Why We Should All Just Give Up

In the dark hours of a Wednesday morning, I sat at a railroad crossing. Red caution lights flashed silently as a train roared by. I was in the middle of a crummy week. And I finally gave up…

true self

The carpet guys had found asbestos tile under the decade-old carpet in our bedroom. The hazardous waste guys wanted a lot of money to remove it. A window sash had rotted through. The window people couldn’t find a replacement and wanted to replace the whole window. More money.

I took my son to the wrong gym for his first basketball game and I dropped the ball on something at work and the future of my book manuscript seemed uncertain and I got angry at my family—more than once—because when things start falling apart it’s awfully tempting to alienate the very people who hold you together.

And, finally, I had awoken at 4am on this particular Wednesday morning to discover the technical solution I had implemented for a problem with blog emails had broken the email service altogether. My weekly email wouldn’t send to anyone. So, I spent ninety minutes with customer service—to no avail—before racing out the door to drive two hours to an appointment for which I was already running late.

My travels needed to go perfectly for me to arrive on time.

Remember that train I mentioned?

As I approached the railroad crossing only a few blocks from home, the arms descended, blocking my way. I was becoming a little unhinged, wondering what could go wrong next when, as the end of the train approached, another light began to flash and a robotic voice declared repeatedly, “Another train coming.”

Which is when I finally I gave up.

What if we all just gave up?

Why Siblings Fight (and Why We All Fight Like Siblings)

Siblings fight because they assume love is a limited resource. They assume they have to compete for caring. In other words, siblings are just like the rest of us…

family conflict

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I was brutal to my siblings.

I beat up on my little brother’s shoulder and I beat up on my little sister’s heart. When we were all grown and had gone our separate ways, I realized what I’d done, and I started to beat up on myself. I felt guilty about being a bully and sad about the lost opportunity to be their friend.

Even after they accepted my apology, I couldn’t forgive myself.

So, instead, I decided to redeem it. By cultivating a sense of companionship amongst my own children. It seemed simple enough. But encouraging mutuality and tenderness between siblings is way easier said than done. Siblings swing quickly upon a pendulum from caring for each other to competing with each other.

What are they constantly competing for?

Love.

They assume it’s a limited resource.

The One True Thing About the Perfect Valentine’s Date

Is that it doesn’t exist. Because the perfect Valentine’s date doesn’t seek perfection. It seeks reality. It acknowledges who we are as individuals and where we are as couples. Which means, the most loving Valentine’s date could happen in a restaurant. Or in a therapist’s office…

perfect Valentine's date

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I’m a marital therapist

And I’ve worked on Valentine’s night.

While couples across the world were dining by candlelight, riding in carriages, and sprinkling rose petals—attempting to orchestrate the perfect evening and the most romantic moment—I’ve sat with couples in the midst of their pain and sorrow. On the most romantic night of the year, I’ve sat with lovers while they got as honest as possible about who they are, turned over rocks most people won’t even look at, fought to forgive, and dug deep to find empathy and intimacy.

On the most romantic night of the year, I’ve sat with couples while they got real.

In other words, I’ve been a witness to the most Romantic Valentine’s dates of all.

Yes, that’s Romance with a capital R.

Why It Takes Courage to Look Inside (And Why It’s Totally Worth It)

Life is a lost-and-found, and we’re all rummaging around for the thing that’s gone missing. But what is it and where is it? The good news is, you don’t have to look far. You only have to look deep

emotions

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“Are your new shoes in your closet?”

My wife is trying to make my youngest son look presentable for a Christmas concert. He usually refuses to wear anything except athletic pants but she has somehow, miraculously, talked him into a pair of corduroys. The finishing touch will be a pair of shoes that don’t look like they have been through a semester of playground wars.

He looks up from the book he’s reading. His face is deadly serious as he responds, “Yeah, but I’m not going to look for them. It’s a jungle in there.”

It’s a jungle inside my son’s closet.

And it’s a jungle inside our hearts.

Which is why we don’t go looking for the one thing we all need to find.

Dear Dad, You’re Doing It All Wrong (A Letter to Myself)

parenting

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Dear Dad,

You’re doing it all wrong.

Eleven years ago, the doctors handed you a little, pink bundle of vulnerability. You were twenty-six years old, and you walked out of the hospital entirely responsible for a brand new human being. A whole person. As if that were a totally sane thing to let you do. It scared you. They eventually handed you two more little people. It was supposed to get a little easier each time.

It didn’t.

You never got less afraid. You never got more certain about how to be a dad. So you decided to make it up along the way. You can stop feeling bad about that—it’s what everybody else is doing, too. The problem is, you improvised by listening to the voices in the world around you, instead of listening to the voice coming from the world within you. You can forgive yourself for that, too. The voices around you are loud and persuasive.

They told you achievement matters most. So you stressed about school districts and kindergarten homework and guitar recitals. You secretly kept score in your head at first grade soccer games. You thought scoring goals was the goal of life.

But can you remember?

Can you remember what it was like to be just a few years out of diapers and to score a goal on the soccer field? You didn’t care about the score and you didn’t start planning for your future soccer scholarship. No, you whipped your head around to be sure they were looking. The real goal was to be seen. The real goal was to have someone to celebrate with.

Dad, you can stop spending all your time trying to get them into school, and you can start taking the time to walk them to school.

The Last Marriage Post You’ll Ever Need to Read

Marriages aren’t destroyed by lack of knowledge. They’re destroyed by our unwillingness to listen to the knowledge we already carry within us…

marriage

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Around this time last year, in Chicago, we were in the middle of a polar vortex. The thermostat hovered around zero. The schools were frequently closed. It was painful to go outside.

And my wife went to New Orleans without me.

It was a business trip, and she went out of her way to make provisions for the kids and me—she even flew her mother in to help with childcare while I was at work. Nevertheless, on the night the thermostat short-circuited and I discovered dog poop wedged in the couch cushions, she sent me a video of her enjoying Bourbon Street.

And I got as bitter as the weather outside.

When that happens—when I feel like I’m on my own and nobody cares about me—I put a big, invisible wall between me and everybody I love. When she returned from New Orleans, I wanted to be good to her but, to be honest, I also didn’t want to. So, I wasn’t. The problem is, after a few weeks, I was lonelier than ever and I just wanted my wife back.

I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish it, though. I felt like something big needed to change. I felt like something new needed to happen. I got away for an evening to brainstorm ideas, but I couldn’t come up with anything. Until I realized:

I had fallen prey to three big fallacies about how to make a marriage thrive.

The Unspoken Reason For Every Failed New Year’s Resolution

Our New Year’s Resolutions don’t fail because we lack willpower. They fail because we have too much willpower. They fail because the thing we want most is the thing we never say aloud…

New Year's Resolution

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The desk is collecting dust.

I look at it and it drives me crazy.

My oldest son is in fifth grade, and his homework demands have increased dramatically, so he’s asked me to help him study more efficiently. Typically, he has completed his homework at the kitchen table, with the family moving to and fro around him. We decided this was distracting, so we set up a study nook in his bedroom. A place to be alone with his schoolwork.

But the only thing sitting alone is the desk.

He hasn’t used it.

I look at the dust-covered desk and I get frustrated with his lack of commitment and resolve. I look at the desk and I grumpily tell myself I won’t give him help the next time he asks. Yet, as I look at the desk, the dad in me can’t keep the psychologist in me quiet. And the psychologist in me looks at the desk completely differently:

It’s not a reflection of his lack of desire. Rather, it’s a reflection of his deepest desire. When we don’t change, it’s not because we can’t. It’s because we won’t. It’s because we want something we’re not saying more than we want the change we’re saying out loud.

The 5-Minute New Year’s Resolution That Will Make All Things New

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T.S. Eliot

mindfulness

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We’re going to take down the Christmas tree.

Again.

Last year, it was depressing.

Not because the holiday season was over, but because we’d done it before. Many times. It felt like, somehow, after a year of striving and scrambling and doing and accomplishing, we were right back where we started. Square one. We hadn’t progressed; we’d returned.

Life isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle. If you can’t accept that, it can be pretty depressing.

That’s what the African immigrant told me. Right before he fired me.

The Top 10 UnTangled Posts of 2014

I grew up in the age of MTV video countdowns. Every day, the music network counted down the top ten videos of the day. And every New Year’s Eve, it counted down the top one hundred videos of the year. On the last night of the year, my family had a ritual: we’d eat junk food, watch rented movies (on VHS), and then just before midnight we’d watch the last few videos of the year-end countdown. I can still remember Bono singing “With or Without You,” right before the ball dropped in 1987.

UnTangled

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I loved that tradition. So, I’ve made it a tradition here at UnTangled, too. For those of you who joined us during this lap around the sun, the last post of the year is always a list of the top ten UnTangled posts of the year (ranked by number of Facebook shares). And then I list “the best of the rest” (ranked by how much I enjoyed writing them!). Thanks for joining us this year, and I hope you enjoy the countdown.

And for all of you who’ve been through this ritual with me before, thanks for sticking with us. There was a time in the not too distant past when I couldn’t imagine having a community like this. Now, I can’t imagine not having it. I’m looking forward to another lap around the sun with you in 2015.

But before we do, the countdown.

Happy New Year!

The Top 10 UnTangled Posts of 2014:

10. Promises to Our Boys About Manhood (On the First Day of School)

9. The One Illusion We Cannot Afford to Believe In

8. A Father’s Letter to Young Women (About Getting Naked)

7. A Father’s Letter to Young Men (About How to Treat a Woman)

6. Why One Text Message is More Romantic Than a Hundred Valentine Cards

5. Why I Waited a Month to Write About Robin Williams

4. A Dad’s Letter to His Son (About the Only Good Reason to Get Married)

3. Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore

2. The 9 Most Overlooked Threats to Marriage

1. Words from a Father to His Daughter (From the Makeup Aisle)

The Best of the Rest:

10. Why I Stopped Teaching My Kids the Wrong Lesson About Hard Work

9. Why Nobody is Interested in the Secret to Self-Confidence

8. How to Accept the Things That Drive Us Crazy in a Marriage

7. How Losing Your Senses Could Make Sense of Everything Else

6. The Virus is Coming

5. How to Feel Joy (With These Five Little Words)

4. The Best Way to Respond to a Compliment

3. What Were You Made to Do?

2. Three Metaphors for the Outdated Institution of Marriage

1. 3 Ways Frozen Subverts the Usual Fairy Tale Rules

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Next Post: Why Lines Make Us Sick (and How Circles Can Heal Us)

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Why the Stillest Silence Always Comes Before the Greatest Gifts

Whether you observe Christmas or not, the order of the celebration has something to teach us about being human: the stillest silence always precedes the greatest gifts…

true self

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The red light always flashed reliably in the dark distant sky.

When I was young, every Christmas Eve, my family traveled to a nearby town to visit relatives, and then drove home through miles of cornfield. For most of the drive, in the distance, there was a tower with a red light blinking on top of it. For years, I wondered if it was Rudolph’s nose. As I grew older, the mystery of it wore off, but I still watched that red light blink rhythmically in the black night sky. It’s difficult to remember a single childhood Christmas gift, but I remember that red light. It was steady and still.

It was the icon of a silent night.

Now, many years later, as I talk with people about this holiday we are about to observe, most of them tell me they prefer the silent night over the celebratory day that follows. Our hearts, it seems, gravitate toward stillness. Why? Because our hearts know silence always precedes the one gift all of us are truly searching for:

Our true selves.