Bird in a Gilded Cage

Marriage Minute # 82 Bird in a Gilded Cage …from my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

Let’s lighten up a bit in this article, with a story from history. My wife, who is a historian, always shares stories from her research and writing, and she is a great story teller, but some of the most interesting stories come from her own family history. Meet Haslem Marshall, who was a young Sea Captain when he came ashore at Galveston in the 1840’s to build a house, near Morgan’s Point. He had decided he wanted to leave the isolation of the sea, marry, and settle down, so his search for the ideal wife began. He designed and built a wonderful house. Thinking of the ideal wife, he built a home-place that all the neighbors could admire. He had it all planned out, except for the obvious. His search for the ideal wife came to an end when the one he had chosen, turned him down. (i.e. dropped him, kicked him to the curb, cancelled his passport, quenched his ardor, gave him the “no, John” letter) He had described the elegance of his house, over the months of building it, as the gilded cage, but he lamented that he could find no canary. Devastated over this rejection, he set fire to the place, burned it to the ground, and returned to the sea. (“Good as I’ve been to you.”)
Life went on for a while and a somewhat older and much wiser Haslem Marshall came ashore, again. This time he had no elaborate expectations and he met a real person, Melinda Millsaps, a daughter of Isaac Millsaps who died at the Alamo. Her brother, Ephraim, is my wife’s ancestor. This time Haslem started with the relationship, and made the plans with her, rather than for her. They lived happily ever after, raised a family, and a farm, together. (Key word)
Now, what are the lessons of Haslem and Melinda? 1) Smart women, and smart men, don’t want to be squeezed into someone’s mold. And, it’s actually a good thing, since a person without their own personality can get really boring over time. 2) You are better off starting marriage with real people, not projects. Ever see the movie, Citizen Kane? At the end of the movie, Kane has all the characters in his life just where he wants them, but sadly, they are all statues, not people. 3) You build the home to suit the family, not the other way around. Maybe your spouse, or your child, doesn’t want to be a trophy-person. 4) It’s all right to dream, but honor each other’s dreams, share them, and dream together.

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Humanity as a Partnership

Here are two more articles about Assertiveness in the Collaborative Relationship… from my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

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Marriage Minute # 28 Humanity is a Partnership

Someone commented to me that they had never heard me talk about co-dependency. They supposed that I didn’t really believe in it. That is not exactly true, because I have recommended Melody Beattie’s book, Codependency No More, many times. Also, I recognize the original meaning of the term as used by people in chemical dependency treatment. The term referred to the people in the life of the alcoholic or drug user who would lie, and excuse, and cover up for them when the usage would otherwise get them in trouble. It has come to mean anyone who puts aside the development of their own life and identity for the sake of keeping a relationship; a relationship that grows ever more one-sided. One of the humorous lines about co-dependency is the one about the co-dependent person who was on a falling elevator- and someone else’s life passed in front of their eyes. It is sort of like being the personal assistant for someone else’s personality.
But, my friend was right about my not using the term, and here is why I don’t. First, from the academic side, I don’t find the term defined very well in the literature. It doesn’t have a good basis in research. Since it can mean too many things I hesitate to talk about it with people. Second, since it can mean so many things, it is too easily placed as a label on almost everything. It is the answer that doesn’t answer anything.
But, here is the main reason. I fear that our popular culture with its popular psychology has done “Too Good” a job at treating this supposed disorder. The sacrifice has been replaced with selfishness. Here’s what I mean.
A person asks their spouse’s opinion, but their spouse refuses to give it, fearing that giving this information will keep their spouse from making their own decision. “But I am only asking for your thoughts as input.”, this person says. Then they hear, “You’re just being co-dependent.” What have we done with our ability to pass ideas back and forth?
Someone says, “Can you help me with this?” They hear something like, “No, I am learning not to be co-dependent.” This is further justified by a remark like, “It is time I looked out for myself.” Why do we have to be doing one or the other? Why not care for others and for ourselves, as well? Why not develop the social skill of being able to say either “yes” or “no” when appropriate, without having to be entrenched in self-protection.
Another person becomes a chronically angry spouse, using rage to gain illegitimate power and control. When their spouse doesn’t take on the same rage, this rational spouse is accused of being co-dependent. Then, if a wise friend tells the raging person that their rage isn’t getting them anywhere, and that they should stop the tantrum, the rage-aholic defends themselves by saying that they don’t want to be co-dependent.
In our self-centered age, kindness and caring for others have been relegated to the categories of “low self-image” and co-dependency. Personally, I want a humanity that is not what author Joyce Milton calls, “a one-man show.” While there is a sense of dependency to be avoided in life, there is also a sense of selfishness that may be even more dangerous.

Marriage Minute # 29 Taking Care of Myself

Ever hear someone in a marriage speak those famous words, “It’s time I took care of myself for a change. . . ”, and wonder what they meant? I have heard it from several clients over the years and when I ask what they mean, I have heard several different answers. This goes to show that you have to ask or you may never know what they mean. Now, before I talk about what they may mean by these words I have to ask another question. Why do we suppose that marriage means that we have to choose one way or another? How do we get to the point of lopsided marriages? Do we start out being lopsided when we believe some of the cultural myths of our day? These cultural myths start us out unbalanced when they say things like, “You have to really take care of your husband/wife and make them happy.” The myths are furthered by such words as, “take care of the male ego”, or “women are funny like that.” These myths reflect the reluctance in our culture to treat ourselves, and others, as individuals. These myths provide ways to avoid the good work of learning about who we really are.
Have you ever read about the top ten intimacy needs? David Ferguson, a great theorist in this field, has said that in his research there are ten needs that keep showing up. And, they show up in all people, male or female. Here is his list. These needs are: Acceptance, Security, Appreciation, Encouragement, Respect, Affection, Attention, Approval, Comfort, and Support. All people have most of these needs They will rank them differently from person to person, but they are the same needs. We won’t know unless we ask, and understand.
When a newly married couple starts out with an understanding of each other’s needs and has the commitment and skills to work toward fulfilling them, the lopsided relationship is avoided. (Of course, balance requires regular maintenance throughout the marriage.) Most marriages start without this preparation and find that adjustments must be made later. It is within this kind of marriage that we most often hear the words regarding “taking care of myself.” But, marriage doesn’t have to be lopsided.
Sometimes when a person says they need to take care of themselves, they are learning that their marriage has been lopsided, and are starting to express their own needs. Some people panic when they hear this because they believe that now someone else is going to be neglected. Some people fear that the family is going to suffer at the hands of a “new sheriff in town.” If the power is going to shift, everyone grabs for a more secure hold. The truth is that none of this power struggle has to happen. When “expression” is valued, and “understanding” is sought, then a loving family can learn a great lesson. With skill and commitment they can see that each person has the right to their legitimate needs, as well as the obligation to the needs of others. They can say, “I will reveal my needs and expect others to respect them, and I will understand your needs and will respect them.” This does not mean we can meet all expectations, especially those that go beyond reason. This does mean I care about me, I care about you, and I care about us.
The bride is not selfish, and neither is the groom, when they want to be in the wedding pictures. In like manner, the wife is not selfish, neither is the husband when they both want to be in the marriage picture.

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Seasoned Speech

Marriage Minute # 31 From the book, Marriage Minutes, available on

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Colossians 4:6

This verse is about assertiveness. It is about strength, because Grace is strong, and not weak. The Assertive person is not trying to do something to someone else in order to get their point across, but rather they are doing something to themselves in order to deliver their thoughts, feelings, wants, etc.
This Assertive person invites others to see their perspective, but they are not trying to force the other to change their mind. (Force being the key word…) Neither are they going to let their own mind be driven into silence.
Grace seasons our speech, makes it flavorful, shows the passion we have for not only our ideas but also for the relationship. Grace preserves, like salt does, preserves the good will of our love, preserves the goodness of the relationship, and preserves the bond we say we want in our relationships, especially our most treasured relationships.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:33-37

These words of Jesus describe Assertive speech… truthful, direct, from a good heart

From James, chapter 3 (NASB)
1Let not many [of you] become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2For we all stumble in many [ways]. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and [yet] it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, the [very] world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of [our] life, and is set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8But no one can tame the tongue; [it is] a restless evil [and] full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless [our] Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come [both] blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11Does a fountain send out from the same opening [both] fresh and bitter [water]? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor [can] salt water produce fresh. 13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and [so] lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

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Whose Problem is This?

This “Marriage Minute” is from my book, Marriage Minutes, available from This book is a collection of 200 articles from years of marriage counseling and ministry. This “minute” begins the section on Assertiveness.

Marriage Minute # 27 Whose Problem Is This?

If I am standing in a crowded elevator and am aware that someone is standing on my foot, who has the problem? Or, if I am wondering about whose fault this moment might be, I suppose I can say that it is the fault of the person who is stepping on my foot. But it won’t be long before the responsibility changes. If I don’t say something, the perpetuation of the suffering becomes my doing as well. At first I may ask myself why this other person doesn’t notice that his or her feet are uneven. Don’t they notice that they are standing on something? Don’t they have responsibility for being careful in a crowd? Sure, they have responsibility. But the question is about who has the problem. There comes a point at which this suffering becomes my fault if I don’t speak up for myself. I shouldn’t stand in a crowded elevator waiting for this insensitive person to become aware. I have a problem, and I have some responsibility to myself. You see, having a problem doesn’t mean that I am guilty of anything. Neither does it mean that I am relieving the other person of responsibility. Far from it, I am adding responsibility since I am adding awareness by speaking up for myself. (And, my self appreciates me for it, too.)
When I ask people about why they don’t speak up about their problems I hear a number of responses. Let’s take a look at a few.
One person says something like, “If I say anything, I won’t be taken seriously.” Well, this person has a problem all right, but silence is not the cure. The underlying fear may be the fear that if they see that they are not taken seriously and continue to protest, then the next step is to grow further apart and eventually divorce. A person may secretly decide to put up with “having their foot stepped on” since rejection will raise the stakes and may lead to the end of the relationship. But, if I can carefully say it, I should. While I am in favor of relationship, there is not a good future for the relationship in which one person is required to be a silent martyr.
Another person says something like, “If I say anything, I’m going to make them angry.” No, you won’t. If they believe they have the right to step on your foot, and not be responsible for how they relate, it is not you that makes them angry. It is their own selfishness that makes them angry. You really have very little influence on the emotions of others, and you have more power than you may realize over your own emotions. Good relationships, and especially those excellent relationships, are not dependent upon what Murray Bowen called “de-selfing” by either person.
Then another person says something like, “If I say anything, I will be taking responsibility for the other person. They ought to figure it out themselves.” Yes, maybe they should. But after a while, if they don’t, it’s time to speak up. Speaking up helps to define the relationship. Speaking up helps to define you, which is actually something that needs to happen even before the relationship gets defined. Not taking responsibility for both sides of the relationship is a healthy idea, but we must also realize that by not defining ourselves, and our expectations for the relationship, we are simply giving the other person responsibility for both sides of the relationship.
Be careful in the elevator today.

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He only hit her, once…

“He only hit her once…”

… came across some startling statistics recently. After reading a small reference, I went to the original research done with participants in a court-ordered spousal abuse group. The subject of the article is,

“He only hit her, once in 20 years of marriage.”

But, according to the research, he also…

blocked her exit 40 times,

pouted about sex 1040 times,

slammed a door 2080 times,

mocked her 7300 times,

gave her dirty looks 14,600 times,

and called her names 18,360 times…

…for an estimated total of 43,421 abusive incidents.

This is not to mention financial dishonesty, slander to the children, teachers, friends, and church leaders, and the immeasurable times of neglect.

Physical abuse is such a small part of the bigger picture…the rest of it is what makes a woman feel so bad about herself that by the time he hits her, she really believes she deserves it. So sad, and yet so pervasive…

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Options and Rejections

Marriage Minute # 25 Options and Rejections from my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

Warren Farrell makes a good observation in his book, Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say, when he says that one spouse may gain the job of generating all the options and the other spouse may gain the job of generating all the rejections. It makes for a lot of dead-end conversations, and one of the sad things about it is that so many people get into this rut by default. One person becomes the idea person, perhaps because they start out as the one best at doing the job. Their spouse may be content to let them do all the option generating, but may resent it later on in the marriage. Sometimes the idea person is the one who becomes resentful and they go on strike. They tell their spouse that they are tired of having to come up with all the solutions and they aren’t going to do it anymore. At this point, the other person may panic inwardly over this new responsibility. They may even balk at the job and create an impasse.
The untenable situation that Farrell talks about is one of the more insidious problems of married life. One person generates all the options and the other person generates all the rejections. The results can range from gentle competition to a cruel cat and mouse game. It is an act of love when a couple recognizes they are doing this, and they stop.
A certain skill is needed to do this. Each person needs to stop being obsessed with safety, and be able to step out of the conversation and monitor “how” they are talking. This skill comes with willingness, love, and practice.
Look with me at just how unsafe this game really is. The one who generates all the options has to always be right. (Nice work if you can get it…) Come to think of it, the one who generates all the objections also has to always be right. If these people aren’t always right, then how can they justify the exclusivity of their “role”? Thus it becomes a role fitted only for the arrogant, and, for all others, it becomes a dangerous role, ripe for criticism and failure.
This brings up another insight about how people deal with options. There isn’t just one “right” thing for most of life’s activities. If you are doing a crossword puzzle, then there is only one right answer to each prompt. Thankfully, life isn’t like this. There are some wrong answers, but there are also several right answers to many questions. Besides, who says every option has to be perfect? Getting to a goal can be half the fun of reaching it, and exploring some fun ways of getting there makes it that much more rewarding.
Both people become powerless in the game Farrell describes. In fact, the final result may be that the one generating all the options is always wrong, and the one generating all the rejections is always wrong. (All this “always” stuff can really hurt your marriage.) It may feel dangerous to be creative, open to new ideas, and to share in the process of problem solving, but it isn’t dangerous at all, when you are both committed to the relationship.

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Express It or Bottle It??? OR….

Marriage Minute #24 Express or Bottle? from my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

Do you remember hearing those encouragements to “let it all out”? And, do you remember hearing people tell you that it is healthier to express your emotions than to bottle them up? Well, the latest research and theory seems to suggest that the first suggestion is seldom true. The second is only true some of the time.
The most psychologically healthy people may well be those who know how and when to express, and how and when to suppress. Or, as the famous marriage counselor, Kenny Rogers, said, “know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ’em.”
In the July 2004 edition of Psychological Science, experimenter George Bonanno reports some beginning research on college students experiencing high stress. The group was at first too small to qualify as valid research, but as numbers have continued to come in, it seems that some patterns are emerging. Bonanno reports that students who were able to alter their emotional responses were better able to manage stress, and adjust to the demands of their life, while students who had a limited range of expression were less able to adjust.
In this and other research about grief, he has said that neither expressing nor suppressing grief will lessen or weaken the grief. Rather, letting the process of grief do its work, understanding, resolving, and making internal peace with the grief is a healing process.
He states that it is more accurate to see emotions as reactions, and not internal forces. “An emotion is really a response, and that response can be either appropriate or inappropriate.” Anger can be used to scare off a threat, and sadness can be used to attract nurture. But over-doing it, or using only one or two emotions for everything, or using emotions to manipulate others can send confusing signals.
The “let it all out” fallacy is often practiced by someone who is angry, and they are quick to express their right to be angry. That’s all well and good, but you won’t force someone into appreciating music by making them sit next to the loud speaker at the concert. Expressing emotions doesn’t have to cancel all the rules of good communication. If by “all” you mean everything you have ever been angry about, or if you mean you want to express anger until you are tired (rather than understood), or if you mean you want to shout your way into feeling better, then don’t let it “all” out.
Expressing vs. bottling up emotions should be decided around the question of whether or not we are ready to express in an honest and redemptive way, and whether the person hearing us is really hearing us, and ready to respond with mutual respect. I am not recommending silence, but I am recommending that expressing emotions can be thoughtful, and it need not be careless. When emotions are believed to be “forces” for controlling the listener, the possibility of choices is disbelieved. When emotions are seen as “responses” but not controlling tools, the possibility of choices is magnified.
[Taken from article, “Emotions and Mental Health”, by Garry Cooper in Psychotherapy Networker, March/April 2005… Used by Permission]

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Trust Is Risk…

Trust is risk that you feel good about. I don’t remember if I read someone saying this, or if I simply realized it while observing people. I have noticed that it is a murky area for many of us, and in the story of our lives we may be reading too quickly to catch some things. (The first thing we may miss is the fact that we should be doing so much of the writing, rather than letting other events and other people do it for us.) But, about trusting again… I have observed that there is an intermediate step between not trusting, and trusting again. That intermediate step is crucial for us to get beyond the stalemate in getting over past hurts.
A little bit about the stalemate might help our thoughts about trust. We can get stuck not knowing how to re-develop trust. Perhaps we have seen too many false starts which led only to being hurt again. Perhaps we have grasped one of those easy ways out; such as, “I’ll just never trust that person, or maybe any person, again.” The problem with that for a default setting is that we are created for community, and we don’t really do so well without it, even if it may be difficult to build it. I see people sadly content to be continually angry, doubtful of others, suspicious of their spouse or friends, quick to accuse, all in the name of not being ready to trust again. So, let me ask about that intermediate step. Are you ready to risk again? Are you ready to be unsure of that other person, but at the same time, not be cynical and accusatory toward them? Can we embrace the discomfort of not knowing for sure, just yet?
Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) Was Peter asking if there would be a point at which he could give up and not feel like a Cad? Was he asking if it wasn’t supposed to feel better than it did? Jesus’ response to Peter tells him to keep on forgiving, many, many times. Forgiveness is about giving Grace and about not seeking retaliation/revenge. It is about possibly rebuilding relationship, but not about being taken advantage of, or being trapped in foolish hope.
We can trust again, but we need to be clear about our expectations, freely expressing what we need in order to feel good about the risk. We can risk again if we are both accountable again. Communication must once again be free, and honest, and safe, and clear. Communication that is effective is about understanding, and not about controlling each other. Perhaps we don’t trust again because the other person is still not trustworthy. But let’s be careful to make sure that we are not withholding forgiveness because we are in it for the revenge, or because we just are too tired and resentful to do the work of rebuilding and taking the new risk, the new risk that we will feel good about some day. We need to be carving out the space needed for our partner and our relationship to heal and to be healed.
And, to the offender, I say, we can risk again if we are committed once again to showing that we can be trusted, and spending the time and the humility needed for trust to be restored.

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A True Alarm (as opposed to a false alarm)

From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

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Marriage Minute # 22 A True Alarm

I heard an amazing story, recently. It seems a landlord heard a smoke alarm going off in one of the rooms of the Boarding House he owned, so he went upstairs to see what the alarm was all about. He stood outside the door as he knocked, heard the renter
inside ranting and cursing about the noise of the smoke alarm, and when he could not get the man to the door, he entered on his own. What he saw was amazing. The renter (who was also the ranter) was standing up in the middle of a burning mattress, complaining about the noise of the smoke alarm, trying to remove the battery from the alarm, oblivious to the fact that this was not a “false alarm.”
You’ve heard of the “finest product of the brewer’s art?” This was obviously the “finished product of the brewer’s art.” He was about to drink himself to death and didn’t know it.
But this article is about marriage, isn’t it? Do some marriages die for this same reason? Do some people make the mistake of believing that all alarms are false? Well, how often do we hear someone say, “I didn’t think they really meant they were going to leave.” Or, how often do we hear, “I know I threatened divorce, but I didn’t really mean it.” Both of these are examples of not knowing what an alarm is really all about.
Sometimes, in working with married couples, I feel like the Veterinarian I once knew in Arkansas. He said that one of the saddest parts of his job was working
with the animal that had been neglected for weeks, or months, whose owner would expect the Doctor to restore to health overnight. He would say, rather bluntly, to the owner, “Here you are, you have done just about everything you could do to kill the animal, and now you want me to make it healthy in a moment?”
Alarms are meant to be taken seriously. It is tragic when someone has tried to send the alarm for years, not getting much response, and they finally leave the
marriage in despair.
Alarms are also meant to be given carefully and accurately. Don’t make threats that you don’t intend to carry out. To throw around the word, “divorce”, when you are really only wanting to scare your spouse is dangerous. Idle threats will eventually lead to
intentional responses.
If your spouse is giving alarms to you, whether true or false, they are serious. The true alarm that goes unheeded can be regretted later, but it can’t be responded to when it is too late. The false alarm will backfire on the sender, and it, too, cannot be reversed when it is too late. The next noise you hear may be a true alarm.
The couple that doesn’t need alarms, and doesn’t abuse them, is the couple that will last the longest. This couple communicates clearly, and listens fully, and does the mutual perspective-taking that is needed to promote the health of the relationship.

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Two Articles about the Impossible

From my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

Marriage Minute # 20 The Impossible Triangle

More dangerous than the Bermuda Triangle is another treacherous triangle. It is a danger to both individuals and families, drags marriages down, and puts each family member in a no-win situation.
It is the Impossible Triangle, and here is what it looks like. One family member, usually a parent, says to another member, usually the other parent, “I don’t think you are being tough enough on …”, some other member of the family, usually one of the children. While it sounds at first like a discussion on parenting skills and approaches, it is actually a trap. Like in the Bermuda Triangle, things are not as they seem to be. Before they know it, these three people are caught in the Impossible Triangle.
At one point of the triangle is the strong advocate of power. They say that you’ve got to be tough on kids or they will run over you. The problem is that they mean that literally. They want “you”, the other parent, to be tough on the child. In our society, the parent that is calling for the strongest approach to parenting is often erroneously considered to be the “correct” one. But, this person is in an impossible spot because they do not have the relationship with the child that enables them to negotiate their own respect, mutual respect, with the child. Pulling your spouse into the bedroom, telling them they just aren’t running a tight ship, then saying, “Now you get back out there and fight!”, puts you in the Impossible Triangle. You meant well, but things weren’t as they seemed.
Another point of the triangle is the parent that wants to take a different approach. They may have more of a relationship, especially in the case of the step-family where the biological parent has the advantage of the bonding experiences that occurred from birth, or before. This parent feels caught in the middle. They want to please their spouse, but yet they don’t feel comfortable “tightening the screws” on their child, especially on an issue that they haven’t bought into. Sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of a sense of obligation or guilt, this person tries to carry out their spouse’s directives, but soon they find themselves in an Impossible Triangle. Their child is not happy with what seems to be an unwarranted shift in power, and the spouse is not happy with what seems to be a half-hearted effort by this parent, who meant well, but things weren’t as they seemed.
The third point of the triangle is the child. They come in all varieties, but in the Impossible Triangle they feel squeezed into a mold. One parent isn’t who they used to be, and the other parent is a distant voice, giving orders from elsewhere. Power seems to have shifted, and it is the normal human response to grab for power when we think power has shifted. For reasons, whether fine or poor, the child joins in the power struggle. The child, just like their parents, isn’t always seeing things clearly in the Impossible Triangle.
Get out of the Impossible Triangle, by building healthy one-to-one relationships. Have family meetings to build good communication. Do the good and long work of building a family. Outside the Triangle it’s harder than it looks, but it’s also better than it looks.
Next article, we will look at how to get out of the Impossible Triangle.

Marriage Minute # 21 Bad Trigonometry

Last article, I wrote about the “Impossible Triangle”. The dangerous triangle happens when two people experience conflict over a third person, and a jostling match begins between them over how to relate to this third person. They begin to play a game known as, “Let’s You and Him Fight”. The one with the seemingly highest scruples will pull their partner into the bedroom and insist that they both get tough, and that they both must present themselves exactly alike. This triangle is one that often happens in the work of child-raising, so I will give a moment’s attention to that.
Getting out of the Triangle requires knowledge of a few facts that are often missed in the Triangle. First, relationships need to be straight (dual) and not triangular. The relationship between any two people belongs to the two of them and not to a third person. Instead of telling your spouse, “Let’s you and him fight!”, just get out of the bedroom and go build your own relationship with the child in question. Yes, that may take a long, long time, but that is the way relationship is built. When someone says that you must treat a third person in exactly the same way that they treat them, don’t play the game.
Second, the principle of good behavior is not the question. To carefully choose the best approach, or vehicle, for guiding the child, is not weakness or poor parenting. Finding the right vehicle for bringing out good behavior from your child doesn’t mean that you are going “too easy” on the child. It may only mean that you are looking for a good match with the temperament and personality of the child. This “caught in the middle parent” should step out of the triangle.
Third, when “everything becomes a test”, it is time for the family to remember that being a family is not like being an experiment. Pavlov had his dogs, and Skinner had his rats in the box. But, people don’t thrive in such an environment. Yes, you will hear a lot about these theories in books about parenting, but I fear that many theorists have tried to create parenting in the image of dogs and rats, when people have been created in a very different image (Genesis 1:26; Colossians 3:10), and parenting must be created in the image of the person the child is, and will be. If you don’t want your house to be a Circus, then it will be necessary to shed the idea that we are “training” children like we train seals.
Fourth, see human dignity as an equal right. While there are a lot of privileges in adulthood that children don’t have, there are some rights that we are all born with. One of these is the right to human dignity. A child has the right to be spoken to with respectful words, not cursed at, not belittled, and so on. This is true whether they are young or old, have good grades or bad, and even regardless of how well they have performed. Parents deserve human dignity, too, by the way. Take this attitude to the family meeting, and quality relationships can be built.

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