Faith Marriage

Christians, divorce, and church discipline

What has church discipline got to do with divorce? If you are a Christian, depending on the tradition that you come from, there may be a practice of church discipline. From the outside looking in, the church may or may not have a good reputation for doing well with this practice. The basic idea is actually to extend as much opportunity as reasonable and safe for grace.
The whole theme of Matthew 18 as a chapter is forgiveness. There is one part of Matthew 18 that describes church discipline. Or the mechanism for excommunication if excommunication is to happen. It goes like this:
  1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, and if he repents, then you have gained your brother.
  2. If he does not repent, then go to him with two or three witnesses.
  3. If he still does not repent, then tell the church leadership.
  4. If he still does not repent, then let him be to you as a non-believer.
I say that if this would apply to any brother or sister in the faith, then why would you not apply this in marriage. It seems like if you apply it at this low level, why would you not do the same thing in marriage, for the major offenses.
You’re not going to go through a church discipline process every time your husband leaves his socks on the floor. Or every time your wife gives you a look that means you’re in trouble. Those are part of life, those happen. But for the major offenses: abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction. If it is safe to do so, then going through the church discipline process may be appropriate. (In the case of abuse it may not be safe to do so).
I imagine that would be different than what people in struggling marriages have experienced for the last 50 or 60 years from the Church. It would be interesting.
Now, what that would look like in your church, in your context, really depends on several things:
  1. Your theological structure,
  2. your church tradition,
  3. the leadership structure of your church,
  4. and then the particular practice of your church.
This may or may not work. But if you want to get support from your church to save your marriage, this might be something to consider.
Marriage Personal Growth

The most important team in your life

Around New Years this year I wrote an article to the effect of the unified husband and wife achieve more. People who share common goals have a greater likelihood of achieving their goals. Dave Ramsey, in his book EntreLeadership, uses a metaphor to show the synergy of working in teams. I think the number one team that anybody should focus on is their marriage.

The metaphor is the Belgian Draft horse; it’s one of the largest and strongest horses in the world. A Belgian Draft horse can pull by itself about 8,000 pounds. If you pair that horse in a team with a horse that is a stranger they can pull between 20 and 24,000 pounds. But if two horses are raised together and trained together they can pull 30 to 32,000 pounds.

So two horses that are strangers to each other can pull roughly three times as much as just one horse. Two horses that know each other can pull almost four times as much as one horse. Dave Ramsey talks about that as synergy.

I think in a marriage that synergistic effect is a function of the level of intimacy. Intimacy is what I spoke about in the last video and why I wanted to explain that first.

The more that you have:

  1. a shared vision,
  2. a shared set of goals,
  3. a shared set of values,
  4. and then sex on top of it,

… the greater things that you will do as a couple

The greater you will function as a marriage. Inside the home, outside the home, with your kids, at work, with your friends, wherever. Intimacy is a force multiplier in marriage.

Leadership Marriage

What is real intimacy?

What exactly is real intimacy? It’s a whole lot more than just sex. A lot of times in our modern culture we use the word “intimacy” as a euphemism for talking about sex. There can be intimacy, non-sexual intimacy in lots of relationships or lots of areas in your life. The developmental phase that you hit in your early 20s is the phase of “intimacy.” This is when you’re figuring out what you want to do with your life. The task is to become “intimate” with a career field. To completely know the thing that you’re going to do for your living, for the rest of your life.

What is real intimacy? I think it is:

  1. Having a cohesive vision, the thing that you want out of life, the thing that you want to do in life.
  2. Having a set of goals that defines how you’re going to get there. Goals are the roadmap for that vision.
  3. Having a set of values that puts boundaries around how you’re going to achieve those goals. The sacrifices you’re willing to make or not willing to make.

In a marriage, this is huge. A shared vision between the two of you. What do you both want out of life? What goals do you have? How are you working toward that big vision? What values do you have that you share that put boundaries around what you will and won’t sacrifice? Then of course in a marriage, you can also add in the sex. Intimacy is just part of a connection. A way of describing the connection between two different people, but don’t limit it to sex. It includes a whole lot more than that.


Perennial Problems – The Ones That Never Go Away

What do you do with the perennial problems in your marriage? The kind of arguments that make you feel like you’re living in Groundhog Day, but in your relationship. Those arguments that just come back over and over and over again.

It depends on whether you can manage them. Some arguments are just unsolvable. They are because of fundamental personality differences. Or because of lifestyle needs between the two different people. That’s normal, and that’s okay. It’s not wrong. It’s just different. Your needs are different than your partner’s needs. They’re not wrong; they’re just different. That’s fine.

If it keeps causing major conflict like yelling or screaming, that’s not managed well. If it’s something that you have an occasional disagreement over, but you learn how to roll with it, that’s managed.

A common one is about sex. There’s usually a higher desire spouse and a lower desire spouse.

Another one might be money. You have a saver and a spender. Another one might be parenting.

You have somebody who prefers higher discipline and someone who prefers lower discipline.

It could be any of these. It could be all these.

The point is, can you manage it and can you roll with it? What do you do when you can’t handle it? That’s when it might be time to see a therapist. It might be time to sit down and explore what both of your values about those things are.

It’s actually okay. It’s actually normal to have some perennial problems. Things that just keep coming back.

Don’t let them discourage you. It’s part of life.


8 Marriage Killing Expectations

“I was expecting you to wash the dishes and do laundry because you love me.” – a stereotypical expectation from a newlywed wife.

“I was expecting you to ask me to do it.” – a stereotypical expectation from a newlywed husband.

Unmet expectations lead to contempt and conflict. Expectations in marriage go unmet for one of two reasons:

  1. It is too early in your marriage to expect that thing.
  2. You haven’t expressed the expectation.

Keaton was bummed to learn that Sawyer would not be born walking and talking. She wanted someone to run and jump and play with. The first time we talked about it, she said: “when I was a baby, I walked and talked, so Sawyer will too.” (Note that she also gave herself more credit than she deserved).

Some newlyweds fall for the same starry-eyed, blue sky expectations. Just as you cannot expect a newborn to walk and talk, so you cannot expect some things early in a marriage. They will come if you communicate well.

Newlyweds are not the only victims. Couples married for a long time aren’t so starry-eyed, but they do get complacent. That is why it is important to maintain your marriage.

Here is a short list of toxic expectations in marriage. I’ve kept the discussion one sided. You are the one reading this, not your spouse. You cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself.

If you read articles about marriage, use them to change yourself, not to send your spouse on a guilt trip.

Expectations of your spouse to read your mind

This is an expectation that “common sense” already tells us is bad. The problem is that common sense must be uncommon – especially in new marriages.

No one is telepathic. Say what you think. Say what you feel. Make it safe for your spouse to do the same.

This is the most basic toxic expectation. All the others are variations on this theme.

Expectations of your spouse to speak their mind

You might have married to someone who is blunt and outspoken. If that is your case, then this part does not apply to you. If that is not your case, it takes a lot of trust and safety for shy people to share their thoughts.

If your spouse is naturally shy, you will have to work harder to create safety for them to share their thoughts.

If there is pent-up hurt between you, you must repair the hurt to create safety.

Expectations of your spouse to know your heart when you haven’t shared your mind

You might do the wrong thing for the right reasons. At least in Western cultures, we expect some grace when that is the case. This is “the end justifies the means” thinking.

If your spouse does not know the thinking behind your actions, they do not know your motives. If they do not know your motives, they cannot give grace.

Your hands do things because of what came through your head from your heart. The link between hands and heart is the head. The link between behavior and emotions is thinking. Share your mind so that your spouse can know your heart.

Expectations of your spouse to share their heart when you haven’t heard their mind

This is the other side of the coin for the expecting your spouse to know your heart. If you haven’t made a safe space for your spouse to share their thoughts, they will not share their emotions.

You have no right to feel distant from a spouse that you have alienated.

Expectations of your spouse to “just know”

Classic example:

“Why didn’t you pick up milk on the way home?”

“I didn’t know we were out of milk.”

Enough said.

Expectations of your spouse to “just trust you”

Love might be blind. Trust is not. Saying, “just trust me” is actually saying one of these:

  • “I don’t trust you to agree with me. I can make you the villain for not trusting me. If you disagree with me and I take it personally, then I’m the villain.”
  • “I don’t want to share enough information with you for you to trust me. If I do share, I’ll get caught doing something I shouldn’t have been.”
  • “I don’t have the skills to communicate with you about this.”

Expectations of your spouse to deliver on your blind trust

No matter how alike the two of you are, you have mutual strengths and weaknesses. If you both have all the information that goes into a major decision, then you both have a chance to manage risk.  If one person holds all the cards, you are not playing the game together.

This does not mean that you need to micromanage every little thing. It does mean that you need to be part of major decisions.

Expectations of your spouse to distinguish needs from wants

Even when you share basic values, you may set different priorities. You have different personalities. What you see as a non-negotiable need, your spouse may see as a want. Make sure they know the difference.

Be clear about your needs, or you are as responsible for your unmet need as your spouse. Sometimes it takes reminding. There is a point where reminding goes too far, but it is usually okay. Give the amount of grace you expect.


  1. What other toxic expectations have you noticed in yourself?
  2. Which of these hits home for you?
  3. What are you going to do about it?

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Marital Finance, 10 Activities to Build Unity

Marital finance is a touchy topic. Financial conflicts in marriage are a major contributor to divorce. Here are some activities to try so that you can be on the same page with your spouse.

Marital Finance Activity 1: The Tried and True Budget

No, I am not going to suggest that you do a budget worksheet. This is the 21st century. There’s an app for that. In fact, there are a few thousand apps for that. I recommend It’s fast, free, user-friendly, and visual so that you don’t have to be an Excel Wizard to make a budget.

Marital Finance Activity 2: A Values Conversation

Discuss these questions at least twice a year with your spouse:

How important is it to you to be generous with your money? How do your actions line up with your values?

How important is it to you to save for the future? How do your actions line up with your values?

How important is it to you to enjoy the moment? How do your actions line up with your values?

Marital Finance Activity 3: Know Your Financial Personality

This is not the same as the value conversation. The value conversation asks “deep down, what do you believe is the best use of your money?” This conversation asks, “what are you likely to do with your money on the best day of your life?”

What are you likely to do with your money right after you have told yourself “I deserve it?”

People tend to be givers, savers, or spenders. In an ideal world, we would give a third, save a third, and spend a third. But we don’t live in that world. So things are out of balance.

Givers are great people. You might be the type of person to “give the shirt of your back.” That’s wonderful, but it is possible to go too far. Make sure that your have met your basic needs, then give, then save, then spend.

Savers are wise people. You might be the type of person who mere mortals will envy in retirement. Saving for the future is great, it takes a ton of discipline. But the future is uncertain, so enjoy the moment. No amount of savings will replace the people in your life right now.

Spenders are fun people. You may need to worry about keeping up with the Jones, because you are the Jones. Enjoying the present is great, but it can go too far, just like giving or saving. Give first, save second, spend last.

Now go the next step. Tell your spouse who you think you are. Are you a giver, saver, or spender? Now look at your bank and credit card statements. How do they reflect who you are?

Marital Finance Activity 4: Mood and Money

You have already done the value and personality activities (s 2 and 3). Now ask the question, “what are you likely to do with your money on the worst day of your life?”

What are you likely to do with your money right after you have told yourself “it will make me feel better?”

We have our values. Then we have our actions when times are good, and our actions when times are bad. If our actions line up with our values, GREAT!

Marital Finance Activity 5: Check In Conversation

Have a check in conversation at least weekly. It might be as simple as asking “how did we spend our money this week?” It might be as complex as pulling out your budget app and looking over it together. It might be checking the balance of your bank accounts.

The detail and complexity of the check in conversation is not the point. The fact that you just have the check in conversation is the point.

Both of you need to be fully present and fully tuned-in to the conversation.

Marital Finance Activity 6: Lowest Spender Competition

Give yourselves both a spending budget for the week (or month if your up for a real challenge). Say $25 for the week. Whoever has the least money left has to do the other person’s chores the next week.

If you both come back with all your money, then re-do the competition one of two ways.

  1. with more money, or
  2. lighter consequences for the loser

At the end of the second week, have a conversation about what you learned about your spending habits.

Marital Finance Activity 7: Biggest Giver Competition

Pick a local charity or person in need that you both want to support. Set a time limit.

Give out of your own spending money, and out of whatever side-hussle money you can come up with.

Whoever gives the most wins. Have a conversation about what you learned about your giving habits.

Marital Finance Activity 8: Biggest Saver Competition

This is like the giving competition. But here you are both contributing to your savings account.

Whoever saves the most wins. Have a conversation about what you learned about your saving habits.

Marital Finance Activity 9: Meet with a Financial Advisor

No matter how savvy you think you are, get professional advice. Meet with two or three different financial professionals before making your choice. Then stick with one. Meet with them together, at least once a year, with all three of you (you, your spouse, and the advisor).

By the end of each meeting make sure that all three of you are clear on three things:

  1. your current financial status,
  2. your long term goals,
  3. and your short term strategies.

Marital Finance Activity 10: Rinse and Repeat, with Variety

This is an ongoing process. It is not a one time thing. It is easy to pick one of these activities, try it once or twice, then burn out. The key to sticking to it long term is variety. If you only do one of these, you will get really bored, really fast. If you do each of these, the variety will keep things interesting. You will make progress toward your financial goals.

Most important, you will build financial unity in your marriage.

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2 Communication Essentials for a Happy Marriage

Effective communication is critical in marriage. To communicate effectively you must express yourself clearly, and you must listen deeply.

Effective Communication Requires Clear Expression

Use “I Statements.”

Avoid being critical (attacking character instead of describing behavior), and avoid showing contempt (no name calling or put downs). Do your best to use “I Statements.”

I statements look like this: “I feel [name and measure your emotions], when you [describe your partner’s behavior], because [describe your thoughts]. I want/need [make your request].”

For example:

Critical statement: You’re always late, you don’t care.

Contempt statement: I hate that you’re always late.

I statement: I feel angry when you are late because it seems like you don’t care. I need you to be on time.

Name and Measure your Emotions

Any time you say “I feel like…” or “I feel that…” You are actually describing a thought, not an emotion. Do your best to name specific emotions. Sad, Mad, Glad, Afraid, Frustrated, Hungry, Tired, Horny.

Also, do your best to measure your emotions. Use phrases like, somewhat, a little, very, or extremely to indicate how intense the emotion is. You can also rate the emotional intensity with numbers.

For example, I feel somewhat mad (0 to 1). I feel a little mad (2 to 3). I feel a mad (4 to 5). I feel very mad (6 to 7). I feel extremely mad (8 to 9).

Describe Your Partner’s Behavior

Unless you can read minds, do not describe your partner’s thoughts. Unless you can see their heart, do not describe their emotions or intentions. Describe only their behavior. Avoid using the words “always” or “never.”

Describe Your Thoughts

What did you think when the behavior happened? When you were describing your emotions, you may have started with “I feel like” or “I feel that.” Now it is okay to finish that sentence. Describe your thought process and reaction that led to the emotion you used earlier. This is what will help your partner to understand the relationship between their behavior and your emotions.

Make your Request

Whatever you are describing, do you want more of it? Do you want less of it? Is it a need that goes down deep in your bones? Is it a “need” that is more like a duty or an obligation? Is it a want that is selfish? Or is it a want rooted in a deep-in-your-bones need? Whatever you want or need as far as that behavior is concerned, ask for it. Your partner cannot read your mind. They do not know you want it or need it until you ask for it.

Effective Communication Requires Deep Listening

Avoid Stonewalling and Defensiveness

Pay attention to your emotional intensity. On a 0 to 9 scale, try to stay between a 3 and 6. If you are lower than a 3, you might not be trying hard enough. If you are higher than a 6, the conversation will not go well. If you get above a 6, tell your partner you need to slow down, then take 1 to 2 minutes to pause, breathe deeply, and smile (even if you have to force it). Then go back to the conversation.

As you listen to your partner share their requests, avoid withdrawing from the conversation unnecessarily or for too long, also avoid being defensive or blame shifting.

If you need to take longer than 2 minutes, try a 20-minute break. If that doesn’t work, try sleeping on it. Regardless, commit to returning to the conversation. If you don’t, you might be stonewalling.

Observe Nonverbal Communication

Pay attention to their tone of voice. Pay attention to their volume. Pay attention to the pace of their speech. Pay attention to their facial expressions. Pay attention to their body language. Pay attention to how close they sit to you (proximity). Pay attention to their eye contact. Listen to their words.

What does their tone of voice tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their volume tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their pace of speech tell you about what their words mean to them? What do their facial expressions tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their proximity tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their eye contact tell you about what their words mean to them?

Each time it is your turn to speak, do not judge, do not correct. Just say, “I think I heard you say…” and ask, “is that correct?” Fill in that blank not only with their words but with the meaning of their words that you picked up from their nonverbal communication. If their nonverbal communication is stronger than their words, point it out and ask them to tell you more. If their words are stronger than their nonverbal communication, point it out and ask them to tell you more.


  1. What was most helpful for you in this article?
  2. What was least helpful?

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Marriage Personal Growth

5 Myths about Couple’s Counseling

This is a guest post from my friend Emily at Pax Family Counseling. She’s got some great thoughts here. I’ve added my commentary in italics.

Marriage Personal Growth

Compatibility is a lie. Focus on character.

Compatibility is supposed to describe how one thing fits another thing. In marriage and relationships, it’s supposed to predict your happiness together.

I wear a size 10 1/2 shoe. That is a measurable fact. A size nine would be too small. A size 12 would be too big. They don’t fit; they’re not compatible.

When I was in the Marines, the shoes that I wore depended on the uniform. The uniform that I wore depended on the occasion. When it was time to exercise, I wore running shoes with my PT uniform. When it was time to work, I wore combat boots with my utility uniform. For formal occasions, I wore “chloroframs” with my dress blues and service uniforms. (super shiny, super uncomfortable dress shoes).

If ever any marine wore the wrong shoes with the wrong uniform, he or she would get an earful.

I can tell you that running shoes are “incompatible” with dress blues. I can tell you that chloroframs are “incompatible” with utilities. I can tell you that, but I cannot measure it. The shoes might “fit,” but they don’t “work” with the wrong uniform.

The same thing is true about this idea of “compatibility” applied to marriage.

Someone might “fit” with you based on any number of measurable facts or ideas. But just because they “fit” with you does not mean they will “work” with you. Or to be brutally honest, just because you “fit” them does not mean that you “work” with them.

Bonus: I’ve created a free worksheet to help you focus on building character instead of compatibility. Click Here to download it.

“Compatibility” is not about values or lifestyle

If there is any true compatibility, I suppose it would be about values and lifestyle. But that is not the way that people talk about it, or that advertisers sell it.

Mark Manson said this:

Compatibility is a natural alignment of lifestyle choices and values between two people. A priest and a stripper have a major incompatibility and I doubt many end up dating each other. – Mark MansonCompatibility and Chemistry in Relationships

Sorry Mark, that’s not compatibility, that’s common sense.’s money maker is not telling a single preacher not to date a stripper. It’s their personality test that is supposedly an indicator of compatibility.

Compatibility relies on faulty premises

It doesn’t hurt us to have some measurable idea of how a person “fits” us. Factors like age, health, intelligence, or temperament are all helpful. These factors can tell us how people “fit” together. The problem is if we stop there, or if we assume that none of those factors ever change.

We get older. Health goes up and down throughout life, on a downward trajectory. Intelligence in any given moment depends partly on health. Temperament in any given moment depends partly on health. On top of that, none of us are perfect.

Trying to measure compatibility is like asking how long water is. It assumes that we are only one-dimensional, and bases “fit” on that one dimension.

Compatibility assumes that finding a mate is as simple as shoe shopping. Just as there is a right size shoe for you, there must be a right personality-typed partner for you.

The reality is that we are not one-dimensional. People are complicated. The best and worst things about people are things that are immeasurable.

If you are a person of faith (and I am), you know that we are also sinners. Not only do we fail to make right choices, we often make wrong choices – knowing that they’re wrong at the time. Even if compatibility were at much as it’s cracked up to be – sin ruins it.

Compatibility does not deliver

Even without sin, which type of “compatibility” do we want?

If we want “parallel compatibility,” then we want someone with almost the same personality. Think “birds of a feather, flock together.” If we want “complementary compatibility,” then we want someone with the opposite personality. Think “opposites attract.”

There are pros and cons either way.

Parallel couples run the risk of sharing weaknesses and stalling hard when problems arise. Complementary couples run the risk of “falling deeper into their differences.

This extends to the workplace as well. Parallel teams get stalled by group-think. Complementary teams get stalled by conflict.

Compatibility claims that there is a perfect match for you out there somewhere. That claim relies on the mood you were in when you took a personality test.

The alternative to compatibility is character

Not to confuse the issue, there is an idea in Christianity called “complementarianism.” It stands in contrast to patriarchal or egalitarian relationships. It holds that God created men and women with equal value and different strengths. The “equal value” part is where it contrasts with patriarchal relationships. The “different strengths” part is where it contrasts with egalitarian relationships.

Complementarian does not mean “complementary compatibility.” It means three things:

  1. God created men and women with complementary strengths and purposes. (Past)
  2. To seek complementarity is to seek to develop character. (Present)
  3. Our created nature and our process of character development hint at what God is like, and what Heaven will be like. (Future)

In [compatibility based] relationships, cracks will show, and soon the “compatibility foundation” falls apart. So people rip up their marriages and start over again. [They believe] they married a person they weren’t compatible with.

How tragic! The real issue before every couple is this: none of us is compatible. We’re sinners. That’s why we need something much better and sturdier as the ground of our marriages.

We need complementarity, not compatibility. – Owen StrachanPursue Complementarity, Not Compatibility

Character is complicated too

But here’s a start…

These will take you much farther toward a happy, healthy marriage than any personality test.

Humility. You need to be able to admit when you’re wrong.

Commitment. You need to be able to stick around.

Authentic listening. You need to be able to hear the other person’s heart, not just their words. No defensiveness or stonewalling.

Clear communication. You need to be able to speak your heart without tearing the other person down. No criticism or contempt.

Overall, if you want a happy, long-lasting marriage, cultivate your character. Don’t rely on compatibility.

The same goes for your career. Don’t fall for the lie that there’s a perfect fit job for you. If you believe that you will change jobs like you change socks. Cultivate your character and work hard.

Here’s the ironic part. If there is any truth about compatibility, it would rely on values. Your character illustrates your values. Thus, building your character increases your compatibility.

Bonus: I’ve created a free worksheet to help you focus on building character for greater compatibility. Click Here to download it.

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Marriage Personal Growth

Your Part in a Breakup

This post is adapted from a workshop given at Single Life Ministries, in Vancouver, WA.

Breakups are part of life. Almost everyone goes through at least one breakup. I have only met one person who married his first girlfriend; they are still together. For everyone else, we get to deal with the aftermath of a breakup.

After the Breakup

Half of dealing with a breakup is forgiving the other person for their mistakes. That is not my topic tonight. Half of dealing with a breakup is processing your failures.

Bonus: Click Here to get a printable workbook for the issues discussed in this post.

Failure in a relationship can be almost anything

  1. Forgetting to pick up milk on the way home
  2. Forgetting an anniversary
  3. Losing your temper and yelling
  4. Losing your temper and giving the silent treatment
  5. Adultery
  6. Abuse
  7. Abandonment
  8. Addiction

Failure may cause regret, sadness, or desperation. Or, handled rightly, failure can lead to inspiration and success.

Failure is part of life, but agony does not need to be.

I only had one breakup before I met and married my wife. Forgiving that girl her for her stuff took me a few years. Admitting my failures in that relationship is an ongoing process. I did not start that process until my wife and I were married for a year. I realized how my failures in that first relationship were threatening my marriage.

Sometimes the right way to respond to failure is to change directions… To break up. Sometimes the right way to respond to failure is to keep going. In that first relationship, it was right for us to break up. In my marriage, getting a divorce would have been wrong. The sweetest times in my marriage have all come after I started to work on myself.

What I am going to talk about tonight is a tool to help you work on your stuff from your previous relationships. It comes from the field of addiction psychology. It comes from a tool to help addicts debrief a past relapse to prevent future relapses.

Many of our unconscious defense mechanisms have addictive aspects to them. We can be addicted to many more things that just alcohol or heroin or meth. We can be addicted to harmful ways of behaving in relationships. We can be addicted to behaviors, attitudes, or emotions that harmed past relationships. Those same behaviors, attitudes, or emotions may threaten current relationships.


In Psalm 139, David is crying out to God on one of the many occasions that someone is trying to kill him. He thanks God for his faithfulness and steadfast presence in his life. Then he gets to the end of his prayer is verses 23 and 24 and says this:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

David, a man after God’s own heart, is praying for God to show him his failures. He is also praying for God to help him correct his failures. This is my prayer for us tonight, including me, because I am a work in progress as well.

Get Perspective on the Failure

The cost of failure is different for everyone. The cost of a missed free throw in basketball is different depending on what level you are playing at. If you are six years old playing your first game, it does not cost much. If you are in the NBA, it could cost the playoffs or next year’s contract. Either way, it is something to learn from and an easy failure to bounce back from.

The cost of buying a house that you cannot afford might be foreclosure or bankruptcy. This life lesson is much harder than missing a free throw and it is much more difficult to bounce back from. But it is not impossible to bounce back from.

The cost of failing in a romantic relationship or marriage is immeasurable. A typical divorce costs at least $15,000. Housing, transportation, and food costs are higher for broken families than for intact families.

And those are just the financial costs. There are also short-term and long-term health problems that correlate with divorce. There are emotional health problems. There may even be spiritual problems.

Divorce SUCKS. Breakups suck, but they suck less than divorce. Working on yourself sucks, but it sucks less than a breakup and less than a divorce.


What I am about to describe is just one-way of doing this. The goal of this approach is not to sit and stew in the past. The goal is to bring the past into the present so that you can change your future.

Pay attention to what you feel as you go through this process. You may feel sad or mad; that is normal. Pay attention to the emotional intensity.

If you stay below 5/10 on intensity, you are in the green zone. You may grow in this process or you may not. If you stay in the 6-7 range, you are in the yellow zone. You will be uncomfortable, and you will grow in the process. If you get into the 8-9-10 range, you are in the red zone. In the red zone, you may need to take a moment to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and pray. Do what you can to come back down into the green zone before starting again. If you cannot, set this aside for a while.

Another warning is that we tend to remember the past in light of our current emotions. If you feel sad right now, you will feel sad as you think about the past. If you feel mad right now, you will feel mad about the past. Do a quick self-check before you start. How do you feel right now? How intensely do you feel that way?

The Model

Here is the model that we are going to work with. Think of this as a chain of causes and effects that spirals from your birth to your death. We are going to look at just one loop in that spiral.

Internal Decision Making Cycle: Senses, Perceptions, Thoughts, Feelings, Urges, Decisions, Decisions, Actions. @DanielTStephens

Your brain and body usually take only fractions of a second to go from senses to action.

The goal of this workshop is to slow the process down. Way down.

Describe the Relationship in Detail

Think of a conversation with your ex near the end of the relationship. What happened? Do not just give an off the cuff answer, put some serious thought into it. A cursory answer will not help you move on. A detailed answer will help you learn and move on.

Try to recap what happened with gradually increasing detail.


  1. What did you see?
  2. What did you hear?
  3. What did you feel (sense of touch, not emotions)?
  4. What did taste?
  5. What did you smell?

You may need to make several “laps” through those first five questions. That is normal.

What Thoughts Led to Failure?

Senses cause thoughts. But not all senses accurately represent reality. Bad perceptions lead to thinking errors. Start by answering the question, “What did you think?” and watch for these thinking errors:

  1. Exaggeration. Making things seem bigger than they are. Try to get an outsider’s opinion or use a pro/con list.
  2. Minimization. Making things seem smaller than they are. Try to get an outsider’s opinion or use a pro/con list.
  3. Positive Bias. Confirmation bias. This is when your thinking focuses on good aspects of a situation that is neutral or bad. This is one way to combine thinking errors 1 and 2. Exaggerating the good, and minimizing the bad. Try using a prioritization grid to sort things out.
  4. Negative Bias. Negation bias. This is when your thinking focuses on bad aspects of a situation that is neutral or good. This is the second way to combine thinking errors 1 and 2. Exaggerating the bad and minimizing the good. Try using a prioritization grid to sort things out.
  5. All-or-nothing thinking. Black or white thinking. Binary errors. This happens when you have a long-term pattern of thinking errors 4 or 5. This is when you use words like “always” or “never.” If you used “always” to describe what you thought, ask yourself, “has it ever NOT happened that way?” If you used “never” to describe what you thought, as yourself, “has it ever happened that way?”

What Feelings Led to Failure?

Thoughts cause feelings. Whatever you thought about what you perceived in the situation caused you to feel a certain way.

From the time we were infants crying for food, we have learned to feel a certain way about that type of situation.

Just like there are primary colors, there are primary emotions:

  1. Joy
  2. Sadness
  3. Fear
  4. Disgust
  5. Anger

All other emotions are secondary or complex emotions. Secondary emotions are results of primary emotions. Like links in a chain. Complex emotions are mixes of primary emotions. Just as you can mix the primary colors to get all the rest, so you can do with the primary emotions.

The experience of complex emotions is unique to every individual. The experience of secondary emotions is unique, but there are some similarities. The experience of primary emotions is universal. Joy and sadness, and anger are almost the same for everyone.

When you are answering the question, “What did you feel?” Do your best to boil it down to how much joy, sadness, fear, disgust, or anger you felt in the midst of the situation. This will be the most relatable and repeatable way of sharing it with other people – if you get to that point

Incidentally, this is also the emotional theory used in the Disney movie Inside Out.

What Urges and Decisions Led to Failure?

Remember that we are breaking down a process that happens in fractions of a second. We are really really slowing things down.

Feelings cause urges. In one sense, your feelings are the running average of all your life’s emotional lessons. The reason for your feelings is that they are supposed to urge you to do something. Feelings are instincts. Instincts urge us to respond.

You might feel urged to respond to a screaming child by yelling. Or telling them to calm down. Or giving them a hug. You might feel urged to give a one finger wave to the driver that cuts you off on your drive to work. You might feel urged to … [fill in the blank].

Think for just a minute of your favorite story. It could be a book, a movie, story a friend tells about something in their life, just about anything.

Stories become great stories when:

  1. You feel the same emotions as the characters.
  2. You think the same thoughts as the characters.
  3. You feel the same urges as the characters.

A great story is an example of when feelings and instincts cause exactly the kind of urges they should.

But there is a problem. If your feelings are right, but out of proportion to reality, your urges may be wrong. If your feelings are wrong, but in proportion to reality, your urges may be wrong.

Your urges are only right if:

  1. Your feelings about a situation are correct
  2. Your feelings are in proportion to reality.

That means your urges are right only 25% of the time.

I love cop stories. Great cops, at least in great stories, follow their gut. What makes these cop characters so entertaining is that we know that our guts are only right 25% of the time.

Questions to ponder:

  1. How were your feelings correct or incorrect for the situation?
  2. How well did your emotional intensity match the situation?
  3. What were you urged to do?

What Actions Led to Failure?

Urges plus decisions equal actions. The bad news is that your gut is only right 25% of the time. The good news is you can make a decision not to follow it.

So… “Trust your feelings, Luke” is not good advice. (Thanks, Obi-Wan). Instead of trusting your feelings, slow down and think. Your feelings may be correct. Your feelings may be in proportion to reality. Slowing down and thinking about it allows you to confirm.

Slowing down and thinking about how to respond to something is critical. It increases the chance that you will be right.

When you have failed, breaking down your thought process in hindsight is painful. It is also beneficial. Hindsight, by itself, is not 20/20. Otherwise, we would learn from our histories and not make the same mistake repeatedly.

In this process, it is good to armchair quarterback yourself. It is not fun, but it is good.

Analyzing our decisions with honesty protects us from repeating our mistakes. Here are the questions to consider for this step.

  1. What decisions did you make?
  2. What information did you consider in your decision?
  3. How long did you pause to think about the decision?
  4. What action did you take?

What Reactions Informed You of Failure?

Actions cause Reactions. Reactions happen in others and ourselves. Reactions include another set of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, urges, decisions, and actions within ourselves. We can only speculate about those things for other people unless we directly ask about them.

This could be crazy-making. You could start to see the endless cause and effect machine at play here. To avoid the crazy making, think of our discussion so far as the cause, and the reactions as effects.

Examining reactions requires you to make judgements about effectiveness and morality.

  1. How effective were your:
    1. Thoughts?
    2. Feelings?
    3. Urges?
    4. Decisions?
    5. Actions?
  2. How moral were your:
    1. Thoughts?
    2. Feelings?
    3. Urges?
    4. Decisions?
    5. Actions?

Examining reactions are the hardest part of this process. It is also the most valuable part. To do it best you need to involve trusted people in the process with you.

You might include a parent, a sibling, a pastor, or a counselor. The point is that you involve other people in the process. Do not do this alone.

Future Commitments

Reactions lead to commitments. Those commitments might be unconscious or conscious. Our goal is to make them conscious.

Failure is unavoidable. You can reduce the cost of failure by making commitments to change.

Fill in the blanks here:

  1. When I think… I will…
  2. When I feel… I will…
  3. When I want to… I will…
  4. When I choose to… I will…
  5. When I fail… I will…

If you have done the work involved here, you will have filled in the blanks in those commitments. To cement those commitments, write them down and put them where you will see them at least daily. Even better if you will see them many times a day.

Post them on your refrigerator. Carry them on a 3×5 card in your wallet. Tape them to your steering wheel. Write them on your bathroom mirror. Make them the desktop background on your computer.

These are your affirmations. These are your commitments not to repeat your past mistakes.


  1. What failures in your life have turned out to be blessings?
  2. When have you examined the reactions of others to your failure? What helped you to do it?
  3. What are your affirmations?

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