Q: Our family always seems to be in a reactive mode -- it seems like there's some small but stressful crisis every day. My husband and I are both tired of this pattern, and how it's affecting us and our kids, but we feel stuck. Are there any strategies we can use to help?
Jim: Since it's football season again, and as a former quarterback, I'd like to share an analogy and tactic from the game that works well off the field, too.
One football scheme that translates well into real life is called the "hot read." Here's the setup: The defending team typically rushes the quarterback with three or four players. But sometimes, the defense will blitz using extra players (five, six, even seven) to put extra pressure on the QB. To counter that, the quarterback will run a "hot read" -- when he sees the blitz, he immediately passes to an alternate receiver before the charging defenders can get to him.
But here's the key: For that strategy to work, everyone on the offense has to understand what to do before the pressure comes, and what their responsibility is if certain defenders blitz.
That same principle works well in life, too. Challenges drop into our lives without warning from all directions. Maybe it's a car that unexpectedly breaks down or the sudden loss of a job. Creating a "hot read" plan ahead of time can help families keep their bearings when unexpected pressure hits: If "X" happens, then we do "Y."
Take some time to "huddle up" with your spouse and discuss how everyone in your family reacted to past unforeseen crises. Then talk through what you'll do differently when another one happens. With a little advance planning, you'll be better prepared to handle the next blitz life throws your way.
Q: I've got a big problem in how I speak to my wife and children; too often, I fly off the handle and yell at everybody. I desperately want to be a better husband and father, and I need to change my behavior. Do you have any suggestions?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: You've taken an important first step by realizing that you have a problem with anger and verbal abuse. In a very real sense, that's more than half the battle, and I commend you for it.
You can start moving in the right direction by getting some intensive counseling with a pastor or a professional marriage and family therapist. This might involve extended sessions (up to three hours each) for several days in succession. There are a number of therapists in the field who specialize in brief intensives. Focus on the Family's Counseling Department can help you with referrals to qualified practitioners in your area; call 855-771-HELP (4357).
As you go forward, remember that anger is often fueled by feelings of fear, hurt and shame (a sense of not being good enough). Counseling will help you identify these triggering patterns. It will teach you new coping skills and help you practice more effective communication techniques. It will also uncover underlying wounds and highlight "re-enactment behaviors" resulting from unfinished business with your family of origin and/or difficult life experiences. This, in turn, will enable you to avoid the reactionary type of language that can take such a devastating emotional toll on the people around you.
A book that can help jump-start the process is Robert McGee's "The Search for Significance," which addresses the fear of failure, rejection, punishment and shame that is often the source of the kind of anger you've experienced in your family relationships. It can be ordered online and found in most bookstores.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.