to family conflict, but instead, inviting God to be the mediator of our disagreements, being intentional about asking what virtues we need to practice in conflict to have more productive discussions, and working hard to listen to each other rather than react to each other.  We need to remember that, as Catholic families, we are not called to just be loving when things are going well, but to be loving–and accept the mutual growth God is calling us to–in the face of disagreements.

So how do you manage family conflict in the ways that God calls us to?

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our family conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, you notice your kids fighting or not listening to you, or you see that family members are starting to butt heads, say, “STOP!” bring the kids to you, and invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian family. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Let God be your help and let him lead your family to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to family problems.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you have family conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well.  If you’re working with kids, stop and ask them what virtues they need to handle the situation well before you start and discussion.  If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict. Faith and science agree. Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into family disagreements, it’s the key to family peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance–especially on the part of our kids–as stubbornness that has to be overcome with a show of force. Avoid this. Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person (especially kids) are resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?” Of course, kids aren’t mature enough to articulate this, so they need us to help. Work hard not to react to resistance or disobedience. As St. John Bosco counseled parents, “work hard to maintain your countenance.” In the face of that kind of push-back, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message. Identify the need. Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources and support on working through family conflict, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Science Reveals The Upside of Sacrificing for Your Spouse

Are you struggling to connect with your spouse? Does it feel like you’ve been missing that spark in your relationship? Science and faith reveal a few simple ways to cultivate a more joyful marriage.

Theology of The Body tells us that mutual self-donation–that is, generously and even heroically taking care of each other–is the key to both a happy marriage and a happy life.  Turns out, research supports this idea.  An article at the Marriage Research blog, The Science of Relationships, recently highlighted several studies exploring the benefits of sacrificing for your spouse.  It turns out loving your spouse more than your comfort zone doesn’t just make your mate happier, it’s good for you too!  According to the authors, “The act of making a sacrifice for a partner allows people to think of themselves as good and responsive relationship partners. Givers also benefit from seeing that their partners are grateful to them after they make a sacrifice. This gratitude in turn is related to stronger, more satisfying relationships. Indeed, on days when people report making small sacrifices for their romantic partner, they tend to report higher relationship quality. So next time you’re watching your partner try on clothes at the mall, cat-sitting for your in-laws, or taking out the trash for the third week in a row, just think of the silver lining: you’re not just taking care of your marriage, you’re taking care of yourself”

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Here are three ways that you can cultivate a more joyful marriage:

Surprise!—Want a more joyful marriage?  Find ways to surprise your spouse.  I mean, don’t jump out of the closet in a monster mask and yell BOO!, but DO leave little “I love you” notes, send a text that says, “I miss you!”, bring home a card, or some flowers, or some other token of affection just because.  God wants your marriage to be a physical reminder of how passionately HE loves you, and God’s love is always fresh, surprising and wonderful.  No matter how long you’ve been married, find little ways to surprise your spouse and let them know what a gift they are to you.

Keep Dreaming—A big part of what makes the early days of dating and marriage so much fun is all the time couples spend talking about their future together.  The longer couples are married, the more they tend to fall into assuming that the future will be just like today, and the day before, and the day before that.  But you’re never too old to keep dreaming together!  Make some time to imagine different versions of your future.  You don’t even have to be serious! Imagine what you’d do if you won the lottery, or actually moved to your favorite vacation spot.  Or share what your ideal life would look like! You might ask, “What’s the point of imagining a future that might never be?”  Well, three things!  First, being silly together is its own reward and laughter truly is the best medicine for marriage. Second, you might just find some ways to make at least parts of those fantasies a reality.   And finally, you might even realize how grateful you are for the life you’ve created together already.  So keep dreaming together.   You’ll be surprised at the joy you find.

Have Faith in Your Marriage—Of course the most important way to have a more joyful relationship is to find more ways to share your faith. Go to Mass together, pray together every day, find ways to serve your parish or community together, encourage each other to the be the people God is calling each of you to be.  Research consistently shows that couples who share a meaningful faith and vision of life are significantly happier than couples who don’t.  So let the grace flow in your home, and live God’s plan for a more joy-filled marriage.

For more support in cultivating a more joyful marriage, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Overcoming The Trap of Hyper-responsibility

For many of us, it’s easy to fall into the role of taking on responsibility for other’s situations or problems. We want to help, but often get hurt or frustrated when the other person is not accepting our help or allowing us to guide them. When this occurs, it may be because we’re struggling to manage the balance between self-donation and hyper-responsibility.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us of the importance of self-donation–of using our gifts and talents to generously work for the good of others.  But TOB also reminds us that for a relationship to be healthy, it must be mutually self-donative.  That is, both people in the relationship have to be equally committed to giving all they have to work for each other’s good.  Even Jesus models this. He offers all of himself to us on the cross, he holds nothing back. But he doesn’t force himself on us.  For us to actually benefit from Christ’s free and total gift of self, we must respond by giving ourselves freely and totally back to him.  He doesn’t drag us, kicking and screaming into heaven against our will.  He stands at the door and knocks, but it’s up to is to open the door and let him in.

Here are three ways to be self-donative without becoming hyper-responsible:

Don’t Pretend to be Mightier than God–We often become anxious because we feel like it’s our job to make people healthier than they want to be, to force people to be closer than they want to be.  All that tends to do is stress us out and push people away.  The most we can do is offer people an open invitation to greater health and intimacy, provide incentives for pursuing greater health and intimacy, and offer consequences if they choose to engage in unhealthy or destructive personal or relational choices–and that’s a lot. But when we find ourselves trying to beg, whine, cajole, force, manipulate, or pressure another person–against their will– into making healthier choices for their lives or our relationship with them, we are committing an offense against their free will. Even God will not cross the lines a person draws with their own free will.  Don’t pretend to be mightier than God. By all means, invite people to be healthier and closer, and feel free to offer incentives, and even consequences, that help them take your invitation seriously, but it’s not your fault if they choose to walk away, literally or figuratively.  In fact, you are morally obliged to let them.

Take Your Cue From Them–We sometimes get into trouble when we try to work harder on someone else’s problem than they are.  It’s good to be generous and to give all we have to help someone, but it only produces good fruit if the other person is also giving all they have to give. Even if, objectively, the other person is limited in some way and isn’t able to give much, they still have to be actively trying to give all they have to the problem for any help to stick. Otherwise, we burn ourselves out trying to solve problems that are not within our ability to solve. And we deplete the energy we would otherwise have to solve the problems that actually are within our control.

If You Need Help, Get It
–Hyper-responsible people often struggle with asking for help, especially if the people they have asked are less than enthusiastic about giving it.  If this happens to you, don’t assume that it automatically follows that you have to do everything. Either find some other way to get the help you need–even if it is not your preferred way to get it–or, if worse comes to worse–decide what you are capable of doing without help and stick to that.  When other people complain that certain things aren’t getting done, simply tell them that you are doing all you can without their help, but if they would like to pitch in, then you are sure you could accomplish more together.  It is not your job to make everything work to an ideal standard on your own power.  Even God doesn’t build his Kingdom by himself.  He insists that we partner with him, not because he can’t do it, but because it would not be respectful of our free will or the dignity of our personhood to do it all for us.  The bottom line–respect your limits, and get the help you need. 

If you would like to receive the help or support you need to overcome hyper-responsibility, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

You Change First!—What To Do If You’re Caught In The Blame Game

“I would be fine if they would just stop talking to me like that!” Sound familiar?

It’s extremely frustrating when we feel as though someone else won’t allow us to be calm, to be solution focused, or to be the person that we want to be. But often when we feel frustrated that another person’s actions have this kind of influence over us, our response is to try to change them first so that we can then be okay.

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Are you getting caught in conflict?

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The scenario I just described is a classic case of being caught up in the blame game. The key to escaping it is anticipating your tendency to fall into it in the first place and make plans for avoiding it before you start a difficult or typically triggering conversation. The dynamic I described is what happens when our brains become “flooded” with stress chemicals which causes our cortex (our thinking brain) to essentially go off line. At that point, our limbic system (our emotional brain) takes over and attempts to “solve” our problems by making us fight, flee, or freeze. This is exactly what occurs each time we find ourselves getting stuck in the kind of unhealthy cycle that occurs when we find ourselves caught in a blaming/reactionary conflict. When this happens, our brain works to distance us from the problem but prevents us from actually doing anything to solve the original problem.

The first step is increasing increase your awareness of when you start to become “flooded” with stress chemicals. What signs occur in your body—i.e. your shoulders tense, your face becomes flush/hot, you clench your fists? When you first start to notice these signs, take a step back, take a deep breath, send up a quick prayer and ask God to help you find solutions that will glorify him, and be the loving person he needs you to be—even in conflict.  Then, focus on something that will help you drain those stress chemicals from your brain and bring your thinking brain back online. In moments such as these I like to reflect on the verse from 2 Timothy: 1-7 which states, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

When we get caught in the blame game, our focus becomes fixated on changing, fixing, or controlling the other person—to get them to do what we want/need them to do. While this may not be the intention, it is how we tend to operate when we are in a blaming centered conflict. This reminder from 2 Timothy demonstrates to us that we are not capable of, nor is it our responsibility to control or change another person. Our responsibility lies solely in our ability to practice self-control and model the behavior we want to see in the other person. How do you wish the other person would behave?  Make sure you’re doing that first.  If that doesn’t get things back on track, pick a time when you’re not arguing to discuss things you both need to do to make each other feel taken care of when you disagree. 

Be aware of your signs of stress, pray, and breathe. Take a step back until you are able to respond in a calm and solution focused manner. Be a model of the behavior you want from the other person, and proactively discuss ways to better take care of each other when conflict heats things up.

 

If you would like additional resources to help you stop the blame game in your relationships, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.

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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com