Dr. Wall explains that his philosophy of marital therapy can be reduced to the simple principle of a fork in the road. At any given moment, you can choose to go down the wide road or the narrow path.
I saw some naïve young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house.
I imagine that some, who read yesterday’s blog, might think that this Dr. Wall dude is just a might simplistic, that he thinks you can reduce reality into two principles, one really, where the foundational principle is you reap what you sow, either good or bad, and the second is that if you sow good seeds you’ll not only get good results in the here and now, but that the hurt from the past will heal, and these PRESENT GOOD seeds that you plant set in motion your future and all of your life, your past and your present and your future will take on a positive hue. You want me to believe that all this success or failure is just because of some decisions I made or didn’t make? I would like my marital therapist to be a bit more sophisticated than that.
I imagine a skeptical reader might be thinking this.
It gets worse.
To get my marriage therapy license, so that I could practice marital therapy in Iowa and get professional liability insurance and actually set up an office and not get arrested for pretending to be a marital therapist, I had to study all of the great thinkers in the field. I shouldn’t write, “had to,” because, really, most of them were a delight. They are a pretty inventive lot and they made me think of reality differently and sometimes they tickled my brain enough that I would literally laugh out loud, right there in Parks Library at Iowa State University. I took one of my professor’s advice, because reading all of these great minds can be overwhelming at times, who said, read and study the masters and then go into the therapy office and wing it. That’s what he said. He didn’t mean be cavalier. He meant just let the things you’ve learned in your graduate studies and the situations you find in your therapy office to mingle together and then go with your gut and over time you will develop your own philosophy, your own way of dealing with these issues, your own style, and you will learn from your mistakes and successes and eventually your own take on things will emerge. He liked the word emerge. I think this was the best advice I got in grad school. At least I think he was saying this. Maybe I read into it a little.
In any case, this is what I’ve done. And yesterday I wrote that you could summarize my philosophy by the statement you reap what you sow. And then I went on to say what happens when you sow good seed. And then today I’ve been imagining the skeptic saying this is a bunch of crap. Well, I didn’t use the word crap until now, but you know what I mean.
And now I’m going to take this principle of you reap what you sow and make it even smaller. I got this little piece of advice from Jesus who said you can liken life to a wide road and a narrow road. And the wide road is filled with all the major voices of our day beckoning you to try their wares and the narrow road is unpopular and seldom traveled, but, dang, whatdayaknow, it’s the narrow road that leads unto life. Or to say it as quoted in the American Standard Version:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.
Matthew 7: 13-14
I was thinking of putting this concept together with reaping what you sow and I wonder if it looked like this:
That at any given moment, even right now as you sit there deciding if you should keep reading this stupid blog or not, there is a fork in the road and you can go on either fork. One fork leads to a wide road that looks very inviting and filled with wonder and awe and the other is rather uninviting and, frankly, quite hard sometimes. And that every moment of your life, every decision you make, every thought you entertain, every action you attempt, is at a crossroads. Which road will it be?
And I’m thinking that life is made up of series of decisions at crossroads, every day, perhaps hundreds of them, both good and bad, and that whichever road you take will make it easier to choose thus and so the next time and the next time and it begins to develop a pattern and a proclivity and a tendency and a personality and an outlook and pretty soon it doesn’t feel like it’s a fork in the road, it’s just a road, because you’ve gone down this road so many times. But if you’d really look, ever so carefully, off to the side, there is still this little side path that you could take if you were so inclined, but the big wide road is so inviting, so tempting, so natural for you by now, that you continue to take it by habit.
And I’m thinking that this fork in the road is not just for the alcoholic or the young man who struggles with porn or the gambler flitting away his time and waging against his future. Those are more obvious forks. I’m thinking the normal forks in the road are much more subtle than that. I’m thinking of the matters of the heart, that little resentment that you nurture against your spouse because he didn’t do what he said or he didn’t do what you said or he didn’t do what you wished he’d do even though you didn’t say it because you are tempted to think he should have known and if he doesn’t know this by now what kind of man am I married to and why would I want to be married to someone who does that or thinks that or doesn’t do that or doesn’t say that or says that when he knows when he says that it pushes my buttons and the wide road feels so good and you are cruising around in your resentments having a hay day at your husband’s expense, or wife’s for that matter, and, of course, you are right and you are justified to feel this way because, after all, he’s hurt you, sometimes even on purpose, and so you run his shortcomings around in your brain, around and around and around, and it doesn’t feel fair and you even tell your girlfriends or that guy, who started to sit with you at lunch, you tell him and you tell them how your husband does or doesn’t do certain things and he says or doesn’t say certain things and he thinks or doesn’t think certain ways and they all marvel at how in the world you can live like that, that you deserve better, and they are all cheering you on, you go Girl, to assert yourself and self-actualize and stand up and be somebody and life’s too short and they encourage you to nurse your wounds and your wounded heart says you need to nurse your wounds, too, and when all these choirs agree and all the notes harmonize you think somehow that it is the Lord that is leading you to divorce and you start to say things to your husband (or wife) about all this inequity and he starts to get mad back, but, of course, it’s his fault that he’s mad. He just doesn’t get it. He never listens to you. Look at him getting all self-righteous and superior. What a selfish….
And you are not sure when, but sometime, while you were nursing your hurts, the wide road you were taking became a railroad track and you nurse your hurts around and around and around. I am hurt. I am hurt. I am hurt. I am hurt. I am hurt. Around and around…chugga, chugga, chugga…
But finally you figure out this isn’t working. And even though all your colleagues and friends and even your relatives have divorced for far less, you ponder that maybe you shouldn’t get a divorce, because you did make a vow after all (bummer!), and you never wanted a divorce, but, hey, if you divorce, as your brain continues down the track that you’ve laid in the middle of the wide road, your trained brain says to you you can put all your problems behind you!!! A fresh new start! This is what the wide road yells to you. Screams in your ears!! Divorce his sorry butt! Then you don’t have to be hurt by him any more! Or if you stay married, completely withdraw from him! That’s it! Or get mean. Push him away. Over and over. Train him that you cannot be trifled with. You are training yourself to be justified in being hurt and mad. Which, if you had the wherewithal to get outside of yourself for even a minute, you’d see that it is pretty hard to be nice to someone who chooses to live like that. But you, of course, don’t think it’s a choice anymore, because this is who you are. You tell yourself: You don’t choose your feelings. You just have them. So you let these negative feelings tell you to withdraw or get mean and then your withdrawal and meanness tells you to have negative feelings and around and around you go on your self-manufactured railroad track, zipping by faster and faster, little knowing that at every step along the way there’s another path if you would just look.
And then you come to see me.
And I suggest there might be a little path right over there. See? Just on the other side of your huge resentments and hurt is a little path. It’s the path of kindness. The path of tenderness. The path of reaching out.
You look at me incredulously. You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m hurt here! Why would I ever, on God’s green earth, reach out to him? He’s a jerk! He’s selfish. He’s only thinking of himself. You know I told you that he has control issues. And anger issues. And he’s manipulative. He doesn’t deserve my love. He doesn’t deserve my love. He doesn’t deserve my love.…chugga, chugga, chugga…
And, if you aren’t careful, you won’t be able to take the narrow little path. The neurons in your brain have created a railway for your hurts. And once on the railway it’s very difficult to get off. It’s much easier to take the wide road.
Or maybe you take my advice and a little light bulb goes off in your brain and you realize you’ve been downright mean to your husband (or wife) for a long time and you intrepidly step down the narrow path and go home and when your husband comes home you go and greet him at the door and you actually kiss him like you are glad he’s home and you are glad you are married to him and you are glad you can take a fork in the road and literally change your life and if you are one of the fortunate people your husband won’t be so resentful that he will actually be able to take the fork in the road that you are presenting him and he kisses you back and you find your spirit lighter and his spirit lighter and you both tease each other a bit and you sit and talk about your day for the first time in months or maybe even years.
Or you mock what I say about the fork in the road and you say to yourself that you are hurt and you need a therapist who will comfort you in your hurting, so you fire me as your therapist and go find one who will lick your wounds with you just like all your friends and your lawyer and you say to yourself, as Tom Petty sings, “it’s fun to be king of your own little world” only you’ll discover, if you keep going down this road, that it’s not fun for anyone else, and you’ll teach everyone else to avoid you and then you can be mad that no one comes to see you anymore.
But at least you were right.
Stupid therapist. Fork in the road. What a bunch of …..
In the following blog Dr. Wall explains that the influence we have on our loved ones is directly connected to how much we care:
When our loved ones hurt us, the temptation is to hurt back. Dr. Wall ponders a different path:
Dr. Wall looks at why so many people are not happy even though we can do whatever we want and often do. So why aren’t so many people happy? Hmmmm…