Relational

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Know Thyself

Know Thyself.  (Inscribed on the entrance archway at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.)

In these weekly letters, I cover topics designed to spur reflection and awareness that leads to a mindset of intentionality and action which if pursued consistently would yield success and happiness. You want your life to be enjoyable, meaningful, substantive, and successful. No aspect of your life is therefore more meaningful toward achieving those ends than energizing yourself by understanding – where you’ve come from, what your motivations are, what your doubts and fears are, how your immaturities help you and hinder you, how you fool yourself on things big and small, and how your idiosyncrasies spice your world with your unique flavor. It is by this easy therapy you can be more effective in achieving your goals by getting in rhythm.

You come from the cloud of your childhood to this moment. Since the time you came to be aware of your own existence you have been on a quest to know yourself. You look long in a mirror trying to figure out why you are the way you are. It is elusive because you constantly change like the man that cannot step into the same river twice. Your essence is part discovery and part declaration. You struggle with motivation and consistency. Your thinking seems clear, but so it did 10 years ago and you recall your maturity then. You know that you’re influenced by your inputs (TV, internet, friends), but don’t know by how much. You criticize yourself for being a chameleon that changes opinions depending on environment. You can be lazy, putting off for tomorrow those things you know will improve your life, but don’t know the cumulative impact of all those micro choices so the cost of laziness seems only theoretical.

I have found the toughest thing to do in life is come up with an idea for myself that will “get me off the dime” as my uncle once told me. I can come up with a gajillion ideas for other people, but somehow I freeze when I turn the scope on myself. Too often I have let life drift.

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving:  To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.

– Oliver Wendel Holmes

This is why I believe an Ironmen group is such an incredibly important tool for success. You can’t drift.

When I say that your life is part discovery, your Ironmates will hold a mirror up to you and show you who you are. You don’t have to rip on each other, but proactive honesty is the best. In my group, we have talked about some hard stuff that has led to our betterment. Both Brad and Rich have called me out on some hypocrisies, but significantly have also pointed out some strengths I was not aware of.  All of my groups have done that.

When I say your life is part declaration, you get to set your goals. You get to make statements about how you’re going to be from this day forward. When I told a friend that because he was consistently 20-30 minutes late to everything people thought he was a flake. He declared to me that he would be on time and demonstrate in other ways that he was reliable. I declared in my late 20’s that I was tired of eating Campbell’s Soup every night and I would work hard till I was successful. In my 30’s, I declared to my group that I would be a Catalyst for positive change in the lives of everyone I came to meet. That became my personal mission statement. These are declarations of Being/Becoming.

When you’re with men who share a like-mindedness about growing, maturing, figuring life out and doing it better, it’s a rare path. Compared to the solitary life where you try to figure it out alone, it’s not even close. It’s magnitudes better.

The Ironmen group not only holds up a mirror providing you with meaningful feedback, they can also help you brainstorm ideas on how to break out of your comfort zone, set daring goals, put a plan together to achieve them, and identify when you might be fooling yourself. One day I stepped out of my comfort zone and told Rich he needed to ask for a raise. We talked it through. He did it the following week. Bingo. Obviously these letters to you are a result of the feedback I got from Brad and Rich.

You are old enough today to know that if you improved your energy and consistency 1% from whatever level you currently hold, then you would be a powerful example of how to live life. If you’re not in a group, ask yourself why you’re not. Is it a bad idea? Is it because you don’t have time? Is it because you don’t have guys you’d trust? Is it because you’re passively in your comfort zone and getting out would be too much? At least be clear on why.

There are levels of you in the future: A good, a better, and a best version. Today you are deciding which version you’re pursuing. I hope you come to ‘Know Thy Best Self”.

To your continued success,
Dave

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By | June 19th, 2015|Relational|0 Comments

Father Wound

My employee came into my office this week requesting prayer for her nephew. He’s only 15. His mom died of cancer last July, so he’s living with his aunt and grandma. Yes, he does have a father. I don’t know that part of the story. But the part I do know is wrenching. Young Jamie was at the mall where he saw his father. They saw one another. His father walked on with no acknowledgement. This 15 year old boy is not a part of his life. Jamie’s spirit was crushed.

My story I’ve already talked about. “Dad, I have done everything in my power to make you proud of me. It is one of my greatest desires. But at 38, if I’m not going to earn that, I’ll just have to move on without it.”

Father Wound. It hardly needs definition.

When you compare the 2 stories you can see that Jamie’s wound is much deeper than mine. Mine is a paper cut compared to his gaping hole. And that’s where most men are, in varying degrees of unwholeness because their father fell somewhere on a scale between Imperfect to near Evil. This Father Wound issue, in my opinion, is one of the central issues, if not THE central issue, at the heart of what ails America. Fathers who fall short, often very, very, very short, of being what a child needs to grow up to produce a healthy and happy life. Are there any insights that might help us grow past our own hurts, trivial or deep-seated, so that this generation does not pass along the same degree of wound to the next?

There must be some sort of scale of that somehow measures the Quality of Father-ness, say a 1-100 QF Scale. At 50 on the scale, the father is ok, not good, not bad. At 20, the father would leave a lasting scar that probably would affect several subsequent generations. So too, at 90, the positives could launch subsequent generations in the higher sphere of well-being. Let’s assume a standard distribution of fathers that fall between Great on the high end and near Evil on the low. Therefore, the majority of fathers would be within 1 standard deviation above and below average. The result would be that a majority of children would all have issues that would be considered “normal”, slightly above and slightly below average.

Is this idea valid when looking around at real people? When I look at everyone I know well enough to evaluate their upbringing and how their life is going, I’d say “yes” it does make sense. I know some people who are very well adjusted people, happy with their upbringing, great marriages, kids are great, finances solid, and life is very, very good. I would draw causation between their childhood and their adulthood wellness. Conversely, I know the opposite situation. I wrote about Scott’s difficulty. I would guess my dad’s QF is 75. Scott’s QF around 20. Jamie’s is likely to be 25-30ish. I’m hoping my kids would say their QF is well above 50.

So what does this matter? Why rate the QF from your upbringing? Well three reasons, I think. It first has to do with awareness. Let’s go back to Jamie and his potential journey. Between now and say 25 years old, you figure he might deal with self love issues. “If my dad didn’t love me, why should I love me? There must not be much to love.” So self destructive behaviors can come into play for those with very low QFs. Jamie is likely to be a victim to his father’s issues. Indeed he was a victim, but at what point will he stop being a victim? With no science to back me up I’m declaring that the age of accountability is 30. So from that point forward, it’s no longer his dad’s issue, but Jamie’s. So if he’s ignorant of why he lacks confidence, smokes cigarettes (I’m making all this up), has anger issues with his girlfriend, drinks a bit too much too often, and can’t climb the economic ladder, whose fault is it now? It’s Jamie’s. And Scott’s, and mine, and your’s. After the age of accountability, if your life isn’t working out as well as you’d like, then you’re not a victim to your upbringing. Awareness of that fact is primary.

Now if your upbringing QF was a 60, then you certainly are better off than Jamie and the hole he’s starting from. No doubt there are issues that you are aware of that would have been nicer had your dad played more soccer with you, engaged you in your issues, challenged you to grow to the next level, whatever. But those are not debilitating wounds. They’re “normal”. For those above QF 80 where their fathers were for the most part positive influences, the issue can be one of entitlement that life is too easy. That blessing can be wasted for subsequent generations by losing “the motivation to overcome”. So, again, awareness is important.

Second, if you think your QF is above 50, then you are saying that at least 50% of the men in the U.S. have had it worse than you. What do you suppose their confidence level is, higher or lower than your’s? Do you think they are better off or worse off when it comes to overcoming difficulty? So, estimating your QF will help you gain context to how you should be feeling and acting. If you were born into a QF 70 and can’t get motivated to bring your best to your own life, you blame your childhood for your lack of motivation. So too, if you’re a QF 40, you know you’ve got some work to do to get healthy and make sure you don’t pass on the sins of the father. You’ll need to really focus to make sure that your marriage is strong and you take active steps to stay on the path to health.

The third reason the Quality of Father-ness of your upbringing is worth knowing is so that you can bring yourself to forgiveness. Life is hard. People make mistakes. Men get confused. Willpower to do the right thing fades. Ignorance abounds. By being aware of where you came from, if you hold bitterness at the core of your being you will have a tough time building a great life. This idea that “If my dad had just loved me…” is self-focused. Yes, it may be true, but a self-focused perspective doesn’t understand why he was who he was and why he did what he did. It’ll be tough to love yourself, have confidence in your life, build a family of well-being all the while holding on to a disappointing childhood. I believe that for you to be the biggest version possible (and for your children to be the biggest versions possible), you must resolve, forgive, and bless those from which you came.

Listen, every man has some father issues. For some reason, God has set it up that way. There is a reason, a positive purpose, for life being the way it is. I suspect that God set it up thus so that we can come to the spiritual path of forgiveness, love, otherness, and character development. God uses pain as an attention getting tool to work on these critical issues.

This week’s message was long and tough to encapsulate. My attempt here was to capture a very big and important topic that has a gazillion variables and distill it into a perspective that has practical value. In your Ironmen group, discuss QF as it pertains to your life. Rate your father. Identify obstacles your upbringing has put in your path and strategize how you’re going to overcome them.

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | May 8th, 2015|Relational|0 Comments

Monsters In-Law

I didn’t see the movie Monsters In­-Law. I heard it was horrible. But it does raise an important point ­ the number 4 reason for divorce is because of problems with In-­Laws. Here are my thoughts to work through those issues and/or protect your family from In­-Laws that are not adding to your family’s well­being.

Lis and I had it easy. Her parents lived 12,000 miles away in Sweden and mine were in California. Our Denver life was, for good or bad, parent free. We didn’t deal with rivalries on Christmas or Easter. Our children were not inundated with grandparents on birthdays. Weekends were subject to short phone calls and eventually long emails. It’s a shame really because our parents got along when they saw each other, though that was extremely infrequently. So for those of you on the other end of the spectrum, count some of it as a blessing.

As I prepare for a life with children who will find someone, get married, and start a family, I am sure I’ll have an opinion on the quality of person they have selected. Did they marry up where my heart will immediately embrace them into our clan? Or will they marry someone whose style or prospects leave me wondering what the attraction is? I don’t know. I introduce the topic this way because I want you to think from the parent’s perspective. The person you are (or will be) married to has been a multi-­decade long project for these people, just like you have been to your parents.

So let’s say it’s not a great fit. Now what? Your first priority is to your nuclear family ­ your wife and kids. You handling your parents is going to be relatively easy. “Mom, Dad, I married Suzie. She’s my wife. If you love me, then you need to honor my choices. It will be very easy for you to see her as I do, but if you can’t, you need to know that I’m with her. If you have positive suggestions on how we can make our life together better, I am very open to them because you have given me good insights in the past. But let me emphasize that they must be positive suggestions. Any belittling of her won’t end well with my relationship with you. You want me to grow up strong, well, that starts here. I love you.”

The tougher part will be to protect your marriage when her parents don’t think you’re up to their standards. It will take time and patience on your part, a bit of selling, and ultimately a good amount of grace to love them despite their perspectives. Since Suzie is not going to forsake her parents, you will need a strategy. (“Pat, you’re going to need a strategy.” Movie quote?). Here’s my two cents.

Understanding. Always seek understanding before you seek to be understood. Always. And certainly before you react. In some way you’ve learned that her parents have an issue with something you’ve said or done or how you’ve come across. Is it a short term thing or is it more substantial than that? If it’s short term, figure it out and apologize. Doesn’t matter if you were at fault, you’re a big enough guy to say, “You know, this whole thing didn’t come out right and that’s not what I want. I apologize (Not “I’m sorry) and I want to make it better going forward. Please let me know how I can make things right.”

If they say, “Divorce our daughter”, you’ve got a long road in front of you. Chances are they won’t make it that clear. But afterwards, you still get the idea clearly or vaguely that they’re not enamored with you. It’s important that you connect with your wife that her parents will come around eventually and for her to just hang in there. Because you don’t want them to undermine your relationship with her.

At some point, you need to discuss with them who you are and where you are taking your family. Not their daughter, but your wife. They may not be ready for that in reality, but with your wife’s support, you are only helping them deal with reality as it is. I don’t think cutting them off is wise or appropriate. You want your wife to love them and not be conflicted. But for your family to thrive, you can’t have negative messages infused into your daily life. So you agree to meet with them to discuss the tension that exists.

In any of these meetings, getting angry or accusatory won’t get you where you want to go. Softly and firmly providing clarity is the key. “We are married. I am not intending to steal her from you. I intend to honor and love her like I said in my vows. I intend to grow with her which you seem to think I can’t do fast enough. But nonetheless, it won’t be for lack of trying. I very much desire your affection and approval. However, if I can’t get it, I’ll have to learn to live without it. Let’s be open with one another so we can all grow in this new era that we’re in. I will do everything in my power and ability to make this a great relationship. I will honor your wishes if it’s in agreement with making our lives together harmonious.”

The best you can do is the best you can do. Some people will have a tough time letting go. You may never measure up to expectations that were set a couple decades ago. But you can have integrity and not contribute to any negativity that exists. Eventually, with maturity on your part, you can lead them to their own resolution.

This path of conflict resolution is a standard path no matter who the person is on the other side of the conflict (unless it’s ISIS I suppose). Be upfront. Understand. Stay calm. Don’t accuse. Restate their position, acknowledging the other person’s perspective as valid. Provide your perspectives and identify areas of agreement and mutual goals. Build on that. Take responsibility. Follow up. Know that you represent the culmination of the parents hopes and fears for their daughter’s future. You should therefore provide the situation some grace.

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | March 26th, 2015|Relational|0 Comments

The Most Important Decision in Your Life

Before I get to the discussion on your life’s most important decision, I wanted to introduce OneFamily. My wife and I are now writing a letter alternating every other week with our great friends Rich and Shelly Howard. The letter, like these Ironmen letters, is designed to drip a little insight that we’ve gleaned over the last 30 years of marriage. For those of you who are married, OneFamily is intended for you and your wife. Here’s a letter Lis and I wrote a week ago on how we overcame small irritating arguments – “Rewind the Tape”. I would be honored if you’d check it out and have you and your wife Sign Up.

I recently received an email from an Ironmen who posed a question regarding his girlfriend and an issue they faced. She comes from a wealthy family and enjoys a lifestyle of economics that implies freedom – freedom to buy stuff, go places, do things. This young man has had a good upbringing too, but not with the same degree of freedom she displays. His question and concern was whether this disparity was going to cause the relationship major problems down the road. His long term career desire is to pursue an academic life that might require a moderately tight budget and he didn’t want to be forced into fulfilling a lifestyle that would push him perpetually into worrying he wasn’t making the grade. He and I connected by phone and discussed who he was, what he wanted in life, how he was going to get there, and who he wanted to get there with. And THAT is the most important decision in your life. Who are you going to travel down life’s highway with?

Here’s this young man with a girlfriend he really enjoys, but sees potential issues that could grow into major areas of dissatisfaction and conflict. Isn’t it better to head off life’s agonies by diverting to another path? Yes, of course, and no, of course not. In retrospect, the answer will be clearer, but alas, such clairvoyance isn’t available. We must decide in advance whether this issue or that issue will be a stumbling block or a stepping stone to fulfilling our marital potential. And fulfilling marital potential will affect every part of your life – from business and economics, to health and well-being, to other relationships, to our spiritual life. If your cup is full you have more to pour out. If empty…

So here’s what I see the issue is with this young man and his potential life mate – fit. Do they fit together. Pretty weak, I know.

There’s personality fit of course. Do you enjoy her company? For me, I have not had one instance in 35 years where I didn’t enjoy Lis’ company. Of course she’s said things and done things that have irritated me, but that didn’t change my feelings for her much. There was a time when we argued quite a bit, but I still enjoyed her in times of non conflict. Even though she was from Sweden and I grew up in suburban Southern California, we came from similar backgrounds of socio economic means and culture. Our outlook on life was similarly ignorant and compatible. She’s hot, which helped.

Religious culture can be a big deal. My son dated a gal who I didn’t think was a fit for him. Her background was Eastern Orthodox Catholic. She grew up in a family of daughters where, as Dano described it, the father was marginalized a bit. Though she didn’t adhere firmly to the Catholic Faith, I thought that when kids arrived there would be a gravity that would pull them a direction where I didn’t think my son would thrive. I didn’t think she was a fit for him because of the culture that derived from her religious cultural upbringing. Eventually he came to that conclusion on his own.

Money fit can be a big deal, but also might not be. I have known a few marriages that ended up in divorce because she came from big money, screw you type money, and therefore had choices. One of those choices included not needing to take crap from him, or, in other words, not compromising. However, I have also seen the opposite work because there is small comfort in money when marriage sucks, so compromise is a wise course.

And that’s almost where we left the conversation. But since everyone has this “fit” situation, it leaves a fairly major question on the table – if you recognize a no-fit situation, what do you do?

A major life skill is being good at reconciling differences. A major life skill.

To reconcile your perspectives with your future wife on a subject of concern, you must dig deeper into values and assumptions. You need to play “What if” scenarios on potential future outcomes. You need to brainstorm as to how you and she can both get what you want. One thing you don’t do is make her “wrong”. The goal isn’t to defeat her perspectives, but to find common ground. Another conclusion to avoid is “Agreeing to disagree”. This just kicks the can down the road when the power structure might be different. Find common ground and build the relationship there while you continue to work on the differences which may take time.

By going through this reconciling process, you’ll be able to determine if you’re miles apart (She wants 8 kids, you want 0) or just a small distance (You want 3 kids, she wants 2). Maybe you’ve just been using different words to say the same thing and you’re not in conflict at all (“I thought you said you wanted to live with your parents, not that you never wanted to live with them.”). If the gap is small, then compromise is possible (“Let’s have 2 children and a dog”). A trade on one small thing for another is a win because she’ll likely value some things differently than you anyway.

This young man should lead the discussion (not argument) in a time of non conflict to dream about the future: How many kids, what kind of house and cars, where to live, how much independence from parents, what kind of travel, etc. Compare and contrast values: Is traveling more important than a third child? Is a big yard more important than a big library? “If I were to say no financial help from your parents and as a result we couldn’t buy the house you liked, how big a deal is that?” Reconciliation isn’t just a conflict resolution skill, it’s a leadership skill to getting buy-in from all stakeholders.

Your lifelong partner must fit with you. As you envision your future together, her vision and your vision must meld together in a shared view to a happy life. And it’s your job to lead in that reconciliation process.

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | February 12th, 2015|Relational|0 Comments

Sex #5

In these Letters about sex, I have been attempting to bring into open discussion insights gathered over 30+ years of being an adult. In Sex 1, I highlighted different scenarios where sex sent distinct messages and labeled them accordingly. In Sex 2, I pointed out some pitfalls in today’s sexulized world. In the last two Letters, Sex 3 and Sex 4, I looked at sex from the man’s perspective and somewhat from the woman’s. Those were to set the stage for today’s message by drawing out what is foundational in a great sex life. Today’s Letter attempts to point the way with suggestions on what to do to improve your sex life.

It’s very, very important here to understand what I’m talking about and what I’m not talking about. You have a driving desire to have a fulfilling sex life that is a component, only one component, of your overall desire to have a fulfilling life. To that end your thoughts, attitudes and actions with your mate creates a self fulfilling prophecy on how that goes. However, if you think doing the dishes a couple of times will get you wild sex at the end of the week, you’re in for some rude disappointment. That’s called manipulation. What I’m talking about is engagement where you are present and forward moving in relational growth.

So, for guys it’s easy to think of sex as an event, a transactional exchange – veni, vidi, veni. For women, they tend to think of it as the culmination of a series of relational events. Though each person has a veto card, I have never played mine. I can’t think of an instance where I would. And since women are more delicate and thereby more easily knocked off track, the veto card can be used, is used, and is available for use at any time. I would imagine this is true in all normal relationships. So the first step in improving your sex life is to realize whatever turbulence you have, it’s part of God’s plan for marriage. No, that’s not a “suck it up” statement. It’s an intro into the true path to a happy life.

Leadership. This is not rocket science here. If you are looking for a more satisfying sex life where you engage in more quantity, more passion, and where more variety isn’t you pointing at your crotch with your left hand and whimpering. No, the answer to your desires is by engaging in an exploration of where each of you are going in life and sharing a vision of how you can help each other get there. I may have already talked about this but: One night my wife and I were in bed arguing for the umpteenth time about something or other. The issue was then as it most always was – a power struggle for the other person to love first. Of course the specifics always varied, but the theme was the same. Who was right and who was wrong – “me always, you never”. Then that night, I remember it like it was last night, I was hit by an epiphany – “I need to stop this. It’s not about me vs. her. It’s about us getting on the same page and figuring it out together.” Maybe this is simple to you, but at that time it opened my eyes. I did stop arguing. I stopped immediately then and I’ve stopped ever since. Our marriage went from a 6 to a 10 in no time. Why? I changed. I grew up. I changed me first and stopped trying to change her, but instead tried to grow us. The quality of our sex life followed.

As a consequence, we had discussions about problems in our relationship that weren’t accusational, inflammatory, button-pushing events. We were now mature enough to look at life with fresh eyes. We were able to ask the important questions:

What are your wants and needs?

What are your expectations about frequency?

What about fantasy and passion?

What can I do to make it so you feel my love for you?

What are the things I do that diminish your love for me?

In other words, I had been whining. I had been acting like she owed me sexual favors because I earned the money or worse, I performed a few chores around the house. Wow. That was not going to have our marriage go down the right road.

Of course, she had to be willing to participate in such a conversation. My epiphany didn’t automatically result in her realization. I had to sell my new attitude with action and consistency. Otherwise, this “new me” would have looked like manipulation. If you think about it, sulking, anger, short term efforts to get more poured into your own cup doesn’t have the same effect as a shared vision on how to win/win one another’s love language. It became so obvious that this path of talking and agreement was so much more effective than the high school drama silent treatment that conveys the message “Well, you should just know what I want”.

We agreed to make serious effort at fulfilling what the other person wanted that said “I love you.” She wanted me more present in my claim of love – play with the kids, help with the dishes with a happy attitude, appreciate her efforts to fix up the house, help make the bed, clean the toilet up after myself, get my clothes actually in the hamper, demonstrate in a non-sexual way that I wanted to be with her, show involvement in all things Marr, make her feel special. For me, I wanted her to be more intentional in being together physically, touching me as she passed by me in the kitchen, compliment me in my leadership, take note of my efforts at work, acknowledge that I was trying to engage and lead, make me feel special.

It seems so simple, almost simplistic. If it’s so simple, what’s the problem? The problem is it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to think “She’s having a bad day.” “She’s on her period.” “She upset that I didn’t help with the dishes, but doesn’t realize what a tough day I had.” “She, she, she…” In other words, difficulty starts when you want your cup to be filled first or believe that you’ve already done the filling. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” isn’t about your neighbor feeling your love. This universal truth that Jesus says is the 2nd most important spiritual directive because its about where your focus should be. It’s directed at your perspectives and your actions.

If you want your wife to surprise you with a night of passion, when was the last time you surprised her with a baby sitter lined up and a dinner out?

This Letter is to Ironmen on what you can do to improve your sex life. It’s not a letter to your wife on how she can improve your sex life. Therefore, the best road to take is where you own your life, develop a plan on how you’re going to have a fantastic life that includes abundant sex, act on that plan daily, engage your wife in the fun and adventure that you’ve embarked on together, and be the man that God had intended you to be. It may not be the easiest road because it may require you to grow up some, but it’s the best road. Not the easiest, but the best. If you want a life of abundance, what are you doing to create that life?

To your continued success,

Dave

P.S. Please let me know if this 3 part series was valuable to you. Thanks.

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By | November 7th, 2014|Relational|0 Comments

Sex #4

Last week in Sex 3, I talked about the psychological nature of sex as it pertains to a guy’s needs which, if satisfied, can lead to intimacy. Because a guy’s biology for the most part works evenly and continuously; we are simple creatures. Not so for women. Women are neither even nor continuous, and so are therefore complex. I do believe this is a blessing to man because it appeals to two very important aspects of a man’s nature – desire for sex and propensity to problem solving. Pursuit of sex matures us mentally and matures our character as we unravel the mysteries of a woman’s being. I will foolishly attempt to provide some insights into my decades of observation.

Before I forge ahead into a foolishness of this magnitude, I do want to throw out some caveats: 1) My 35 year old self would have read this Letter looking for insights into how to increase the quantity and quality of my sex life. Therefore, that is my goal for you here. 2) I believe that sex is God’s gift to mankind, not only designed for our pleasure, but provided as a destination/journey thing. If sexual pleasure were all we had, our relationship might eventually become empty. Therefore, God toys with us on quantity and quality in order that we seek a greater destination – intimacy. 3) Not all women would fit into my little perspectives gladly. These are my male perspectives and, as such, wrong. I provide them to you for perspective as you navigate your own sex life towards increasing intimacy.

Female biology.

As you know, the clock ticks much faster for a woman than a man. A woman must find a man by roughly age 30 in order to fulfill what she considers a prime driver in her life, having a baby. (Yes I know. I am not going to capture a large swath of exceptions, but I’ll need you to forget all the stuff I’m missing if we are to get anywhere.) I think this factor leads some women to weigh more heavily the practicality of the timing in a relationship than otherwise as time passes, so powerful is the need to procreate. Watching the movie The Help, she can relate to the mom’s warning “Eugenia, your eggs are dying.” Women have gradations of concern similar to military defense readiness. If Mr. Right shows up on time, dates appropriately, courts appropriately, weds appropriately, beds appropriately, then she’s at Defcon 5 (least alarm). But if dating languishes and courting seems remote, then the clock ticks louder and she goes from Defcon 5 to Defcon 4. You see where this is going. By the time she gets to Defcon 2 because her boyfriend wasn’t ready to get married and have kids, she’s outta there and actively on the hunt. There are a zillion movies about this. Insofar as men are waiting later in life to get married these days, women are getting more aggressive and may lower their standards as to what their morals are and with whom they’ll have sex. Their eggs are dying. Overly simplistic? Hmmm. I believe it’s a major factor.

In addition, short term biology plays a significant role in a woman’s attitudes about sex – the monthly cycle. Some women have a 3-day menstruation, some a 10-day. Some have debilitating cramps, others none. Some have hormone swings that range from vixen to bitch where only an off comment separates the two. So it’s dangerous to try and group all women into one category. But it is reasonable to say that most women are impacted by their cycle and that it is likely considered a hassle instead of a blessing. I say that because of the hurried pace of today’s couples. Even though monthly bleeding is a blessed part of motherhood, society is uncomfortable about it. It’s pushed aside. In relationships, I suspect it gets in the way of regular sex, vacation time, date night, and is cause for many a frustration. So when Aunt Flo comes for a visit, she’s often not a welcome guest.

Biology leads directly into psychology. It doesn’t take long in a sexual relationship to figure out the menstrual/hormonal timing for women. But what does take a little bit of insight and sensitivity is catching on to the attitude that borders a woman’s cycle, her body, and her femininity. It appears to me that a degree of shame and low self esteem affect women regarding menstruation. Women, on average, are uncomfortable with their own bodies, particularly around their cycle. The hassle, the pain, the emotional roller coaster, the smell, the mess, the inconvenience, the message that society sends them that menstruation is something to be hidden – all compounds to a potential feeling of shame. It’s been called a curse and women consider it so to some degree. Furthermore, and this is a very subtle thing, a doubt emerges with this idea of shame: “Am I loveable as a person or am I just a sex receptacle?” In other words, does the man only need a soft jar for his seed or is he in a relationship with a whole person? Unravel that one. (Keep in mind that this is a very objectionable line of thought, but should be kept in the back of your mind when it comes time to discuss your attitudes and relational inputs.)

For a woman whose cup is half empty, or worse, a cup that runneth empty, sex can be perceived as debasing and objectifying. (How porn is depicted certainly supports that thought.) If she is dealing with low esteem or is fiercely avoiding self pity, a woman will send messages that sex is not fulfilling or sustaining; or conversely, she may regard it as nothing and provide it wantonly. A woman may not know specifically what she’s looking for, but it occurs to me that she is looking for validation as a woman when in a relationship with a man. Someone who will figure her out using her languages of love. Until maturity evolves in a relationship, she may not know how to articulate what she wants and may instead engage in bickering or power struggles (just like a guy does). My wife, who is a mentor to other moms at Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers says that her MOPS moms complain the most about lack of family leadership––which I interpret to mean power-struggles and finger pointing. The puzzle to solve is for me to pour into her cup in such a way that allows her to pour out in turn. That takes vision, sometimes therapy, love in action, and patience.

For a woman whose waterline isn’t below the halfway mark, sex certainly is more an element of a well-functioning relationship. Though she may not suffer from chronic self esteem issues, she still needs her cup filled in a relationship in order to pour out. Young love finds it easy to participate in the pouring into one another’s cup. Doing little things, buying gifts, touching, complementing, and just hanging out. But over time as life’s busyness accumulates, it’s very easy to forget that newness, forget the balance, and forget the other’s needs. It’s commonplace to get into a routine that can become somewhat stale. A woman doesn’t warm to the sexual routine as quickly as a man. Here’s where issues arise, power struggles occur, and leadership is needed before weeds overrun the garden.

I have described above that women are more psychologically sensitive by their biology than men. The menstrual cycle and inclusive hormonal swings are an integral factor in how a woman feels about herself because of how she thinks her biology impacts the relationship. I have attempted to describe the implications of a cup that needs filling and how that lack thereof can lead to tension. I think a woman is naturally more inclined towards intimacy and is therefore, by nature, more vulnerable. As such she can be hurt more easily which also lasts longer than it does for men. She is looking for mature leadership from a man to create an emotionally secure world. All this by nature and by conditioning, a woman is less inclined to be the leader in bed.

The divorce rate is 50%-ish for a reason. I propose it is due in large part because of the issues described in these last two Letters – ineffective filling of one another’s cup. Sex is a major driver to happiness. For guys, by having sex, our cup is filled. For a woman, she needs to have her cup filled in order to have sex. Certainly she’ll have sex other times when her cup is not filled, but that is of a limited supply. Therefore, marital happiness and sexual satisfaction rests initially on the man’s shoulders to solve the problem of a woman’s nature and figure out how to fill her cup so she can in turn pour it out on him.

Next week: How to do that.

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | November 1st, 2014|Relational|0 Comments

Sex #3

Sex 3
Sex is a driver for me and probably for you too. I can’t think of an instance in my relationship with my wife that sex wasn’t somewhere in my thinking, expectations, motivations, and of course desires. From working hard to working out, doing the dishes to leading the family, from sun up till sun down, sex factors in. Does that make me some sort of sex freak? Somehow I doubt it, but you can decide relative to your life. I’d like to discuss a couple of points about sex in a marriage that hopefully will save you countless hours of frustration and quite possibly your marriage itself. Because I think sex is so central to a marriage that mishandling it messes up many days and too many messed up days leads to marriage difficulty. Of course it doesn’t stand alone in messing up a marriage, but it sure plays a central role.

In Sex 1 I labeled different scenarios in which sex reflects the various circumstances and attitudes of the moment – Discovery Sex, Accommodation Sex, Fantasy Sex, Vacation Sex, Pre Travel Sex, and the like. Inherent in each of these is the psychological component for each person. I believe the female psychological makeup is significantly more variable and complex than the guy’s. I’ll give that explanation a try later. But for now I’d like to provide a little insight into your motivations.

I am a simple creature. Feed me. Love me. Do those two things and I can endure just about anything. Feeding me is pretty straightforward. Loving me is less so. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Languages of Love, the five primary ways in which people give and receive love. They are Words of Encouragement, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Gifts, and Physical Closeness and Touching. In our relationship, our marriage improved dramatically once we learned that I was primarily Physical Touch and Words of Encouragement as my number 1 and 2 and she was Quality Time and Acts of Service. Our relationship was able sync up with giving love in a way that the other could feel and appreciate. Up until that time, we were misinterpreting the messages the other was sending. She was investing her time and love into making a wonderful home when I wanted something more physical. I was telling her how pretty she was and wanted to make love and she wanted me to help with making the house look nice. (Oversimplification, but essentially true).

In another psychological boost, being a guy and being simple, I need proper expectations set. For example, if the day is filled with chores, I need my wife to make me a list. If it’s not on the list, it’s not going to happen. The list has a two-fold purpose: 1) list what needs to get done; 2) list what will make her happy. My expectations are that if I do these things, she will be happy. If she’s happy, and all the other stars align, I’m getting sex that night. Life isn’t exactly quid pro quo, but it kinda is. Further setting of expectations, if a routine has been set that sex is the third night, or second Tuesday, or first night below 50 degrees after the full moon in Spring, whatever the formula is for when sex night is, then by God that’s the night. I think about it, anticipate it, gear up for it, clear my calendar for it, and have my expectations etched in quick-dry cement. So if something happens that requires me to adjust, like sick kids, menstrual cycle, sick wife, argument, friend needs help, or any other piece of crap excuse (eh hem), it takes me a while to chip away at the expectations firmly dried in cement. Because here’s my non-adult thinking – it’s time to fill my cup. I feel as though I’ve done my share of giving and now it’s my time to receive. I’ve worked. I have forgone playing, but instead have come home and played with the kids. Yes, I know, I should want to do that on my own and I do, but I have choices and I choose to be home. I have helped around the house and done my darndest to fill my wife’s cup, so now, when it’s my turn, I want to be filled. (Again, somewhat tongue in cheek, but not really).

But seriously, I clearly and certainly understand that life happens, of course I do. But when life happens, I want to be treated with the respect of a loving partner that says “oops, there’s been a delay, but I want you and I want you to know that I want to be with you as soon as life gets back in order”. I can live with that. But instead, when an interruption occurs and me-as-a-priority is cast aside without a shred of thought, it sends the message that the whole sex event is just an accommodation. (Not that my wife ever did that…)

And here’s the heart of a man’s psyche. You see, I want to be wanted. I don’t want love coming to me as an afterthought, as an accommodation. Being wanted is to be a priority. Certainly urgencies arise, but priorities should remain and not taken for granted. I want my wife. I take her calls when I’m at work regardless of what I’m doing. I want her to be happy, content, and fulfilled. I want to fill her cup so that she has an abundance of well-being to pour out in all aspects of her life. That’s what it means to me when I say I love my wife. That she is my priority. And none of that conflicts with my secondary priorities of kids, work, working out, and other personal pursuits. So in turn, that’s what I expect. I want her to want me and that sex not be an accommodation as if it were her wifely duty to “put out”.

Furthermore, and this is asking for it all, I want passion. In our schedule of expectations, I want to make sure that we regularly have a night of passion. Now, scheduling passion may seem rather unspontaneous. Whatever. I’ll take it. If I were to wait for spontaneity, I’d be waiting a while. No, I need to experience that there’s something about me that my wife is passionate about. It satisfies me that she is satisfied with me and satisfied by me. I want to believe that I quench her need for a man just as she quenches my need for a woman. This subtlety is meaningful here for me – she engages in sex to satisfy herself, not just to satisfy me. The occasional sex for sex’s sake does that for me.

So sex is predominantly a psychological game in the long run. Sure, young love may not readily see that because the newness refreshes the batteries so quickly. But as life accumulates, the need to get the nuances right also accumulate. Ultimately, sex is about intimacy. Yes, you can love one woman for a lifetime. It’s possible because though physical sex is the same no matter who you do it with, it’s the psychological aspects that are merged between man and wife. And figuring that out takes time. Each era of marriage creates new challenges to manage, yet if you continue to invest in each other, sex gets better. It gets better because you appreciate each other more, you pick up on all the nuances, you provide grace and patience, and satisfaction results in just being together, sexually and otherwise. This kind of intimacy is the top of the mountain, so gentlemen, gear up.

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | October 26th, 2014|Relational|1 Comment

Dream Catcher

I put my hand on Dano’s forehead and started shaking it back and forth. “Ok, I see it. Here it comes….Wow! It’s a rocket ship and you’re blasting off into outer space.  Dano, this is going to be a great dream.  Ok, you’re pressed back into your chair as the rocket leaves the earth’s orbit” as I pressed his head harder into his pillow. “And now you’re out of the atmosphere and soaring through space in your rocketship. OH!!! Look out! There’s another ship and it’s firing on you! You have to avoid being hit by photons.” And I would push him around, Dano giggling like a typical 8 year old. The story went on for 5 minutes or so till I cut it off and said, “We’ll continue this next time.  Time to go to sleep.” And Dano would lie there and continue to mentally play out the dream I had planted.

Bedtime routines were anything but routine when I put the kids to bed. I would take away their bad dreams and plant good ones. The kids loved the time that their dad would come in and spend talking about their day, but it was the dreams that really made bedtime exciting. There was a serious burden coming up with a new story 3 nights a week (three kids one night each). And ultimately, that’s what did me in. I did this for more than a year, providing stories, but eventually ran out of steam. My big regret. I deeply regret not steeling myself to the task of building their creative minds and filling them with stories of adventure and character development. I had the energy, I could have continued if I knew then what I know now.

But here’s what my thinking was. Long day. I just want to relax in front of the TV, have some dessert, and think about whether tonight was sex night or not. In other words, I was looking to fill my cup. Filling my pleasure cup with rest and passive sensations. I look back on the opportunity in my late thirties and early forties to become something bigger and I have TV shows and desserts as my memories. Now, I was a pretty good dad, don’t get me wrong, but I have these nagging regrets on the life I could have had. Not huge disappointments, but little nagging “oh, I coulda been a contendah” thoughts. I was at a fork in the road and I didn’t see it. In my eventual good – better – best philosophy, I settled for good.

Maybe this might be different for you because I had my first child at 28, second at 30, and third at 32 and many of you are starting so much later and are more mature than I was.  I started my business at 35.  Our marriage conflicts ended around 37. I gained relative economic success around 39. And at that point, I started taking my foot off the gas. I had built something respectable, something I could point to and say “Look what I’ve got. Got the great marriage, got the happy kids, got the money, got some material things, got the MBA, Black belt, rhythm – Who could ask for anything more?” My dreams, or so I thought them to be, were fulfilled. But I missed an important lesson that didn’t come clear to me till much later.

I should have continued to be a Dream Catcher for my kids at night. It is a metaphor really. Through my actions I would have said ‘I will be with you and plant good thoughts in your mind and encourage you to the highest of heights through story, yes, but much more importantly, through modeling. I will continue to pursue my own dreams and when achieved, find new dreams to capture. Did I put on the brakes in my life? No of course not, but I stopped accelerating. I looked to satisfy me in a way that slightly diminished my own potential.  I should have pursued significance instead of meager success by continuing to be all in.

Be a Dream Catcher.

In your Ironmen group, discuss what kind of life you’re building with respect to family, economics, health, spiritual, and personal. What will you do when you get there?

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | September 26th, 2014|Relational|0 Comments

Capstone

I remember:

  • It was Greg, and Tom, and Eric, and Brad, and Scott, and Mike and all the kids and a few others and all the wives. We hiked to the top of the Sand Dunes National Park. Not an easy climb given the steep slope of sand. At the top Eric and I hit golf balls and almost killed his son with a 7-iron 600 yards down by the creek where the wives were preparing lunch. We played football and drank Corona’s till the sun’s setting brought out the cold and mosquitos. That weekend, like the 20 others like it, was awesome. Thanks to our friends the Nixons who took the lead in coordinating the trip every year.

  • Easter Sunday brought the gang together every year. We’d trade off taking turns on who would host the post-church event. We’d start to arrive at 1:00and everyone would bring a dish or two. In the early years there were some games. But the egg (candy) hunt was the highlight. When my son was 3, I was in charge of watching him – which I did from afar. He plummeted from the jungle gym and broke his leg and I, uh, well, let’s just say I was in the doghouse for a bit. The dozen-plus families have continued this for 20+ years.

  • Every Santa Lucia holiday, my Swedish wife would put together a smorgasbord for our friends that included Swedish meatballs, sill, bockling, honey-baked ham, glogg, beer, wine, and of course, aquavit. The singing of Helan Gar and the raucous hilarity and Jimmy’s annual costume surprise has been a staple of our group for 20 years.

  • Last year, the gang of 20 of us went to France for a week on a barge trip. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in my life. While we biked along the canal, and tromped around the vineyards, and indulged (or over-indulged) on gourmet lunches and dinners, we put a capstone on a life-long community of friendships.

  • Girls nights out. Guys nights out. The time that the guys coordinated a treasure hunt  that sent the women all over the city that ended up at a picnic in the foothills.The 4th of July parties – wow. The myriad sporting events because the families grew up together. The countless dinners together, graduation parties, engagement parties, and weddings.The examples go on – as does life.

Here’s the thing guys, community is not some tired out old slogan that you hear at church. A movie theater full of people is not a community. A church isn’t necessarily a community. It takes relationships – deep, deep relationships to make a community. And deep relationships take time. So you need to start working on building those relationships and figuring out how to break down the walls – your’s and theirs.  But community isn’t all just fun and games. Sometimes it’s life-saving support.

  • My buddy and his wife confronted a situation that they couldn’t fathom when their youngest was 18 months. She somehow got cancer and it threw them into immediate turmoil. Even though they had a big family to draw on, it was their friends that picked up the pieces so that their oldest two daughters had clean clothes, had lunches, got to school on time. Their friends kept the house together, did laundry, made sure that things kept functioning while providing them with ears to hear and shoulders to lean on. Only a developed community could have done that. This calamity saved our friends and brought us together as a community.

Over the next 20 years of your life, you will be confronted with the opportunity to participate in events, dinners, and gatherings that act as opportunities to gather couples into your sphere. At some point, someone is going to have to take leadership in coordinating something that creates a group. Mike and Nanci had game night. That was awesome. Caren and Brad coordinated camping. My wife had the Swedish party. All the ladies coordinated Easter. These are the times that knitted my family together and all the families into a community.

Why did it happen? God I suppose. But the key here is that I didn’t get in the way and oppose it. I was a participant and sometimes leader in getting our friends together. And I bring this up because I’ve seen guys push community events away for ego, disposition, or trivial reasons.  Building community is a big part of your job. This is where you want to go, trust me. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Discuss in your Ironmen group how you and your mates can get together and have some fun.

 

To your continued success.

Dave

 

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By | September 17th, 2014|Relational|0 Comments

What Women Want

Ok, I’m going to go out on a limb here and expose the sexist that I am. Do I know what women want? Hell no. Not with any certainty. But I’ve been around awhile and can probably offer a pretty good guess. Does my guess apply to all women? Definitely not. Is my observation tainted by my gendered bias? Duh. What women want is they want a Man. A real man. That’s pretty obvious.  What isn’t so obvious and what the debate is about in every strata of society is what being a man means. I propose to take a swipe at it today. I would say that what women want primarily is spiritual leadership. Hang with me because it won’t be traditional.

First off: Why is it important to know what women want? The answer almost doesn’t need articulating – it’s so we can get what we want. Hello! As the great Zig Ziglar famously said, “If you help enough people get what they want, you get what you want.” And that is never more true than when it comes to the woman in your life. When she believes that you want to lead, intend to lead, and in fact attempt to lead, then she will increasingly buy into that as she sees your resolve and activity.

My wife and I spoke at a MOPS event last year. We received questions in advance about what issues were most concerning to these young moms. The most common question asked was “How do I get my husband to lead the family spiritually?” Where to begin. Let’s start with the context of the mom.

So here you have a young woman who is new to the life thing, say 32 years old with 2 kids under 4. Her world is crammed full of diapers and feedings and storytime and naptime. She might work full or part time. She’s got housework and shopping and boo boos and continuous questions and monitoring of activities. The job has a weightiness that would lead to weariness except that they’re so darned cute. This is the job of nurturing.

There are elements that the mom can’t supply. She can’t dad the way that dads can. She’s not rough. Sometimes she can over protect because the need to nurture and avoid pain is ingrained in her spiritual DNA. She doesn’t have the loud voice and can come across as shrill. She needs someone to comfort her when she caught one of the kids’ sniffles. And then there’s the hormones. She wants to be held, but not as a prelude to pouring out into someone else’s cup – again.

When she said “I do” so many years ago and later accepted the seed of the family, it was with the belief or underlying assumption that this male would continue to grow and become the man for her. She would do her part, carry life, nurture life, spend countless hours investing in life, so that life would be shared and an abundance would flow from it. That is her part.

His part is a little tougher. It’s tougher because it isn’t ingrained. It wasn’t taught. It’s not defined nor is it clear as to how to grow up, what role to play, how to be a man. A man is a man because he leads in the big things. That he leads in such a way as to be inclusive, proactive and forward thinking. It isn’t about force in any way, but about building up. The man that a woman wants is a man that energizes himself to have a vision for the family and each individual member. A vision that is pursued with intention.

So where does spiritual leadership come in? Well, what I said already stands alone as spiritual leadership. The picture I painted of a man leading by waking up early on the weekend and rousing the family in song to get up and get ready because “We’re going to go on a picnic at the park” where he takes the load of the decision and preparation. He inspirits with the cheerleading of the family, of action-orientation, of Dad being engaged. That is spiritual leadership. But there’s more to it than that because the kids won’t be 1 and 3 for long. There are countless and countless situations and factors that will call upon the dad to lead. And if dad isn’t ready or mature or knowledgeable, then what? What if dad is caught up in his head about “Damned religious hypocrites” and would rather be “I’m spiritual and not religious” (which is really secularism) than go to church.

Hey, church isn’t everything, but for a growing family that is looking to establish a solid base, it’s a big, big, BIG deal. The man is a man when he weighs the long range pros and cons of life and leads the family to the horizon that offers the most wholesome benefits. A man is a man when he gets out of his own way. A man is a man when he acknowledges in front of the family that dad’s knowledge and power is limited, so he’s therefore reaching out for guidance. He reaches for wisdom which is in the Bible, it’s in community, it’s in the idea that God exists and a relationship with Him is better than going it alone. (This is a particularly valuable position with teenagers.) Each of these elements aren’t pure and must be navigated (this statement is too much to expand on today), but they’re steps toward what women want. Women want to be connected. Women want to be connected. What? Connected.

So the man your current or future wife wants? She wants you to create an environment of well-being where she and the kids can connect and grow. You do this by cheerleading the family, by going to church, by leading in mealtime prayer, by being intentional in short, medium, and long range thinking about family well-being. And you can’t do this if you’re not up to speed on spiritual (and religious) perspectives, all of which takes time to navigate properly.

So if you’re not dating, you should go to church to start figuring all this out.  If you’re dating and having sex, go to church anyway, even if you think you’re a hypocrite and going to church might spoil your jam.  If you’re dating and not sure she’s the one and going to church might send her the wrong message, go anyway. If you’re serious about her, then church will seal the deal. If you’re married and no kids yet, go to church to start the big discussions. Why church? Why am I pushing church? Because for you to be the man you want to be, it’s going to take some momentum in this area to get through the later in life issues you will have. And your (future) wife and kids will be a million times better off with a man leading the family.

To your continued success,

Dave

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By | August 8th, 2014|Relational|0 Comments