Thursday, April 30, 2009

Personal Responsibility (and You)

I have been thinking lately about the idea of personal responsibility. It seems that so many of the problems in living we encounter come back to errors in this area. Usually there are two extremes; ignoring personal responsibility or overdoing it. As an example of the first extreme: imagine a fight between a wife and husband. What prolongs the argument and makes it a several hour (or several day) event? One or both won't take personal responsibility for their actions. They can't just admit "OK, I have big problems with you, but I too messed up and I have no excuse for it. I'm sorry for doing/saying ______." The longer it takes for both people to get to that point the longer the fight takes.

If a couple gets into a half-decent fight it is almost inevitable that by the end both will have done something wrong. Either the fight is because of something one said/did/interpreted and which precipitated the fight or one will have reacted badly in some way during the argument. Since we can't control the other person, we are left with only the ability to influence them. When we let go of trying to make other person see it our way and concentrate on what we can do by taking responsibility for our actions, it's possible to move towards resolution. So many couples get caught in the trap of sitting back and waiting for the other person to take personal responsibility first. Our biased sense of justice propels us to ignore that little voice in the back of our heads "Psst . . . we did something wrong too." If you are part of a couple who fights alot, there's a good chance both of you have a problem with taking personal responsibility for your actions. If only one of you changes and starts to take responsiblity for their actions, you will probably cut down the number and length of your fights by 40%. If both of you do this, you will cut down the time and number of your fights by 80 or 90%. That's the power of taking personal responsibility for your actions.

The other extreme is the person who takes on too much personal responsiblity. This is like the parent who blames themself repeatedly because they "let" their child be abused by a family member. Did they really "let" them? No. But they blame themselves. They should have done something to stop it. They should have seen that the family member had issues. "But I was responsible to protect him," the guilt ridden parent laments several years later. By refusing to allow some responsibility to fall onto others, they overburden themselves with unrealistic guilt that does nothing to erase the past or help them (or those they love) move on. Pastors can also have issues with overresponsibility, feeling and believing they are personally responsible for the spiritual growth of their congregation. Many burn out as they face the impossible task of keeping over a hundred people on the straight and narrow. We need to stop labeling such devotion as admirable and start calling it what it is; an error in thinking.

Personally I have to be careful of myself leaning towards both extremes, especially in my marriage (underresponsiblity for my actions towards my wife) and as a counselor (overresponsiblity for the health and recovery of my clients). It's not always easy and I have erred many times but I think I'm making progress. Two books that have helped me a lot with this are ones I've mentioned before, Boundaries and Choice Theory. May we all find that balance and help others to do so as well. Having a healthy understanding of where our personal responsibility starts and where it ends might be one of the most helpful gifts we can ever find.

May Light increase!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

40 Days

I was looking for a new book to read and as I was perusing my bookshelf my eyes suddenly rested upon The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. I've never been a big fan of this book but I decided that I'm going to read it again. So I've committed to reading it for the next 40 days and seeing what happens. The thing I do like about it is that Warren points out the power of living according to God's purposes for us - purposes that give one meaning for life. You'd be amazed at how many people who come to see a counselor mention that their life feels devoid of purpose and meaning. Sometimes I too feel that way (I don't feel bad, Solomon did too) and I like the reminder that life does have meaning, if you are a Christ follower. Perhaps I'll share some of the things that impact me as I'm reading it . . .

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Delightfully Disgusting

The short story is very much an under appreciated art form. Today I read this one and was very impressed both with the story and the artwork. I laughed, felt queasy, was thoroughly disgusted, and was also delighted and drawn into a story written by someone with a gift for writing. If you are queasy, easily offended by language, don't like frankly described bathroom scenes, or a hypochondriac please don't click on the link. This 2004 short story by Vincent Eaton tells of his experience with, wait for it . . . a tapeworm. You may not eat sushi for while after reading it! Here's a little preview:

I headed directly to the pharmacist, purchased the pill, took it home, created an altar, placed it there and worshipped it for forty-five minutes as the answer to all my dreams and prayers. “Oh mighty pill, death to the demon residing within…”

Next morning I popped out of bed, got myself a glass of water, removed the pill from its altar cushion, placed it on my tongue, closed my eyes, and swallowed, declaring, “Take that, monster of the deep! You neverending strand of unspooling spaghetti!” I smacked my lips and thought that was that.

It wasn’t.

The story concludes with an invitation to share your stories of parasites. There are dozens of pages of contributions. It's called "The Worm Within" and I don't know how enlightening it is, but it did make me think about things I had never thought of before!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Surprisingly Interesting

I was worried. This past Sunday the speaker for the day was introduced. At first I thought she was a missionary and I was sad as missionaries are not always the most eloquent speakers (and are often quite frankly to me boring). Then, to my horror I heard she was actually a missionary but someone who did work for our denomination supporting missionaries. "Nooooooo!" I screamed inwardly anticipating an even worse experience then I had dared to think before. I prepared myself for the worst . . . and was pleasantly surprised.

I can't remember everything she shared but I know that I found several things she said quite interesting. One especially stood out. First, said that our denomination had been surveying our overseas missionaries as part of their commitment to helping each missionary come up with a "health plan:" a plan for them to maintain physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological health. The survey asked a question that went something like this:

Imagine God sitting down and thinking specifically about you. What is the first thing that comes to your mind that He would be feeling towards you?

Our speaker said that the surveyors were surprised to find a high amount of people said that the first word they thought of was "disappointment." Many others said "anger." This troubled me immensely - our missionaries are out there trying to share the love of God but are not feeling it themselves? When 4 or 5 friends had gathered after the service I mentioned that I had been shocked by the survey results. What then shocked me even more was that 2 of the 5 of us mentioned immediately that they too thought the same things!

I guess there are lots of people who may believe in a forgiving Father, but often feel God's condemnation more then his love and grace. I certainly don't want to judge anyone but I wonder how many millions of Christians are out there feeling and thinking the same thing? And more importantly, what can we do about it? If you do the experiment, what words come to your mind?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Some of My Favorite Verses

Just like asking someone what kind of car is their favorite (or what kind of food) tells you something about them, I like asking people what their favorite Bible verse is (or verses). Here are some of my favorite's (in my favorite Bible version, the NIV):

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
-Philippians 4:8
(I like this one because it challenges me to transform my mind and not let it dwell on that which is contrary to where the Spirit wishes me to go. There is almost not a day that goes by that this verse comes to mind!)

"There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden."
-Proverbs 30:18-19 NIV

(These verses capture the beauty and mystery of romantic love. If Solomon couldn't figure it out, I figure it is OK for me to not have to understand it either. Instead I wish to celebrate, feed, and enjoy it.)

Of course there are lots more verses that I enjoy but these ones always stick out in my mind. How about you?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Children Learn What They Live

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Excerpted from the book CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE by Dorothy Law Nolte (1924 - 2005)

I have always found this poem moving, convicting, and inspiring. I want to to be a better Dad. Some times I just need the reminder . . .

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Got A Bike?

To me, spring is about getting back on one's bike so to speak. I mean this literally and non-literally. I am getting so excited about biking again! Also spring is about getting back into exercise, discipline, and health after a long winter. To inspire you to get off your duff and get on a bike, here's a video I recently saw on neatorama:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Would You Want To Know?

Imagine the scene; you and a friend are at a favorite hang out for coffee. You are enjoying reconnecting and sharing with one of your favorite people. Conversations hops all over the place and eventually drifts into pleasant random thoughts about dreams, spirituality, and eventually, relationships. After a peaceful lull in talking, you friend looks at you with a faint smile and says:

"Let me ask you a question. Pretend a friend you know fairly well knows a secret about your spouse: five years ago they cheated on you. You spouse has worked it all through - they are sorry, ended things with the other person long ago, and now fully committed to you and your marriage. And your relationship currently is happy and the best it's ever been. Would you want to know? About the affair that is. Would you want that person to tell you, knowing the pain and damage that could result?"

What would you say?

Monday, April 20, 2009


This is my 714th blog post. Amazing! I persevered through the 5 stages of blogging and am feeling quite swell about it. Also, I've decided to post daily but be "closed on weekends" so expect about 5 posts a week for the time being. As always, feel free to let me know what you like/don't like about the blog. Adieu!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Review: Inside Steve's Brain

Book Review: Inside Steve's Brain by Leander Kahney

Whether you love Apple or hate it, it's hard not to be impressed by their CEO, Steve Jobs. This short book is kind of a overview on what make's Jobs so effective as a leader. What makes him tick? There are other, better books out there chronicling his life story but this one focuses on the lessons we can learn to become more successful leaders ourselves. Part adoring and part condemning, the book looks at the personality traits and characteristic of Jobs that have helped him make Apple (and Pixar) into the powerhouses they are. If you own Apple products of any kind, it's an interesting read as you find out how deeply involved Jobs is with the making of each and every product. Mostly though, I was left with the question; is it worth it to have a boss who you are both in love with and afraid of at the same time? Would I want to work for him? My answer: no. Yet I'm a hypocrite because even though I know Jobs is cruel, I can't help but be seduced by the beautiful works of technological art that his company produces. Doh! Can one produce extraordinary creations without being a jerk? I hope so. Until then, I guess we'll have to put up with Jobs. This was an entertaining book, but one I'd borrow from the library instead of purchasing. I rate it 3.7 ninja stars out of 5.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Accepting Your Spouse's Influence

John Gottman, a marital researcher, has studied what makes marriages work for several decades. In his book The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work he states that one important indicator of a successful marriage is how much each person lets the other influence them. What exactly is accepting your' spouse's influence? Essentially it is this: letting your spouse influence your decision making by taking their opinions and feelings into account. It is an attitude of respect that says "I wouldn't think of making a decision without you agreeing to it." Similar to the policy of joint agreement, Gottman shows that marriages where both spouses let the other influence them are the ones that have a much better then average chance of surviving and thriving. Couples who don't respect their partner's influence tend to have power struggles which increase their conflict and unhappiness.

Women seem to be more emotionally intelligent in this area as a whole (although I know plenty of women who refuse to let their husband influence them). Men, perhaps as a result of social conditioning, misapplication of theology, etc. seem to have difficulty accepting the sharing of power. Research has shown that the wives of men who accept their influence are far less likely to be harsh with their husbands when broaching a difficult marital topic.

So how do you stack up? I find that in therapy many people are not truly aware of how little they let their partner influence them - or how it's affecting their marriage. Try the following quiz taken from Gottman's book:

Accepting Influence Questionnaire

Directions: Read each statement and circle T for True and F for False.

1. I am really interested in my partner’s opinions on our basic issues. T F
2. I usually learn a lot from my partner even when we disagree. T F
3. I want my partner to feel that what he or she says really counts with me. T F
4. I generally want my partner to feel influential in this relationship. T F
5. I can listen to my partner, but only up to a point. T F
6. My partner has a lot of basic common sense. T F
7. 1 try to communicate respect even during our disagreements. T F
8. If I keep trying to convince my partner, I will eventually win out. T F
9. I don’t reject my partner’s opinions out of hand. T F
10. My partner is not rational enough to take seriously when we discuss our issues. T F
11. 1 believe in lots of give and take in our discussions. T F
12. I am very persuasive and usually can win arguments with my partner. T F
13. I feel I have an important say when we make decisions. T F
14. My partner usually has good ideas. T F
15. My partner is basically a great help as a problem solver. T F
16. I try to listen respectfully, even when I disagree. T F
17. My ideas for solutions are usually much better than my partner’s. T F
18. I can usually find something to agree with in my partner’s position. T F
19. My partner is usually too emotional. T F
20. I am the one who needs to make the major decisions in this relationship. T F

Scoring: Give yourself one point for each True answer, except for questions 5, 8, 10, 12, 17, 19, 20. Subtract one point for each True answer to questions 5, 8, 10, 12, 17, 19, 20.

6 or above: This is an area of strength in your relationship. You willingly share power with your partner, a hallmark of an emotionally intelligent relationship.

Below 6: Your relationship could stand some improvement in this area. You are having some difficulty accepting influence from your partner, which can cause a relationship to become dangerously unstable.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book Review: Collapse of Distinction

Book Review: Collapse of Distinction by Scott McKain

Collapse of Distinction is a business manifesto - a call to action challenging readers that in an economy that is not doing well making your business distinct is one of the best ways to survive and thrive. The author, Scott McKain makes a compelling case.

The book begins (and ends) with the story of two restaurants in a small town. When McDonald's moves into the area, both restaurants try to react. One adapts and does well, the other dies. McKain shows how differentiating one's service, product, etc. will aid your business in growing and doing well and that simply following the crowd is the lazy businessman's route to mediocrity and eventually bankruptcy. The wisdom of the author is that he approaches the need to be distinct from a customer's perspective and shows you why simply trying to match and make incremental improvements on one's product/service is not enough to differentiate your business from your competition. It struck me that everything he was saying was common sense but that many (most) businesses would be too afraid to take the kind of risks that are necessary for success. But his case studies and stories illustrate the truth - one must differentiate or one will not succeed.

McCain manages to mix easily applied concepts (with a plan on how to achieve them) with stories and illustrations in a way that the reader is not bored or lost. Although there were certain areas where I wish he had gone into more detail, overall he seemed to cover his topic and achieve the aims of the book. While I don't think that differentiation is the only aspect necessary to have a successful business I do think it is one that is often put on the back burner. I was encouraged as an entrepreneur and recommend this book highly to anyone in business or thinking of starting one. 4 ninja stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

50 Things Every 18 Year Old Should Know

50 Things Every 18 Year Old Should Know

I found this list and liked it. I don't agree with everything on it, but I liked it's practical wisdom. Just think of the terrible issues you could avoid if you took this list to heart! And if you're younger/older then 18 I think most of this list could still change your life . . . if you let it. I'm going to reflect on it for the week. A few of the ones I really liked:

7) "Don't have any children or get married until you can support and love yourself first." -- D-Vega

24) Don't ever loan your friends money if you want to keep them as friends. After all, if they were good with money and were likely to pay you back in a timely manner, they probably wouldn't need the loan in the first place. If they really need the money, you want to help them, and you can afford it -- just give it to them.

35) "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." - Jim Rohn

43) At a minimum, keep a basic "to do" list, a schedule, and a budget.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Choosing Health

What never ceases to fascinate me is my penchant for choosing things that are basically "unhealthy" for me. I was thinking about it again this weekend as I reflected on my past few week. We live in an age where information about how to extend and live a healthier life has never been easier to access. We know tons about nutrition, exercise, meaningful relationships, spiritual vitality, sleep, psychology, disease, finances, stress, addiction, etc . . . yet we still consistently choose things that are not healthy for us. At least I do.

So what makes us do this? Is it our sinful nature? Our lack of self-esteem? An unconscious death wish? Our dysfunctional relationships? The inability to truly understand the nature of delayed gratification? Or maybe it's just pure laziness?

I know what a healthy day should look like for me yet I consistently choose to do exactly the opposite. I waste the time I do have avoiding what I know is good for me! Ironic. I'm not beating myself up or anything, I'm simply stating reality. My goal for the rest of this month is going to be to:

1. Journal in my planner how many times every day I choose healthier vs unhealthier choices.
2. Increase my healthy choices by at least 25% and see if it makes much of a difference on my well-being.

I don't want to always choose health but I do want to choose health more. Of course balancing different healthy choices will be difficult as they may conflict occasionally. What should be really interesting (and perhaps the best part of this experiment) will be to hopefully be more aware of why and how I avoid choosing health. If I can find out what stops me, I can change those things and hopefully lead a healthier, wiser, more enjoyable life. Perhaps facing what holds me back will be tougher then actually choosing the better choices . . .

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dramatic Words

I enjoy the use of dramatic words. The way words and ideas expertly joined together can convey powerful thoughts and emotions is a beautiful thing. I have always thought that the most dramatic words (on every level) ever spoken belonged to Jesus. There were only three of them, but every time I read them I am moved by their power:

"It is finished."

Yup, gets me every time. Have a joyous Easter!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Ethics of Venting

“The words of gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
-Proverbs 18:8

I was emailing a friend yesterday about the possible differences between venting and gossiping. How do you stop venting from becoming gossip (or slander)? How do you tell the difference? Most people agree that we should be able to vent our frustrations, feelings, etc. in some healthy way. If we don't it gets bottled up until eventually it comes out in unhappy ways. But how do you protect your venting from becoming gossip or slander? I think its a slippery slope and I have seen way too many Christian teams, churches, families, and friendships slip off the mountain without even realizing what happened to them (and I'm guilty of it myself).

What are the ethics of sharing one's frustrations with others who are not directly involved? How can we vent without talking to people behind their backs? What are the ethics involved? I'm curious to hear what others think as it is something that affects us all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Not In The Club?

We live in a townhouse on a bay. It is almost like it's own little village and all the kids on the bay get to know each other. The other day, some of them built a fort (and a club) which both our kids were invited to join. All was bliss - for about a day.

Yesterday I found out that both my kids had been kicked out of the club. Ouch! Both had come crying to our door, hoping Mom would make it better. The reasons for the expulsion from the club weren't really important. The fact is when you have a club it seems infinitely more fun if some people aren't allowed in it. It is our human nature and sometimes that nature takes something positive (a group of people getting together) and wrecks it (denying people access, kicking them out, blackmailing them, etc). This is the lesson about human nature that my kids learnt. We all want to belong and when we get the message that we don't . . .ouch.

I was intrigued with Trinity's reaction though. She came crying to the house but when Jobina started to reassure her that is was OK, Trinity interrupted her and said "I don't really want to be in their club anyway." Then she grabbed a friend and went and did her own thing. I think she was wise to see that the rewards for belonging to that particular group weren't worth it for all the pain it would cause. She chose to let it go.

Sound familiar? We may all be older, but I think we still have the tendency to want to belong to our exclusive clubs. What group are you trying to get in to (or trying to stop from being kicked out of)? Even churches and ministries can get like this, which is ironic. I was thinking about how at my church I have sometimes felt like for the past two years I have not been in on any "clubs" (mostly my own fault) and how that felt. Now suddenly I feel like I am in some clubs, and I'm worried that I'll start unconsciously keeping people out. Why would I do this? Because it's our human nature - even in the church. I challenge you - are you at a place where you are someone who is letting people in or keeping them out? Or maybe you need to say "I don't really want to be in their club anyway" and go find other friends to play with. If this resonates with you, do something about it.

May Light increase!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I'm Watching You Dad

Wow, this really got to me.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Don't Panic!

Well, we are into a recession.

I haven't blogged much about this much because I feel like I'm still waiting it out. How bad is this thing? Perception is in the eye of the beholder. For me it doesn't seem too bad. As a counselor, bad economic times don't really affect me much (in fact, bad times may actually increase the number of people seeking counseling). My other short term job (as adjunct faculty at Prov) isn't really effected either although there have been recent layoffs of some full time faculty. My rental property is still going strong and my equity in my houses hasn't been affected too badly (if at all) as Winnipeg/Manitoba has one of the strongest real estate markets in Canada right now. Seriously there are still lots of "offer to purchase on ____" out there which says that although we aren't in a seller's market, we aren't in a buyer's market here either. Most of the time I feel fairly secure in things. I am quite interested to see how many companies are "culled" by the forces of capitalism though. Will GM and Chrysler die? Fascinating (although morbid) stuff. I thank God that I have never invested in stocks though!

How's this recession thing affecting you? What are you seeing?

I recently read The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams which is an excellent book. His advice, which I am trying to take to heart and is pasted in big letters on the outside of the mythical book is "Don't Panic!" Simple and good advice. The book itself is amazing; a piece of genius writing really. The fact that the title was conceived by the author as he lay drunk in a field somewhere in England fits perfectly with the overall feel of the book. It was the first sci-fi comedy and its written in a deliciously dry British wit. What really impresses is the creativity that the author has and how he plays with existential and scientific themes in ways that are completely unforseeable. Seriously, every serious reader should read this book at least once. A "trilogy in four parts," the first parts are the best. When you read it, you get the same kind of sense as when you read Lord of The Rings for the first time; everyone has copied this. So many of the ideas/concepts in Hitchhiker were borrowed by other authors. And isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Anyway, I think "Don't panic" applies to almost everything. How can panicking ever help you? Panic is a poor substitution for thinking and acting. Panic is like a favorite short term coping mechanism. Like alcohol, one night stands, drugs, porn, or overeating; it feels good enough to help you forget/dull the pain/numb the emptiness but eventually you come back to real life and your problems are still there. I feel for the many people who have lost money in investments or even lost their jobs - this is a painful time. But solutions will present themselves to even those who are hardest hit - it's not the end of the world. Right?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Jar

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.

When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course,the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house
and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked! It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Policy of Joint Agreement: Part 2

(More thoughts on the Policy of Joint Agreement from Dr. Willard Harley)

The first few weeks following the Policy of Joint Agreement are definitely the hardest, because that's when incompatible habits and activities are first identified for termination, and that's when the termination begins. As a couple takes a critical look at their entire lifestyle, evaluating which elements of it are not acceptable to one of them, they may find fifty or more problem areas. Sometimes the results of that early analysis seem so overwhelming that couples don't know where to begin. Then, when they tackle the very first item on the list, resentment rears its ugly head. When couples first tackle their incompatibility head-on, it can seem very discouraging.

Let's talk about how incompatibility is created. It begins when one spouse does something in his or her own best interest that's not in the other spouse's best interest. An example is having an affair. People have an affair because it meets their emotional needs and makes them feel good. The fact that the affair hurts their spouse does not deter them. An affair creates instant incompatibility because as long as it's tolerated, there's no way that a couple can live together in harmony.

All other acts of self-interest at the other's expense also creates incompatibility in various degrees. Incompatibility, therefore, is simply the accumulation of thoughtless habits and activities. The more of them a couple tries to tolerate, the more incompatible they become.

Most marriages start off with very few thoughtless habits because successful courting usually gets rid of them. Couples who are considering marriage go to great pains to behave thoughtfully because, if they don't, they won't get to the altar.

But after marriage, thoughtless behavior usually begins to grow. In the name of personal freedom, private interests and expanding horizons, spouses develop habits and activities that do not take each other's feelings into account. Before long, they are no longer "compatible."

The bottom line is that couples need to eliminate behavior that is good for one and bad for the other, even if it makes the one eliminating it feel bad. The truth is, it should never have been there in the first place, and all you're doing is eliminating a bad habit. It's like telling a child molester to stop molesting children. It may make him feel bad to stop, but he should never have gotten started in the first place.

Now here's an important question, how should people deal with the disappointments of giving up thoughtless behavior?

The more pleasure a spouse gets from his or her thoughtless behavior, the more difficult it is to eliminate. Affairs, which are usually intensely pleasurable, are very difficult to eliminate because the withdrawal symptoms are so severe. A spouse having an affair goes through deep depression when he or she tries to leave the lover. Even every-day pleasurable activities, such as Monday Night Football, can leave a husband depressed if his wife puts it on her termination list. The truth is, whenever we try to stop doing something we like, we miss it, and experience some sadness in its wake.

Having spent some time helping people overcome addiction, I am very aware of how difficult it is to give up something that gives a person considerable pleasure. The procedure we use is to provide emotional support to help people keep the commitment they had made. Clients are tempted at all hours of the day or night to start drinking again. The worst of it is during the first few weeks of sobriety, but as time passes, it becomes easier and easier for them to remain sober.

I believe that the same principle applies to overcoming very enjoyable but thoughtless behaviors in marriage. At first, you may need support from someone who can not only provide emotional encouragement, but also accountability. Sometimes a pastor or good same-sex friend can fill the bill. If none of those people are available, a marriage counselor provides that support and accountability as part of his or her job. In the most serious cases, I go so far as to recommend anti-depressant medication to someone who experiences severe withdrawal symptoms. As time separates a person from the enjoyable habit, the depression and resentment subside and he or she returns to normal. But if a slip occurs, and the person returns to the habit, in many cases the process of withdrawal must begin all over again. This is most obvious when working with alcoholics and those having an affair. One drink or one phone call to the lover is all it takes to plunge the person back into the captivity of their addiction.

For most of us the problem habits are the simpler but nonetheless troublesome behaviors that we can easily avoid, but leave us feeling somewhat depressed and resentful. My advice in such situations is to give it three weeks. At the end of that time, most people find their negative feelings turning around. Besides, if both spouses are abandoning thoughtless behavior, their improved lifestyle more than makes up for trivial losses in selfish pleasure.

As a couple identifies and eliminates thoughtless behavior, the withdrawal they experience will cause some unhappiness at first. But it doesn't leave a void -- couples are not left with nothing to do. They replace their thoughtless behavior with new thoughtful activities that give them a solid marriage, love for each other and much greater happiness than they ever could have had with all their thoughtless activities combined.