The traditional view of a therapy is one in which the client struggles to make a deep emotional breakthrough while the therapist remains professional, detached, emotionless. If that's good therapy, then I'm a lousy counselor.
I am often deeply moved by the people who come to see me. They have powerful stories to tell—stories of pain and loss, of courage and hope. Recently, during a session with Bill, his tale took an unexpected turn that caused my eyes to flood and spill over in streams. His real name is not Bill, but he gave me permission to tell you this.
Bill, an African-American man in his 60s, and his wife came to counseling for help with their relationship. During their third session, Bill made reference to something significant that happened to him decades ago. "Tell Tim," his wife encouraged. This is the story he told:
During the 1960s, Bill was working as a volunteer to help register new voters in black communities. One day, he joined two other volunteers, one male and one female, in a small Alabama town. A driver dropped them off down the road from the town's main entrance and reminded them that he would return to the same spot later that day. He would sound the car horn three times to let them know he was waiting.
They completed their work and stood at the edge of town until they heard the three honks, then headed out toward the car. As they walked along the country road, five men stepped out from hiding behind trees. All of the men were white, wearing hoods, and carrying shotguns.
"They forced us into the woods," Bill recounted, his eyes tear-filled and his voice faltering. "They raped the woman while they branded me and the other guy."
"Show him," his wife prompted.
Bill lifted his left sleeve to reveal a rough circled "K" about 4-inches in diameter burned into his bicep. He lifted the other sleeve to reveal an identical scar. He put his hand over his heart, "They put one here, too, before they let us go."
I cried. To this day, I am still processing all the reasons why his story affected me so significantly. I was abhorred by cruel acts of hatred. I was sorrowful over the pain one man suffered—that many others have suffered—just for being black and troubled by my awareness that I understand so little about that suffering. I was inspired by Bill's obvious journey toward forgiveness. And I felt honored that he trusted me with a story that he has barely told anyone these past 40 years.
As I write this, I still feel the emotional effects of that session. It's not a pleasant feeling, but I'm thankful for it. Thankful that God's grace moves in our hearts to create empathy and compassion. Thankful that others have come alongside me in times of my brokenness and pain. Thankful that a client can make me cry.
I still remember the first time my wife and I went into counseling. Our counselor, having noticed that we sat on opposite sides of his couch, asked us if we still loved each other. “Sure,” I said “I love her, but I don’t like her.” My wife gave me a sour look only to communicate that she felt the same thing but wasn’t quick enough to say it. I have always been better with words.
Much to my surprise our counselor said, “That’s good, I think that’s really good.” And he added, “I can work with that.” He then began to explain how all married couples make their vows with a certain ignorance of who the other person is. Here’s what he explained.
The Old Contract
We basically stand at the altar and say to our future spouse: “The way you look at me, make me laugh, lift me up when I’m down, care for me—all that makes me feel really good. If you keep up this good feeling in me, I’ll sign this contract.” Of course the other spouse is saying the same thing: “The way you look at me, help me out when things get tough, how you touch me, talk to me and love me—it all makes me feel really good. If you keep up this good feeling in me, I’ll sign this contract too.” And off they go to their honeymoon, hand-in-hand, believing they have found the love of their lives and that their spouse will go on making them feel as good as they have been, until…
Why it Doesn’t Work
...one or both partners realizes they don’t feel as good as they used to anymore. Then they often blame the other for not living up to their end of the contract. You would rarely hear this said out loud but internally one or both of the partners is saying: “You used to make me feel good, but now you aren’t doing it anymore. Please live up to your end of the contract or I won’t live up to my end either.” And that’s when a couple will come in and see me for counseling.
Since my wife and I have been in this situation before, I understand what is going on with a couple in this state and I understand why my counselor so many years ago said: “That’s good. I can work with that.” If we are committed to loving the other and staying in the marriage, but we don’t like something or many things about our spouse, then at least we are being honest about how we feel. The contract isn’t working for the couple anymore and it needs to be re-written. \
Assessing the Damage
But before we can do that, we need to assess the damage done under the old contract. Instead of being overly hopeful and creating what counselors like to call a “win-win” situation, I like to create a “lose-lose” situation in which we account for all the things our spouse has disappointed us with over the years—a bad habit that seemed mild early on but has now grown into a full-blown addiction, the passivity and carelessness towards household chores, the lying, the lack of involvement with the kids, the disinterest in sex, the financial burden brought on by one or both spouses, the hurtful words said, the embarrassment—the list can be very long.
But to properly re-engage in your relationship with your husband or wife, you need to make this list and have feelings about it. You will probably be angry, mad, resentful or bitter about how things didn’t turn out. Only after looking at these things and properly addressing them, can we grieve the loss of a marriage we thought was ours but never was. Only then can we work towards forgiveness, acceptance and repentance. Repentance, because your spouse has the same kind of list and is also working through their feelings of loss over a marriage that never was.
The New Contract
After creating the “lose-lose” situation in which we’ve properly dealt with our losses and have let them go (to the best of our ability), we can start looking at creating a “win-win” situation. Here we re-write our marriage contract to include the negative aspects of our spouse we didn’t think we’d have to live with. In this scenario we together as a couple find ways to overcome an addiction, work towards healthy financial responsibility, commit to being more involved with the children or help out around the home, have regular date nights and regular sexual encounters.
We re-write our marriage contract not by expecting our partner to make us feel good, but by making ourselves feel good by expecting to do the best we can. Then when your counselor asks you, you can say: “I love my wife and some days I even like her.” Or “I love my husband and some days I don’t like him.” This is a more realistic marriage and healthier one, too. As you begin living out your new contract, you’ll find that more often than not, you will not only love your spouse, but that you will like him/her too.
In honor of “National Child Abuse Prevention” month I wanted to discuss some important
principles of being a nurturing parent. First off, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that parenting
is one of the most important and stressful roles a person will have in his life. That is why it is
necessary for a parent to have some firm principles in place when raising children. There are
seven principles in particular that I want to focus on: (1) Feelings of Attachment, (2) Empathy,
(3) Nurturing Oneself, (4) Discipline, (5) Expressing Feelings, (6) Expectations and Self-Worth,
(7) Gentle Touch.
1) Feelings of attachment: It is essential to create healthy bonds with your children usually
through communication and quality time. Express your love and appreciation for them on a
2) Empathy: Practicing empathy with children teaches them that their pain is important, as well
as, teaches them to have compassion for other people.
3) Nurturing Oneself: There is a false belief that a parent cannot take any time for himself or else
he is not a “good” parent. That is not true. Even though being a parent is a full-time job, it is
important for the parent to practice self-care. Just as a parent schedules football practices and
ballet lessons for his child, he benefits from scheduling time for himself.
4) Discipline: Creating boundaries, rules, and a family moral code of conduct instills a sense
of direction and belonging in a family. When discussing these rules, share with the children
the consequence that will occur if the rule is not followed. Be sure to follow through on the
consequence or else the process is futile. A key note to remember is that it is not the severity of
the consequence that makes an impact it is the certainty of the consequence.
5) Expressing Feelings: Support children in their need to express their feelings; even if the
feeling is different than your own. A good rule-of-thumb to follow is while expressing
themselves the children are not permitted to cause harm to themselves, others (such as siblings)
nor can they cause damage to property. In training your children in properly expressing
themselves, educate them on emotional competence (i.e., give them words to express
6) Expectations and Self-Worth: Setting expectations for your children sends the message that
you believe in them and have faith that they are capable of accomplishing goals. It increases
their self-worth and builds their self-esteem.
7) Gentle Touch: The physical connection between a parent and child is essential to emotional
growth and bonding experience. Giving frequent hugs and gentle squeezes is an outwardly
expression or love that provides safety and comfort to the children.
It takes time and patience when raising children. Cut yourself some slack, but remember to do
the same for your children.
I admit it. I love celebrating my birthday. In fact, I love it so much I am guilty of celebrating it months after it has passed. Something about birthdays makes me happy. First of all, I am glad I was born. Secondly, I believe the world is a better place because I am in it.
One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. The main character, George, is given an amazing gift. He is able to see what his corner of the world would have been like if he had never graced this earth. And he was surprised to see that he had made a difference. He never traveled from his home town; he was not the President of his country or even the mayor of his city. However, the influence he had because he cared for others was monumental.
How about you? What do you do when your birthday rolls around? This year, I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on all the positive ways you have touched the lives of others. Think back on what people have said to you concerning your influence on them. Also, make this a year where you intentionally give back to your family, your community, your world.
It feels good to be celebrated! The key is to let the celebration of self-begin with you!
When accountability is discussed, individuals often struggle with the meaning of the term and how it applies to them directly.
- Is it a practice that we are naturally predisposed to?
- Do we automatically receive it from others?
- Can it really provide a solution to critical challenges?
In this day in age we often think that life will invariably hold us accountable; whether, in the workplace, through governance, something that is innate, or a natural requirement. However, there is an art to personal accountability and the reality is that it comes down to “you”. Whether personal or professional advancement is your ultimate goal, it becomes a daily act of holding yourself accountable for your actions, responsibilities, and goals in life. “Don’t think it, be it!” You cannot just say you want to improve and then just expect yourself to improve. Most individuals wait their entire lives for life to happen to them.
How do you get out of the waiting room of life? For starters, you can’t change the past, tomorrow isn’t promised to us, so your wait ends today. Prove that you can do it and in doing so you will distinguish yourself from the mere act of thinking. To hold yourself to a higher standard you must consider your actions and choices, your goals, and your responsibilities/priorities. Second, you must follow-thru on your commitments and responsibilities with a positive growth producing attitude and discipline. Finally, take control of yourself and seek out the advice, wisdom, and counsel of others who have attained personal accountability in the areas you have made a personal commitment to follow-thru in.
When you take 100% accountability for yourself it becomes an art form. It will ebb and flow, surprise you, turn a corner, or awaken an entirely new reality. Not only will you experience personal growth, you will experience a sense of accomplishment, burdens will be lifted, amends will be made, relationships will flourish, you will gain a new found appreciation of self, others will respect your fortitude, your self-esteem will mend, and you will become an art form and example for others struggling with accountability to look up to and come alongside. Don’t just wait for the opportunity, BE the opportunity.