Break Time’s Over

Let’s start with the most important thing: Today is launch day for my book, Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication.

Today would be a great day to pick it up.

Or not.

The reason to get it today is that a strong launch gives a book more quick exposure, which builds momentum. If it’s a helpful book, it’s a chance to get it into more hands so it can help more people.

So, it would be great if you could:

  • Pick up a copy or three on Amazon or your favorite online retail outlet.
  • Share this post with your “tribe” through your social media accounts, and encourage others to do the same.

There is one reason, though, why you might want to pass it up:

You might already have it.

Here’s the scoop:

A couple of years ago, Revell published my book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: RealCommunicationNeeded.
It was a book about learning to communicate effectively when conversations get challenging and uncomfortable. But people read the title and thought it was a book about the evils of social media, and how it messes with our relationships.  Even the media interviews I did focused on technology, not communication.

People agreed strongly with that idea, but they didn’t need a book to tell them.

So they said nice things about it, but didn’t buy it.

I approached my publisher and asked if we could make a change in the packaging so it would be more accurate. They had already been thinking that direction, so they agreed.

The result? The book that’s launching today – Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy CommunicationIt’s a revised version of that original book. So if you bought that one, you might not need to get this new one (though it’s a little different).

But you can still spread the word . . . which I would deeply appreciate.

I just read through the book again. It’s been awhile, so I wanted to see what I said.

Here’s the interesting thing I discovered: It’s a really good book. In fact, I think it might be the most helpful book I’ve written.  When the focus was on technology, it was an OK book.  But now that the focus is on communication, it was a surprisingly helpful read.

If you’re challenged by tough, uncomfortable conversations, I think you’ll find some real help here. It’s full of practical tips and advice of what’s needed to build your conversational toolbox, and how to use those tools effectively.

Know someone who’s struggling in a relationship? This could make the difference for them.  It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s proven.  It’s not stuffy (as evidenced by the cover).

So, this isn’t just about making a book successful (though that’s part of it). It’s about getting a tool in the hands of people who are stuck in their relationships.

——————–

That leads to the second part. I’ve been “on recess” for the most part over the past year.  There has been a lot going on – from job changes to multiple surgeries and a few other things that make life interesting.  So I’ve really missed connecting with you in this way.

But it’s time to come back.

There’s a new website coming in a few weeks (I actually hired an expert). It’ll be our “coffee shop” where we can connect about life.  I’ll be your barista, and you can drop in anytime.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m also jumping back into this blog again. So, you can expect to hear something about once a week.  (If you’d like to receive these posts automatically, sign up at the top of this page.)  You’re going to help pick the topics.  It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

And I’m working on the next book proposal. You’ll be part of the writing process on this one.

I also stuck my toes in the Instagram pool today. If you’re on there as well, we can go exploring together.

This “season” has helped me see how much I enjoy writing and connecting. So I’m looking forward to having you along on the journey. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful that you’re along for the ride.

Now – go spread the word about elephants . . . and we’ll talk again next week!

What Cows Can Teach Us About Tough Conversations

I don’t know much about cows, except that they seem really peaceful when I see them on the side of a hill munching grass.

Low stress. No hurry.  They’re just enjoying being cows.

But they don’t like rain.

The other day, I read about a rancher in a Midwestern rural community who has hundreds of cows. His cows roam freely over miles of pastureland, and they lead pretty comfortable lives.

At certain times of the year, cloudbursts come through on a regular basis. They only last about five minutes, and they move pretty slowly.

But the cows don’t like those mini-storms. So they try to run away from them.

The problem is, cows don’t run very fast.

The storms don’t move very fast.

So the cows run along with the storm, and they get soaked a lot longer. If they just stood still, the storm would be uncomfortable – but it would be over a lot quicker as it moved over them.  By running with the storm, they prolong the pain.

Relationships are like that.

When there’s something uncomfortable that needs to be addressed, we don’t look forward to it. We put off talking about it.  We procrastinate. We hope it’ll just get better.

The longer we put it off, the more it grows – and the worse it becomes.

By putting off the tough conversation, we prolong the discomfort.

We run with the storm.

It’s uncomfortable to deal with tough issues when they first surface, but it’s the best time to address them. If we wait, it always gets worse.

Issues that are procrastinated on are always magnified.

Cow runningAre you dreading a tough conversation? Now’s the time to make it happen.

Don’t be a cow.

Don’t run with the storm.

Deal with it now, and it you’ll get past it more quickly.

Maybe it’s time to mooooove into the conflict.

(Sorry – couldn’t resist.)

For Women Only . . .

"I Wish He Had Come with Instructions"

Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of do-it-yourself furniture. It’s become a familiar process:

  • Open the box
  • Look for the instructions
  • Lay out all the pieces
  • Try to follow the instructions
  • Get frustrated
  • Eat cookies

The instructions read as though they were written by someone who had never seen the actual pieces. Their “step-by-step” process becomes more like “stop-by-stop.”  We think, If I stay focused, I’ll figure it out.

But it doesn’t happen.

Women – does it ever feel like the same thing is true of men? You find one you like, and the picture on the box looks promising.  But when you look inside, there are no instructions.

“That’s OK,” you think. “He comes preassembled.” You won’t need to figure out how to put the pieces together.

But it’s not just the instruction manual that’s missing. There’s also no operation manual to describe how he works:

  • You can’t find the power button.
  • He turns on all by himself at random times and turns off suddenly when you least expect it.
  • He usually seems to work OK, but there seems to be no way to control him.

Most of the time he does what you expect him to do. But there are those unexpected times when he doesn’t cooperate.  You think he’ll help with the housework, but instead he plops down on a couch and plows through a bag of Cheetos while watching people run around a field on a big screen.

That’s when you notice the warning labels on the box that you overlooked:

  • “Fragile” (he needs an ego boost to keep functioning)
  • “This end up” (if he gets upset, he doesn’t work right)
  • “Batteries not included” (he runs out of energy at the worst times)

So, what do you do when there’s no operation manual? You end up writing your own.

Most women have experienced something similar with the men in their lives. So they talk to each other, trying to figure out what their men are thinking. But without knowing exactly what’s going on in a man’s mind, it becomes an exercise in futility.  They write their own operation manual from their own female frame of reference.  It’s what they know.

That can be dangerous, because those male differences can be seen as problems to solve. I’ve seen a number of books that focus on two approaches:

  1. Fixing those differences
  2. Coping with those differences

Both of those can be unhealthy.  They ignore the fact that differences are essential for a relationship to grow and thrive.  That’s the third option:

Embrace the differences.

When I was getting ready to write my latest book, “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions: A Woman’s Guide to a Man’s Brain,” I went to the bookstore to see what had already been written.  I found two categories:

  • Books written by women about how men think
  • Books written by men giving advice to women

I decided to fill the obvious gap – a book about a man’s brain, written by someone who’s lived in there for a long time.

My wife, Diane started me in the right direction. “There are too many books written by men telling women what to do,” she said.  “Men don’t know how women think, either – so they shouldn’t be giving them advice like that.”

Bechtle_Instructions.inddSo, in this new book, I’ve chosen to simply be a tour guide. I’ll take you on a journey of a man’s brain so you know what’s going on.  I won’t tell you what to do.  I’ll just show you the scenic lookouts and the switchbacks on the trail and the toxic waste spots to avoid.  I’ll just walk with you on the journey.

It’s an understanding manual, not an instruction manual.

It was a fun book to write – and I think it might be my favorite. It’s gotten some great reviews already, and I’ve had some pretty energetic media response during interviews.

Now, it’s your chance to find out for yourself . . . and I’d love your help getting the word out, so others can benefit.

The book launched this week. The first couple of weeks is important for the success of a book, because it shows how much interest there is in the book.  The more “buzz” that takes place initially, the better the chance of it taking off.

Since you’re the people that have allowed me to have good conversations with you every week or so, I’d like to ask your help. Here are some things you can do as part of my “team:”

  • Buy a copy for yourself (you can purchase or download it here), and maybe an additional one for a friend.
  • Rank it with “stars” on Amazon. (Yeah, I look at those, too when I’m buying things.) Add a short review if you’re so inclined. That also applies to Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.
  • Let people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. know that you’re reading it. Add a cat video to capture their attention.
  • Share this blog post with others and invite them to join our discussions.
  • If you have a blog, post something about it there. If you use guest posts or author interviews, I’d be happy to drop by. If you do book reviews, I’ll get you a copy to give away. We’re in this writing thing together, and I’d love to help you out.
  • Donate a copy to your church or public library. Or put it in your dentist’s office so people have an alternative from reading a copy of Reader’s Digest from 2006.

Let me know your thoughts as you read. I’d love to hear your input, especially how it helps you understand the men in your life.

And if your man reads it, that’s OK. It could make for some interesting discussions!

Thanks – just know how much I appreciate the chance to connect through this blog every couple of weeks. Soon, you’ll see a new website and a new approach – so stay tuned!

Don’t Forget to Remember

When Diane and I first got married, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a tiny house in Redondo Beach, California.

Tiny, meaning 450 square feet. That was it.  It’s what we could afford.

It was a fixer-upper, and we saved rent by agreeing to do some repairs and restoration ourselves. We worked together to put in a lawn, paint the house and install flower beds and plants.

It was a lot of work, but we didn’t care. We were in L-O-V-E, and we did it together.

The house was only a few blocks from the beach, so we’d often walk down there in the evenings. It didn’t cost anything, and we could just hold hands and talk.  We couldn’t afford to go to the movies or out to dinner often – but that was OK.

We were just grateful to be together.

CansFor our wedding, someone had given us several large, heavy boxes for a gift. When we opened them, they were filled with dozens of cans of food – but someone had taken all the labels off.  “What a clever gift,” we said.  We laughed because it was so random.

We tucked those cans away in the top shelf of our kitchen cupboard, wondering what we would ever do with them. At least up there, they were out of the way.

But in that first year or so of marriage, there were more than a few times when we ran out of money and the refrigerator was empty. So we would select three cans, shaking them to guess what was inside.  We would set them on the table with a can opener, and say grace over them – thanking God for our meal.

Then we opened them.

It wasn’t unusual to have a meal of canned peaches, beans and olives.

I don’t think we would ever go to a restaurant and order that combination. But we always remember those meals – not because of the randomness of the food, but because of the gratefulness we felt for provision.  It was there when we needed it, and we never took it for granted.

Next week, we’ll celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.  There have been ups and downs in every area of life – but we’ve worked hard to stay grateful.

All of the cans in our cupboards have labels today. When we plan a meal, we know exactly what’s coming.  There’s something comforting about that.

But it’s not nearly as exciting.     

At the beginning of a relationship, most people have more time than stuff.

Later in a relationship, most people have more stuff than time.

Stuff isn’t bad. But it’s easy to take it for granted when we have a lot of it.

Time is good, because it’s where we live. But it’s easy to let time get crowded out by stuff.

Maybe it’s good to think back to the beginning.

  • What was your relationship like when you had more time than stuff?
  • How is it different now?
  • What choices could you make to find more time in your relationship?
  • How can you become as grateful for the present as you were for the past?

Now, there’s a dinner topic . . .

14 Top Tips for Your Best Year of Marriage Ever

One year from today, your marriage could be better than it is now.

It’s not a matter of willpower, trying to “be a better spouse.”  It’s not avoiding tough conversations or trying to ignore the things that bug you.

It happens when you’re intentional about your relationship.

It’s kind of like investing. 

Some people buy stock that looks promising, but only check them once a year to see if they’ve made money.  Other people study the market consistently, analyze their investments, and make corrections to maximize their return.

Your marriage is the greatest investment you’ll ever make.  It’s not “day trading.”  It’s “buy and hold.”  The more you pay attention, the greater will be the return.

Awesome marriages happen by design, not by default.

So, what can you do in the next 365 days to get the greatest possible return?

1. Attend a marriage conference together. People pay for classes to improve their fitness, correct their golf swing or learn a hobby or skill. Why not invest in a solid seminar or coaching to learn how to improve your relationship or communication? My wife’s parents went to a marriage seminar at their church when they were in their 70’s. I love that.

2. Pause before responding. We’ve all said something hurtful during conflict that we regretted. Develop the habit of pausing during tough conversation and choosing your words carefully. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say really the response I should give?”

3. When things get tough, don’t quit. A good friend told me, “When you’re in the middle of a pile of manure, you feel like giving up and going back. But it’s the same distance to get out if you move forward.”

4. Give your spouse more attention this year. Count up (seriously) how many hours you spend watching TV or working on your hobbies, and how much time you spend eyeball-to-eyeball with your spouse. Do a little bit less of the first ones, and a little bit more of the last one.

5. Treat your spouse better than anyone else in your life. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s a cliché, but tends to be true. It’s easy to take each other for granted over time. Keep pursuing your spouse the way you did when you were first dating, and never lose the sense of wonder.

6. Don’t compare your spouse with others. Your neighbor’s grass always looks greener when you’re viewing it from your own yard, because you only see the green tips of the blades. All you see looking down on your own lawn are the bare spots and the weeds. There are a lot of nice lawns out there, but there’s only one that belongs to you. Take care of it, and it will flourish.

7. Don’t insist on being right. There are a lot of battles that aren’t worth fighting, because they take energy away from the ones that need our attention. Learn to disagree without disrespect.

8. Give each other a 15-second kiss daily. I read about this a few months ago, and found it valuable. You can’t rush through it, and it reminds you to slow down and reconnect.

9. Set financial goals together. Money is often the biggest source of conflict between couples. When emotions rise because of money issues, use them as a trigger to get help. Determine to face finances as a team, rather than letting it divide you. Go through a good book or course together, with the goal of unity.

10. Pay attention to their day. Develop the habit of curiosity, wondering what their day was like. Don’t just say, “How was your day?” Take the time to explore the journey they’ve been on while you’ve been apart.

11. Surprise them occasionally. Do something unexpected for no reason or holiday. Drive out before they’re awake and bring home their favorite mocha so they have a treat when they wake up – or wash their car when they’re not looking.

12. Don’t complain to friends about your spouse. That’s sacred territory, and needs to be kept between the two of you. Talk with your spouse, not about your spouse (except when it’s positive).

13. Hang out with people you admire – together and separately. It’s true that we become like the people we spend the most time with. Find a couple that you want your marriage to be like, and simply do life with them occasionally. Do the same with your individual friends.

14. Value the differences. That’s what attracted you in the first place, and what brings the richness into your relationship. If you both felt exactly the same way about everything, one of you would be unnecessary.

Having the best year of marriage ever won’t happen by accident.

It happens by intention.

Whether your marriage is solid or shaky, make the investment.  You can’t always guarantee what the return on that investment will be.  But there’s one thing you can be sure of:

If you don’t invest, there will be no return.

Start investing intentionally.

Start today.

It’s your best chance for the best year of marriage ever!

The Marriage Investment

I sat in the front row last Saturday at my son’s wedding.  Tim and Lucy stood before us, promising to love each other no matter what.

Lucy’s parents sat across from us on the other side.  I wondered what was going through their minds as they gave their daughter to this young man.  I couldn’t ask because of the language barrier.

But I could see in their eyes the trust they had built in Tim during a six-year, long-distance courtship.

He had flown to Guadalajara to ask for their permission to marry her.  It’s not common for a 33-year old man to do that, but he wanted to do it right.  He respected them enough to ask.

As I looked across the courtyard at her dad, I’m pretty sure I knew what he was feeling.

It was the same feeling I had years ago when Brian asked me if he could marry my daughter.

Wedding silhouetteWhen Brian took me out for coffee, I knew it was coming.  We sat outdoors on metal chairs next to the noisy parking lot, and he talked more than usual.  He played with his coffee cup, but didn’t drink anything – so I knew he was nervous.  It was a warm evening, but I sensed that he was sweating more than I was.

I loved that boy.  Still do.  And I’ll have to admit, it was fun watching him squirm a bit.

Finally he asked.

I don’t remember exactly how he asked, but I remember how I responded.

“Brian,” I said, “I just want you to know what you’re asking for.”

He got really quiet.

“Let’s say I started investing my money.  I studied how it worked, and learned about the market.  I invested a little bit every day, and was always careful to make the wisest investments possible.  I kept track of my portfolio, and kept adding to it for the next 20 years or so.  I wanted to get the greatest possible return on my investment, so I followed it carefully.  The economy would go up and down, and I never knew what would happen – but I made adjustments during those times to make sure it would pay off.”

I continued: “And let’s say it worked.  After all that time, my portfolio had grown to be worth a fortune.  The value to me was great, because I had put so much energy into it.  I had become wealthy.”

Brian kept listening, and wasn’t playing with his cup anymore.

“Now, you come along and say, “Hey!  I really like what you’ve done with your money.  Can I have it?  I’ll take good care of it!”

I asked, “What do you think I’d be feeling?”

He knew where this was going.  He said, “You’d have to really trust me enough to handle it, and care about me enough to give it away.”

“Exactly,” I responded.

“I don’t have that kind of financial portfolio.  I’m not wealthy.  But I’m rich, because I’ve invested in my daughter for two decades.  The payoff has been huge.  She’s my portfolio, and she’s worth more to me than you can imagine.”

“That’s what you’re asking for.  You’re not just marrying my daughter because you love her.  You’re asking me to trust you with my investment and hand it over to you.”

We talked for a while longer.

I said “yes.”  Brian started breathing again.

Almost fourteen years later, I’ve seen that it was my best investment move ever.

That’s what I saw in the eyes of Lucy’s dad last weekend.  He’s poured his life into his daughter, and he’s rich because of it.  Now, he’s trusting my son to manage his portfolio.

It won’t be perfect.  It won’t be easy.  But my son is a good manager of emotional investments.  This is the first time he’s had a chance to use those investing skills in a marriage relationship.  He and Lucy will work on that portfolio together.

He’s keenly aware of the value he’s been trusted with.  And he’s shown himself to be trustworthy.

It’s a reminder to me of the portfolio I was given 37 years ago by my father-in-law.  He trusted me, and I’ve worked hard on his investment.

When the payoff comes, everyone wins.

I love this type of investing.

How’s your portfolio?

How Mayonnaise Can Save Your Marriage

There’s a glass bottle in our cupboard that contains homemade salad dressing. It’s a combination of olive oil and flavored balsamic vinegar that we pick up at a local specialty shop. The owner showed us the appropriate ratio to use to get the best results.

Whenever we put in on the table, the oil is floating on top of the vinegar. We have to shake it up to get it to mix. But we have to drizzle it over the salad quickly or it separates again. Sometimes it mixes well, while other times it still seems to separate again the moment we stop shaking it.

I figured it had something to do with the different types of vinegar. There had to be something that made some mix better than others. So I did a little research.

In the process, I learned a new term that I had heard, but never understood: emulsification.

I turns out that when you shake the oil and vinegar mixture, it breaks the liquid into tiny droplets. The droplets aren’t really mixing; they’re just hanging out temporarily, like people who just walked into a crowded event with thousands of people.

It looks like they’ve combined. But eventually, the droplets rejoin their friends in small groups and the liquids separate again.

But there are things called emulsifiers that can slow that process down considerably. Emulsifiers are different types of food you add to the mix that keeps those droplets separated longer. They work at the molecular level (which is why it’s off my radar – my high school chemistry teacher suggested I find a career in writing).

It turns out that certain herb-based vinegars blend better, because they coat the molecules so they don’t reattach as easily. That’s a simplistic perspective, but it explains why some salad dressings stay mixed longer than others.

But my favorite discovery was egg yolks. One description said that the molecules in egg yolks have sort of a head and a tail. One end is attracted to water molecules, while the other end is attracted to oil molecules. So they act as a bridge between the two to hold them together. It’s kind of a chemical matchmaker to keep totally unique types of molecules connected.

imagesMayonnaise is a great example. If it didn’t contain egg yolks, it would separate in the refrigerator over time. But with the yolks, it’s filled with tiny matchmakers that hold the whole thing together. That’s why we don’t have to stir mayonnaise each time we use it.

OK, maybe mayonnaise isn’t the healthiest thing in the fridge. But it’s a great metaphor for relationships.

Here’s my take on it:

There are “salad dressing relationships” and “mayonnaise relationships.”

Salad dressing relationships consist of two unique people trying to blend together. They live in the same bottle, and they’re trying to become one. But their different temperaments, personalities and interests drive them apart. They try to find common ground, but end up irritating each other. Over time, they get used to it and take each other for granted.

They’re together, but living separate lives.

Mayonnaise relationships have the same unique people trying to blend together. But somehow, it works. Their relationship is stable, even in the middle of the tough patches in life.

They have emulsifiers.

What are the emulsifiers that make the difference?

  • Unconditional commitment – Something powerful happens when there’s an atmosphere that says, “You’re stuck with me . . . I’m not going anywhere.” Those are phrases that need to be verbalized often, not just assumed.
  • Courtesy – The closer a relationship becomes, the more important it is to monitor respect for each other. Courtesy is the “golden rule” in practice, valuing others in the same way we want them to value us.
  • Mutual benefit – When conflict comes or we need to solve a problem, it’s healthy to look for solutions that benefit both of us.
  • Ownership – Healthy people take ownership of their emotions. If we blame someone else for the way we feel, we’ve given them control of our emotions. We can’t stop the feeling, but we can decide how we’re going to respond.
  • Identity – Marriage is a team sport – a single unit made up of two unique individuals. They each make a unique contribution that’s distinct from the other members of the team, but they work together to accomplish a common purpose. The strength of any relationship is the distinctness that each individual brings.

They say that the only things that would survive a nuclear blast are cockroaches, Spam and Velveeta cheese.

I wonder if mayonnaise would also be on that list.

I wonder if my marriage would be on that list . . . and I think it will, if we add the right ingredients.

 

What would you add to your marriage to make it last?

Boycott Valentine’s Day?

I read the other day that for $10, you can have the Bronx Zoo name a cockroach after your loved one for Valentine’s Day.

(The scary thing is that I know about six guys who are reading this, thinking, “Finally – the perfect gift.”)

Here are a few other stats about the day:

  • Americans spend $1.6 billion on candy on Valentine’s Day.
  • The average amount spent on Valentine’s Day is about $131 per person (including dinner, gifts, etc.)
  • 62% of people gain 14 pounds after committing to a relationship.

ValentineMy wife is a huge fan of romance – but not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  It just feels so commercial, she says . . . and companies make a ton of money forcing people to participate.

It makes sense. Wouldn’t it be more romantic to do the same thing you do on Valentine’s Day, but on a random day of the year – just because you wanted to?

On Valentine’s Day, it’s expected.  On a different day, it’s a surprise – and a celebration.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to celebrate the day.  But what if we made it more low-key, and saved the bigger celebration for a “just because” day?

Make it a date that’s about just being together:

– Go to a Hallmark store and select perfect cards for each other.  Don’t buy them – just show them to each other, kiss, and put them back.

– Skip the fancy restaurants – they’re crowded and noisy.  Dress up and go to your favorite fast-food place and sit in the corner and talk.

– Buy frozen yogurt and sit in your car to eat it while listening to your favorite songs.

– Download a sappy movie for a couple of bucks on Amazon, and watch it on your laptop.  Make it something a little romantic and a little corny so you can laugh together.

– Go to the mall and hold hands.  Don’t buy anything – just dream.

– Write the love note you want to receive, have them sign it and give it back to you.

Now, if you decide to try this, talk about it before Valentine’s Day.  If you try it and the other person is expecting the usual treatment, you probably won’t like the response.

But what’s the real purpose of Valentine’s Day? To be intentional about saying “I love you.”

You don’t have to boycott Valentine’s Day.  Just think beyond the routine and the expectations. 

Maybe you don’t have a valentine – or the one you have isn’t sensitive enough to do anything at all.  You’re just happy that there’s one day when they’re forced to remember romance.

That’s realistic. 

All the more reason to ignore the commercialism of the day, and be intentional about our real relationships. 

Love isn’t primarily something you feel; it’s something you do.

Let’s do it – whatever it looks like for you.

10 Top Ways to Stay Married (Top post replay)

10.  Never criticize your spouse in public, to anyone.  Ever.

Penguin couple

9.    Everybody has advice.  Ignore most of it.

8.    When your communication isn’t working, your spouse isn’t the enemy.  The enemy is probably the way you’re communicating.

7.    In conflict, remind each other that you’re on the same team.

6.    Don’t let pressure get between you, pushing you apart.  Keep it on the outside, pushing you together.

5.    Tell each other, “You’re stuck with me.  I’m not going anywhere.”  Often.

4.    Pick your battles.

3.    At the end of the day, ask your spouse, “How did you grow today?”

2.    Don’t have any escape clauses.  If ending the relationship isn’t an option, it frees you to make it through the tough times.

1.    Never lose your sense of wonder.

Penguin couple

There’s a Reason They’re Called “Vows”

Outdoor weddings are risky.

When the date is reserved months ahead of time, there’s no guarantee what the weather will be like.  So much could go wrong.  But the ceremony is planned anyway, hoping for the best.

Last Sunday, we attended one of those weddings where everything went right.  The garden setting was framed by a crystal blue sky and perfect temperature.  The beach was just a block away, and seagulls glided by occasionally to accent the setting.

I think the bride’s father paid extra for that.  So much could have gone wrong, but it turned out to be perfect.

As we watched the bride and groom exchange their vows, I realized that it’s not just outdoor weddings that are risky.

Marriage is risky. 

We enter into it, not knowing what the future holds.

But by making vows, we’re promising what we’ll do when life gets tough.

Cake topperAnd life will get tough.

That’s why we have wedding ceremonies.  We dress up to show that it’s special (I don’t normally wear a suit at the beach).  The couple stands in front of their supportive friends, launching their lifelong journey together.

And they make promises to each other. 

We make those promises publicly (“before God and witnesses”) as a way of saying, “OK, we want everybody to know what we’re promising.”  When everybody knows, we’re more accountable.

It’s kind of like going on a diet and telling everybody, so we’re less inclined to quit when it gets tough.

The word “promise” doesn’t mean we’ll carry it out if it’s convenient.  It implies that we’ll do what we say, no matter what.

That’s why the traditional vows say, “For better or for worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health . . .”

Too often we really mean, “For better . . . for richer . . . in health . . .”

Promises aren’t promises if they’re conditional.

Keeping promises builds trust.

Trust builds long-term marriages.

Trust minimizes the risks of marriage.

Trust builds confidence that our spouse will be there in the best of times and the worst of times.

Trust grows a marriage into a deep friendship.

Trust makes home a place of safety.

Trust makes us want to come home each day.

Trust makes the house smell like there’s warm bread in the oven.

Trust provides an incubator for our kids to learn genuine life skills, and to build healthy relationships.

Trust makes us smile through the pain.

Trust means we don’t have to face life alone.

I know that many people are reading this thinking, “It’s too late. There’s no trust left in our relationship. I’m married, but I’m all alone.”

Life has no easy solutions.  We can’t make somebody else change.

But we can make different choices, no matter what our spouse does. Maybe they haven’t kept their promises from our wedding day.  The trust is gone, and the relationship might have even ended.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep the promises we made.  The past doesn’t have to define the future.

Maybe it’s time to dig up our wedding video (or cassette tape, in our case) and listen to our vows again.  We stood before a bunch of people and made some promises.  They expected us to keep them.

Maybe our vows should be written and posted – and reviewed often.

So, to the bride and groom from Sunday’s wedding:

Celebrate.  Party.  Eat cake.  Dance. Adore each other.  Don’t lose the wonder.

Then keep your promises – no matter what.

You’ll build trust that will last a lifetime.

Finding Common Ground

The phone call came on Monday: “Can you fly to Mexico City tomorrow to teach a seminar on Wednesday?”

Normally, my first thoughts are about logistics: arranging flights and hotels, finding the seminar location, and making the right contacts.  But this time, my first question was, “Do they speak English?”  My Spanish consisted of the one phrase my grandmother knew: Como se llama su gato? (What is your cat’s name?)

That question could be handy in the right circumstances, but I wasn’t sure I could turn it into a full-day seminar. 

I was assured that my participants would be English speaking.  The company sent a driver to pick me up at the airport for the three-hour drive to the hotel.  I assumed that he would be able to communicate in English, but that wasn’t the case. Somehow he figured out who I was and approached me as I entered the terminal.  He had written out a sign with my name on it, so I followed him to the parking structure.

The language barrier was immediately obvious.  I made a few simple comments about the crowded terminal, the weather, and the time of day.  He just smiled and raised his hands as if to say, “Sorry – I don’t understand.”  He also made a few comments; I smiled and raised my hands in the same way.

It was obvious that our long ride would be a quiet one.

When he didn’t understand me, I found myself speaking a bit louder or a bit slower, thinking that would make a difference.  But there was no getting around one simple fact:

            He didn’t speak my language, and I didn’t speak his.

Nothing I could do would change that.

Mostly we just smiled at each other.  We couldn’t understand each other’s words, but we could smile.  Somehow, that began to form a connection between us.  As he drove, we accepted the language barrier and looked for other ways to communicate.

The best moment came when he remembered something he had in his glove compartment.  He reached over, fumbled through a pile of cassette tapes and pulled one out.  His huge smile appeared when he showed me one that he had obviously made himself with the words “American Music” written on the label with a blue marker.

We both laughed as he proudly inserted the tape and turned up the volume.  Who would have thought that old Sonny and Cher songs could be the common ground between two people?

To communicate effectively with my driver, I had three choices:

  1. I could learn Spanish.
  2. He could learn English.
  3. We could find some other common ground.

Option 1 would work in future situations, but not in that moment.

Option 2 assumes that it’s the other person’s responsibility to make the conversation work.

Option 3 can make effective communication a reality: finding common ground.

black-and-white-baby-togetherEveryone is human, which means they share a number of life experiences and emotions.  Those similarities can be the touch points that connect people at the heart.

A lot of people feel like they have to be really smart or well-read to be a good conversationalist. 

There’s an easier way:

Instead of trying to impress another person, try understanding them.  Look for the common ground between you, no matter how different they are.

Try it today with your boss – a stranger – your spouse – your kids – your colleagues.  Look for what unites you, not for what divides you.

It’s the foundation of every healthy relationship.

One Final Question To Ask Over Dinner (Part 3)

Several weeks ago, we talked about how any relationship can hit a dry spell, where the conversation lags a bit.  So we suggested 10 questions to ask over dinner to stir things up.  They were basic and fun – nothing too deep.  It was just a way to get people talking around a dinner table.

Then a week or so later, we added 10 more questions, slightly deeper than the first.  They were meant to build on the results of the first 10.

I’ve had several people tell me that the questions opened up some genuine dialogue.  All they needed was a few questions to get them started, and the momentum began to build.

So I have one more question.  This one’s riskier, and you want to think carefully about your relationship before you ask it.

It’s only for healthy relationships.  If there’s mistrust in the relationship, don’t go here.  Without a base of trust, it could just open a can of worms that you don’t want opened.

Here’s the question – a two-part question, actually:

  • On a 10-point scale (10 is best), how am I doing as a spouse?
  • If it’s not a 10, what would it take to get me to a 10?

imagesHere’s a couple of disclaimers:

  • Don’t just ask the question at dinner and expect an immediate response.  Talk one night about the question itself, to see if you’re ready to go there.  If not, work on the relationship itself, possibly using a counselor or therapist to grow through the tough issues.  In a healthy relationship, introduce the question one night, then take time for both parties to consider their responses for a few days before revisiting the question.
  • No matter what they say, don’t defend yourself.  You’re asking for their perspective so you can understand where they’re coming from.  You’re not trying to change them.  You just want to see through their eyes.  Thank them for taking the risk, then take a few days or weeks to process what you’ve heard before talking about it.
  • Keep the focus where it belongs.  The tendency is to focus on what we could do to get a higher score.  But it’s usually not about what we do; it’s about who we become.
  • In an unhealthy relationship, it’s obvious how this question could draw out a lot of pent-up criticism.  That’s why it’s good to save this question until things are going well in the relationship.  If things are shaky, don’t ask the question; just talk about the question.

Relationships take time.  There’s no rush.  These questions are all about getting us talking.  If we begin to talk more, we’ll begin to hear each other’s hearts.  When that happens, our relationships will grow . . .

. . . and we’ll be able to ask the challenging questions that can only make our relationships stronger.

Questions To Ask Over Dinner (Part 2)

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks.

Old coupleTwo weeks ago, I posted ten questions to ask during dinner.  We talked about how we sometimes just run out of things to discuss, and need a little catalyst.  So the first ten questions were designed to get things started again.

We haven’t finished them yet, but they’ve led to some interesting discussions.  I’ve heard the same from others — that it’s fun to put a little structure into a conversation once in a while.  Plus, people like talking about themselves and sharing their thoughts.  This is a legitimate way to do that.

So, let’s go for Round 2.  Here are ten more questions.  Print them off, and pick a different one each night to talk about.  Don’t have expectations — just enjoy the process.  You’ll probably be surprised at the level of connection you reach.

These are slightly “deeper” than the first batch.  A couple of weeks from now, I’ll give you a single question to ask — and you’ll probably have to think about whether you’re ready to ask it or not.

Here we go:

  1. What do you think makes you most memorable to others?
  2. What’s one life experience that you’d like to go back and live over again?
  3. Describe a time when you were embarrassed by a family member.
  4. What’s the correct way to squeeze a toothpaste tube?
  5. Describe the first funeral you ever attended.
  6. Are you hopeful about your future?  Why or why not?
  7. What’s a historical event that you would like to have witnessed – or participated in?
  8. What’s a hereditary trait that you don’t want to pass on to your kids?
  9. How much money would you need to call yourself rich? (Financially rich)
  10. If you could solve one crisis or problem in the world, what would it be?

Try it.  Share it.  Discuss it. Comment below with your experience and insights (and other topics).

See where it takes you!

 

Questions To Ask Over Dinner (Part 1)

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together.

Sometimes, you run out of things to talk about.

Diane and I have been married for a really, really long time.  It’s always amazed me that we don’t get tired of each other, and there’s almost always something to discuss. When there’s not, it’s OK.  We can sit in silence and just appreciate being together.

Bored at dinnerMaybe it’s because life happens, and it impacts us – so we talk about how we feel, and what it means between us.

But sometimes, we’ve been too busy to connect.  If it’s been awhile, it can feel a little strained.  It’s not that there are barriers; we just get a bit dry.  We might try to bring something up, but it feels forced.

Does that ever happen to you?

In those times, it might feel artificial to jump into deep discussions about finances, family issues or friends.  We’ll get there eventually.  But it might be better to jump-start the dialogue with something simple, safe and non-threatening.

Try this idea:

Here are a few questions to ask each other on that level.  Print them off and keep them handy.  Each night for a week or so, pick one and talk about it over dinner and see where the discussion goes.  Don’t expect dramatic results; just have fun with them as you explore each other’s thoughts.  It probably won’t be deep, but you’ll enjoy sharing each other’s perspective.

  1. What was the worst date you ever went on? (Present company excluded)
  2. Who is one person you have the utmost respect for?  Why?
  3. What three words best describe you?  Explain.
  4. What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid – and what did you like most about it?
  5. Describe your favorite teacher in high school
  6. Describe yourself when you were in the best shape of your life – and what got you there.
  7. If they made a movie about your life, who would be the best person to play the part of you?
  8. What do you miss most about being a kid?
  9. How would you spend a million dollars if you had to do it in 24 hours?  (You can’t save it or invest it)
  10. If you had to lose one of your five senses, which one would you give up?

Consider sending this post to a couple you’re close to (or one that seems to be having communication issues), suggesting they try it as well.  Then compare notes the next time you’re together.

In a week or so, we’ll look at a few other questions – maybe at a slightly deeper level (Part 2).  Then, a week or so after that, we’ll talk about the single most important question you can ask the most important person in your life (Part 3).

Sometimes, we need to relax with each other.  See if this doesn’t lubricate your dialogue over the next few days.

What other questions could you ask each other to accomplish the same thing?  Add your ideas to the comments below (or at the top of this post).

 

Forgive AND Forget?

I’ve read a ton of stuff about forgiving the people who cause us pain.

Forgive and forget matrix

It’s valuable information.  It provides a great blueprint for handling relationships that hurt.  It keeps us from becoming victims.

The advice is usually focused on one phrase:

Forgive and forget.

The first word (“forgive”) is where we usually put our energy.  It takes a series of conscious choices to forgive someone who has wronged us.

If we don’t forgive, we put the other person in control of our emotions.  We say, “They ruined my life.”  In effect, we shift the blame to them for anything that’s wrong in our lives.  We feel like they messed everything up, so we don’t take responsibility for moving forward.

I get it.  I buy it.  I’ve seen the value of taking responsibility for our own emotional health.

It’s good to forgive.  Not easy, but good.  It’s worth the effort.

But I’ve always had a problem with the second word – forget.

Somehow, it feels unhealthy to forget. It’s like saying, “The hurt never happened.”

But the greater the hurt, the harder it is to forget.

And I’m not sure we should.

Forgive and forget matrixMaybe it’s a co-worker who stabbed us in the back on their way to the top.  Maybe it’s a close friend who betrayed us.  Maybe it’s a spouse who damaged us with their choices.

We’ll probably always remember the damage that was done – especially when we live with the scars. We’ll always remember what people did to us.  If the relationship is important, we’ll forgive – but not forget.

If I forget the hurt, I set myself up to be hurt again.

If I remember the hurt, I can choose what to do with it.  I might be able to let it go . . . but I might establish boundaries in our relationship to keep it healthy in the future.

Trust doesn’t happen immediately when it’s been broken; it takes time to rebuild.

What if we said, “Forgive and remember?”

Maybe our forgiveness would gain meaning, because it’s based on reality.  Remembering allows us to be realistic instead of bitter.

It’s like growing up with an emotionally abusive parent who’s been gone for years.  “Forgiving and remembering” doesn’t ignore the hurt.  But instead of obsessing about the wrong done to us, we can use it to heal.  “My life is tougher because of what they did – but I can make choices about how I live.”

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Got someone you’ve been trying to forgive and forget, but it’s just not working?  Is there someone who has their emotions in their grip?

What would it look like if you could break free?  What would it look like to forgive and remember?

 

A blog (at least this one) isn’t a teaching tool; it’s a conversation starter.  I’ve been sharing my often unfinished thoughts over these months, and you’ve picked up the conversation by reacting and commenting.  That’s awesome – it’s how we learn from each other and grow.

Keep sharing your thoughts.  Invite others to join the discussion.  Keep interacting with each other.

Maybe we’ll all grow a little in the process.

A Husband’s Guide to Valentine’s Day (for next year)

There are two groups of husbands in America:

Meat Heart
  1. Those who made Valentine’s Day special for their wives.
  2. The other 90%.

OK, maybe the numbers are off.  But here’s what happens on that special day:

  • Hallmark stores are jammed with guys who took off work early to pick through the few cards that remain on the rack, trying to select a sentiment that was written by someone else to impress their spouse.   (If they’re late enough, it’s happening at 7-11.)
  • They go to the grocery store and find the “temporary red” aisle, buying chocolate that a marketing person convinced them would be romantic because it’s wrapped in red foil over a heart-shaped box.
  • They buy a cinnamon-scented candle and a small stuffed bear to demonstrate how thoughtful and sensitive they are.
  • If it weren’t for the guy selling overpriced roses in the median next to the left-hand turn lane, the evening would be a disaster.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

It’s supposed to be a day when we reflect on how special our wives are, and we do things to celebrate how much they mean to us.  We want them to feel special, and loved, and respected, and needed, and appreciated.  We really do.

But honestly, our Valentine’s Day shopping isn’t usually about honoring them.

It’s about us not wanting to feel guilty.

Meat HeartThose gifts usually don’t come from deep inside of us, expressing our love.  They’re convenient purchases to convince our wives that we were thinking about them.

Now, I’m not trying to heap on more guilt here.  I’m writing from my own experience over the years.

I adore my wife.  She means the world to me.  But when it comes to Valentine’s Day, many of us seem to be missing the romance gene.  (Otherwise, the card store wouldn’t be so crowded at the last minute.)

We’re guys.

So, we’ve got a year to figure this out.  Is there anything we can do to make next year’s Valentine’s Day a true celebration – without having to change the way we’re hard-wired?

Try this:

  • Buy cards and flowers occasionally throughout the year, unrelated to a holiday.  Do it “just because.”
  • Next year, don’t buy a valentine.  Go to the blank card section and find one that reminds you of something in your relationship.  Write your own words in it.  No poetry – just a sentence or two in your own words.
  • Initiate a date once a month, doing something that’s more important to her than it is to you.  Put it on your calendar.  Make the arrangements yourself instead of having her do it.
  • Every Sunday afternoon, plan the week ahead.  Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do this week in my relationship with my wife?”  Not the biggest – the most important.  Then schedule it.  Block off time to make it happen, and protect it the way you would protect any other appointment.
  • Have mini-Valentine’s Days throughout the year.  Whatever you would normally do on that holiday, surprise her on a random day several times in the year.
  • When you come home from work, sit in your car for an extra minute before going in the house.  Tell yourself, “I’m just about to do the most important work of my day.”  Then find the energy – somehow – to give your spouse your best attention.
  • Once you walk in, immediately give her a hug.  Ask her questions about her day – then listen to what she says.  Make it about her – she’s worth it.  You can talk about you later.
  • Think about what you did when you were dating, trying to win her heart.  Now you have that heart – don’t take it for granted.  Keep pursuing it.
  • Be grateful.  It’s easy to focus on the things that irritate you.  Keep track of the things that you’re grateful for.
  • At least twice a week, do one of the chores she usually does (without being asked).
  • OK, you’re tired in the evening.   So is she.  Spend less time sitting.

Want next year to be a guilt-free Valentine’s celebration? 

Start now.  Make it a lifestyle, not an event.  Don’t spend money; invest yourself.

She’s worth it.

(If you’re a wife reading this, don’t cut this out and sneak it into his briefcase.  Just say, “Hey – a guy wrote this.  Check it out if you’re interested.”  And leave it at that.)

Leave your comments below – or under the headline at the top.

Today ONLY – Your After-Christmas Gift (and a request for a favor)

Today only, you can get an electronic copy of my book, People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keysfor free.

People Can't Drive You Crazy

I’m asking you to do two things:

  1. “Purchase” a copy of the e-book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (or both – it’s free!).  (See the links below)
  2. Share this on Facebook, tweet it, and email it to your friends.

My publisher has made an agreement with Amazon and Barnes & Noble to offer the e-book at no charge on December 28 for 24 hours – midnight to midnight.

People Can't Drive You CrazyEven if you already own a paper copy, you’ll want to download this.  Keep reading.

Even if you don’t have a Kindle or a Nook, you’ll want to download this.  Keep reading.

The 209-page paperback version of the book came out on October 1.  So far, the reviews have all been positive, on blog, review sites and Amazon.  Seems like everybody has crazy people in their lives, and they want some help!

The publisher (Revell) has found that if they can get a distributor (like Amazon) to give away the electronic version of the book at no charge, it gets more exposure as people notify their family and friends to pick up a copy online.  When more people are able to read the book and benefit from it, they tell their friends or buy paper copies for them.

In short:

  • It’s a way of spreading the message to people who feel trapped by the crazy people in their personal world.
  • It’s a way of providing great exposure for the book by letting people have it for free.
  • By doing it in a 24-hour period, it also helps the “rankings” on the distributor’s websites.
  • It will help me write other books in the future.  When publishers are considering a new book, they want to know how many of the author’s previous books sold – regardless of the cost.

So even if you have a paper copy already, purchasing an electronic copy is considered another book sold.  Sounds crazy, but that’s the way it works.  Buying it from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble counts as two sales.  Go figure . . .

Here’s what’s even crazier: You don’t have a Kindle or a Nook?  It doesn’t matter.  You can purchase a free copy anyway, whether you download it or not (and it’s considered a legitimate sale).

  • You can download a free app for your phone or computer so you can read it (that’s what I’ve done – I read my electronic books on my phone).
  • When someone buys you a Kindle or Nook in the future, you’ll already have your first book to put on it!

So, here are the links:

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/People-Cant-Drive-Crazy-ebook/dp/B009G1PI2E/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1354199470&sr=1-1&keywords=people+can%27t+drive

Barnes & Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/people-cant-drive-you-crazy-if-you-dont-give-them-the-keys-mike-bechtle/1108259285?ean=9781441239624&itm=1&usri=people+can%27t+drive

It’s also available today at http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=33586EB&item_code=WW&netp_id=1049944&event=ESRCG&view=details

I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide this at no charge, because it’ll provide help for a whole herd of people.  And I’m grateful for you participating in making the book a success (by downloading it yourself, and sharing it wherever you can today).

Those of you who know me well know this is somewhat uncomfortable (asking for help).  When I started this blog, it wasn’t to get a big audience so I could sell stuff.  I just wanted to have a real conversation about real life issues with real people I’ve met along the way.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated you participating; it’s felt like we’ve been hanging out at Starbucks – which is my favorite way to connect anyway.

So in asking you to help me spread the word, it’s really about providing something that could impact the people you care most about.

If that happens, I’ll be more than grateful.

I’ll make you my BFF for the day . . . !

Thanks! Mike

Don’t Forget the Memories

“If your house caught on fire, what would you take with you on the way out the door?”

Mature romantic couple looking at photos

We’ve all heard that question, and we all have similar answers:

  • Family members and pets
  • Photo albums (pictures of family members and pets)
  • Special mementos (things made by family members (not pets) that have special meaning)

I don’t know anyone who says, “I’d grab the couch,” or “I paid a lot for that ceiling fan – it’s coming with me.”

It we can replace it, we leave it behind.  What we paid for it doesn’t matter.  The value doesn’t come from the cost; it comes from the relationship it represents.

We rescue the things that are irreplaceable – the things that connect us to others.

Mature romantic couple looking at photosMy wife has crafted photo albums that cover our entire marriage.  They include hundreds of pictures of the things we’ve done together, of our kids and grandkids, of our friends.  They show special events and significant moments that have brought us to today.  With the comments she’s added, they represent a journal of our lives.

They’re awesome.

Whenever someone wants to know about some event from the past – when something happened, who was involved, what we were doing – she grabs the appropriate album.  Within seconds, we have the answer we’re looking for.

But it doesn’t stop there.  We find ourselves browsing through a few other pages as old memories capture our attention.

“Hey, look at that!  Remember when you had those sideburns?  And that curly perm is crazy!  I don’t remember your hair being that color . . .”

We’re reminded of memories we had forgotten.

That’s a good thing.

It’s not healthy to live in the past, yearning for the “good old days.”  But the richness of life comes when our past provides meaning for our present.

That’s why we study history; remembering where we’ve been gives context for where we are.

On our deathbed, we won’t be focusing on the colors we picked for our living room.  We’ll think about the conversations we had there.

We won’t think about how our yard was landscaped; we’ll think about the people we played games with there.

The vacation scenery won’t matter as much as who came with us on the trip.

We’ll remember the people we made those memories with.

Every day, we make memories – whether we notice them or not.  How do we make sure we don’t forget our most important memories?

  1. By being fully present in the present.  The next time your family gathers, give each person the give of undistracted attention.  Look them in the eye, and don’t rush to get to the next activity.
  2. By intentionally exploring the past.  Grab a photo album and look through it with someone close to you.  Relive events, tell stories, and refresh your memories.

It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and overlook the richness of our lives.

Let’s make memories that we won’t forget.

 

Comments?

How NASCAR Can Save Your Marriage

I love to drive.

NASCAR Wedding Cake

Occasionally, I have the chance to travel from Los Angeles to Phoenix or San Francisco.  I look forward to those trips, because it’s a chance to be negotiating the open road with just my thoughts and a few good tunes.

The beginning of the trip is exciting and fresh.  By the end, the excitement has worn thin.  The road is long, the scenery doesn’t change often, and my rear end hurts.

I’m guessing that doesn’t happen on a NASCAR track.

NASCAR Wedding CakePeople usually are divided into two camps about NASCAR racing:

1. “It’s the most exciting sport in the world.”

2. “I don’t get it – how can you get excited about cars driving in circles for hours?”

My old high school friend Lonnie, a pastor in Michigan, is in the first group.  As long as I’ve known him, he’s passionate about anything with wheels that goes fast – as long as he’s steering.  I keep expecting to see him driving in Daytona, but I’m guessing his church won’t sponsor his car.

I’ve been in the second group for a long time.  I’ve never disliked auto racing, but I just didn’t get it.

So I did some research, talking to some people in group #1.  I mentioned to one friend how I felt at the end of a drive to Phoenix.  Here’s his response:

“OK, picture yourself driving to Phoenix.  But instead of going 65 MPH on straight roads by yourself, you’re going 200 MPH on winding roads, surrounded by 43 other cars doing the same thing – and they’re about three inches away from you all the time.”

Got it.

I learned that NASCAR isn’t about driving in circles. It’s more like playing chess at warp speed where attention to detail is critical.  Split-second decisions determine success:

  • Whether to make a pit stop or keep going to maintain position
  • Responding instantly to what other drivers do
  • How much to push the car to its limit
  • Maintenance decisions (refueling and changing tires in seconds)
  • Trusting the expertise of the crew
  • Handling the changing temperature of the track

(OK, now that sounds exciting . . . !  )

In other words, it’s all about strategy and detailWhen those are violated, the chances of either crashing or not finishing are pretty high.

When I learned about NASCAR, I couldn’t help thinking how critical those same concepts are in our marriages.

If we don’t have an intentional strategy and an eye for detail in our relationships, there’s a much greater chance that we won’t finish well.

So here’s what I’ve learned about marriage from NASCAR:

  1. It’s all about strategy. When it comes to marriage, we’re not in the stands; we’re in the race.  We can’t coast; peak performance requires vigilant attention and intentional, precise fine-tuning.
  2. Pit stops aren’t optional.  Life gets busy, and the speed of everyday living makes it seem impossible to take a break.  But we have to design maintenance into our relationships.  Without regular refueling and attention to detail, our relationships will stall at the most inconvenient times.
  3. We need a crew. No matter how good our relationship is, we need other people to come alongside – people who believe in us when we have trouble believing in ourselves.  We’re too close to the action to be objective about areas that need attention.
  4. If we’re selfish, people get hurt.  Driving is an interdependent sport, because no one is on the track alone.  In a race, selfish decisions can be deadly for other people.  In a marriage, selfishness can destroy the other person – and devastate us in the process.
  5. There is value in routine.  Going around a track repeatedly might seem as exciting as watching paint dry.  But that routine provides a foundation that we don’t have to think about, so we can focus on the movement around us.  Routines in marriage need to be chosen and cultivated – which builds a base of security for handling life as a team.

I think anyone can learn to like NASCAR.  I know anyone can learn to love their marriage.

If you find your marriage going in circles, don’t look for a different race.

Look for a different strategy.

Know someone who loves NASCAR (or you think they should)? Share or forward this to them.  You might change their marriage!

People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys

Let me guess — you read this blog title, and you already have someone in mind, don’t you?

Crazy People

You have a crazy person in your life.  It might be an extended family member that drives you crazy.  It could be a co-worker or neighbor on a mission to make you miserable.  You might be married to that person — or related to them through your marriage.

They drop in, set your life on fire, and leave.  Somehow, they’re the one person who hijacks your emotions and holds them hostage.  Even when they’re not around, your emotions seem to be at the mercy of their next visit — and reeling from the shrapnel from your last encounter with them.

We think, “Don’t they realize how crazy they are?”  If we could just “fix” that person, everything would be better.

But we can’t fix other people.  We can influence them, but we can’t force them to change.

We can only make better choices about ourselves.

Crazy PeopleStrange as it may seem, other people are not nearly as committed to our happiness as we are.  And we’ll never escape having crazy people in our lives.

But we don’t have to be victims of their craziness.  Martin Luther said, “You might not be able to stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

So, how do you influence crazy people?  How can we protect ourselves when they don’t change?  And how can we keep from controlling our emotions?

If you’ve been following this blog for the past couple of months (since we started), you know we’ve been focusing on practical, realistic strategies for healthy relationships with others — whether they’re crazy or not.  It’s all about thriving in our relationships rather than surviving them. (If you’re a new reader, check out some of the previous posts.)

If you’ve liked what you’ve been reading here, you’ll probably enjoy picking up a copy of People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys.  It’s my latest book, and today (October 1) is the official launch date.  That means it’s available through online bookstores immediately (I’ll put links below), and should start appearing shortly on local bookshelves.

In grocery stores, drug stores, Wal-Mart, airport bookstores and similar outlets, you’ll probably find it on the “inspirational” rack.  In Barnes & Noble-type bookstores, it will be in “self-help” or “relationships.” (If they don’t have it, they can order it.)

It’s available in three formats:

  1. Paperback – For us purists who love the feel of paper.
  2. Kindle – For the more tech-driven among us (Check out the rest of my website, and you’ll know that’s not me).
  3. Audio – For those who want to take me running with you, or have me talk to you when you’re in your car.

Here are some online links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/People-Cant-Drive-Crazy-Dont/dp/080072111X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349044244&sr=8-1&keywords=people+can%27t+drive+you+crazy

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/people-cant-drive-you-crazy-if-you-dont-give-them-the-keys-mike-bechtle/1108259285?ean=9780800721114

ChristianBook.com: http://www.christianbook.com/people-drive-crazy-give-them-keys/mike-bechtle/9780800721114/pd/721114?product_redirect=1&Ntt=721114&item_code=&Ntk=keywords&event=ESRCP

The first week of a book launch is the most critical for the long-term success of the book.  So if you’re interested, there are several things you could do to help that launch be successful — getting the book in the hands of more people who could benefit from it (including the crazy people in your life . . . )

  • Pick up a copy for yourself this week.
  • Pick up a copy for a friend this week.
  • Pick up a copy for the crazy person in your life.  They’ll think it’s about you.
  • Write a short review on Amazon and/or other online sites.  Few people actually do that, but it’s one of the biggest factors in whether a person buys a book or not.  (Don’t you check the number of reviews and how many stars it has when deciding?  I do!)  Often, the majority of reviews come from book critics whose post their reviews as part of their job.  So your quick input could be huge.
  • Spread the word.  Share it, post it, tweet it, email it.

You need to know how grateful I am that you’ve allowed me to hang out with you for a couple of months.  You can tell from my “bare-bones” website that I haven’t been putting a lot of energy into making everything pretty and shiny yet.  (I’m going to get someone to help me with that.)  I’m just enjoying the chance to have some dialogue with you, and value your input in shaping the direction of our discussions.  Let me know what’s on your mind, and we’ll steer it that direction.

Let me know what you think of the book – and let it stir up ideas for us to talk about in the future.

Enjoy the journey!