MetaConversations

While this post isn’t specifically sexual integrity related, it is a tool that I commonly use at home and with couples in my office. It’s simply a way to raise a conversation (often amidst conflict) out of the muck of the subject to actually see what’s happening relationally.

If you’re into tech-talk, you probably know what Meta-Data is:  data about the data. In this case a MetaConversation is, you guessed it, a conversation about the conversation.

Specifically it addresses 3 keys points: how you are feeling, how I am feeling and what’s happening in our relationship at this moment.

MetaConversation

When a conversation feels stuck, often it is because the root relational issue isn’t being addressed. Being locked up in a he-said-she-said usually indicates there are emotional nerves that have been tapped, but aren’t being talked about. Thus, the conversation often ends in one or both people having hurt feelings, a stalemate of “agree to disagree” (which often provides no real resolution) or a combination of the two. When that stuck feeling occurs, it can be a signal to both parties to stop the current conversation and switch gears to a metaconversation. In other words, to literally talk about what’s happening in the current conversation.

An example might be a conversation about money. He thinks they should spend the tax return and she thinks they should save it. He’s been wanting some toy or gadget, and she’s been stressing about how they’ll pay for summer vacation, much less fund their retirement. She’s getting angry that he insists on spending, he’s getting frustrated that she won’t let loose a little and enjoy the hard-earned cash. Spend or Save? Is the issue really about the money? Probably not.

A metaconversation might reveal that he is feeling insignficant. Spending the tax return would signal recognition of his hard work, a reward for faithfully doing his job and providing for the family. She might be feeling insecure and anxious. Having the vacation paid for ahead of time provides a sense of security and planning for retirement actually adds an element of respect for her husband. Relationally, we might find that both are pulling back, walling off. She wants to feel protected but he is threatening that, so she’s going to protect herself emotionally. He wants to feel respected and validated but she is withholding it, so he is going to nearly demand it. The metaconversation can provide a space and language for both to recognize what the other is feeling (which 99% of the time seems to be unintentional) and to identify the divide developing in the relationship. Finally, it gives an opportunity to address a specific emotional, relational dynamic.

In response they both can speak to the others needs:

Husband: “The last thing I want you to feel is insecure and worried about our finances. I also want you to be confident that I have our family’s best interest at heart. I want you feel protected, and to know that a short term want won’t replace our long term goals.”

Wife: “I appreciate your hard work. I am proud of you, your commitment and your provision for our family. I want you to know I respect you.”

They can now make a decision on what to do with the money without it being a wedge in the relationship, and without the decision being motivated by shoring up emotional needs.

Men in my office typically ask something to the effect of, ” couldn’t we bypass all that stuff by just agreeing to compromise- spending half and saving half?”  Well, yes, if by “all that stuff” you’re referring to the meaningful, relational communication that builds relational currency.

The metaconversation can be used regardless of the subject matter. Money, sex, addiction, parenting, moving, work, hobbies, dinner, you name it. And it doesn’t have to be in conflict, but that’s often where it can be a handy tool.

Remember that in conflict we want to value the person over the problem, and the relationship over the result. Metaconversations can help achieve this.

 

 

 

Defining Ourselves Differently

Its Sunday, and the Every Mans Battle workshop ended just a few hours ago. One of the guys said before he left:

“Today I choose to live as a son, no longer in the shame of my addiction but in the freedom of what Jesus has done for me.”

His perception of himself shifted this weekend. He arrived defining himself as the sum total of his bad choices. He left acknowledging that he has done a bunch of really bad things, yet that’s not who he is. Or better said; Whose he is. He was able to see that the very fact that he had done so many bad things was indicative of his need for a savior. And not just to remove guilt, but to confirm belonging. He belongs to Jesus. In Christ we find the truth that we are dearly loved and infinitely valuable.

Does all this mean he isn’t responsible for the pain he’s caused? No. Does it guarantee he’ll never do it again? No. Does it mean his marriage will be restored? Not necessarily.

But it does mean that he can stop hating himself. It does mean he can stop trying to perform his was into a deeper relationship with Jesus. And the byproduct of those 2 things alone often result in less acting out. The downward spiral is coming screeching to a halt and a new, redemptive ripple effect is beginning.

And that’s just 1 guy!

I love these weekends.

How I Handle Temptation

I was tempted to look at porn this morning.

As part of my job, I regularly read articles about sexual integrity issues and how culture is influencing our sexuality. Every so often I get slimed by an article that takes WAY too much liberty in what it shows in the form of video clips and pictures. By “slimed”, I mean blasted with pornographic material I did not ask for. They could prove their point with substantially less footage. That happened this morning.

An article I clicked on had a tantalizing video that I was tempted to click on. I did not click it. I hovered the mouse button over it for a second or two, but ultimately chose a different route.  I thought it might be helpful for some guys to know what that process of choosing a different route looked like. At least, looked like this time. Its certainly not the same every time. Here’s how it went…

1 – Recognize How I Rationalize (rationalize = Rational Lies): these are the reasons I come up with to justify my sin. It sounds like this in my head – “this video isn’t that bad, its right on the line”, “its part of my job, I have to see this stuff”, “nobody will know, so no big deal”.

2 – Refute the Rational Lies – this is talking myself through the truth and grounding myself in reality – “everyone who matters will eventually know; the truth always comes out”, “you will literally lose everything that is meaningful in your life over 1 click and a stupid video”, “ this is meaningless and completely unsatisfying and you’re only going to compound the already crappy feelings you’re experiencing”.

3 – Physical Move – I had to push back away from my desk, away from my computer. I needed a physical change of posture to reorient myself. It is almost symbolic; a literal backing away translates to a mental and emotional backing away.

4 – Diagnostics – Taking a few minutes to diagnose what I am feeling and why. This morning I felt disappointment due to the fact that all 3 of my kids are sick, and someone in our house has been sick since Christmas. It has been very difficult. I also felt misunderstood this morning, based on conversations Shelley and I had over the weekend.

I also had to assess which of the 3 I’s (Insignificance, Incompetence, Impotence) may have been tapped. This morning it was Impotence – meaning, powerlessness. I feel completely powerless over my kids’ health and over my wife’s stress.  I also felt helpless to get a break; people are counting on me as a counselor today and I can’t just cancel my day and go into hiding.

 5 – Do Something Meaningful – it helped me to switch gears and actually do something meaningful. That happened to be responding to an email from someone looking for help. I believe one of the key reasons guys get trapped in things like pornography is they don’t know what they’re living for.  If we don’t have something to wake up for, we’ll medicate having to wake up for nothing.

6 – Connect - As much as I wanted to isolate and pretend the temptation, the close call, and the small victory never happened, it did. And someone needs to know. They need to know I’m struggling, and be present with me in that pain and those triggers. They also need to about that immediate victory, to celebrate with me and encourage me. We preach this all the time at the Every Mans Battle Workshops; connection, accountability and relationship. So, I texted a few guys; they responded within minutes with prayer, encouragement and a reminder that I’m loved. It’s a sweet thing to give Jesus a chance to show up through people. Maybe if he wanted to be the only one through whom God’s mercy flowed, he would’ve stuck around a little longer, rather than delegating to the disciples.

7 – Stay in the Fight – meaning that temptation didn’t come, then go, and now its all good times and happy. It stuck with me through the day. I had to stay in the fight, deal with my emotions in healthy ways, stay connected with people, remain present in my life, and keep my guard up. Temptation is rarely one and done.