Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It Takes Two to Tango (Tangle?) - Steps to Unravel Complex Messes in Relationships

Her version of what happened is different than his, and both think they are right. "It's a tangled mess" he says, "And we're not sure how to move forward."

Tangles take time to unravel. As a former racquet-stringer, it's something I've mastered. It requires calm nerves and a steady pace until all the knots are undone. Tangled messes for couples are similar.

In Marriage Coaching we slow things down by adding some individual sessions to focus on one partner's view of the tangles, and then we prevail on them to do their part. Often this means taking 100% responsibility for whatever portion of the problem that they are willing to own(1)...and not offering any excuses or defense for speaking or behaving inappropriately.

"I can do that", she said. "Good", I thought. Maybe now they'll move forward.

Coach your own marriage

Is there a tangle in your relationship right now? Here are some suggestions:

1. Get alone with God and ask Him to show you where you are in the wrong.
2. Ask God to give you the grace and humility to confess to the offended party.
3. Say, "About _____. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?"
4. Leave it at that. Offer no justification, defense or explanation.(2)
5. If the offended needs you to hear their feelings, serve them by reflecting.

Without wood a fire goes out...
(Proverbs 26:20, NIV).

Just this morning I saw a relationship become a bit more tangled because both participants made vain efforts to change the behavior of the other. The result was frustration and knots that are a little bit tighter. Either or both could use the process above to begin to make things better. The key is taking responsibility for self, and letting God deal with the other.

Godspeed in slowing things down and taking responsibility for yourself in your relationships!

Jeff and Jill, Marriage Coaches

1. I first heard this from Rich Wildman, who said that his 16 month separation from his wife began to heal when he took 100% responsibility for his portion of their problems.

2. I Peter 2:23 - "...rather, He (Jesus) entrusted himself to Him who judges justly." When beaten and ridiculed, Jesus responsed with silence. He entrusted his defense to His Father rather than engaging an argument with men.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Should Tiger Do?

I've written elsewhere that except for the grace of God, there go I. Trust me when I say that I'm not writing from a posture of judgment, but rather from a heart of grace. Whether or not Tiger has meant the things he said in his mea culpa is something only he and God know, and Elin will be able to tell with time. If he is remorseful and wants to begin today, the first day of the rest of his life, living according to his values and as his family deserves (his words), then there are some things he can do to recover his personal integrity (no matter how much noise and money the tabloids make), his marriage and his family (two children).

{Full-disclosure: Jill and I have coached countless couples through recovery from adultery]

So, what should Tiger do?
1. Retain the services of a marriage-friendly therapist. What qualifies such a therapist? Professional competency and commitment to a pro-marriage stance. A poor choice of a therapist can be downright hazardous to the marriage. See the commitment statement of marriage-friendly therapists here,

2. Make himself accountable to Elin. As far as we know, he is the offending party that broke trust. Evidence of true remorse and desire to heal the marriage will be indicated by him volunteering to make himself accountable for his time; where he goes, whom he's with, and who he communicates with (email, cell phone, etc.).

3. Do a post-mortem. How did this happen? Tiger should examine the psychological, emotional and relational antecedents that predisposed him to conduct a prolonged, clandestine relationship. A great book that can help offending spouses to examine themselves is, "Staying Together: When An Affair Pulls You Apart".

4. Give Elin the opportunity to process her grief and trauma with a marriage-friendly therapist. Perhaps the day after Thanksgiving was the first day she had knowledge of Tiger's affair (I'm speculating). If so, he needs to remember that she has a lot of catching up to do. He needs to hear her honest feelings and answer her questions. The experts are divided on how much to disclose. That's for the Wood's to evaluate and decide.

5. GET SKILLS - The state of the art in relationship education that teaches skills is much, much better than most couples know. For instance, these are a few of the skills; effective listening, effective asking, effective goal-setting. In addition, there are exercises any couple can learn to use in tandem with skills to prevent misunderstanding, build closeness, improve emotional literacy, have difficult and emotional conversations in a way that builds instead of eroding the relationship, resolve conflicts, etc. If Tiger and Elin decide to repair their marriage they will need the best tools available to process the content of their thoughts, feelings and desires on a day to day basis for a long time.

6. Never give up. Shop for the information they need to recover. There are a multitude of proven approaches to healing from an affair. If one approach doesn't help them to solve all of their issues, they shouldn't assume that the problems can't be solved. Sometimes it is a simultaneous or sequenced combination of approaches that leads to success. If they really want it, and will behave with good-will (selflessness and humility) they can get there.

Quite a few couples have come to us to work through an affair. They hear that we teach communication skills as part of our model of Marriage Coaching, and they are attracted to learn practical ways to communicate. "After all, that was the problem that led to us drifting apart, and now we need to know how to communicate more than ever."

**Our experience has been that Marriage Coaching can work in tandem with other approaches, such as therapy, and sometimes as the sole approach. How does this work with something so severe as an affair? It works because it is heavily skill-laden. We emphasize facilitating couples to communicate in safe ways that they can continue to use to coach their own marriage when they are alone. On average this is 12-15 hours of sessions over a three-month period.

Just this week we had an emergency session with such a couple. What did we do?
1. We asked what they wanted and how badly they wanted it on a scale of 1-10.
2. We asked what kind of tool they would like to have if it could be custom-made to accomplish something important for their relationship.
3. We taught the heart and skill of effective listening and effective asking by modeling. (note: we teach that the heart under any effective skill is the heart of Jesus which is compassionate, patient, self-less, and so much more). Heart without skill is manipulation.
4. We taught and facilitated them to share their honest desires.
5. We taught an exercise to share honest feelings (Anger, sadness, fear; the emotions common to grief situations).

There's more to teach this couple and many more sessions to have, but we got off to a good start. As Jill and I sit at home alone tonight, we are confident that the couple that didn't know how to help themselves yesterday is probably trying to use what they learned on their own? Why? Because they want to make things better and they know that struggling through the newness of skills and difficulty of emotions on their own is going to be necessary at some point, so why not try now while we are either an email or a phone call away.

What's the point to Tiger and Elin? Here it is: If you really want to make things right, then make the time to make things right, and get state of the art help. You have enough money to secure live in therapists and coaches for as long as it takes. Stop at no expense. No matter the cost, a priceless result is possible. After all, what dollar value could be placed on a happy and healthy marriage for your children.

I'm praying for you!

A child of divorce and Marriage Coach and Counselor,

Jeff Williams