Dysfunction Junction aka Thanksgiving

family counseling

People often ask me if the office schedule is slow during the holidays and actually it’s one of my busiest seasons. That’s undoubtedly for different reasons depending on the client but overall the holidays have a tendency to become like a huge magnifying glass that highlights concerns within our relationships and/or finances.

I will address financial stresses during the holidays in a different blog post but for today, let’s talk about Thanksgiving (t-minus 48 hours and counting) and relationships.

If you are one of those people who absolutely loves getting together with your extended family and it always goes super smooth, no big relationship hiccups, and just can’t relate to people who dread the holidays for worry of what the day together might bring, then you are welcomed to continue reading but this post for all the others!

Alright team, how do we get through Thanksgiving with as little emotional trauma, stress, tears or high blood pressure as possible? I really like the old saying “less is more” in these types of situations; less time, less booze, less conversations about the worthiness of ObamaCare, less people-pleasing, less trying to get everyone to get along, less, less, less!

Our best approach is become like Switzerland; the appearance of being very neutral on all topics. Thanksgiving is NOT the day to hash out some long standing dispute with your mother-in-law, sister, brother, uncle or even the dog. Just be and breath. There are other days for dealing with issues that probably need to be addressed but Thanksgiving day isn’t it.

At the end of Thursday, as you lay your head on your pillow, what do you want to be feeling and what do you want to have happened in the day? Be intentional about your efforts because they won’t just happen. Maybe make a short list of what your best hopes are for the day and hide in the bathroom reading it from time to time if you need a good pep-talk. Is there another family member who desires to have a healthy Thanksgiving that you can partner with to hold each other accountable in keeping to the list of less that I mentioned above? What pre-self care do you need to do before Thursday so you don’t walk into the situation already drained and anxious?

Today is Tuesday so you have the rest of today and tomorrow to get a game plan. God intended families to be a blessing and a place of acceptance. If other relatives are not interested in those things, maybe the change needs to start with those of us who desire good family relationships.

Best of luck to you on Thursday!

A Wagon With No Wheels

couple's counseling

“She has hitched her heart to a wagon that has no wheels” – A burning bush 

Just kidding. A burning bush didn’t actually speak that to me. But man, I’d love it if I was walking along and a bush just burst into flames and out came the voice of God imparting all wisdom. No, instead it was spoken by a wise friend of mine who is full of insightful quotes.

She has hitched her heart to a wagon that has no wheels. What exactly does that mean, you might wonder. We were discussing the unfortunate predicament that another person was in by bonding with a man who can not and will not ever be an adequate romantic partner.  How often have we ourselves or know of someone who has hitched themselves to a man-wagon that is going no where? Or we can change the gender and say a man who hitched himself to a woman-wagon without wheels and therefore stuck right where she is.

What causes us humans to allow ourselves to bond with people who can not meet our basic need for love? Sometimes our desire for companionship is so great that we rationalize being in a relationship that is unhealthy. We then become willing to compromise ourselves to mold into the dysfunction. Our next step is to seek out other people who will tell us that the relationship is ok and we should proceed. If we hear negative comments about the wheel-less wagon, then we stop listening to those people and seek out others who will tell us the wagon is a good fit for us.

How do we know if we are potentially hitching our hearts to a stuck wagon or maybe even have already been connected to one for too long; waiting for wheels to materialize? A healthy relationship consists of many components but at its core there should be mutual respect for one another, open and honest communication about our strengths and weaknesses, compassion for the humanness of each partner, encouragement of the individuals maintaining personal independence to pursue hopes/goals/dreams and at the end of the day, a couple should feel like best friends that unconditionally love one another and want what is best for the other person.

If the idea of being emotionally attached to a man or woman who is going no where forward with you sounds familiar, don’t be discouraged. There are many things that can be done to help couples get moving again. However, there are times when unhitching is really the only self-respecting option left. Talk to someone who you trust and value their opinion if you think your heart might be hitched to a wagon with no wheels.  It’s a very lonely and painful experience so try not to isolate and go it alone.

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 07/31/13


Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) The highs and lows in life are very hard to understand but if we can embrace them as the normal cycle of being a human, then maybe we won’t feel falsely reassured during the highs and not as defeated when the lows hit. Whatever cycle we are currently in will change; in both directions and back again and repeat. It’s just life.

2) No one is all good or all evil. There are many shades of colors within people. We get to decide what colors are acceptable to us for those that we do life with in close proximity.

3) People go through emotional growth seasons in their lives and being along side someone, as support, who is changing and morphing into something better can be challenging for us but so well worth the outcome on the other side for those we care about and love.

4) Manage your money and don’t let it manage you. If money feels like it slips through your fingers quickly, write down everything you spend money on in a month. Not a budget. Just write down what was already spent and where. It’s a great first step to managing it better.

5) People may not love us the way we wish but they might be loving us the only way they know how to or are motivated to do. We have to decide if they are able to meet our love needs or not. Never try to insist that people change how they love. It’s an exercise in futility. Just watch and see what they do or don’t do through their own internal motivation. Politely ask for what we need but never demand it because even if it’s done after our demands, it comes with resentment from the giver.

What’s on your list? 

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 07/24/13


Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) Personal change is really hard for people. We will make all kinds of excuses and rationals for not doing what is in our long-term best interest. We have to be very careful not to extend a poor quality of living by doing mental gymnastics to justify keeping the status quo. If in doubt; ask a trusted close friend if you are making excuses and see what their answer is to you. The truth is that you probably already know without asking. Most of us do.

2) The summer between high school graduation and college is a challenging time for many young adults. As parents and family members, we need to be patient with the struggle of growing up. Not everyone is going to embrace the changes that come with ending high school and judgement is the last thing these young adults need.

3) The silent treatment in relationships is damaging and leads to all sorts of ills. If we have a problem with someone, we need to speak up and share it. Manufacturing silence is passive-aggressive.

4) Feeling lonely is a normal human experience. Not a feeling anyone particularly enjoys but the alone times are great for reflective soul searching and finding strength within ourselves that maybe we didn’t know we had.

5) Many parents have started the internal countdown to school and will do a happy dance after drop-off on the first day. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by 24/7 of kids during the summer and let’s try to appreciate every day we have with our kiddos. Before we know it, they will be gone to work and living in their own homes (hopefully!). Adult children at home is a topic for a blog maybe.

What’s on your list? 

The Chronically Unemployed Male

DISCLAIMER: When you write a blog about unemployment, it’s really important to put a disclaimer that this is NOT about people who have experienced a short season of unemployment or even a longish season due to industry based economic conditions. This topic is about something entirely different from normal potential gaps in employment throughout one’s career trajectory.

With my disclaimer in place, I can now get to the topic at hand; the chronically unemployed/severally underemployed male.

In recent years I have noticed that there appears to be a growing number of men who are chronically unemployed or significantly underemployed. I have noticed this segment of the population primarily by counseling with the women who are partnered or parenting this type of man. Yes, parenting because often chronically unemployed men wind up living back at home. Wives grow weary of having to hold all the financial responsibilities and they often look for counseling.

After working with women who are in relationships with an unemployed/underemployed man, I have seen a pattern of common aspects that are present within most, if not all, of the men who are struggling in this area:


Chronically unemployed/underemployed men seem to have a high rate of depression, even if it doesn’t show itself in the traditional ways we would assume. Often when the depression is properly dealt with, the men find a renewed drive for gaining and maintaining employment. I think depression is one of the foundational issues that must be addressed before any real change can take place.


Men who struggle with maintaining steady employment do so because they are needing the job that they are willing to do to be an ideal situation from their perspective. Well, there are no perfect jobs  or work environments and thus begins the cycle of gaining and losing employment. The men also may not even really begin a true job search because inevitably something arises that makes the potential job flawed and therefore not right for them.

A Big Ego

As ironic as it might seem, it appears that chronically unemployed/underemployed males see themselves with an elevated ego and therefore many jobs feel to be beneath them or demeaning to their own self image. An emotionally healthy male will be willing to accept employment because it pays the bills and he is able to realize that the job doesn’t define him as a man. Chronically unemployed men struggle with their identity being tied to a brag worthy job.

Ability To Stay in Denial

A man that continues to struggle with maintaining adequate employment has the ability to spin the situation in a manner that does not look as destitute as it might really be. Denial is a strong component to a man staying in the rut of unemployment/underemployment. I have seen men use commission based jobs such as real estate, sales, consulting, etc as a sort of smoke and mirrors to the fact they are not financially independent. They have the business cards to hand out to family and friends, but the actual earning of wages never seems to occur or the wages earned are a drop in the bucket of what is needed to sustain a household.

Comfortable With Dependency

All of the chronically unemployed/underemployed men I have come in contact with have someone, typically a female, who is holding down the fort financially. This might seem obvious since someone has to pay the bills. There are many ways that a couple or parent/adult child come to have this type of living arrangement. Almost a 100% of the time the men say they are looking for work, are working extremely part-time or have some other excuse. The rubber meets the road when it’s time for the bills to be paid and the man has contributed nothing or next to nothing.

If you find yourself identifying with some of these things, whether as a man or a partner/parent of a man that struggles with employment, I would highly recommend that you chat with someone who can help sort through all the layers of these types of living situations. It’s not hopeless and change can occur. It usually won’t though unless good boundaries are established and the underlying reasons for the chronic unemployment/underemployment are fully addressed.