I remember learning about Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis in my Psychoanalytical Method and Theories course in grad school. It provided a way of evaluating human interactions. The Parent-Adult-Child Model was one of those paradigms that floated to the top for me and I have found it relevant in working with couples over the years.
Berne proposes we have 3 states (Parent, Child and Adult) that we exist in which can vary by situation, stage of our life or particular person we are around.
The Parent is the voice of our actual parents and authority figures in our life. It is the voice of right and wrong and the proper way to do things. It is intentional and mindful.
The Child state is more spontaneous, pleasure oriented, impulsive and unintentional.
The state of the Adult mediates between the Parent and the Child. It is not correcting nor controlling, nor is it indulging or reactive.
We relate to our self from these states, but we also relate to others from one of these states. In watching couples it is interesting to see the dynamics that marriages take on.
The husband who comes home from work, parks himself by the television for hours with a six pack while his wife cooks the dinner and wrangles her small children in between loads of laundry and cleaning, is operating from the state of his child. He is taking no real responsibility for what is going on his home or the lives of his kids at that moment in time. He is not stepping up and being a partner to his wife.
A wife will respond to her husband from her child, parent or adult state. The child in her would throw a tantrum or slam things and huff and puff. Or she could become a nagging parent to her husband, correcting and criticizing him.
Ideally, she would go into an adult state which would not throw a fit nor nag nor correct. An adult would share honestly and make a request without demanding. An adult would continue to take mindful responsibility but not in a way that was judgmental or superior. An adult would set boundaries where appropriate without trying to control.
Interactions may also start with parenting behaviors on one partner's behalf. Sometimes wives act childish and sometimes wives are parenting. We talked about a childish husband in this scenerio, but in other couples its the husband barking orders and correcting his wife, who then might respond as a rebellious teenager, resisting, overspending, overeating, indulging in social media or complaining.
Although we want to blame our response on our partner, all of our feelings and behaviors start with what we are thinking.
We like to justify our actions by how our partner is behaving when really it is our thoughts about our partner's behavior that determine how we feel. We cannot change our partner, but we can change our thoughts, thus our feelings and actions in our relationship.
The next time you think your husband is acting childish, consider what you are telling yourself about his behavior. Does that thought come from the voice of your inner parent, child or adult? Consider how you might respond to a co-worker or another adult acting the same way. Would it be more clear what an adult response is in the situation? How do you want to think about your husband in a given situation? Is your current thought serving you?
If you are ready for a change in your relationship I am currently taking enrollments for The 6 Week Marriage Makeover (for wives). Change is possible and I can help you uplevel or rebuild your relationship. Click here .
'Emotional Childhood is a when we stay stuck in a place of wanting to blame other people for problems. If you are stuck in this state, you might find yourself complaining frequently about circumstances and people. You feel helpless in regard to the results you are getting into your life.
You can recall all the ways you were wronged, the weather that ruined your plans, the friend who hurt your feelings, the toxic people who absorbed your energy, and the husband who did not live up to your expectations.
Don't feel bad. This is a normal and natural part of our human condition. It's part of the sinful nature and results from the fall. Shifting blame started early on with our sister Eve and Adam followed suit.
Most of us are stuck in this childish state. It is a rare person who actually moves into a state of full emotional adulting.
Unfortunately, as emotional children, we feel very powerless. The center of control for our life is always outside of us. It is as though we have given the proverbial car keys of our life to other people and circumstance.
And yet the car is ours.
The great thing about emotional childhood is we are always a victim. The not so great things is, well, we are always a victim. And yet, the reality is, other people are responsible for the choices they make AND we are responsible for the choices we make.
On the other hand, those who do emotional adulting take full responsibility for their feelings, actions and the results of their life. They don't feel powerless and at the mercy of circumstances.
Emotional adult's drive their cars and stay in their lanes. They don't spend their energy complaining about other bad drivers and they don't give the bird to someone who swerves in front of them.
Yes, someone else might cross over the line or make a decision that impacts your life, but emotional adults don't use this as a reason to quit taking responsibility and ownership of their inner and outer world. They don't give away all their power just because someone threatened them. They know they still own their own life.
It is totally fun to be an emotional adult.
Yes, I won't lie, it is work. It is showing up and being responsible which isn't always a cake walk, but the good news is, it isn't always a cake walk! Who likes to walk in a boring circle and hope you win a cake?
Emotional adults get to feel all sorts of feelings. They get to dream. They get to fail (and fail a lot). And they get to keep driving. They get to get their own food and not wait for someone to put a bib on them and feed them. They get to go to bed when they want to go to bed. They get to go to work if they want to go to work.
AND they get to live with all the consequences of their choice with no one to blame. It is so amazing.
However, there is an awesome SECRET to emotional adulting. (It almost feels like a cheat!) You are going to LOVE it.
YES, you need to grow up. YES, you need to quit blaming other people. YES you need to quit indulging in overwhelm, blame, confusion and despair.
But you are never alone. YOU HAVE A SECRET POWER PARTNER.
Jesus is your Father; you are His Daughter.
He is your King; you are his Beneficiary.
He is your Authority, you are his Follower.
He is your Savior; you are His Redeemed.
God gives us freedom. We are free to choose or reject him. That is our adult and human privilege. In this sense he does not control, nag or parent us.
He is also the Lord of all circumstances and all people. He is Lord of the storm and Creator of the seas.
He made you. He knows you. He loves you.
He has made you in His image. Like him, you get to create and rule over parts of creation.
AND, He wants us to engage with Him as we engage in life.
He calls us to action and decision and freedom and choice, AND He wants to live inside us and be our power partner.
In this sense when you make an adult decision (from a place of choice and freedom) you get continue being a child! But in the best way possible.
You get to depend on Him. You are never really alone. The burden is never fully yours. Isn't that awesome? You still get to adult, but you have the one who is sovereign over all creation living IN you.
Engage with him. Its fantastic.
He is redeeming a fallen and painful world. In your pain, he provides a bridge. He want's to redeem all that is broken and hurting.
You are never a powerless child lost in the world. You have an anchor. You have a friend. You have a GOOD Father.
This is the secret to emotional adulting. There is a place you can throw your hissy fit, have a good cry, ask your questions, and seek wisdom and direction.
If you have invited him (your free choice) he lives inside of you. His Holy Spirit is your partner as you navigate your marriage and all aspect of your life. You get to consult him, ask him for help and wisdom. It is great.
You have the world's smartest brain and counselor living inside of you, available whenever you need a consult.
You can be like Eve, blame the snake and hide, or you own your stuff and bring your life into the light and depend on him.
You are never alone in adulting my friend. Its a hard job but it can be totally fun and you can experience a power-filled life. With a power-partner living inside you, adulting has never been easier.
What if we all just loved what we had?
Whatever was before us.
However much that was.
Exactly as it is.
You could still want, but simultaneously, what if you celebrated what was?
When we want from a place of having, the wanting is totally different. We want because its interesting and fun, not because it will give us something we desperately need.
For me, when I think something should be different than it is, I am focused on lack.
When I want Rich to do something he doesn't do, I quit appreciating what he does do.
We all want new and different because we believe it will make us feel a certain way, giving us something we don't currently possess.
But what if that feeling was yours now and you weren't waiting for a "maybe someday" to get it?
Pregnant with my first child, finances were tight and we often times got creative.
Preparing for my baby, I imagined a glossy white dresser in his nursery. We got to work reinventing a current dresser that was mine previously and my dad's before that.
It was dinged and battered and needed a good coat of paint.
I envisioned it coated in enamel high gloss paint taking on a clean, sleek appeal.
Imagine my disappointment and surprise when the paint did not camouflage dings, nor did it slim the dressers chunky edges!
Obviously, I had not thought this little makeover all the way through.
Its humorous now to think that I thought somehow high gloss paint could make my shabby chubby dresser look sleek and chic.
Instead, it looked like an imposter trying to be something it wasn't. Like a leather skinned elephant wearing a wedding dress, it was totally awkward.
My friend then introduced me to the the style Shabby Chic. This style celebrated flaws, curves and battered edges, while at the same time it enjoyed a dress up party.
I released my vision of polished, perfect and pristine.
We got out sand paper, steel wool and a scraper and attacked the glossy piece of furniture to distress edges and surfaces.
I felt like my dresser's true identity was emerging with a hint of sophistication alongside down to earth.
Once I embraced its natural beauty and history, I discovered that I loved this humble dresser even more than I ever would have loved high glossy and flaw-less.
I did give my chunky and dinged-up friend some crystal knobs, but between gloss and shine and dings and dongs, she owned the corner of shabby chic.
Have you like me wanted something and almost missed what was standing right in front of you? What in your marriage or life are you trying to make into something it isn't?
What if you started celebrating what it is and loving what you had? If your actual life was someone else's life and you peered in, what would you want and appreciate about it?
Let's love what we have and give ourselves what we think we will get if we had what we think we needed.
There is ALWAYS someone who would LOVE to have your life. Until we find gratitude and appreciation for what is before us we will never truly value what comes our way.
I have a painting on my wall with the words of the old hymn, Bind my Wandering Heart to Thee.
It reminds me that I am utterly dependent on God and I don't want it to be any other way.
God intended for us to depend on him.
It is not that sort of sit back and I need someone to change my diaper sort of dependence.
And it's not the sort of dependence that leaves you blaming someone else for where your life is.
Often times our human tendencies have an element of truth in them, so we must be careful not to react by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
We recognize the pitfalls of depending on other humans. We have coined the term "codependent" to label this pathology.
And yet the reality is we are created to be dependent. Dependence is part of our blueprint. It has just been misapplied to dependence on humans rather than God.
When we become utterly self-reliant, the intended impact is to feel empowered and responsible and free from blaming and disappointment.
Yet, when we make ourselves the solution to all our problems, we are still putting a finite fallible human on the throne of our life. We become our own god in a way.
The problem with this is, not only are we limited and finite, without a redeemer, we are prisoners of human sin and fallibility.
Christ came to redeem us and set us free from the power of sin in our life. The fallibility of the flesh does not define who we are.
As believers, our dependence is shifted on to one who really does have power over everything. This sovereign one is faithful and good. He is all that is love. He is our Creator, Redeemer and the Lover of Our Souls.
If we profess Christ, why would we not want to depend on him?
The Bible is full of stories of depending on God to do impossible things. Over and over again, we see lack and little being made into more than enough.
I love the stories of small armies defeating large ones. I am amazed when 5 loaves and 2 fish feed 5000. And who does not know the story of the young boy David whose faith was in the Lord when he defeated a large giant with a small stone?
God wants us to engage with Him. When we depend on Him, we don't sit back uninvolved. His reliant people are active in taking actions as an expression of their faith.
If you have a history of depending on others and are trying to break the destructive habit of this type of living, what if you didn't have to change this tendency about yourself?
What if you made the object of your dependence the God who is a sovereign over all? When you put Him on the throne of your life, rather than another human, including yourself?
What might be different for you? How might your marriage and life flourish?
If your heart is prone to wander, ask him to bind your heart to him. Its an amazing prayer to pray each day.
What do the stock market, the Psalms, and your marriage have in common?
They are all full of highs and lows, ascents and descents.
Those drops are suppose to be there. Persevere, my friend!
My dad and I were walking one day. He is a money guy.
He started talking about how crazy it is when people react to the stock market. It rises, and people want in. When it drops, people want out.
They are hopping in and out reactively, at the opposite time they should be.
He has seen people pay premium dollars for rising stocks. And when the value of the stock goes down, they freak out and exit, leaving with the inferior dollar.
The stock market is supposed to go up and down.
If you ride the highs and lows, invest more when things are low, you will reap the benefits of a net positive return.
That's just how it goes.
This reminds me of the Psalm's cadence of ascents and descents.
The writer, often David, expresses low lows. If you are down, the grievances meet you where you are, but then they take you to a higher place. The writer's emotions ascend as he thinks of the faithfulness and goodness of the Lord.
The Psalms mirror the writer's life, but they mirror our life too. He goes to low places, but never stays there.
This is normal living.
The good and the bad. Neither is a permanent state.
It is just how it goes.
If your marriage is like mine, and the many couples with whom I have done therapy, the norm of marriage is a series of ups and downs. Highs and lows.
When your relationship hits a bump in the road, nothing is wrong. Its normal to feel less connected at times. It's normal to have conflict and differences. It's normal to have transitions.
When we think problems or lows shouldn't be happening is when we create a crisis, resist and overreact.
I remember a research finding where couples who were on the brink of divorce and persevered, ranked the level of marital satisfaction very high 5 years later. At one point, they were so ready to call it quits, but 5 years later so glad they rode out the hard time.
If you are in a low, press on my friend. Your marriage may just be in a season of change and you can grow with your relationship.
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Today I met with a couple.
They told me about a fight they had.
It started with her feeling overwhelmed and frustrated (with LIFE, not him).
However, in frustration she then reacted with aggressive and short words aimed at HIM. Feeling defensive to the sharpness of her tongue, he combats it by telling her how she needs to not be so frustrated. She feels corrected and gets angry. Things escalate and they end the day feeling alone and hurt.
"How do I stop always feeling so frustrated?" she asks.
I realize her frustration is coming from her thoughts. The feeling comes on so fast that she lashes out re-actively. At that point, it is hard to access the rational part of her brain.
In my mind I rewind 14 years ago when I first introduced time out to my son. This worked for my kids. Why not for her?
"What if instead of acting out of frustration as though that were your only option, you believed you could hit pause by saying, I am feeling frustrated. Maybe then you could give yourself what you needed. Its like we tell our little kids, "Use your big girl words." You could even put yourself in time out if it helps. "
I laugh. And then I tell her that really is pretty good advice no matter what your age.
I also realize she is feeling shame about getting so frustrated. She was making it mean that something was wrong with her and her husband's words only reinforced that. I asked her about it and she said, "If I am always getting frustrated it must mean I am broken."
"The thought "I am broken" is keeping you stuck. As soon as you start getting frustrated you think you have failed and go all in and give up. What if the frustration meant nothing more than you were human AND you could learn to understand and manage your frustration differently?"
I explained that once she could name the feeling she could experience it as a product of something she was thinking. Only after she allowed the frustration without indulging it or judging it, she could change the thought creating the frustration to one that served her better.
Though the husband was telling his wife she needed to not get frustrated, HE was getting frustrated which let to him correcting her. I pointed out the mirror in their emotions and interactions.
As they both uncovered the thoughts causing their feelings of frustration, they were actually quite similar. She was thinking a situation should have been different than it was, and he was thinking she should be different than she is. Once again a mirror.
At the end of the session, I asked the couple to tell me what they learned by processing this last fight so that they could hit the breaks sooner the next time either of them felt frustrated.
They both agreed that calling a time out and at least saying how they felt was a way they could pause the situation and diffuse the conflict.
You will always have emotion. You will still get frustrated and angry for the same reason you will still get happy and relaxed. Congratulations! You are human and get the full spectrum of feelings.
When we learn to make repair attempts (hit the breaks), self sooth, support our partner in self soothing, just breath in our feeling for a minute, we can deescalate an emotional situation. Allowing the feeling in this way we are more likely to overall reduce the duration and intensity of the emotion. By allowing it, we disarm it.
And it all starts by hitting pause and using words to name the feeling.
If a strategy is excellent for toddler, it probably is great for us too.
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You are always creating things in your life, either with intention or by default.
This includes the flavor of your relationships.
To create a marriage you love on purpose, here are 3 steps:
1. Ask yourself what you want to FEEL about your man and your relationship (pick ONE feeling word).
2. Now try on thoughts (similar to trying on jeans) until you identify a thought that creates that feeling. You don't have to believe that thought yet, but you must believe that it is possible to think that thought. (like don't think pigs can fly because you know you won't EVER believe that thought because it could never be true).
3. Take action in your marriage from that feeling.
For me, because I like order, its easy to get caught up in the pile of pants on the closet floor or the trunk full of junk in Rich's car.
I think, that stuff should NOT be there!!! (notice 3 exclamation marks). That makes me feel annoyed (That junk should totally should be there by the way).
Its not fun to feel annoyed. You don't show up very loving from that place.
So, because I don't like where annoyed takes me, I have been working on feeling more THANKFUL in my relationship. I have tried on several thoughts that might create this feeling and the one that fit like a glove is "So many people would love to be married to my strong sweet man, but he is mine."
This totally makes me feel THANKFUL so I know it is the right thought. I am sold!
From this feeling of THANKFUL I take action in my relationship.
My actions fueled by THANKFUL get me such better results than the actions that came from my previous feeling of ANNOYED.
So what is a feeling that has not been working for you in your relationship? What would you like to feel instead?
When you practice thoughts that create that feeling, you are on the road to creating the Happy Marriage you dream of.
Having a hard time creating? I can help you create for yourself. Set up your free consult where we can see if coaching is a good fit for you.
When your husband came to you with a complaint, what if you responded (very genuinely), "Tell me more."
Then after he shared, you asked, "Is there anything else?"
And then, you said (again with sincerity), "Thank you."
What if you didn't take it personally, but thought, "Hmm. This is what he is really experiencing and thinking."
And then you actively listened.
I remember a hard time in our marriage when I had to be very intentional to bite my tongue, breath deeply and just listen. That was hard! My pride wanted to lash out. But I had done that before and it got us nowhere.
So I shut my mouth. Took my breaths. And I channeled curiosity.
I did not agree with everything said, but I did not argue. I listened as though it were not about me. And when I did that, I finally understood his point of view. I didn't make myself wrong, but I did not have to be right.
The funny thing is, this place where I felt vulnerable and resistant, it was a vortex in our relationship where I would learn to love more deeply. Following this encounter where I was very intentional to swallow my pride is the place we started coming out of a valley we had been in for quite a while.
What if I had stayed stuck in my pride?
When I quit taking the bait, I could see my husband was hurting.
By listening to him and not taking it personally, Rich was able to hear himself and all his pent up emotion. Underneath his complaints about me, was an abyss of grief and sadness.
Over the years he had lost his dad, his mom, and 42-year-old sister. But he always kept going, never indulging in his grief. And yet, working full time as a psychologist serving chronic and traumatic cases, his own pain was left unattended, spilling over into aggression that was very uncharacteristic of him.
In everyday life, all his loss was not on the forefront. Yet it was sitting there like rocks in his shoe.
I am so grateful that day I stopped defending myself and getting caught up in stupid arguments.
We don't have to be right.
When we remove negative emotion from feedback and simply listen, we can ask, "How can this help me?" or "What is he feeling or needing?"
In my own marriage and working with couples for nearly 20 years, I have always found that it is in unwanted and broken places that there exists the potential for the greatest emotional intimacy. When we quit defending our-self and start loving, we can see what is right before us.
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What if you got to be the example of Love in your home?
What if you saw your job as leading by example?
When your kids made bad choices, rather than lamenting at what a bad mom you are or blaming your husband for not stepping up, what if you said to yourself, "It's the kids' job to push and it's my job to teach. "
When you were disappointed in your man, what if you thought, "He is given to me to love."
You would stop complaining. You would quit spinning your wheels thinking how things should be different. You would pray about the problem, release it and then take the next best step.
If you quit thinking about how your husband should parent differently and just accepted how he does, you would no longer be wasting your time. You would use all the energy to do your best.
You would be the one to teach your kids the things you wanted to teach them (I bet when you are thinking he should step up you start sitting down). Rather than seeing your husband as working against you because of his lack or parenting, you would just see his parenting as different. You would see your differences brought contrast to the table, which doesn't have to be a negative thing.
If you looked at energy as a limited resource that you wanted to spend wisely, you would quit spending it on negativity. You would invest it in something that you wanted to grow.
Instead of talking about how much you are unhappy, you would intentionally think about what makes you happy. You would focus on what you want rather than what you don't want. You would celebrate what you have rather than lament over what you lack. You would invest in your future and quit living in your past.
I am not suggesting you push down negative thoughts or disappointments. That can actually create a tug-o-war increasing the energy that goes toward resisting negativity.
You just simply notice the negative thought, allow it to be there, and ask if the thought is serving you. If it is not, you gently shift your energy elsewhere. Metaphorically speaking, if you are on a walk, you might notice a cloud, but then focus on the sun peaking through, the fresh air you are breathing in or how capable your body is as it moves.
When you complain and indulge in negative thoughts or speech, you are advertising your own fears, not actually pointing something out about the other person.
When you lead by example, you are future and forward focused. You are looking to the desired destination, not where you don't want to be. You spend your energy in a positive way. You look for evidence of what is right. You quit worrying about what everyone else should be doing and do what you should be doing.
When we truly feel the release of just loving and leading by example (without haughtiness or judgment), we simply love and love always feels amazing.
I have never met a person who did not need to do some brain and emotional work in their relationship. We all do in order to create a marriage that is thriving. Especially when we have no control over the other person and how they decide to show up.
When I coach my clients, nothing matters if they don't do the work. If they don't manage their minds, they struggle to sustain actions. They lose commitment.
Like anything worth anything, marriage is built on a heap of disappointments and wins. For this reason, many people aren't good at building relationships. Their tolerance for discomfort and failure is low.
To succeed, we must be willing to fall and get back up. We have to change what we are making failure and disappointment mean.
As you step outside of your comfort zone and try a new approach, expect that it might not go as you planned. When you try some of the things I am teaching you, you may feel frustrated and even angry. Plan on that discomfort.
Your ability to get past your disappointments will determine your growth. Wins come at the same speed you keep taking action despite failure.
When I see someone who struggles over and over again in their relationship, without exception it is because they quit taking the new and next action. They made disappointment mean defeat and they quit trying.
A Happy Marriage is yours. Own it. Just keep believing. Stay committed. Take action.
Where we are in life proves what we are thinking. When we change our perspective, we can change our lives and our relationships.