Catching Up

Posted on September 21, 2018


I guess you wonder where I’ve been.  I search to find the love within.  Bobby Caldwell

You can bend my ear.  We can talk all day.  But just make sure I’m around when you finally have something to say.  Toad the Wet Sprocket

The wonder of it all, Baby.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Paul McCartney

After their pastor retired, a church was looking for a new pastor.  After interviewing several candidates, the elders decided to call a young pastor just out of seminary.  On his first Sunday in the pulpit, the new pastor delivered a moving sermon on The Great Commandment (John 13:34-35) to love one another.  The congregation and elders were pleased.

The following Sunday to the surprise of the congregation, the new pastor delivered the exact same sermon.  This seemed odd and everyone assumed it must be some mistake.  Rather than embarrass the pastor, no one mentioned the error.

When on the third Sunday, the pastor again delivered the same sermon, the elders decided the situation needed to be discussed with the pastor.

“We noticed that each week you have given the same sermon.”

“That’s right.”

“We were just wondering, might you have some other material?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Do you know when we might get to hear it?”

“As soon as you implement the first sermon.”

As it has been several months since I updated my blog, I have started to get questions about my lack of writing.  There are a few reasons why I have neglected my blog.  1) I have been busy.  Keeping the blog going has generally been an in the gaps activity.  There have been fewer gaps.  Today, I had a couple of cancellations and my wife is off catching up with some friends from high school.  2) Perhaps the larger issue is the feeling that after 6 years of writing, I have in large part told you what I think.  If you implement that, you won’t need to hear anything new from me.  3) Some of the stuff I did write felt a little heavy handed so I didn’t put it out.  I thought I was starting to sound like Bob Newhart shouting, “Stop It.”[1]


In grad school discussing how we had handled crises in our lives, my faculty advisor had observed that my wife was my therapist.  He got no argument from me.  When discussing working with couples, she asks me, “Why can’t they just speak nicely to each other?”  Sometimes I sit with couples and I think the same thing.  It would be way cheaper than paying me to help you do it.  And I am way cheaper than divorce attorneys.

New clients often ask how many sessions marital therapy will take.  In your case, I have no idea.  The research indicates (and my experience would be consistent with the finding) that the effectiveness of marital therapy is not related to the level of distress the couple is in at the start of therapy.  Some very distressed couples respond very well and very quickly to therapy.

So what are the independent variables that impact success?

1) The relationship with the therapist.  If the clients feel that the therapist gets them, and the tasks the therapist has them do are relevant, therapy is more effective.  Whether it is me or any other therapist, if one of you feels like the therapist doesn’t get you, fired them and find someone who does.

2) The husband’s ability to handle his wife’s negative affect.  Ladies, let me let you in on a little secret.  Don’t tell anyone you heard it from me.  We are profoundly affected when you are angry or disappointed with us.  We also often lack much emotional vocabulary and experience.  You have us at a disadvantage.  When you are upset with us, we hear that we are not good enough.  We have been measured and found wanting.  When that message is coming from our wives, it is excruciating.  Our most common ways of coping with that feeling is either anger or withdraw.  Gentlemen, if you can engage when your wife is distressed and not make it about you, you can save a lot on therapy.[2]  Ladies, if you can be a little softer in your start up, it is easier for us to stay engaged.

3) The wife’s belief that the husband still loves her.  Making your wife feel loved by you is mission critical.  Just because you said so in the anniversary card is probably not going to carry the day.  Even saying it every day is not going to make it so if she does not have a sense that it is true.

So how long does it take?  Some couples are wrapping up our work together eight sessions in.  They are experiencing an increased level of marital satisfaction and are able to manage their conflict effectively.  Other couples still need my help to have a decent conversation after 6 months.

I always tell clients in our first session together that my mission is to work my way out of a job with you.  When you can do for yourselves what I do for you in session, you don’t need me anymore.

Here’s the bottom line, deeply distressed couples can get to a place where the relationship is satisfying for both of them.  Prior to therapy, it looks like your partner is the problem.  If you can both get away from that thinking and each of you do your part to respond constructively in love, you can make it better.

The answer is not divorcing and finding a better partner.  The answer is teaming up to make it better.  A friend of mine who is a retired pastor and professor has observed that “soulmates are not found; they are made.”  I agree.


I remember the timeline of my life based upon what music I was listening to at the time (and vice versa).  In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I got two albums for my birthday, One of These Nights by The Eagles and Venus and Mars by Paul McCartney and Wings.  The big hit from the Wings album was Listen to What the Man Said.  After 35 years with my wife, I think Paul got it right.  The wonder of it all, baby.  The wonder of it all, baby.  The wonder of it all, baby.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  That’s my prayer for every couple.


That’s enough rambling for today.  Thanks for your continued interest.

[1] If you don’t get the reference, look up “Bob Newhart Stop It” on your browser.

[2] Additionally, you will have a much more fulfilling sex life.  But that’s another story.