Doing Life Together

family-515530_1920The in-laws! What came to mind when you hear those two words? Handling in-laws can be tricky for most every couple. Let’s face it, as the in-law, you are an outsider to a family system that already has established rules and dynamics. But to be fair, your spouse has the same challenge with your family.

Not everyone has the blessing of good in-laws. Many spouses still may feel like they must compete against their in-laws for the time and attention of their spouse. This is especially true during the first few years of marriage.

Like it or not, the in-laws are part of your life. So having a good relationship with them is vital. First, you’re married to their child, who most likely is still important to them. And secondly, they will most likely be a part of the important people who instill values in your children.

On one extreme, there is the intrusiveness and meddling in-laws. Complicating this dynamic is often the feeling of the in-laws that their intrusiveness is a demonstration of love and care, sometimes it doesn’t come across this way. They may have trouble letting go of their parenting role, and the adult child (your spouse) may have trouble establishing independence.

The other extreme is too much distance. Some parents may emotionally and even physically cut off their adult child when they marry. Too much distance can create problems as well. There is a loss of support, a lack of caregiving, and limited family participation.

So here are a few tips to  make dealing with the in-laws a positive experience:

  1. Recognize the culture. Our culture and upbringing play a major role in how we do marriage. Recognize the cultural aspects of your spouse’s upbringing. One client I’ve worked with handled it this way: In her upbringing, the women did all the cooking and cleaning up at mealtimes. So when they shared a meal with her parents, he stayed out of the way. However, when her parents weren’t around, he stepped up and helped out or took care of it himself. Being culturally sensitive helps the family system.
  2. Develop code words. My husband and I  have a good relationship with each other’s parents. Even so, there are still times when both sets of parents challenge us.  When those times occur, we have code words or certain glances that cue us to a strategy. We remain respectful but we also know when we need to change the conversation, stay quiet or assert ourselves. The point is to have those conversations as a couple in order to know ahead of time what the hot buttons are and how you will handle them.
  3. Don’t criticize your spouse’s relationship with his or her parents. If you do you will raise your spouse’s defenses. Try to understand more about the family system and why people behave the way they do. Dig into their backgrounds and life experiences. Those usually tell you a lot about the issues you see.
  4. Establish ground rules. Don’t wait for a problem. Ahead of time talk about how you as a couple will handle extended family: For example, should your marital issues be private and not discussed with parents? How much time do you spend with in-laws? If there is a problem, will your spouse confront it?
  5. Spend time with your in-laws. There is no better to really get to know someone than spending time with them. Do activities together and ask what they enjoy. Make an effort to join them in fun things. In the end, you could discover areas of common ground.

business-19156_1920“I’m stressed out, tired, exhausted.” From moms to executives, these words reflect a growing state in which many people feel they live. Stress is a byproduct of our postmodern life. We feel we have too little time, too few resources and a lack of control over most things in our lives. Stress can be generated by an event such as death, illness or even a board decision. Some events, like the birth of a baby, are predictable. Others, as in the case of natural disaster, are not.

Stressful events can be ongoing or resolved quickly. They can be related to life transitions, the environment, our individual growth, need for healing and/or our perceptions of things. Stressful events may be avoided or unavoidable, and rated mild to severe.

Stress can also be a response to events. Things happen. We react. How we react is the key to keeping stress in check. If we carry stress in our bodies, in our minds and worry about the lack of control we feel over certain things, this disrupts our sense of well being and the rest that God promises. To be “anxious about nothing” becomes an unreachable ideal rather than a directive. Unmanaged stress can lead to the development of anxiety disorders, depression and physical symptoms.

Because stress is inevitable, pause and take inventory because your ability to cope with stress is related to the resources you have. We typically think of money, education, power and support as necessary resources to accomplish what we need. However, the most important resource we possess is our standing with Christ. Here’s why.

Resources can be depleted over time. People let us down, control is elusive and time moves forward. For example, maybe you began with an adequate volunteer staff for your fund raising banquet, but eventually people dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Or maybe the board support you thought you had for an upcoming women’s conference didn’t materialize. The point is resources are usually limited. But God is an unlimited resource that can be continuously accessed. His promises never run out. And His faithfulness will never fail.

Because we are joint heirs with Christ, we have all He has. Best of all, we have Him. So in times of stress, remember where your help really comes from—who it is that is dependable and present. God is not only our present help in times of trouble but the God of more than enough, El Shaddai. Call on Him. Ask Him to supply the need. In our culture of self-sufficiency, we often forget to access the endless supply of provision we have through Christ. Instead, we rely on ourselves and eventually feel exhausted.

If you are tired and stressed, make an appointment. Schedule your God spa time of refreshment and relaxation. It begins with the one who nourishes us as the Living Water and the Bread of Life. Intimate time with God is our greatest resource to managing stress. The promise is that if we dwell in the shelter of the Most High, we will rest in His shadow. And right now, a little rest is what is needed to move us from stressed to refreshed!


appointment-15979_1920Take out the trash please

I will in a minute.

 How about now?

 I will get to it later, don’t worry

But we do worry with some people. Seems they procrastinate when it comes to getting things done. Or maybe this is your struggle. You see the problem, but continue to put things off for a later date or time.

So why do we procrastinate when we know the results are usually negative? Is it the anxiety of doing it perfectly that keeps us from starting? Maybe, but usually there is more at work behind this negative habit.

Procrastination is about feeling good at the moment. It is giving in to the short-term pleasure to avoid the long-term task of getting something done.

Procrastination is tied to impulsivity. When stressed, the impulsive person becomes anxious and avoids dealing with the stressor. So the person does something else, other than the task at hand. All that delay creates more distress.

And when we look at procrastination, we see higher rates of depression, anxiety and lower well-being. It appears we know this is not a good trait!

So if you are a procrastinator, you need to work on time management, but also on regulating your emotions, especially when under stress. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety of a task, but work through that anxiety so you are not avoiding the task and impulsively doing something else you enjoy more. Expose yourself to that anxiety time and again until you are more comfortable sticking with the task. Practice matters.

Set small goals to complete along the way and focus on the steps to the end. Have a vision for where you want to go and see yourself getting it done. Over time, you will learn not to be driven by emotions and avoidance. Instead, you can regulate those emotions in order to accomplish the task.

If this feels daunting, work with a behavior therapist who can walk you through the process and help you stop procrastinating. With God’s help, you can tackle anything!

to-reach-2697951_1920As we talked, I wondered, has Diane been taken captive? All through the dinner, Diane spoke with great enthusiasm about her job. It was her identity, the thing she worked for all her life, the pinnacle of her career–she reached it, but something felt empty. She waited for this day, a big promotion, huge salary with bonuses and benefits, prestige, power…why wasn’t she feeling the satisfaction of her success?

Achievements, money, the arts, sports and even our anxieties can take us captive if we aren’t careful. Colossians 2: 8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” This is a warning from the apostle Paul who was in prison, but dealing with a church that was losing its way. He had received word that someone in the church was preaching that people needed much more than Christ. Paul was correcting this body of believers and telling them not to be deceived by the culture as to what brings fulfillment and satisfaction. Don’t believe what you are being told–anything apart from Christ will not bring the fulfillment we all seek. His message applies today. Have we been deceived as well? Are we captivated by things other than Christ?

Verse 9 goes on to say why Christ alone is that fulfillment. “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Christ dwells in us and is our ultimate fulfillment. Whatever you are looking for apart from God cannot match the experience of the fully man and fully God who dwells in you and seeks intimacy. We are to desire Him. And according to this verse, nothing can compete with His power and rule.

So when we are tempted to be captivated by something like money, power or fame, we need to remember that everything is subject to His rule and authority. He is the desired person, not the things He can do for us. Yet, it is so easy to be swept away by the idea that something like a job, an achievement or money will bring us fulfillment. Thus, we can be deceived.

The secular way is to strive, attain and reach for any number of things that promise fulfillment apart from God. In the end, they simply can’t bring the fulfillment we were designed to receive–a personal relationship with Christ. Nothing else will satisfy and we will find ourselves like Diane–reaching our goals but not feeling fulfilled.

As the dinner with Diane came to a close, she was somewhat saddened by the emptiness she felt reaching her goals of success. It was a reminder to be captivated by our God, not things. God  is ruler and authority over all things whether we recognize this truth or not. Only He will bring the satisfaction Diane was looking for in her life.