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Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

If those of us who are suffering loss in some form find it difficult to make sense of our own emotions, how much harder is it for those who try to help?

We have all been there – hurting for our loved ones, desperate to help, frightened of saying the wrong thing and yet not knowing what the right thing might be.

The simplest guidance I can give from my own experience and from listening to others is:

Talk less and listen more.

We worry about saying the RIGHT thing – and yet until you have listened very carefully and taken time to understand what has happened, how the person feels about it, and how much they want to tell you, whatever you say is unlikely to be helpful.

Grief is a long journey through a tangled maze of emotions. So don’t expect too much from yourself or from the person who is grieving. The journey can take a long time.

Ball of Grief - a tangled ball filled with emotions that a person in grief experiences

This diagram comes from a book by Norman Wright, a certified trauma specialist and counsellor . He has written over 70 books covering topics like bereavement, crisis management, divorce and relationships. He offers compassionate and practical ways to give comfort and support.

When my friend’s mother in law died she and her husband found themselves struggling with their relationship with their newly bereaved father.  This book gave them the understanding they needed and helped them to help him. It contains chapters about ‘How to be a miserable helper’, ‘If you want to help, listen’, ‘Understanding a friend in crisis’, ‘Helping a friend in crisis’. And, if you prefer to write a note (which is always a good idea), it gives sample letters of what to say and how to say it.

For an interesting read today, click here to read an article on What not to say to someone with cancer, reproduced on the Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer blog.

Go ahead, make my day!

And, as a little aside, the internet is full of wails from women who are losing their hair from chemotherapy. They wail almost as much about the endless comments on their appearance, as about losing their hair. So, although the most obvious thing to comment on is how we look (and it is very, very difficult not to comment) have a go at trying very, very hard not to say anything. 🙂

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Can this be true?

It has taken a while but we did it this evening – we watched the movie Sex and the City.

Sex and the City

This is thanks to Lisa who spoke about the film in her blogmy life by faith – and debated whether or not christian women would or should watch the movie.

The story is about 4 women looking for Labels and Love in New York. It dramatizes the challenges facing single women who are trying to balance personal ideals with professional careers.

Having listened to women talking about their lives for many years, this film is very relevant.

In a blaze of colour and wonderful outfits the movie  tells stories of friendship, faithfulness, communication, sex, marriage, disappointment, and forgiveness.

Marriage ruins everything, says Miranda as the lives of the four friends unfold.

Thank you, Lisa – I agree with you. The more christian women (and men) talk about this together the better.

How about it?

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Home early from my 8th treatment. The machine is working well – but this morning there was a malfunction in the team. I don’t know what had happened, but I sensed tension in the air.

I have been thinking a lot about conflict since I shared with you about one of the biggest disagreements between BC and me.

We used to have some deep and prolonged disputes that took days to work through. These usually came when there were other big changes happening in our lives, like adjusting to being parents. The strength of the emotions we felt made it difficult to think straight. And finding the words to express what we were thinking and feeling was even harder. Careless words could heap more misunderstanding into the cauldron. We needed time to understand ourselves before we could begin to unravel what was happening between us.

I remember recognising a pattern in these episodes. In the midst of the upset I began to see flashes of the aspects of BC that I love and value – his integrity, sense of humour, patience, generosity, faithfulness: his love for me and for our children. My heart ached but my discomfort would not settle – this was too important to ignore. We had to find a way through that worked for us both.

And we did.

And because we did, we have a depth of friendship and respect for each other that makes living together such a delight . . and disagreements much less common and much easier to sort out.

The trouble is that we are very alike and yet very different. But a strength we share is that we value each other and are committed to make our marriage work.

We have a friend who boasts she and her husband have never had an argument in their lives. When they disagree he goes into the garden and she stays in the house.  After a variable cooling down period they resume normal routine and nothing more is ever said.

Pretending it does not matter is a whitewash, not a solution. They tolerate rather than get to know one another.

J.M. Gottman is a psychologist who developed a model to predict which newlywed couples will remain married and which will divorce four to six years later. He claims that his model has 90% accuracy. Part of his theory states that there are four major emotional reactions that are destructive to a marriage

defensiveness stonewalling criticism and contempt

Among the four, contempt is the most damaging of all.

Contempt is about reckoning a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. No wonder it is fatal to a relationship.

I reckon BC’s mother was ahead of her time in recognising the importance of cherishing one another. And I owe her a lot for nurturing such positive attributes in her son, my husband. 🙂

Have a look at this short video of Lucy and Charlie Brown and see if you recognise any damaging emotional reactions!

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A year ago I would have described myself as a private person. I would have laughed if you suggested that I would soon have breast cancer and be blogging about it.

And yet this blog is not so much about me as about you. Sharing my journey with you gives us a chance to get to know each other better – and that is important to me.

Chapter 3 of J.I Packer’s book Knowing God adds a lot to my understanding of what relationships are like, and especially what a relationship with God can be like. It is headed Knowing and Being Known.

He gives a really useful description of what knowing God involves:

‘Knowing’ God is of necessity going to be more complex than ‘knowing’ another person. Just as knowing my neighbour is a more complex business than ‘knowing’ a house, or a book. . . The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. . . the position is further complicated by the fact that people keep secrets, and do not show everybody all that is in their hearts.’ (p. 36-37)

And so the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us – how much they want to be known.

Packer asks us to imagine what it might be like to be introduced to someone we considered to be ‘above us’ – whether in rank, or intellect, or personal qualities. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we will feel that our role is simply to respond respectfully and let them take the initiative in all interactions. He continues:

‘But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged’  (p.38)

This, as far as it goes, gives an illustration of what it means to ‘know’ God. God honours us by taking the initiative to make himself known to us.

To make it easy for us the bible gives us four pictures that help us understand how we can expect to relate to God

as a son to a father; a wife to a husband; a subject to his king and a sheep to its shepherd.

I find this really helpful. In the most recent part of my journey I have been like a bleating sheep who needed to be looked after and led. At other times a different metaphor would be more relevant.

The wonderful thing is that, according to biblical values, each pictures tells of a God who loves and cares for us.

Thank you so much for joining me on this on-line conversation. Whether you comment or not I value your presence. My journey through cancer is moving forward all the time. I can see us in the months ahead looking back at the highs and lows, remembering the pictures, the stories, the music, the pain and the joy behind them all.  We have so much more to talk about and to explore – and I look forward to doing that together 🙂


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Hi, how are you . .

. . . Hey, no question mark!

Of course – you are not asking me a question.

How silly of me to think you were.

Here I am getting all screwed up about how to give a truthful answer. Honesty is a high value for me.

Words like cancer . . chemotherapy . .  fear . . whizz round my mind. I delete them as quickly as they appear.

I don’t want to talk about my private life at the moment, thank you. This is too hard for me today.

I feel assaulted.

Did you notice my pale face? Do I look as bad as I feel? Why do you want to know anyway – we have never met.

I look at you – gosh you don’t look old enough to be doing this job. Your cheery expression tells me you have not looked at my face.  Your thoughts are about yourself and the fun of the moment . . . your moment.

Of course – it is about you! You are playing a game, and the outcome is nothing to do with how I am.

Something inside me is jarring.

I recognise my indignation and choose to trash it. The mismatch between us is so vast it catches me on the funny side.

“Doing just fine” I say with a wink and a smile, confident that this is honest in my frame of reference.  “How are you?”

“Great” comes the chirpy reply. ” . . . Have you got a Tesco card? . . . Do you need a bag?”

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It is true – no matter how much we enjoy harmony in some relationships, in others we will have discord. And that can be difficult to handle.

The trouble is that so much of our interaction with others builds on what has happened in the past and what that means to us. At least 80% of our communication with others is unconscious. Our body language reflects the story that we have in our heads about each other. And the story in our head is built on our interpretation of past events. We believe that what we THINK is actually TRUE.

A typical example of this is the hospital receptionist I met last week who, before I opened my mouth, clearly lived by the belief that all patients are trouble. She was so conditioned to the story in her head that she could not see or hear me in the reality of the moment.

We recognise the pattern: ‘You always say that ‘. . . ‘You never do anything’  . . . ‘You are wrong / stupid / irritating / lazy . . .’

And so we slip into a pattern of thinking and behaving that escalates along the same path each time.

No surprise that we get the same outcome – friction.

Albert Einstein said

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

So how can we break the patterns and begin to get different results in our relationships?

Paul spells out some really practical advice in his letter to the Philippians.

Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.

. . . you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Mahatma Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see”.  Break the pattern. Write down three positive things about the person you have the biggest problems with – the best not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise, not things to curse. Meditate on them.

As you change the way you think about the person you will find you can change the way you behave towards them. The pattern is broken and your relationship can begin to heal.

How interesting that the solution lies within our own grasp!

And the outcome:

a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

Can you believe it . . .  and do you want it . . . ?

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. . . and it meant so much to me. Yesterday was not the time for words.

What is it that makes a marriage survive and thrive for over 30 years, and still savour moments of such tender intimacy?

We met at high school. At age 16 he sat behind me in the physics class giving me every opportunity to lean back on my stool and find an excuse to speak to him.  I loved his shining dark hair and sharp sense of humour. And there was something very deeply attractive about his character that spoke of integrity.  I felt valued and safe in his presence.

As a doctor, wife and mother I have been closely involved with many couples through the highs and lows of their relationships. I am always curious to understand what the relationship means to them and what makes it work or not. For those whose relationship is breaking they can usually tell me of the problems they knew existed at the start and which grew worse rather than better.  For those whose relationship has endured they often look bemused and cannot find words other than to say they are lucky, or have a good friendship.

It is not about luck. A relationship is a dynamic balance of rights and responsibilities. BC and I continue to work hard at our relationship because it is the most precious thing we have together. I lean very heavily on him at the moment, and he opens his arms ever wider to meet my needs. My breast cancer has touched every part of our life. Our prayers together are deep and meaningful.

This week I find myself reading or hearing from others about the biblical book Song of Songs. And I have time to explore some of Mark Driscoll’s teaching series on the book. The obstacle of steroid induced insomnia can be turned into a really valuable opportunity!

The series is called  The Peasant Princess. It is beautifully presented and available for us to watch on video or download as podcast.  Here is part of the introduction:

As we study the Song of Songs, our primary focus will be how the Peasant Princess became an exemplary wife; our secondary focus will be the intimate marital relationship she shares with her husband. Through her example, God has much to teach us regarding his plan for sex and marriage. While the Song of Songs is not entirely about sex, the book does contain some very important lessons on the subject. In fact, this 3,000-year-old collection of love letters is extraordinary in its timeliness. In our day, people devote an extraordinary amount of time, money, and energy in pursuit of sex, making it the most popular religion in the world.

If you are single, you will find guidance on how to choose a partner. If you are in a relationship you will find a framework to assess how you are getting on, and suggestions on what you can do to make things better.

Part 3, The Little Foxes gives useful information about the structure of a healthy relationship and the things that threaten its survival. You might find that an easy entry into the series.

There is something in this for us all.

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