Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fire and Ice Marriage in Southern California

California wildfires remind us of many things not the least of which is how a dried out landscape can invite disaster. We look at marriage that way. Dry, humorless, cold and indifferent attitudes are or should be ‘red alerts’ for those who want healthy relationships.

What many people do is blame their partners. In nature lack of moisture is a pre – condition for the fire storms we read about. In marriage distance is precedent to ice.

When individuals give in to their lack of faith – ‘this love isn’t working;’ ‘maybe we made a mistake;’ ‘he’s not who I thought he was’ – they become their own theories and instead of looking within to find the source of the distance they begin to diagnose and speculate about their partners. This ‘drying out’ of the relationship environment leads to criticism and defensiveness – two of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, his predictors of divorce.

Like the drought conditions in Southern California that are in some way tied to the subtle shifting of our climate which is in some way related to our self indulgent use of petroleum, distance within relationship is related to a lack of consciousness. It is an indicator of passing the buck.

Why do we do that? Most of us spent a lot of growing up time making up explanations for things we didn’t really understand. It might have been easy to blame the teacher for a poor grade instead of looking at one’s own learning competencies.

Our parents often misunderstood our intentions. Our friends sometimes misread us.
Learning to own one’s own happiness, goodness, and intentionality is a chore for a grown up. We might spend a lot of time in therapy ‘getting’ that the life we create is the life we’re living. In marriage if we don’t get this simple principle every day will look a lot like yesterday.
A woman I know told me this story. She lived with a high energy, somewhat manic business executive for 10 years or so. She complained frequently of his lack of time for her, of his many meetings, of his frequent phone calls when they were together. She told her friends that although he was a nice guy she couldn’t ‘stand’ being peripheral in his life. She asked him to go to therapy with her and he said he ‘rather not.’ He wasn’t hostile to her, didn’t have anything going with anybody else, and said he loved her. But she decided that it just wasn’t ‘what she wanted’ and filed for divorce.

When I met her several years after her divorce she was in another relationship with a high energy and successful businessman. She told me that she had deep remorse over divorcing her first husband. She had begun to look at her expectations. She said she was attracted to men with money and power and tended to idealize them.
Once together she expected that intimate relating would happen automatically since ‘they loved one another.’ She had few skills at building a relationship, little competency in communicating her love in an authoritative way, and virtually no ability to identify and talk about her own feelings.

To live the life you want to live you’ll have to claim it. Claiming may mean attaining new skill sets that you’ve neglected. It may mean getting some coaching or therapy to look more closely – not at what your partner is doing or not doing – but at your own ability to ask for what you need, to talk seriously about your own fears and shortcomings, and to claim a place in your partner’s life by creating an irresistible invitation to intimate relating.

If you don’t do this, every day will look a lot like yesterday.

Stephen W. Frueh, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Leadership and Marriage: They Feed each Other

Leadership and Marriage: They feed each other

Leadership and Marriage are two concepts we don’t often put together. We seem to think.
relationships are about love, about communication, about listening and conflict resolution. Leadership is about vision, action, goals, accountability.

Recently in my work with business owners and corporate executives I have been increasingly asked ‘what constitutes a healthy marriage?’ This question leads me towards the interrelationship between leadership and marriage.

These two are drawn towards each other because one way to ‘frame’ the leadership conversation is to talk about relationship competency. If you are a doofus in relationships it will undermine your effectiveness as a leader regardless of how driven, creative, or brilliant you may be in the other dimensions of leadership.

And, a leader’s relational competency will surely show up in her/ his marriage. What does that look like? Relational competency includes, but is not limited to: your ability to actually hear what is being said (without trying to anticipate it with a counter argument); your capacity to speak the truth with empathy for another; the skill of embracing conflict and the courage and skill to see it all the way through; and the willingness to be fully accountable for your own actions, attitudes and moods.

These are leadership behaviors as well since a competent leader will not blame those around him, will not shirk from accountability and will be seen by those she leads as not only firm but empathetic, not only receptive but bulls eye clear in understanding.

Marriage needs leadership from both partners. This opens another conversation. What do we mean by leadership in this context? We all know the old definitions of leadership – authoritarian, decisively inflexible, demanding of sacrifice, top down etc. The ‘my way or the highway’ style of leadership has seen its day. Today’s leaders are gender blind, color blind, ethnic blind, age blind. They lead by consensus. They do not take credit for what others do but work hard to honor the input, work and gifts of those they lead. The effective leader today can be called a ‘servant leader’ because his/ her role is to bring out the best in the team, takes full accountability for errors and oversights and gives full credit for successes to those they lead. A big order.

This style of leadership works for either a wife or a husband in bringing a marriage to life. There is within the With These Rings paradigm (With These Rings published April 2007) the notion of Giftedness. What you uniquely see, how you uniquely shape a conversation, the instinctive gift you have for observing the world – may be called your ‘natural’ genius. This genius is the basis of your gift in relationship. Only you have it and it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether you are a man or a woman. It is your individual psychological/ spiritual/ emotional fingerprint. It is what makes you the who that you are.

Leadership within marriage could be thought of as each individual’s trust of their own natural genius. Leadership would look like partners deferring to each other’s gift. I’ll give you an example.

My partner has a wonderful sense of direction. She can tell north or south without looking at a compass. She is gifted in this way. I’m not. One aspect of our relational harmony is that I learned (after many years of resistance) to “surrender” to her gift. We no longer compete about where we are when driving, I no longer sullenly resist her instincts while getting further and further lost. I recognize her gift and acknowledge it. Done.

There are many other ways leadership shifts between us. Trusting (and knowing) each other’s gifts frees us from many useless arguments. And we both grow through the appreciation of what we bring to this journey we call marriage.

A truly effective leader will trust her instincts in marriage. A healthy and growing couple will see that leadership competencies feed the quality and depth of their marriage.

Without it, every day will look a lot like yesterday.

Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker. He is a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association. He lives with his wife and family in Ventura County, California.

He can be contacted at:
805 527 2600

Monday, October 01, 2007

Men and Women and Happiness

Men and Women and Happiness

N.Y.Times 9/26/07 “A Reversal in the index of Happy”

I’m always surprised when a researcher, reporting their latest study comparing men and women, miss the idea or importance of relationship. Certainly many have marginalized marriage as a viable concept. And, clearly we’re moving in the direction of individuality over connectedness (could divorce statistics simply reflect a mass indifference to the power of relationship?) It may be that we are increasingly skeptical about relationships and their power to transform lives.

The article in the N.Y. Times that got me started thinking about all this appeared in the Wednesday, September 26 edition – “A Reversal in the Index of Happy.”

The study focused on tasks – cooking, cleaning, gardening – and compares the sexes along a continuum of emotional intensity - sadness or anxiety (stress). While they do get a measure they can use to compare women forty years ago with women today (they are unhappier) and men then to men now (they are happier) – the study misses entirely what happiness is about.

The Greeks debated the idea a long time ago. It was eudaemonia, happiness, that needed definition. What is it? What does it consist of? How do you know you’re there when you are there?

Happiness is only partly the absence of sorrow or stress. In fact, we could offer many examples of stress filled situations in which a person would describe herself or himself as very happy indeed. Consider a championship tennis match. Are the contestants happy to be playing in the final? Are they stressed?

Happiness is often debated because it’s elusive, ephemeral, highly idiosyncratic and very personal. But there’s one thing we know. Couples the world over can tell when their marriage is going well and they describe themselves as ‘happy’ and when it’s not. Happiness may mean a sense of well being, the presence of joy, or the absence of pain. Happiness in relationship probably means that there’s a deep sense of connectedness.

Here are a few observations about happiness. Happiness doesn’t happen to you, you make it happen. I coach couples and notice that a large number who describe their marriage as an unhappy one, tell me – before long – that it is their partner’s fault the marriage doesn’t work. So, observation number one: Taking full responsibility for your own happiness is fundamental to relationship happiness.
Observation number two: We all have a deep need to be ‘seen.’ If you doubt that this is true, find a child nearby and watch his face when you notice a. how hard they’ve worked on a painting or other project, or b. how much they love you. Notice what they offer, attend to their gifts and you’ll see faces that radiate happiness. When I say to my grandchildren for instance “wow! you really love me don’t you! Their faces light up with enthusiasm that is volcanic.

Observation number three: We all focus way too much on ‘being loved.’ The essence of adult happiness is to love. Whether or not my wife loves me on any particular day is her challenge, not mine. My responsibility to myself is to love the person I say I love. Read that again.
It is only by fully embracing my own need to love that I can even begin to realize the depth of love – and therefore happiness – within me.
And number three doesn’t stop with partners. We have a rock solid need to love our children (regardless of how they show up in the world), our neighbors, friends, extended family and, in fact, the citizens of the world. It is not optional.
So the next time you read an article about happiness, pull this one out and remind yourself. Life really can be ‘a bowl of cherries’ if you get your loving priorities in order.

Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker. He is a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association. He lives with his wife and family in Ventura County, California.

He can be contacted at:
805 527 2600

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Marriage and the Presidential Candidates

Marriage and the Presidential Candidates

I have often thought that the best way to tell if a candidate for president is truly qualified to lead the diverse population of leaders and ordinary folks like us would be to live inside his house for a few months.
I’d want to see how she relates to her husband when they quarrel, I’d want to see how authoritative he was. I’d look at how his children relate to him. I’d note their ability to perform in public but I’d also want to know if conflict in that home was embraced, related to lovingly and resolved. I’d ask about their recreational time, time spent with each other when all schedules, clocks, and agendas were shelved.

Marriage and family may be the best indicator of integrity, leadership ability, truthfulness, compassion and vision that we have. I’d also want to see how the candidate relates to the powerless – the plants in the house (are they cared for?), the pets (are they treated with firmness and compassion?) and the children (are they truly listened to?). Does our leader who wants to be president listen carefully, help the children process their challenges, support and comfort them?

Effective leadership requires each of these and more. Leaders who strut around publicly trying to impress people with their decisiveness may simply be bullies. Leaders who relate inflexibly to the needs of voters may simply be tuned out at home. Weak leaders who flip flop all over the place trying to lead by the polls may simply be passive and self absorbed – hanging on to power at any cost.

I read recently in the New York Times or perhaps it was Investor’s Business Daily that all leaders are corrupt by the very nature of the game. That may be true but I’m not that cynical. I think that politics surely involves the ability to compromise, negotiate and adapt to changing conditions. Having the ability to do that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re corrupt.

But family is or could be a reliable indicator of who has substance and who does not.

Another way of assessing a leader’s genuineness would be to take a close look at how they relate to their parents. Is this the dutiful daughter in would be presidential clothes? Is he unable to be truthful with the two most powerful people in his life? Can he love them and still differentiate himself in his choices, life style, ideas, commitments?

I offer some writer out there this idea: write a book on “the fathers of the presidents” and their relationships with them. Get it ready to publish but wait until the most likely candidates are visible for the next presidential election. Then, give a brief on each candidate’s relationship with his or her parents. I’m not talking a “life style” brief. I’m suggesting a well researched look into the dynamics of the relationship.
If you do that and we read it, we’ll have a far better understanding of the candidates we want to support, than we do by the current method. I’m not suggesting that “issues” aren’t valid. Where the candidate stands on the war, on poverty, health care education, national infra structure, the environment – are all necessary to the assessment of their desirability as candidates. But knowing that gives us only partial information since those ‘stands’ can and do change with the polls.

There’s a poem I saw in a kindergarten room some years ago. It said this: “who knows which way the wind blows, neither you nor I, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”

We need to know how candidates for president will look in the wind storms of the future. Seeing them through their most basic interactions in family will tell us that.

Stephen W. Frueh PhD

Stephen is a Leadership coach and mentor. He has written a book on marriage (With These Rings Volume I) and numerous articles. His articles and podcasts can be found at www.marriageconversation.com

Stephen can be reached at:
805 527 2600
and Stephen@withtheserings.com

For overview of the With These Rings model: www.WithTheseRings.com
For articles and podcasts: www.MarriageConversation.com
For blog: www.marriageconversation.blogspot.com
For speaking and presentations: www.stephenfrueh.com

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Marriage: Labor of Love

Marriage: Labor of Love

Labor Day is a time to honor those who labor and are not necessarily compensated accordingly. It is a time for gratitude and a calling as well, to consider that labor, the kind that makes this large industrial machine work, is often the burden of the faceless and the powerless. The blood and sweat of our fathers and uncles who stepped off a boat or an airplane, who crossed a river at night – not as terrorists or thieves – but simply as hopefuls, longed for a life in which their labor could support their families, provide education even perhaps reliable health care.

Labor Day honors the struggle of men and women for fair treatment, for their right to representation in the huge and powerful money exchanges of industry. Labor Day throws a light on injustice, exploitation, discrimination and the self righteous attitudes of those who feel entitled. It means we are invited to pause in appreciation for the work days invested in building bridges, buildings, roads, dams – in short, the infrastructure we take for granted. The men and women who so labor have families, dreams, visions of a better life every bit as much as the ‘leveraged’ many who have assumed they deserve a pathway to abundance.

In marriage it may be as simple as honoring work for which there is no pay, gratitude for the simple barely noticed attentiveness that keeps children healthy or safe or learning. The With These Rings model of marriage teaches a paradigm that supports partnership. It notices that love is conscious appreciation for the subtle gifts – tenderness, vigilance, and the giving of time.

The old paradigm was patriarchal. It fostered a hierarchy of valuing which could easily distort into valuing metrics only. “Time is money.” “The cash value of an idea.” “Status is what we work for,” – all of these easily translating into under- appreciating those who cared for and fostered healthy family life.

Partnership within families honors the individual gifts of each and all family members. Partnership looks for the creation of a new language in which men and women can talk about shared vision, common aspirations, the beauty of conflict and the labor of love. Love is a lot of things, but we must notice that labor is involved. We ‘work’ at being consciously loving of our partners, and that means that we decide to look at our own attitudes towards the non or not so powerful, the work of the one who doesn’t directly produce income, the gifts of those who contribute heart knowledge.

We work too at manifesting our own love, to leave our narcissistic self involvement behind and instead measure our lives by the impact our loving makes in the lives of those we say we love. Being a grown up is not an easy path. Money may make it easier but also it may obscure the pathway to true and effective partnering between men and women, parents and children and of course, leaders and those they lead.

So I invite you to expand your vision of this Labor Day weekend as I invite you to reconsider the power bases within your family. True partnership honors justice, equality, and freedom. It is a gift we only realize through the conscious application of our labor.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pre Marital Coaching and the issue of Contempt

Mark Goodyear has left a new comment on your post "Pre Marriage
> Coaching":
> This reminds me of John Gottman's Love Lab. John Medina, a scientist
> who worked with Gottman, told me that the number one predictor of
> marriage failure is contempt.When partners show contempt for each
> other, the marriage will fail 95% of the time. Or something like
> that.So here's the question. Can you teach people not to show contempt
> through pre-marital counseling?
> Moderate comments for this blog:
> http://www.blogger.com/moderate-comment.g?blogID=27202569
> Posted by Mark Goodyear to The Marriage Conversation Blog at 11:32 AM
"Some say the world will end in fire and some say in ice.." Contempt is ice. Also it may be petrified anger. I'm a coach and teach people to identify and transform deeply held wounds that manifest as calcified or petrified anger - in other words, contempt. The transformation usually comes out looking like passion - a deep discovery of their own right to love and be loved. It's a function of Grace.
So we don't teach people not to show contempt but instead we teach them how to transform their wounds (the roots of contempt) into their passion.
Pre marital counseling helps them identify where their own work is and where the potential booby traps in relationship are for them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sweet breezes of August

Back in Hoboken where I was born, August was associated with humid and hot days. Fireplug days for kids. The ice man delivered ice to our apartment, a huge block of ice on his shoulder held by iron tongs. We'd ask for chips out at his wagon and grinning his missing teeth smile he'd oblige.

Around the corner a small Italian man made Italian ices and sold them out of his garage. One nickle. Fresh lemon, custard, strawberry, cherry, rootbeer - all made fresh. We ran around with shirts off playing kick the can on city streets, and listened for the melancholy howls of the rag man, the fruits and vegetable wagon, bell tinkling on a string across the front seat. My father was a milk man and as an occassional treat would bring home fresh choclate milk that we drank from the bottle.

Here is Southern California, August has surprised us with balmy weather, sweet breezes and cool nights. There are few children playing in the streets, parks or front lawns. We miss the sounds of the city, the vitality of community before television took away our neighborhoods and we miss the characters who delivered our milk, bread, vegetables, ice, coal and accepted our rags.

Marriage flourishes within community. In our time we have to create it. It will not happen through nostalgia, or indifference. How about making August a time to create a block party or a neighbors in the park day. You couldn't spend your time more fruitfully and you'll be changing the course of civilization.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pre Marriage Coaching

Recently a young woman called me to inquire about 'pre marital coaching.' "Do you have a program?" she asked. I said "Do you?" She laughed. I asked her several more serious questions: "Tell me what you think marriage is? What is your vision for you and your honey? What would a 'good' marriage look like? What are some indicators of a 'bad' marriage?

'How many marriages do you know or are familiar with (there's that old word family again) that you respect? Who in your lives could be a good model, a good coach or mentor for you? If your marriage was to fail what would you predict the cause to be?

'Is one of you more serious about marriage than the other? What gifts do each of you bring to relationship?'

I asked a few more. Then she stopped me. "I just wanted to know if you have a program/ seminar or workshop that we could attend," she said. "I haven't really thought about all those questions."

A good introductory 'course' on marriage would include those and many more questions and their answers. Chances are this young couple hasn't had a lot of help in thinking about marriage, chances are that they've seen a good number of failed marriages and that they want to 'do it right.'

We start out with huge hopes for the possibilities of our love. That's the good news. The uncomfortable news is that when this couple marries, few will help them establish a healthy path, few will be there to comfort and encourage, teach or coach them in how to transform their early enthusiasm into a life of rich possibility together.

The answer to her question? Yes, we do offer "pre marital coaching and seminars." We also offer email and phone coaching, resources, and workshops. We believe that marriage is a good thing and people of good will, as is this young woman, need all the support they can get.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The With These Rings Newsletter

New things are happening. This week we launch the With These Rings newsletter. You can receive a free copy of With These Rings, Volume I by subscribing and forwarding the newsletter to your own email address book. Just go to With These Rings or http://www.marriageconversation.com/ and sign on. Of course you'll have to send us your snail mail address as well.

The Newsletter is meant to serve the growing community of people who are interested in and invested in the Marriage Conversation. You'll get advice, tips, resources and articles. And we invite you to send us movie and book reviews (relevant to the Marriage Conversation), as well as any 'heads up' offerings (workshops/ seminars/ presentations) that you know about.

Some will want to take advantage of a new feature we'll be offering: email and phone coaching. Just let us know of your interest info@WithTheseRings.com and we'll respond within 24 hours.

For Therapists, Pastoral Counselors, and other help agents, there is an open invitation to become familiar with the With These Rings model. We offer seminars, online and phone coaching.

Please check out the new speaker's web site: http://www.stephenfrueh.com/ You can download what they call, in the business, a "one page" which will give you a thumbnail description of some of Stephen's keynotes and presentations.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Magnificent Seven: Does it make for a better Marriage?

The Magnificent Seven: Does it make for a better Marriage?

Seven is the atomic number of nitrogen, the number of spots on a ladybug and we know that most mammals have seven bones in their necks. We love seven.

Seven is the international direct dial for Russia. There are the Seven Hills of Rome, seven liberal arts and Seven Wonders of the world. A lot of folks are getting married on July 7th too.

God rested on the seventh day, Jubilee comes after seven times seven years, a Jewish bride and groom are feted with seven days of festive meals after their wedding (Sheva Berachot).

There are seven virtues – Chastity, Moderation, Liberality, Charity, Meekness, Zeal, and Humility. And these correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins.

Seven is the number of notes in the Western Major Scale. So, why don’t more people have seven children?

And look at this: the ‘number’ for women is four (4) and the ‘number’ for men is three (3). Seven represents the union of men and women. And, we are interested in union. It is also true that many marriages begin to break down at the 5 – 7 year point.

And, so we come to July 7, 2007 or 07/07/07 – men and women around the world will join together in holy matrimony on that magnificent day.

What do you think? Do they do this because it will be easy to remember their anniversary date (anything that can help guys remember is a plus). Or do many of us long to memorialize our joining in a way that reminds us of just how special this wedding is?

We live in a time of increasing consciousness about what the wedding is really about, what it should cost, where it should take place. Many couples are less worried about tradition (translate to ‘mother’s opinions’), show and pomp, and are more focused on affordability (as it relates to overall financial health), scale (do we really need to invite everyone we’ve ever met?), and meaning as they find it in their present lives.

We may be getting ready to take marriage itself more seriously – take a look at the recently published With These Rings, Volume I. After all, it is common for couples getting married to come from divorced parents. They will intimately know the pain and displacement that divorce offers children. Perhaps their own marriage will be created will more caution, more thought, and more counsel than that of their parents.

Seven also carries the idea of bringing spirituality and Godliness into the creation – in this case, into the marriage.

We know deep longing for connection to one another, connection that transcends and undergirds physical intimacy. Marrying we marry our hopes and expectations as we see them in relationship to another. Our lover embodies our deepest needs – or so we imagine it to be – and for awhile at least, they may manifest an understanding of those needs. We believe in our partners in ways that they themselves never imagined.

Marriage is widely known to be a challenge after three or four years because the magical effects of newness, hormones and just plain busyness begins to wear thin.

A deep spiritual connection could sustain our love even as a well understood philosophy of commitment would inform our conversations. As we discover ‘who’ it is that we married, and as we slowly withdraw the ideals we put on them – we are invited to discover this stranger who we barely knew but whom we wisely chose.

Marriage is about companionship to be sure. It is also about learning to relate intelligently. Perhaps at a deeper level marriage is about discovering our own capacity to love.

Reported in the L.A.Times this morning, a young man talked exuberantly to a reporter about his coming marriage which would take place at 7am on 07/07/07. He said something like “we can’t miss. This love will last forever.” We all like magic. Perhaps believing in the alignment of sevens will take you where you are wanting to go. For my part, I see continual transformation of your loving as the deepest magic possible.

Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker. He is a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association. He lives with his wife and nine year old daughter in Ventura County, California.

He can be contacted at:
805 527 2600

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Changing Civilization

This morning, someone I know really well told me a dream about her mother. Her mother, you might want to know, died many years ago. As she related the dream I realized she was re-evaluating the relationship she had with her mother. She was looking at the way she and her mother protected her father from all emotionally troubling information.

She and her mother thought of that as 'being kind' or 'being considerate' of the father who happened to be a busy professional man. As she talked she grew increasingly emotional. She was seeing the many ways she protects people of importance in her life. She was realizing too, that the protection wasn't really needed by those people and didn't help them or her at all. In fact, it hindered their ability to know her.

She was quickly moving into a much deeper realization. "If I stop protecting everyone from the things I know," she said, "I'll soon be living in a reality that I didn't create and cannot control. I'll be changing the entire premise of my life."

"You are changing civilization," I said. The civilization we know best is the one we grew up in and our most intimate knowledge of that civilization came from the interactions, emotion, spiritual orientation and physical presence of the two most powerful people in our lives - our parents.

You can look at history, your own, that way. You can begin to evalute the spoken and unspoken attitudes, beliefs, and expectations that your mother and father, their brothers and sisters and parents - the entire pantheon of ancestors that you bring into your living room, kitchen and bedroom.

In letting yourself 'see' your psychological/ emotional/ spiritual history you open the door to seeing your relationship more clearly. It just may be the beginning of the end of judging, criticizing, diagnosing and blaming your partner for all that's missing in your marriage.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

When I Fall in Love..

"when I fall in love
it will be forever
or I'll never fall in love.

In a restless world like this is
love is ended before its begun
And too many moonlight kisses
seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When I give my heart
it will be completely
or I'll never give my heart

And the moment that I feel that
you feel that way too
Is when I'll fall in love
with you....

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tipping Point in your Marriage

Many marriages slide relentlessly into a sort of flat lined, vacant, humorless existence. But if you're reading this I have reason to believe you want something better. You might want a marriage that fulfills the promise of your enthusiasm the day you agreed to marry. You might imagine a relationship that works where conflict is an asset, intimacy is a felt need and frequently available, and where conversation is intriguing, challenging and meaningful.

You might want to realize the vision we've shared with you in the recently published With These Rings, Vol. I. We see marriage as full of promise. It is often unrealized and that explains the flat lined existence many couples live in.

Marriage is really three journeys within one journey. Each journey is legitimate in its own right and each journey is realized by your courage to embrace its challenges. You can't talk about these journeys in the usual way. They are not "linear," reasonable, sequential or predicable. We think the journeys can only be talked about in something approaching mythical language.

Stories serve us well here. Like the teachings of Jesus, our stories carry meaning far beyond the details. We look for milestones. And we look for turning points. Turning points?

A good marriage will build a base that is founded on what each individual in the marriage already knows. They'll work something through or out - like the purchase of a house, or an agreement on child care. But there will come a time when what you believe is challenged by your partner. It needs to be. New information has been accrued. New understanding of needs has surfaced. Times change. We grow.

The opportunity for your relationship has "tipped" into bigger and deeper possibilities. It is at this point that some seek therapy. The story/ stories surrounding this time will hold lots of drama. Some think their relationship is over. Some believe they no longer love. But if you can stay the course, the discoveries are life altering. This is why we call most divorces abortions.

The tipping point may be as simple as the surrender to a new way of seeing. It may involve the discovery of deep empathy. It may mean you are discovering a new level of your own authority.

We say, trust it. Don't run. Don't diagnose your partner. Don't judge, theorize, speculate. Instead, Stop. Look. And Listen to what's going on. You may be on the edge of a whole new way to relate, expand, and enjoy your choice of partner.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Kludging the Marriage Conversation

Kludging the Marriage Conversation

We’ve often referred to divorce as the abortion of a promise, a miscarriage of hope. We see that many couples who divorce do so because they lack a truly compelling marriage paradigm. ‘What? I thought it was because they were ‘incompatible’ or didn’t love each other any more.’

It’s not that simple. Without a viable and relevant model to inform their thinking about the journey of marriage, they will mistakenly focus on diagnosis of each other.

They may dumb down conversation, reducing their complaints to “we’d have a good relationship if it weren’t for you.” (that, by the way, is the title of an interesting book by Dr. Bruce Derman)

Focusing on what’s wrong with our partners, or indulging in fantasies such as ‘we just don’t have anything in common,’ or ‘love doesn’t last forever,’ or ‘she’s just not the woman I (thought) I married’ – seduce into a rationale that justifies our relational incompetence.

Some of us kludge. I’ll tell you a story about a recent conversation with one of my sons regarding computers, software and solutions to challenges. He described a ‘work around’ which, as I understood it, was a temporary solution to a difficult problem.
“Like divorce” I said. No, he said. “I think of divorce more as giving up on an engineering project – deciding not to engineer rather than actually trying to do the work. A kludge is still work. It’s just a quick solution to get the thing up and running with the knowledge that you will need to come back later and re-engineer it…If you get a divorce, you are deciding to abort the relationship. There may be more work to do with your kids etc. But the couple divorcing is quitting the work (and challenges) of marriage – an engineering project left undone.”

So, I said, maybe we could call an affair a kludge. Or, maybe coldness, distance, abuse, superiority, diagnosis… would qualify to be called kludging. All quick ‘solutions’ to present challenges that do not last.
But the analogy breaks down there. Because in the case of marriage these “solutions” are not only temporary – they get you out of working on the problem or challenge – they are also harmful, toxic and lead towards patterns that ultimately destroy.

But kludge isn’t thought of as a bad temporary solution. It is only a temporary but necessary one. So are there good kludges in relationship?

The recently released With These Rings Vol.I offers long and short term solutions to relationship challenges that actually work. Couples that have given up hope, couples who chronically argue or no longer communicate, couples whose intimate conversations have steadily decreased in frequency find good information and solid coaching in this book. I’m Stephen Frueh, the author, and I promise you you’ll get a great deal of useful information from With These Rings. If you don’t, mail it back to me and I’ll refund your money.

As my wife walked in the front door, arms full of groceries, I said, ‘need help?’ “I need a whole lot more than help with the groceries,” she said as she put the bags on the table. “Wow” I thought. “That’s a loaded response. Should I ‘go there’ or let it go?”

We talked of the demands on her time and energy, of both of our busy schedules, of how little time we had with each other. Later I got some take out and set the table in the RV, put on some classical music, opened a bottle of Sake and we sat and talked. I kludged her.

That brief moment didn’t solve any of our bigger (and long term) challenges, but it did address the immediate need for a course correction. It did keep our marriage going even with all the built in challenges and it reminded us that bigger solutions to busyness had to be addressed.

The many dynamics of successful relationships can overwhelm us. Or we can take a proactive approach, embrace challenge and the conflict that comes with it and intentionally look for lasting solutions to relationship destroyers. Kludge when you have to but don’t forget to come back and create new pathways to intimacy.

If we don’t, every day will look a lot like yesterday.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Why don't you just admit it?

I discovered some time ago that when it came to actually loving another human being I was short in skills. Relationally incompetent is what I called myself. Oh, I knew how to 'fall in love,' I knew how to sentimentally attach to another, and I was expert in creating a need to be needed.

One night I told my wife "I have no idea how to love you." She soon admitted she was challenged there as well. Could it be we made a mistake? I thought that there must be other possibilities.

Soon we were openly talking about our own fears, insecurities and just plain lack of information. We had assumed that because we loved each other we would know how to love each other. Wrong. They are not at all the same. In fact, it may be the easiest thing in the world to feel love for another. We feel love for puppies too and we easily fall in love with entertainers whose performances touch us. We sometimes 'love' teachers and we tell ourselves we love our children.

But loving our children like loving our partners is altogether a different matter. We saw that we had a lot of growing up to do. We also saw we would need to ask a lot of questions. In the Russian poet, Anna Akmatova's poem The Guest, there is this line "tell me how they kiss you. Tell me how you kiss."

Loving may simply be intelligent listening, genuine questioning, and non possessive caring of two human beings who are deeply interested in each other.

We welcome your thoughts on loving and love.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Summer's Coming

Every family with school age children faces the challenge of helping those children maximize the joys of summer. The experiences that enrich their lives may not be confined to the movies they see or the television they watch. Summer offers unstructured time that is valuable in itself.

Consider creating conversations with your children about their visions, ideas and desires for spending time in which no school bell rings, and no time frame is relevant. We look for relationships we want to encourage, projects they can do on their own with just minimal supervision, books to read, and artistic talents to explore. A recently published book The Do It Yourself family by Eric Strommer is a good place to start.

You can act as a "consultant" to your child's sense of what they want to do and where they want to spend time. We've helped several families establish a 'no tv' zone for the entire summer. The days are long, the opportunities almost endless and there's plenty of time.

We ask you to write to us, give us your ideas for helping children utilize summer as a time of growing and expanding. We look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Weekends in paradise

This is the Memorial Day weekend and we're not going anywhere, not doing anything, not stressing about what we should be doing and not competing with what the neighbors are doing. We're home. Our home is situated on a hill in eastern Ventura County. A little piece of county land called an Urban Rural Reserve. Nice name.

Since they named it that they've put more traffic on the street at the bottom of the hill, added houses in the city strip of land next to our reserve, built a presidential library on a nearby hill and more or less stripped away a lot of the 'rural reserve' part. But it's still our small piece of paradise.

This weekend we'll barbeque, tend to the yard, play games with our children, listen to some music, read a few stories and through it all, learn a little more about each other. For us, it's not a weekend to go away but a weekend to go towards each other. We'll create a little of the rural reserve right in our own back yard.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What was I thinking?

I'm really into the marriagen conversation. So much so that I sometimes overlook all the fun I'm having in my own marriage. Last night my wife Lynn, bustling about preparing for a day of jury duty that would pretty much wipe out all the other things she would want to be doing on Friday, well, she handed me a big brown envelope and said "this has to go to the Post Office tomorrow morning."

"What's inside?" I said, knowing full well that she was mailing the final edited version of her doctoral dissertation. "It's my thesis!" she said, I thought, somewhat impatiently. She's been working on that thing this last year and trying to balance being a mom, a grandmom, a wife, a professional (therapist), a major part of a new organization etc. During that time I have tried my best to fill in for her wherever possible but I have my own challenges.

We looked at each other over the big brown envelope that contained so much of her: intelligence, wit, passion, resiliency, doggedness - and knew something right there. Our marriage was more than what she calls "the regular" meaning, I think, companionship, tenderness, shared dreams. Our marriage was also a shared partnership in which we both acknowledged each other's hard work and supported each other's individuality and sense of purpose.

In all that, I sometimes forget how much fun it is to live with her, tease her, challenge her and fight with her. Last night we connected over a brown envelope. This morning I stood for 25 minutes in a line at the Post Office holding her in my hands. Then I mailed her.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Focus on the Big Stuff

The computer technician is down in my guest house office and I have irritated him by asking too many questions. He's the best at what he does that I have ever found so I tread lightly. Recently I had a friend instal some added memory and as a result my computer went belly up. The friend said it had nothing to do with him. "Must be a ______problem," he said.

I called my computer guy and he came over and spent three hours fixing what my friend may or may not have done. Then the computer guy said this. "Would you coach a couple if several other coaches or counselors were also coaching them?" I said no, and saw what he meant.

The small picture is that I thought I was getting a break by having my friend instal the additional memory. The straight shot is, maintaining computers is a lot like relationships generally, you want to be sure you're all working from the same playbook.

What I often forget is the big picture. My wife is irritable but it has nothing to do with me. She's tired, parented out, frustrated by her own business, dealing with aging. The big picture is my love for her and her right to live her life, have her feelings, experience her frustrations without it being a statement about me.

How does this relate to the computer guy? Well, if I could see the big picture of his knowledge and care of our computers I wouldn't even consider having someone else put their hands on the keyboards.
Marriage is far more intricate and also simpler than my challenges with this computer and its software. The key seems to be to focus on one thing at a time. Paying attention to my anxiety rather than her challenges clears a path to intimate conversation in which I ask questions rather than speculate on her motives.

My friend who installed new software was oblivious regarding how our computers are networked, the impact his programs would have on our firewalls and the work we had already done in the area he was trying to correct.

Like marriage, he would have served me better if he had asked a few questions before assuming he knew what was needed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Life is short. Embrace your Marriage

We're back. With These Rings Vol.I is now available at our web site www.WithTheseRings.com and through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and AdvantageBookstore.com Vol.II will be out by early summer.

The Marriage Conversation is beginning. We were privileged to have a full hour radio interview with Shannon D. Sanford of WBTQ in New York. You can listen to it by going to her web site or WBTQ. We'll have it posted on WithTheseRings.com as well.

We're inviting you to participate in a conversation about marriage. Post your comments, ask your questions, send silly ideas. We'll look at all of them.

Today's silly idea appeared in yesterday's (Sundays) New York Times (May 13, 2007) in the Week in Review section (p.14). You have to see it to believe it. It's an ad by a Chicago attorney that reads "Life is short. Get a divorce."

We're used to things being dumbed down but is this the crudest yet? Let me know your ideas, opinions, etc.