Decisions, Decisions… How to Be Confident in The Face of Uncertainty

From big to small, we are faced with decisions every day. Sometimes when we are at a crossroads between two–or more–options, we become paralyzed by the uncertainty and fear of decision making.

When we don’t know what to do, the Theology of The Body can help us gain clarity. St John Paul reminds us that every decision we make should help us, as he put it,  “become what we are”–the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person God sees when he looks at us. In any decision of any importance at all, if we’re confused about what to do, the be way to be confident in our choices is to look for the option that seems to give us the greatest chance of doing three things.  First, using our gifts to bless others. Second, enabling us to make our relationships healthier and stronger. And third, using the situation to become a stronger, healthier person.

It is these three qualities, meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, upon which an abundant life rests. We can never guarantee the outcome of what we do, but we don’t have to. We just have to be able to be confident that we have a good and godly process that we use to make our decisions. If our desire is to avoid evil, to be loving and responsible in our decisions, and make choices that lead to what we prayerfully believe will increase our chances of growing in meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue, then even when we feel uncertain, we can be confident that, through God’s mercy,  we are making the right decisions.

Let’s look at a few practical ways to be confident in the face of uncertainty:

1. Focus on the Process, Not the Feeling–You will rarely feel 100% certain that you made the one right choice.  If you wait for your feelings to tell you that you are doing (or have done) the right thing, you will be waiting a very long time, indeed. When making a decision of any sort, don’t take your cue from your feelings, focus on your process. Have you taken the decision to prayer? Are you trying to avoid doing anything bad? Are you trying your best to be loving and responsible in your decisions? And finally, are you trying to choose the option that seems to increase your chances of living a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life?  If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then your decision making process is solid no matter what your feelings say. Trust the process, not your feelings, and know that God will be pleased with your effort and get you on the right path by means of his mercy.

2. Indecisive is Worse Than Wrong–You already know that being stuck isn’t working. As long as you are genuinely trying to make a meaningful, intimate and virtuous choice, even a wrong decision is better than staying put, because even a wrong decision will give you new information to work with. Very few decisions are irreversibly wrong, and those are almost always decisions made rashly, and emotionally instead of trying to intentionally pursue greater meaningfulness, intimacy or virtue. When you make a decision, don’t look back. Instead, look at the new information your decision has given you and look for the next step that allows you to pursue meaningfulness intimacy and virtue. Staying put gets you more of what you’ve got. Making even a wrong decision that reflects an active attempt to pursue meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue will draw you closer to God who, in his mercy, will get you on the right path. Grace can direct you when you’re in motion, but grace can’t move you if you are committed to staying put. Indecisive is always worse than wrong.

3. Don’t Feed the Goblin–Assuming you’ve followed the steps above, the voices of doubt that remain in your head after you make a decision are never from God.  Even if you made the wrong decision in good faith, God will gently guide you forward on the right path. As Jesus said, “I did not come to condemn but to save.” Those self-critical voices of condemnation that make you second-guess yourself are not from God, they are what St. Ignatius referred to as desolations. This is the voice of the Enemy trying to cause you to stay stuck and refuse to take any actions that God could use to draw you closer to him. Reject these voices and focus, instead, on the next step that leads to greater meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue. The more you refuse to feed the goblins of doubts, the more you will grow in the confidence that comes from stepping out in God’s grace.

For more resources to help you make decisions that will lead to greater meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue in your life explore CatholicCounselors.com!

 

Quick links and resources:

Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety 

Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of The Human Heart 

What Does God Want Me To Do?

 

I-Oughta-Biography — Overcoming The Shoulds In Our Life

“I should be better at this,” “I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem anymore,” “I should just get it together…” 

Do these “shoulds” sound familiar? We have a tendency to be so hard on ourselves. We fall into the “should” mindset, making ourselves feel guiltier or more powerless about the fact that we’re not living up to the perceived “shoulds.” 

The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that although God has a plan for our lives, we can’t find it by beating ourselves up or by torturing ourselves with a constant list of what we should or shouldn’t be doing–or should have done. Living in the “shoulds” is just another way of living in a state of reactivity that closes us off to being able to hear God’s voice or discern his plan for our lives. Instead of living reactively in the shoulds, the Theology of The Body directs us towards the need to cultivate a spirit of receptivity.

When we feel disappointed,  confused, or caught up in the “shoulds” the first thing we need to do is bring that feeling to God. Openly and honestly sharing the thoughts that are going on in your mind through prayer. Next, instead of trying to puzzle out what his answer would be, we need to spend time allowing him to love us, reminding ourselves of all the ways he has shown his love for us before, praising him for all the ways he has been present to us, and thanking him for the little blessings of that day. Then, confident that we don’t have to earn God’s love by doing all the right things and having all the right answers, we need to be still and listen to the ways God is asking us to use our gifts to make a positive difference in our circumstances, to make our relationships stronger and healthier, and see all the things that happen to us as an invitation to do something small to be a little more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we’re meant to be.

One reason we fall into this “should” mindset is due to the fact that our stress level gets too high for our thinking brain—our cortex—to function effectively. When this occurs, we become significantly more reactive than receptive, ultimately functioning from our limbic system—the emotional reactions part of our brain. 

Taking our thoughts and concerns to God, resting in His love, and using our gifts to take action in a positive way allows us to lower our stress level, bring our thinking brain back on line, and find our power in the present moment. 

Focusing on the “shoulds” causes us to live in either the past or the future—two places where we have no control or power. Focusing on our present moment and what we can do in the here and now with God’s loving guidance allows us to take control over our situation in a healthy and positive way. 

The more we can take this receptive approach to life, the clearer we can be about what God wants us to do, and what choices will lead us to the abundant life we all long for.

Fighting Fair–Overcoming Unhealthy Communication Habits

“One minute we’re talking and next thing we know we’ve completely lost our cool.”

“S/He just doesn’t listen to me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Our conversations always turn into arguments and we just can’t seem to ever get anywhere!”

Do these sentiments seem familiar to you? 

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge. But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently and don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be some degree of conflict. 

Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things. By learning to be loving, especially in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

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Are you feeling overwhelmed by difficult conversations or challenging individuals?

Find helpful tips for dealing with the difficult people in your life in:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Crazy!

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Unhealthy arguments often occur when we are not approaching the other person with love because empathy is one of the first things to go. 

We have a tendency to let conversations escalate into arguments when we A) forget to take care of the other person in conflict, and B) make assumptions or accusations rather than communicating our emotional experience. 

This is why using “I feel” statements in conversation is so important. We often jump to conclusions such as “you’re not listening to me!” Or “I think you just don’t care” which automatically puts both parties on the defense and immediately derails the original conversation, because now we’re focusing on defending ourselves rather than solving the original problem. 

If we use statements such as “I feel as though you’re not listening to me.” The other person then has the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry that wasn’t my intention at all, what I’m hearing you say is…” and then we can stay on track with our conversation and more effectively take care of one another throughout the conversation. 

Essentially, Empathy allows for conversations, assumptions create arguments. 

The next important approach for us to take in order to have healthy communication includes seeking understanding. Individuals often enter into disagreements by actively fighting for their agenda. One person presents an idea and the other shoots it down almost immediately because they have a different idea of what they want. But taking this approach can be very demoralizing not to mention polarizing. Instead, seek understanding. When the other person presents a position you don’t agree with, stop yourself from critiquing it–or worse, ruling on it–right away. Rather, step back and say, “Tell me why that option appeals to you so much” or “Tell me more about what you like about that idea.” By understanding what the other likes about the idea they are proposing, you’ll get a better idea of their overall goals and be able to brainstorm new ideas more effectively.

And finally, don’t confuse the first draft with the final product. Too often, when individuals begin a discussion, they think their own ideas represent two competing final drafts and it is their job to convince the other person that their idea is “the right one.”  Remember, the Christian person isn’t supposed to be fighting about getting their way, but working together with others to discover God’s will. The first ideas you each bring to the conversation represent two pieces of a larger puzzle God is trying to help you build though communication and prayer. Don’t mistake your piece of the puzzle for the whole puzzle. You can’t see the big picture, only God can. Expect your original idea to change– for the better–in any conversation where you and your conversation partner don’t see eye-to-eye.

For more ways to build healthy communication habits, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com!

Eight Simple Ways To Make Your Marriage Great

By Dr. Greg Popcak

It turns out that the secret to creating a joyful, loving, lifelong marriage isn’t such a secret after all!  

Research on successful couples shows that whether your relationship is frustrating, fantastic, or somewhere in between, every couple can create a more fulfilling marriage by practicing eight simple habits. 

1.Rituals of Connection-–Happy couples prioritize each other by creating regular, daily rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together.

Take a few minutes each day to do little things together like clean up the kitchen, go on a walk or play a game, talk about ways you can take better care of each other, or pray or engage in other shared spiritual activities. Creating simple rituals of connection like these will remind you to step out of the busy-ness of everyday life and show up for each other.  

2.  Emotional Rapport & Benevolence–Happy couples make a point of intentionally looking for ways to lighten each other’s load. Every morning, before you start the day, get into the habit of asking, “What could I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  

Simple gestures like this will help you remember to turn toward each other in times of stress (instead of isolating) and help you trust that you have each other’s best interests at heart—even when you sometimes irritate each other.

3.  Self-Regulation–Happy couples are good at monitoring their emotional temperatures. They know when they need to take a break from a stressful conversation and they understand that they can always come back to a difficult topic later once they’ve had some more time to think about it.

When you’re upset about something, don’t jump right into an argument with your spouse. Take some time to calm down, identify the problem, and (for bonus points) try to come up with at least one idea about what you’d like to do to improve the situation.  Now, you’re ready to have a productive problem-solving conversation with your spouse.

4. A Positive Intention Frame--Happy couples realize that most offenses in marriage are due to miscommunication or misunderstanding.  They realize that their partner gets nothing out of being intentionally offensive. They try to understand the true intention or need behind the offense and find more respectful way to meet that need or intention

When your spouse does something that upsets you, don’t attack them. Instead, ask them what need they were trying to meet by acting as they did. Once you’ve identified what they were trying to do, you can brainstorm better ways to meet that good intention next time.

5. Caretaking in Conflict–Happy couples know that the most important thing in problem-solving isn’t actually solving the problem. The MOST important thing in problem-solving is taking care of each other so that they can solve the problem together. Happy couples actively look for little ways to encourage each other through the tension and toward solutions.

Even when you’re disagreeing, remember to look for little ways to remind your spouse that you love them, want the best for them, and appreciate their willingness to stick it out and work through things together—even when the going gets tough. 

6.  Mutual Respect, Accountability, and Boundaries–Happy couples respect each other, which means that they are willing to listen and learn from each other even when it is hard. They don’t have to understand why something is important to their partner.  It is enough that it is important. They respect each other’s boundaries and work to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences even when those needs or preferences don’t necessarily make sense.

Don’t put your spouse in the position of having to prove to you that their ideas, needs, concerns, or interests are worthwhile. Assume they’re smart enough to see something good in those things, and work hard to understand what that is.

7.  Reviewing and Learning from Mistakes–Happy couples know how to learn from their disagreements. They don’t blame and attack each other or endlessly debate what “really” happened last time.  They focus on what they need to do to handle similar situations better in the future.

Here’s a secret. Not even the happiest couples ever agree on what actually happened, who said what, or whose fault it was. Don’t worry about that. If you can both agree that neither of you liked the way things played out the last time, you can focus your energy on figuring out how to handle similar situations better next time.

8.  Seeking Healthy Support–Happy couples are always looking for opportunities to make their marriage stronger and they know where to turn for solid support.

They don’t complain about their marriage to friends who will simply confirm their biases and tell them what they want to hear. Instead, they look for opportunities to develop new skills even when things are going well, and if they need help, they seek it either from mature couples who know and love them both, or marriage-friendly professionals who are qualified to teach the skills they need to address their particular struggles.

How’d you do? Every couple has areas they are best at and areas they could improve in. To learn more about how you to use these habits to strengthen your marriage, check out How To Heal Your Marriage And Nurture Lasting Love.  (Dr. Greg Popcak, Sophia Institute Press). You’ll discover a step-by-step plan for making your marriage everything you want it to be!

For more personal support, contact CatholicCounselors.com to learn how our Catholic tele-counseling services can help you transform your marriage, family or personal life! 

Dealing With Differences

We all have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different opinions. While this can be a positive thing, it can also often lead to conflict in our conversations and in our relationships. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that our primary mission is to create communities of love out of the relationships we have with all the people in our lives. One of the lessons we all need to learn in order to accomplish this goal is how to manage conflict, tension, and differences of opinion gracefully. Humility is the virtue that makes us open to the experience of others, even others we disagree with vehemently. Each of us has a story that deserves to be heard. Each of us is wounded in a way that deserves to be respected. The positions we hold, the choices we make, and the attitudes we have are rooted in those stories and wounds. We can’t hope to build a relationship with another person–much less change their minds–if we aren’t willing to take the time that’s necessary to understand how they got to where they are. Listening and empathizing are the two most important tools in addressing conflict gracefully.

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Are you dealing with differences with your adult children?
Check out:
Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations with Your Adult Sons & Daughters 

for healthy and effective ways to deal with your differences gracefully!

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As challenging as it can be, we need to make sure that we’re not just “doing what comes naturally” when it comes to managing conflict. Instead, we need to invite 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 Catholics, 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.

Here are three key ways to deal with differences gracefully:

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.

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 is possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

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 they other person 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?” 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 support in dealing with differences, explore our resources at CatholicCounselors.com!

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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Are you struggling with difficult relationships in your life?

Check out:
God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts!

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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!