Specializing in Family Counseling, Men's Issues, & Trauma

How Fear Makes You Selfish


Couple Fighting

We live in a day and age where if you have a good reason for what you are doing, especially if it involves your own hurt or fear, it’s okay.  The sensitive thing for others to do is to try to really understand where you are coming from.  If they do, what you have done will make sense and not be harmful.  If they don’t make efforts to “understand” you or don’t agree with your actions, they are judgmental.

In practice, operating this way in relationship is like swinging a sledge hammer at the people around you and then being upset when they complain about you hurting them.  After all, if you weren’t so afraid, you wouldn’t need to swing a hammer at them to begin with.  It’s called lashing out from the victim position, and it’s a prime example of selfishness driven by fear in relationship.  Let’s take a look at an example of a couple dealing with this problem.

Setting: Marital therapy session. Jim and Sarah have come to counseling to sort through a variety of relational issues.  Today, Jim has come in really upset. He doesn’t believe Sarah is making the relationship a priority and it is consuming his thoughts.

Jim:  I am only upset because she is not spending enough time with me and the kids.  I mean, I am her husband, we are supposed to have a relationship!

Therapist: Okay Jim, sounds like you are really bothered by this.  Why don’t you tell me about what happened that got you thinking about this problem.

Jim:  It’s not what happened, it’s what keeps happening!  Sarah does what Sarah wants to do, that’s it!  She doesn’t think of me or our children.  I have sought help from trusted friends and our pastor to see if I am out of line, and they all agree she is hurting the relationship.

Sarah (As Jim talks, she sits quietly, not making eye contact.  She looks sad and like she does not agree, but doesn’t dare challenge him.  After all, last time she took that chance, he made her pay by lecturing her about it for an hour and then not talking to her for the next 3 days.  The kids kept asking her what was wrong with dad.)

Therapist:  Jim, I really want to be able to understand where you are at, but when you speak in generalities it’s hard to do that.  Could you tell me about a specific time recently where this has occurred?

Jim: Sure, that’s easy.  About three months ago, she was talking to some of her girlfriends at church about our marriage.  Sarah calls it getting support, but I call it gossip.  She tells them about problems we are having and makes me look like a bad guy!

Sarah; (speaks up for the first time): I told them we were having issues, not you specifically.  I told them I knew I was a part of what wasn’t working.

Jim: (continues talking as if he has not heard Sarah):  With these women knowing about our stuff, I feel judged all the time.  I told Sarah how badly this hurts me, but she simply doesn’t care!

Therapist: Jim I am curious how you know what your wife is feeling? Can you read her mind?

Jim (annoyed ): It’s obvious.  She isn’t changing.

Therapist: What is it she is supposed to change?

Jim:  I told her I want us to associate with a different group of friends.  We go to a large church and there are a lot of great people to connect with.  It shouldn’t be an issue for her to set some healthy boundaries with those women and move on.  It is time she decided whether her husband is a priority or these friends! (Jim ends his statement triumphantly, sounding like a man who has made a definitive argument, invulnerable to challenge).

Therapist: Jim, I wonder, do you think Sarah feels cared for right now?

Jim: (taken aback by the question): What?

Therapist: Do you think Sarah feels like you care about her right now?

Jim: I love her, she knows that.

Therapist: That wasn’t my question, Jim.  I am not asking you if you love her.  I am asking if you think she feels cared for right now.

Jim: I guess so . . .  I mean I hope so.

Therapist: Sarah, I am curious if, while Jim has been talking, if you have felt cared for?

Sarah: (Tears forming in her eyes): No, no. . .

Therapist: Jim, that sounds like a real problem to me.

Jim: Well, you asked me what is bothering me, and I told you.  I guess I should just keep it to myself.

Therapist: No, Jim, that sounds like a terrible option.  Instead, I think we need to define this problem better.  What are you afraid of in this situation?  What ultimately causes you discomfort?

Jim: Well, two things I guess.  First, I am afraid of what others will think of me.  Those women probably look down on me and I just can’t stand the thought of that.  Second, my wife is choosing her friends over me.

Therapist: I like that you have identified your fear of how others will think of you.  However, that second statement about your wife choosing her friends over you, I am not sure that’s true.  It’s the story you are telling yourself about what is going on.

Jim: Then what am I afraid of?

Therapist: Jim, I don’t want to disrespect you by assuming I can read your mind, so I will just give my best guess.  I think you might be fearful of what others would know about you because you have shame about yourself.  To deal with this, you try and control very carefully what others know about you and Sarah broke the rules.

Jim: What rules?

Therapist: She is not supposed to tell others things you do not want them to know.  Unfortunately, she has and you have to do damage control.  To help you not feel your own fear and discomfort, you want her to distance herself from her friends.  She doesn’t want to do that, so you set it up as a choice between you or them.  It plays into your hand because she can either choose you and leave her friends or be a wife who is not really committed to her marriage and family.

Jim: Wow.  That sounds really bad.

Therapist: Yes.  Does it sound crazy or far fetched?

Jim: (looking a bit sheepish): No, not really.

Therapist: How would you describe what you are doing?

Jim: It’s really manipulative & selfish.

Therapist: Bingo.

Was that painful to read?  Every time I sit with a couple like this, my heart hurts for the “Sarah” in the room.  It’s critical the fear of the partner be exposed, along with his selfish means of dealing with it.  My experience is sinful behavior often has roots in people’s fear. It’s why people feel justified in what they are saying and doing to their spouse. After all, if others understood what they have to deal with, what they are doing to their spouse will be seen as reasonable.

It isn’t.  It never is.  We must all learn to keep close watch on our own fears, turning them over to the Lord regularly. Failure to do this makes sin attractive, as it offers a corrupt solution to our problem. The sin response is to focus on our fear and the intentions we have, while ignoring the other person’s heart.

In other words, people spend all their time explaining and justifying their destructive actions while never acknowledging the impact on others of what they are doing. It’s especially devastating in the context of a marriage or family. We are all faced with the problem of fear and have a choice about what we will do with itChoose well.

christian marriage therapyLooking for help? Join the 3,000+ families who have found the help they need by trusting the counselors of MyCounselor.Online. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $50-$155 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here for Christian Marriage Counseling

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Husbands, Love Your Wife

loveWant to know how to love your wife? I’ll show you how. It’s not as hard as you might think. The number one thing you need to know is…LISTEN TO HER!

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25-33

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hates their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of His body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Husbands, Love Your Wife. . . Listen to Her!

The number one way, time and time again, women say they need to feel loved is by being listened to.  Women who feel unheard also feel unloved, and not loving your wife isn’t an option.  Let’s face it, as men, we come hard wired to view communication in a very utilitarian way.  Guys talk when they have something to say, and usually the something to be said is part of accomplishing a specific task.

John calls his friend to ask him if he has a specific tool for a home improvement project and to see whether or not he has any pointers.  The two men exchange information quickly and efficiently.  Then the call is over.  If John doesn’t call his friend for a few weeks, the man does not wonder if John no longer cares about him.  Instead, if asked about the lack of communication, these men would simply remind the questioner there was nothing needing to be said.

In fact, there is an unwritten code among guys, if another man calls me, saying he was just thinking about me and wanted to talk, I am allowed to punch him in the face.

Not so with our wives.  She needs closeness in relationship with us and feels distant when we have not connected verbally.  Obeying the command of Scripture to love your wife requires men to learn to listen.  You will never lead your home if you cannot listen.  In fact, a huge amount of the stress and hardship I see in my office every week could be prevented if men could master a few simple listening skills:

1st– Body Language Basics:

Men, you communicate your affection and attention with your physical presentation.  It doesn’t matter how many times you tell your wife you are listening if your body language says you aren’t.

How NOT to Listen1. Turn to face her, not just your head – although that is a good start – but the rest of your body as well. When you are into something: watching football, working on a project, or playing a video game, your body is turned towards the activity, reflecting your focus. Do the same for her.

2. Look her in the eyes. The number one complaint I hear as a therapist from women is, “He won’t look me in the eye.” When I say look her in the eye, don’t stare at her, unblinking. Look at her naturally, expressing your intent and desire to hear her.  If she doesn’t have your eyes, you don’t have her heart.

3. Keep your arms open, not crossed or closed.  This communicates being receptive to what she is telling you.

2nd– Think Crock Pot, Not Microwave:

We are all busy and have a lot on our plates.  There are far more demands on your time than you can meet.  What this means, is you are going to have to intentionally schedule time to talk with your wife.  This time needs to be more than the five minutes before you fall asleep after another busy day or the commercial breaks during the big game.

When husbands don’t take time, they engage in what we call attempting to microwave relationship.  They are hoping to accomplish creating a deep and fulfilling relationship with their wife in the time it takes to microwave popcorn.  What is even more interesting is they’re upset when their wife calls them out on it.  Husbands will spin her astute observations into an attack, telling her she is critical and doesn’t appreciate his efforts.

When guys do this in my office, I call them on it “It’s not her fault for noticing you are being a bonehead, you married an intelligent woman.”  Take time with your wife, showing her she is important.  Doing so will communicate your love and allow listening to be possible.

Men resist me on this one, saying they are too busy or it’s unrealistic. However, I have never had a man who tries it ever tell me they regretted the decision.  Trust me, taking time to listen to your wife is the most efficient, time effective way to deal with and prevent problems. 

3rd– Say Something, Stupid!

If you have managed the first two, let’s up the ante still further.  Now it’s time to add to the conversation, actively letting her know you are listening and interested in what she is saying.  We are going to use two simple techniques her:.

  1. Check in with her by putting what she is saying in your words, giving it back to her, and asking if you are hearing this correctly.  Use a simple phrase like, “Is that what I hear you saying,” or “Is that what you mean?”  You are showing your interest in both what she is saying and your intent on hearing it correctly.  This is different than sitting quietly, staring at her, hoping she is happy.  I listen to people professionally and check in with people this way all the time.  Why? Because I can’t read minds, but I can ask questions.
  2. Make statements letting her know you care about what she is telling you.  It’s one thing for her to tell you about a problem, it is quite another for her to know you care deeply.  Here are some suggestions, “Thank you for sharing that,”  “What you are feeling really matters to me”, or “I appreciate the chance to hear your heart.”   WARNING: never say the words “I understand.”  Your job is to help your wife feel listened to.  If she comes to the conclusion you understand, that is fine, it’s her call, don’t make that jump yourself.

4th– Listening Does Not Require You to Agree With Her:

Let’s take an unnecessary burden off of your shoulders.  You can do all of the above without agreeing with your wife.  How is that possible?  Everything mentioned above is for the purpose of actively listening to your wife.  Hearing her and caring about where she is, is simply that, hearing and caring.  You are loving her if you do.  It does not mean you have to agree with her perspective, thoughts, or decisions.  Don’t worry about your listening being a form of agreement.  It isn’t.

God placed the mantel of leading the home squarely on your shoulders.  Leading your wife means loving your wife.  Loving her requires you listen to her.  Single men, if you don’t want this responsibility, don’t get married or be in a relationship.  Married men and men who want to be in relationship, practice the things listed above.   They are not genetically inherited, they are learned.


depression counselorsOver 1,400 families in southwest Missouri trust the counselors of The Relationship Center to serve their counseling needs. With more than 14,000 hours of therapy in the last 5 years alone TRC counselors have the experience that can make the difference. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $75-$125 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here to Learn More About Marriage Counseling at The Relationship Center

Mistakes Men Make When Talking to Their Wives

As a counselor who specializes in working with men, Cracking a SafeI often sit with guys who are at their wits end in trying to talk to their wives. It’s an age old problem: How on earth does he talk to this woman?

She makes no sense to him, much of the time. He wants to have a good relationship, but this seems completely out of reach. Men frequently make a common, three step mistake in attempting to talk to their wives. The mistakes men make when talking to their wives is outlined here.

Step 1: Cracking the Safe

When I sit with men having relationship issues, it is often like watching an old fashioned bank robbery.

He is sitting at the safe door with a stethoscope, listening intently, as he turns the safe dial a little bit at a time, trying to figure out the combination. The man wants to be able to talk to his wife, and is convinced he must figure out the “combination” to do so. To him, it’s a simple trial and error method.

He’s come to session excited, barely able to contain the great news. It has finally worked! He shares with me after years of trying to figure out how to approach his wife about difficult issues, he found a way that seems to work. By “work”, he means she does not become overly emotional or escalate into a rage. Now, he has a tool he can pull out of his toolbox, as needed. No more anxiety and dread, he knows how to handle her.

Gradually, by trying various techniques, he will find a way that works and his problem will be solved, or so he thinks.

Step 2: Managing Her

With his new tool, the man is attempting to do something which is impossible for him, managing his wife’s emotions, behaviors, and attitudes for her. Let’s break it down using his logic: “If I do ________ she will respond with ________. Her response is dependent on and dictated by my action.” The logic seems very compelling, except it is fundamentally flawed. First, as mentioned previously, he is taking responsibility for her emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. These are her responsibility. She must be the one to handle them. Second, if his objective in responding the way he does is to illicit in her the response he desires, that is, by definition, manipulation. Ouch! She is not free to own her stuff and he feels trapped by her response.

Step 3: Seeking Stability

The ultimate goal is stability, not a real relationship. The man, without knowing it, is trying to exercise control over events to create the stability he desires in his life. In other words, if he responds in a certain way, he can and should have her respond to him in the way he wants. No meaningful intimacy or growth, for either partner, can occur in such an environment. Instead, it is a way of avoiding discomfort – that is the ultimate goal.

The Answer

Relationship is process, not solution driven. For men, this is difficult to wrap our heads around, but we must. We like lasting solutions and routine. However, the reality of a relationship is it is dynamic and changing. In other words, if we actually succeeded in what we were after, our relationship would lack excitement, adventure, and romance. We in turn, would probably lose interest.

Think of the idea of a process this way, if you decided to start exercising and eating right, you would do this on a daily basis. It would be a kind of lifestyle change. You would not look the mirror one day and say “Well, I look the way I wanted, so I guess I am done.” If you did, you would quickly return to the way you were before. You keep going in the process, seeing it as where you need to be and stop looking for the one answer or the destination. Your job is not to find out the exact way to approach your wife so she responds the way you want her to. Your goal is to have an ongoing, growing relationship with her.

The discomfort of friction is essential for both of you. Friction is the means by which we both smooth our rough edges and grow. Focusing all your efforts on avoiding friction will only create stagnation.

Often times, men need guidance in this process. If you do, get the help you need. Counselors at The Relationship Center are experienced in helping couples succeed in this process.

depression counselorsOver 1,400 families in southwest Missouri trust the counselors of The Relationship Center to serve their counseling needs. With more than 14,000 hours of therapy in the last 5 years alone TRC counselors have the experience that can make the difference. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $75-$125 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here to Learn More About Marriage Counseling at The Relationship Center