Our Pain

Thank you to those who have asked how my wife and I are doing.

We don’t know any way to say this except we are in pain. Our child is in pain and there is absolutely nothing we can do for them.

There are no details I can give. As some of you will no doubt come to learn of some of the details, please don’t ask me about them. I cannot talk about it.

But being an extravert, I cannot keep it all inside. So I do want to express this.

No matter what your child has done, no matter how far they are from you, no matter how much pain they are in, no matter how much you love them, you cannot take the pain away from them. They suffer. You suffer.

I lack the emotional bandwidth to care about anything else these days. I see my friends and colleagues courageously fighting battles for victims of pastoral abuse. I want to join in and help, but I can’t. I see my friends and colleagues working to bring total equality for women in the church, and I want to applaud and join in, but I can’t. I have nothing inside. I am a shell.

I cannot even care about a school shooting. I do not have a spare care lying around to spend.

It is possible I will be emotionally destitute for a long time. If you knew the situation, you would know I am not exaggerating.

I may not write again. Or for a long time. Or tomorrow. I don’t know.

Embracing Reality: Part 2 of the Myth of the Wonderful marriage

There are signs and then there are SIGNS.

This final premarital counseling session was a warning about disaster looming. This is the first wedding I had ever officiated or counseled someone about, and ten minutes into our time together, the bride-to-be looked at me and said, “I don’t think we should get married. This is a mistake.”

Up until that evening, they had both expressed positive feelings about getting married. Neither had voiced any real concerns about their relationship. In this session however, she pointed out a half dozen things she didn’t like about her fiance. Most of them were minor, especially the details of his personal hygiene.

At one point we heard a siren. It was the tornado warning. We trundled down to the shelter and waited until the all-clear. When we got back to the apartment, I wondered aloud if this warning was some kind of a sign. They both smiled. I went on to convince them they just had cold feet. Both of them finally agreed that despite their misgivings they still wanted to get married.

Two weeks later, we had a beautiful and uplifting ceremony. Immediately after the reception, they left on their honeymoon for two weeks. Since this was my first wedding as officiant, I wanted to know how they were doing as soon as they got back. I called the bride and casually asked how the trip went from her perspective.

“We’re getting an annulment Pastor Mike. So, I guess you could say it wasn’t a great trip.”

I could not convince her to stay married. Neither could the groom or her mother.

About a month after she applied and received the annulment, we sat down again and she went into more detail about her reasons. Surprisingly, neither her decision to get married nor her decision to annul the marriage was made hastily. The man she had intended marrying was a good man. He lived a moral and ethical life and she really liked him.

But there were several things about him she could not abide. Each day of the honeymoon, she asked herself one question repeatedly: “Could I live with this for 50 years?” Because she answered “no” too many times, she decided not to waste his time or hers on a marriage which would not work.

I asked her to list what she found objectionable about him. They were all variations of the same three categories: approach to money, their sex life, his personal hygiene. She noticed all these things before they got married (Note: don’t judge. They wanted to know if they were sexually compatible before marriage, despite the Church’s strictures against it. That was their choice). These grievances were the basis of her telling me at the premarital session she didn’t want to get married. She apologized for heeding me and going through with it even with her doubts.

At the time, I was only recently married myself, and I didn’t know her decision may have been based upon a very faulty premise. She believed these incompatibilities were insurmountable and would bother her all their married life. I wish I could have that proverbial Time Machine and go back to give her the wisdom I have garnered through time and experience. Here’s what I would tell her:

Almost every couple on earth is incompatible. It takes several years to clear a lot of that up. Many couples are very successful at doing that; some are not.

Couples endure a great deal of pain in the first year of their marriage. Most experienced couples will not tell you that hard truth. You will enjoy the first year of marriage, but not as much as you hope you will. I am not exaggerating. Even the couples who tell you they have an amazing relationship are probably smoothing over the bumps in the road. Here is what I have learned in 40 years of counseling:

  • You will fight about stupid things
  • You won’t enjoy sex as much as you hoped or expected
  • You and your partner will have emotional reactions which make no sense to either of you. But the reactions will be intense
  • There will be moments you wonder if you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life
  • You will learn how committed you actually are to your old daily routines. As a result, you will learn how much you resent this other person ruining all those routines
  • They will not smell, look, or sound as good as they used to while dating. Get ready for morning and weekend realities
  • It is not so much that your spouse’s family will bother you. It is the completely different approaches you each will want to take toward your own family which will cause marital tensions

I am going to stop here lest I hinder any of my readers from getting married. I recently made the list of incompatibilities most young married couples face, and I had a list of over 60 items. And I’m sure the list is completely incomplete.

Dr. Alex Lickerman eloquently states the problem:

Though every situation is different, though relationships are exceedingly complex, and though undoubtedly some couples shouldn’t remain together, a more likely explanation for why couples split than one or both partners actually changed (though, of course, that sometimes does happen) is that one or both partners lost their ability to tolerate their incompatibilities.

Of course, the reason I’m writing this article is to help you deal with these incompatibilities. In order to do that, let’s look at two very common ones as examples, and then I will show how you can walk through them.

(Obligatory blogger note: This section contains a mildly graphic description of marital sex. If that bothers you, please stop reading.)

Jess and Penny came back from their honeymoon so excited about making a life together. On the honeymoon, they had sex twice daily, or more. It was everything Jess hoped it would be. They had a book of sexual positions and they tried out about 20 of them. They decided on half a dozen they liked. They both enjoyed sex and had no problems with performance or orgasmic completion. So far, so good.

One thing they tried was oral sex. Neither of them had ever done it before so their inexperience hindered their pleasure. But because it was featured prominently in the book, they kept trying it. Eventually, they figured some things out and it was mildly pleasant for both of them. At least, that is what they told each other.

Penny actually had a huge problem with Jess performing oral sex on her. She felt he would think she smelled badly and she couldn’t shake that thought. The more they had oral sex, the more she resented it. She tried telling him and he assured her that he was fine with everything. And he was telling the truth.

The problem was, she didn’t really believe him.

When they came home from the honeymoon, they continued having sex most days. Jess wanted it a little more often than Penny, but they bargained together regarding frequency and settled their difference. However, Jess kept insisting that oral sex be part of their sexual menu. Penny didn’t want to cause problems so early in their marriage so she went along. But she resented Jess even more for making her do it.

In her resentment, she began coming up with excuses to avoid sex. He sensed this was happening, and he got angry. He didn’t want to argue about sex, so he nit picked her cooking, her choice of clothing in the morning, even her laugh. His passive-aggressive approach annoyed her so much she started openly refusing to have sex with him. One week, they only had sex once and Jess was sure their marriage was doomed.

By the end of the first year of marriage, they came in to see me for counseling, totally defeated and completely sure they had made a mistake marrying each other.

Tony and Brenda both loved to cook. They married later in life, yet it was the first marriage for both of them. In planning for their life together, they decided they had enough money to buy a new home. They spent a large amount of their discretionary money on the kitchen and what would go into it.

Tony loved barbecue and saw himself as a Bobby Flay clone. Brenda was a Pescatarian who loved to cook with oriental sauces and spices. Yet, even though they liked different foods, this wasn’t their problem.

Tony was a neat freak and Brenda was a slob. Before they got married, she had a cleaning woman come in twice a week to clean up after her. On the other hand, Tony scrubbed every surface after using it, keeping cleaning materials in the kitchen. He regularly seasoned his cast-iron frying pans (he owned four of them). Brenda loved her copper Calphalon pans. But she could go days without washing them out.

A few weeks after they got married, they threw a dinner party for 20 and did all the cooking themselves. The party ended at midnight and Brenda was so tired she went straight to bed. At 2 am Tony flopped into bed beside her making a lot of noise. He was supremely angry at her. She had left him to clean up the entire mess from the party. He started a fight with her and called her a bunch of names. The only word she heard was Slob. And, the war was on.

Her favorite epithet for him during the early weeks of marriage was “OCD”. Every time he took out the “409” cleaner, she winced. Every time she threw a pan into the sink, he groaned. They both ignored the other. He even tried to do all the cleaning of the pots and pans. But he worked late three nights a week, and when he came home the kitchen was a mess. He was an emotional person and didn’t hide his emotions about her sloppiness.

Many nights, one or the other went to bed in tears. After six months of this, they did a trial separation of a few weeks, but found they really did miss each other. After coming back together, they came to see me for counseling. They really did want to have a good marriage, but they were not able to overcome their incompatibility in cleanliness.

Whether it is the kitchen or the bedroom, whether the checking account or the type of perfume, whether the way anger is shown or the way love is not shown, all of these incompatibilities are hard to overcome. Every problem imaginable has ended someone’s marriage somewhere. If couples entered the first year of marriage armed with a few truths, they would do a much better job of weathering the storm.

So with Jess and Penny, Tony and Brenda, I went over these principles and both couples found, to their relief, that the knowledge helped them move forward. Both couples are still married and from what I can tell, enjoying their spouses.

Here is what I go over with couples getting married. If you are already married, read this as a couple and see if you can relate to this.

  1. Incompatibility Exists With Every Couple: There are many ways you are incompatible. Of course, there are also many ways in which you are compatible. If there weren’t items of commonality you would not have been attracted for long to each other. But the ways you differ from each other are going to make you angry and sad. They will feel insurmountable (remember the couple from the beginning of this article?). It is best to be realistic right from the start. On the honeymoon, come to an agreement that you will lower your expectations for this first year of marriage. It will take much adjusting to each other. At least weekly, you must have a meeting with each other where you address your incompatibilities. I will lay out what that meeting looks like in the next article.
  2. Resentment is The Biggest Enemy in this first year: When Penny noticed Jess discounting her shyness about intimate odor, she resented him. She acted out on her resentment regularly after that. He resented the way she acted out and carried his own resentment. The two of them ping-ponged their resentment back and forth until that is all they could focus upon. In another article in this series, we will address what to do about that.
  3. You BOTH must actively modify your old routines when entering marriage. Your daily routines are the hardest elements of your old life before marriage to change. But now you share a life together. You cannot expect your partner to just go along with your routine. This takes negotiation to figure out a compatible routine and then compromise to work it out. This will have to be done again as each child comes along, and then again in a smaller way when one of you gets a new job. We will look at the Negotiation and Compromise process in another article in this series.
  4. You Trigger Each other: All of us carry into marriage false beliefs, inaccurate ideas, and emotional hurts that have not been fully processed. These are like open wounds just waiting for our spouses to pour salt into. The three couples mentioned in this article triggered each other’s brokenness regularly. The first couple gave up long before they could help each other. The other two learned the skill of how to help the other in a triggered state. In our last article in this series, we will go through how to have the skill of working out our triggers.

By far, the most common areas of incompatibility in the first year are:

  • How money is spent
  • Sex: how often, when, where, and how.
  • Children and birth control
  • Food, its preparation and type
  • Personal hygiene
  • Expressing anger
  • Making decisions
  • Daily routines
  • Dealing with families
  • Bringing work home
  • Habits
  • Choice of friends
  • Pornography
  • Video games
  • Telling the truth

Marriage is a bold adventure. But the first few miles of this adventure can destroy you if you don’t navigate them well. Some couples don’t even last two weeks.

In the next article, we will talk about how to discuss marital differences in a format which moves toward compromises and solutions.

How Husband-Points are Awarded

When I teach occasionally on marriage and the pitfalls of two people living that closely with each other, the subject of Husband Points invariably comes up. That’s because I bring the subject up, fairly often. So, in the interest of education and boredom, allow me to elucidate on this important subject that may save the life of some men and the sanity of many women.

Husband Points are similar to Airline Credit Card points except Husband Points are both acquired and spent much differently. Rather than try and define Husband Points, I will describe some example point accruals and this will help get the point across.

Examine this picture and interchange: In the picture, the boy (let’s say it is the Husband for the sake of this demonstration), will be awarded 80 Husband Points by our impartial jury (made up of men who just watched 27 Dresses for the third time and women who have returned from a wine-tasting trip).  The point breakdown goes as follows:

  • 2 points for the obvious and welcome compliment
  • 2 points for getting the girls’ attention off her looks
  • 2 points for using humor
  • 2 points for mentioning pregnancy with compassion and empathy
  • 72 points for NOT mentioning PMS, the huge zit on her chin, how she finished an entire bag of chocolates, that last visit from her successful sorority sister, the magazine she’s reading, the inaccuracy of the bathroom scale, or the name of a local gym.

Does Marriage Counseling Work?

I sat with my wife at our assigned table for the graduation reception with other students and professors of the nursing faculty. I quickly learned I was the only spouse in this group, and therefore the only “civilian” in medical terms. Graciously, they ignored me, knowing I had little to add to their discussions and plans. They spoke of going on to Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates, the profs trying to convince the students to continue on at the Alma Mater. I threw in a comment occasionally, content to let my wife carry the conversation .

Then she left to run an errand. At that moment, they all noticed me simultaneously. One asked what I did for a living. Since I do several things, I mentioned all of them. When I said “writer” no one responded. To academics, a writer is simply an opinionator without credentials. Then I tried “Pastor”. They smiled politely at that. None of them were interested in religious types. But when I said “counselor” they all seemed to perk up as a group. One gregarious young Master of Nursing Administration graduate piped in: “Oh you mean an MFT” (Marriage and Family Therapy). I politely told her no…I don’t do marriage counseling.

“Why not?” she summarily accused.

Not only was our table looking at me, but several members of the next table were deserting their conversations to listen in. I had a ready audience. So I plunged ahead.

“I don’t think marriage counseling works. In fact, I know it doesn’t. The statistics prove it.” I threw in that last sentence to get them all off the track. Just minutes before, they had all been saying how Statistics was their least favorite college course. I hoped they would get sidetracked on that discussion again and ignore me. No they didn’t.

One of the multi-doctorate professors said, “You’ll have to explain yourself young man”. I instantly liked her. I hadn’t been called a young man since … well, around the time I was one.

“Researchers have found” (always good to start a comment to academics with this phrase) that more people will get divorced if they go to marriage counseling than if they don’t. ”

One of the grads asked, “why do you think that is?”

“Part of the problem lies in the standard format for Marriage Counseling. Traditional three-way counseling involves two people with marriage problems meeting with a counselor they hope will have solutions. Only, that is not why they are there and that is not what happens. What happens is the two of them spend most sessions convincing the counselor they are the righteous party, the injured party or the misunderstood one. And no matter how the counselor wants to claim they don’t take sides, no human being can help believing one person over the other. ” These learned scholars and their teachers were in rapt attention (or comatose) so I took that as a sign to continue.

“The counseling continues until one of the marriage partners deduces they are being identified as the one most to blame. They then drop out and the other marriage partner goes to a few more sessions alone. After that, they usually separate.”

“So is it hopeless?” asked another prof.

“Not if you take a different approach.” My wife returned at that moment, and I decided to include all of them in on the discussion. “Can you imagine if all of you were working in a hospital and realized that a particular procedure was making patients worse instead of better. What would you do?” They discussed the options for a moment as my wife looked at me quizzically. I winked at her and remained quiet until I realized they had come to a consensus.

“We would probably seek to change the way we were doing the procedure until it worked” said the nursing prof who considered me a young man. God bless her.

“That’s what a number of counselors have done. They realized the real difficulty is that no two people have the same marriage story. Even a married couple who come to counseling have different stories about seemingly the same marriage. And for the most part, there is no way to make their stories sync with each other. It is as if they experienced a different marriage. There’s a good reason for this: they have!”

I saved my best line for last: “The truth is, marriages aren’t in trouble – People are. The best a counselor can do is work with them on the details of their story and facilitate them coming to a place of health and it will bring aspects of their marriage into a healthier place.”

We then talked a little about a subject I like to talk a lot on. Most people have hidden motives for going to a marriage counselor. Once they discover in one-on-one counseling what their hidden motives are, they usually are much  more open to solving the systemic problems in the relationship.

In the next article, I will go through the hidden motives themselves. But I was pleased to have several of the profs and students tell me at the end how glad they were to have heard what I had to say. The gregarious red-headed student even said at the end, “You’ve ruined me now…you know that.”

Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 2

In the late 70s and early 80s a group of well-meaning Christian leaders formed an ad hoc accountability group. Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham, along with Ern Baxter met regularly to hold each other to certain ethical and moral standards. They were independent church pastors and yearned for the accountability of denominational allegiance.

More and more pastors from around the country joined with them and each of these men helped their “lines” to form these groups. Soon however, these groups went beyond accountability and eventually they devolved into control. Shepherding went from the pastoral level to the congregational level. Church leaders were soon given authority to tell people exactly how to live their lives.

They could direct how much they gave to the church, where they could live, who they could associate with, and even who they could marry. Some groups went even further, and abuse situations were common. Cults were even formed as groups like Community Chapel ruined the lives of many.

At the same time, many evangelicals continued to practice strict authoritarian methodologies at the local church level, even if they didn’t resort to the extremes of the Shepherding movement. Over the years, I have been involved with holding churches and individual accountable for how they abused their authority over their members. Continue reading “Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 2”

Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 1

22 months into my first assignment as a pastor and I was smacked in the head with a horrible story of pastoral sin. I had no idea what to do with it.

I had been hired as an assistant pastor of a 100 year old church in Canada. The senior pastor believed this old church could use some young blood as we moved out of the old downtown location to a brand new one on the edge of the suburbs. I had no idea I was to be cast as the new lead pastor within two years of coming on staff.

After he announced his resignation, one morning he came into my office and slapped down a two-inch thick folder on my desk. “You need to read this before agreeing to take on this job” he told me. He voiced it in such an ominous way, I was afraid to crack the cover.

After I had read the contents thoroughly three days later, I was very sorry I had done so.

This folder contained just a summary of the events scattered over three years. This had happened over 20 years previous, but the repercussions were still being felt by that congregation. Here is the summary.

The pastor of the church was an internationally-known speaker and writer. The church had over 1500 members, qualifying it as a mega-church in its day. One of the older ladies, a widow, had asked the pastor to help her with putting together the details of her will. About six months later, she passed away. Continue reading “Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 1”

Combining Blogs together

Dear Reader:

Some of you are wondering if I’m the same Mike Phillips that used to post at both theopengates.com and natomaschurch.wordprss.com.

I am.

I owned both of those sites and this one, as well as my business site mikephillipsministry.com. I have decided to move in a different direction and I’m consolidating all the blogs to this one.

This blog will continue to promote the following three concepts:

1. The dangers of Patriarchy and the exciting possibilities as we enter a new era of gender cooperation.

2. Concepts related to counseling and protecting victims of abuse

3. The beauty of God’s image stamped in each person, and what that implies regarding violence and pacifism.

I believe these three concepts have not been given enough notice in today’s church. Oh yes, there have been crusaders for all three–valiant people all–who have toiled away on the fringes of God’s family, telling us about these things happening. But now is the day when prophetic and justice-minded people are standing up in the center of churches to say “Listen Carefully”.

Thus, this blog.