Resolving Resentment—Understanding The Hidden Message

Resentment is one of those feelings that can sneak up on us, then overwhelm us. It can make us feel powerless, angry, and sometimes trigger fear. With this mix of emotions, what does resentment really mean?

We often feel guilty about resentment and, of course, resentment isn’t something we want to hold on to.  But the theology of the body teaches that God designed our bodies to work for our good and the good of those around us.  If we learn to listen to the ways God is speaking to us through our bodies–including our feelings–we can hear him guiding us on how best to take care of ourselves and others. All of our emotions–including feelings like resentment–are part of our body’s response to our environment. When united to God’s grace, our emotions can give us important information.  But what could God possibly be saying to us through resentment?  Well, Theology of The Body tells us that healthy relationships are mutually self-donative.  That is, a healthy relationship can only exist when both people are doing everything they can to take care of each other.  Resentment is the feeling we get when we feel like we are doing too much–whether that means we are doing more than our share of a particular task or working harder on a relationship than the other person is. 

Resentment is a warning light on the relationship dashboard that asks us to check if our relationship is really still mutually self-donative or, if somehow, we are allowing ourselves to be treated more like an object than a person. Understood properly, resentment shouldn’t lead us to pout or withdraw, it should lead us to do healthy things like express our needs, or ask for help, or clarify the other person’s intentions, or, when we can’t get the buy-in we’d like from others, we can exercise our right to change our approach even if that means letting go of certain expectations or responsibilities that aren’t healthy to hold on to.  If we deal with our resentment gracefully, it will help us make sure that each person in the relationship is giving as much as they can to protect the health of the relationship and doing as much as they can to look out for the wellbeing of each person in the relationship.

Name the Need–The first thing to do if you are feeling resentful is to identify and name the need that isn’t being met.  Do you need help? Do you need a little TLC?  Could you use help getting a break?  Is there a problem between you and another person that needs to be resolved? Resentment tends to occur when a need sits on the shelf too long and it starts to spoil. Instead of beating up on yourself for feeling resentful, bring your resentment to God. Say, “Lord, help me to name the need that is feeding my resentment and help me to address it in a way that glorifies you and makes my relationships healthier.” Once you know what the need is, you can make a plan to meet it instead of letting it continue to spoil on the shelf, feeding that growing sense of resentment.

Speak the Need–Sometimes, even when we have identified a need, we have a hard time feeling like it’s OK to meet it.  We tell ourselves, “We shouldn’t have to ask for help.”  Or, “I shouldn’t have to say anything about this.”  Remember, the theology of the body tells us that the voice of God speaks to us through our bodies.  If you are feeling resentful, God is asking you to find a healthy, godly way to meet an unmet need and make your relationships healthier and stronger. Trying to talk yourself out of meeting that need is like trying to ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit! Once you’ve identified the need that is feeding your resentment, it’s time to make a plan to meet it. Go to the people around you and say, “I really need your help with X.”  Don’t worry if they aren’t receptive at first. Be confident in the need that God is asking you to address. Remember, healthy, godly relationships are mutually self-donative. Sometimes that means that we have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to work for each other’s good. That’s not always fun, but it’s always good. Give the people in your life the opportunity to stretch themselves a little for you. Don’t let doubts about others rob them of the opportunity to learn to love you as much as you love them.

Get Help to Meet the Need–Sometimes, even when we have tried our best, getting our needs met can be…complicated. If you find that you can’t stop feeling resentful no matter what you do, or if you are struggling to actually identify your needs in the first place, or articulate them in ways that the people in your life can actually hear and respond to, it’s time to get some new skills. Don’t give into the temptation of thinking that there is nothing you can do just because you can’t figure our what to do on your own. Remember, if God is calling your attention to a need, God has a plan for meeting it. Talk to a faithful professional counselor who can help you learn how to cooperate with God’s plan for meeting the unmet needs that are feeding your resentment.  

If you would like additional resources and support overcoming resentment, 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!

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!

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!

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!

Conquer Conflict–How Empathy Can Help Us Be Communication Warriors

When caught in a conflict, the last thing we want to do is be empathetic. Our natural response is often to become defensive, offensive, or to flee from the scene. While these reactions can be effective in getting us away from the original problem, they don’t really help us solve the problem.

So how do we overcome these natural reactions and work through conflict effectively?

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Making Peace With Difficult People 

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Theology of The Body reminds us that, at all times, we need to treat other people–even people we disagree with or find offensive, obnoxious, or upsetting–as persons.  When we are in conflict, our natural, fallen response is to stop treating our opponent as a person and, instead, see them as an enemy, an idiot, a nuisance, an irritant, or an aggressor.  As soon as we start thinking of someone that way, we indulge our sinful tendency to depersonalize the other–treating them as a thing to be ignored, overpowered, dismissed, or shouted down.  None of these responses are consistent with our call to create communities of love and to treat others as unique and unrepeatable persons deserving of dignity and respect.  So what do we do?  We empathize. Empathy is the quality that allows us to accept that people do things for reasons that make sense to them and that we are obliged to do what we can to understand those reasons.  Empathy does not require us to agree with what the other person thinks, approve of what they are doing, or excuse any offenses.  It simply requires us to assume that–whatever they are doing–there is at least a positive intention or need that is driving their thoughts, words, or actions.  Empathy gives us a starting point for respectful change.  It reminds us that the best defense is not a good offense but rather compassion.  Empathy allows us to be strong enough to encounter someone we disagree with and say, “Help me understand what you are trying to do and then let’s work together to find a respectful way to meet that need.”

Although empathy in conflict is important, it can often be difficult. Here are three steps to effectively cultivating empathy in difficult situations:

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then 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. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with 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 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 disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder..  Avoid this.  Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person is 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?”  If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, 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 for dealing with conflict effectively, 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

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Did Pope Francis Need To Apologize? (And What His Apology Can Teach Us)

Dr. Gregory K Popcak

 

Pope Francis made the news New Years Eve for his response to a woman he met in a line of well-wishers.  The over-eager woman grabbed the Holy Father’s arm forcefully and wouldn’t let go.  The viral video shows Pope Francis wincing—some suggest in pain from his sciatica—and then turning and slapping the woman’s hand twice before breaking free and storming off.

The next day, Pope Francis issued a simple, but humble apology.  He said, “”Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”

We used this event as an opportunity to explore apologies on today’s show.  Many people think that apologizing for something means that they are accepting all the blame or admitting that they are a bad person.  For many, giving an apology means debasing themselves and so they are loathe to apologize for almost anything.

The theology of the body reminds us that building the Kingdom of God is primarily about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with God and others.  Apologies are a big part of that process.  

But giving an apology doesn’t mean that you are accepting all the blame.  It doesn’t mean that it is all your fault.  And it doesn’t mean that you are saying that you are a bad person. Likewise, giving an apology isn’t a way of “evening the balance sheet” between people.

For the Christian, giving an apology has nothing to do with another person’s behavior or the context we’re in.  It simply means, “I have reflected on my behavior in the light of grace and my own expectations for myself.  Because of that, I believe that I should have handled that better and I am committed to handling similar situations better in the future.”

Some callers to the show today argued that Pope Francis didn’t need to apologize for his behavior because his response was a “human reaction” to being grabbed inappropriately.  Another person suggested that Pope Francis behavior was justified by every human being’s right to self-defense.

Both of these points are absolutely true.  It was a human reaction and we do have a right to self-defense.  But these points are also irrelevant.  Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong.  It means, “I believe I could and should do better in similar situations in the future.”

By apologizing, the Holy Father didn’t say, “I’m a bad person.” Or “I’m a bad Pope.” Or even, “This was all my fault.”  (And in the last instance, it clearly wasn’t all his fault.”  By apologizing, the Pope Francis simply said, “I could and should have handled that better and I am committed to doing so in the future.” 

We would all do well to follow his example in this instance.  Let’s worry less about assigning blame, finding fault, or worrying about debasing ourselves.  Let’s focus more on taking responsibility for our actions, acknowledging that there are often better ways to handling situations than our first impulses dictate, and committing to using those healthier, godlier alternatives in the future.