Edhird's Blog

Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit


Leave a comment

What do you think about the Pipeline conflict?

Six-in-ten Canadians say lack of new pipeline capacity represents a crisis in this countryOnce again, a brilliant analysis by the Angus Reid Institute, this time on the Canadian pipeline conflict. It shows that younger women and Quebec are statistically the most against pipelines, that BC is very divided, that the Prairie provinces are feeling the most hurt, and that most Canadians feel that #Trudeau and the Federal government are not doing enough to solve this issue. Give us your thoughts on Angus Reid’s fascinating data.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Leaving and Cleaving: keys to a lasting, healthy relationship

-an article previously published in the North American Anglican magazine

By the Rev Ed Hird+

red roses close up photography

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

What does it take to make a good marriage, or perhaps to make a good marriage better?

Veteran counselors, John & Paula Sanford, commented that “the greatest and most common difficulty we encounter in marital counselling is this matter of leaving and cleaving.”  So many couples that I know are stuck in their relationship, because they have never really left their father and mother.  Leaving is more than just physical leaving.  Leaving is also emotional, spiritual, and social.  Without adequate leaving, there can never be adequate cleaving.  True intimacy requires a death to an old way of relating in order to birth a new level of relationship with one’s spouse.

You may have heard the following in wedding services: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh”.  It is actually a quote from the book of Genesis Chapter 2 vs. 24, and reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:5.  Having taken many marriage services over the years, I have had the opportunity to observe both healthy and unhealthy relationships.  The unhealthy marriages invariably are stuck in the area of leaving.  There is an over-bonding, a ‘bentness’ towards one’s parents that keeps the couple from moving forward.  It is as if the umbilical chord, spiritually speaking, has never really been cut.

John & Paula Sanford comment that “independence or leaving is the first and continuing price of ongoing life.”  Leaving is a two-way street.  It is not only the couple that needs to leave, but also the parents that need to release their adult children to their new destiny.  That is why marriage services include the question: ‘Do you, members of the families of N. and N., give your blessing to this marriage?’  “Letting go and letting God” can be very painful for parents who have spent much of their lives child-rearing.  But unless we choose to let go, we emotionally kill and crush the very ones we love.

midsection of woman making heart shape with hands

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The powerful 1990 Irish movie “The Field’ illustrate the vital importance of letting go the ones we love.  The Irish father ‘Bull’ McCabe so wanted to cling to his son Tadgh that his inability to let him go ultimately brought about his son’s destruction.

Leaving without cleaving is also insufficient.  Healthy marriages require a commitment to cleaving.  John & Paula Sanford hold that “cleaving is the primary calling and task of honorable marriage…Cleaving is ‘a matter first of opening to one’s mate, then closing to all others”.  That is why marriage services will include the phrase: “forsaking all others, to be faithful to her/him so long as you both shall live”

Cleaving is not a one-time decision, but rather a daily decision to keep one’s heart open to one’s spouse, no matter what the pain and struggle.  It is always easy to give in to the temptation to isolate oneself and disconnect from real intimacy.  Cleaving is the commitment to love one’s spouse sacrificially, even to the point of laying down one’s life for them.  Cleaving is the commitment to washing one’s spouse’s feet, to serving them in big and little ways.  Cleaving is the commitment to listening deeply and sensitively when one would rather watch TV or get lost in a book.

One of the healthiest marriages that I know of is my parent’s marriage.  They grew together over 60+ years in a way that deeply inspires me.  They have learned through experience the importance of leaving one’s parents, of setting healthy boundaries so that their own

bride and groom standing next to each other

Photo by Misha Earle on Pexels.com

marriage could blossom.  My parents also modeled for me the biblical call to true cleaving and intimacy.  After 60+ years, they both walked with God in an orthodox Anglican congregation, and became better friends than ever.  That is what I want for my children in their future marriages, when they leave us and cleave to their spouses.

Leaving and cleaving is the secret to a healthy marriage.  My prayer for those reading this article is that each of us may learn how to truly leave our parents so that we may truly cleave to our spouse.

The Reverend Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

c59898e6-6dd7-4108-b64d-e91960ac1cb2-3914-00000435ceb15c06-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


Leave a comment

Brian C Stiller’s Endorsement of ‘For Better, For Worse’

Brian C. Stiller: “I suspect that most of us in a marriage simply need encouragement, stories and insights that help us see how it can work. Yes, more detailed understanding of when to do what and the whys are helpful. Although we always knew that “12 Easy Lessons” was never a book for marriage. That’s why Ed and Janice Hird’s use of “Keys” is critical. Indeed, there are important keys each of us have that unlock moments and relationships that bring vitality and loving presence into our walk together. This wonderful manuscript flows with joy, humor and candor, opening our minds to unused passage ways of our own lives. Lily and I have been married for over 55 years, yet this practical and insightful journey so helpfully described, brings encouragement, regardless if this is your first or fiftieth year of marriage. And as you do, you will learn so much more about yourself, your partner and this joyful creation into which God calls us.”

Brian C Stiller

Global Ambassador, the World Evangelical Alliance

President emeritus, Tyndale University College & Seminary

-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


Leave a comment

We are all indebted to the Wesley brothers

general james oglethorpeIn the early 1700s, after General James Oglethorpe rescued 10,000 people from Debtors Prison, he recruited John & Charles Wesley to serve these ex-debtors as Anglican priests in the new colony of Savanah, Georgia.

The Wesleys were Oxford University academics with little pastoral experience. When they arrived in Georgia, they encountered one disaster after another.

One time when the Wesleys put the only doctor in Savannah in jail for getting drunk, a woman died in childbirth. Another time John Wesley refused communion to Sophia Hopkey, his ex-girlfriend who had married another man. After being sued for one thousand pounds for character defamation and challenged to a duel, John Wesley had to escape in the middle of the night.

John famously said: “I went to America to convert the natives. But who will convert me?”

During a violent storm while returning by boat to England, he was impressed by the calm faith of the Moravian Brethren. Attending their London chapel, his heart was strangely warmed. He began preaching outside, covering many miles on horseback. Many in England were angry with him; he was barred from preaching in many parish churches.

Sometimes his opponents attacked Wesley, calling for his crucifixion, but he was undeterred and didn’t let anything stop him.

john wesleySome historians credit the Wesleys with having prevented the French Revolution from happening in 18th century England, because Methodist revival peacefully improved the lot of the working class. At that time, adults and even children could be legally hanged for 160 different offenses – from picking a pocket to stealing a rabbit. In London, 75 percent of all children died before age five. Among the poor, the death rate was even higher. In one orphanage, only one of 500 orphans survived more than a year. Alcohol abuse was rampant, even among children, with over 11 million gallons of gin consumed in 1750.

Charles and John Wesley believed that changed hearts could lead to a changed society. By setting many free from alcoholism and teaching children to read, Methodism gave parents hope for a better life for their families.

In 1925 Canadian Methodists joined three other denominations (the Congrational Union of Canada, the Presbyterian Church of Canada and the much smaller General Council of Union Chruches) to bring about the birth of the United Church of Canada. Today few Canadians hear much about Methodism, which was once an Anglican renewal movement that transformed Canada. Methodists were well known for their summer Camp Meeting revivals, weekly class meetings (ie home groups), and vigorous hymn singing.

Suspected of being disloyal after the War of 1812, Canadian Methodists over time became the quintessential Canadians. Both sides of our families had Methodist circuit rider preachers. On Janice’s side, her Methodist ancestors were named John Wesley Cline and Charles Wesley Cline.
The most famous Canadian Methodist, Egerton Ryerson, helped create free Canadian public schools rooted in Judeo-Christian values at a time when less than half the children were attending school.

ryerson egertonRyerson, the founding editor of The Christian Guardian, the first Canadian Christian newspaper, advocated that education “should be as common as water and as free as air. Education among the people is the best security of a good government and constitutional liberty…The first object of a wise government should be the education of the people.”

We are all indebted to the Wesley brothers who brought Methodist revival to Canada.

Rev. Dr Ed and Janice Hird, BMus, (BSW, MDiv, Dmin)

-previously published in the Light Magazine

c59898e6-6dd7-4108-b64d-e91960ac1cb2-3914-00000435ceb15c06-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


Leave a comment

Strengthening Marriage: Bridging Emotional Cutoff

img_5655Edward A. Hird, DMin

In this article, I will discuss emotional cutoff as it relates to marriage through the perspective of Bowen theory, how use of theory can help bridge cutoff and how, in a Judeo-Christian setting, the biblical understanding of covenant can offer a complementary perspective in this task.

At the communion rail with her ex-husband one Sunday, Linda said to the priest, “Someday I would like to marry Lloyd again.” As Linda had said this several times in coaching sessions—and Lloyd had said the same—, the priest asked, “Why not now?” “Sure, why not?” asked Linda. The congregational atmosphere was electric as communion unexpectedly concluded with a marriage service. Linda and Lloyd Lindsay (names changed) had been divorced for six years. The wedding sixteen years ago was followed by pastoral marriage coaching and the church’s Strengthening Marriage Workshop, based on Bowen theory. The couple’s step back into marriage, which may have seemed sudden from the outside, followed years of building trust with the pastor and congregation through adult baptisms, family funerals and other rituals.

Churches often struggle to find programs that support marriage. Some adults cite their parents’ emotional cutoff and divorce as part of their hesitation to marry. Couples who are high functioning at work may be far less functional in their marriages. The skills that make a successful entrepreneur, for example, often backfire in the bedroom and the living room, where people may be less capable of dealing with intimate relationships. Bowen observed, “In another group, a section of the intellect functions well on impersonal subjects; they can be brilliant academically, while their emotionally-directed personal lives are chaotic.” These difficulties may involve emotional cutoff, a major challenge in marriage. Bowen theory presents pastors with a different model for premarital and marital work.

What is Emotional Cutoff?

Bowen called emotional cutoff the process of separation, isolation, withdrawal, running away or denying the importance of the parental family or any significant relationship. (1978) One emotionally disconnects from earlier generations to attach in the present one. In 1975, Bowen added the concept of emotional cutoff to six previously identified Bowen concepts. As Bowen described cutoff, distancing was used to avoid anxiety aroused in intimacy. (Kerr and Bowen, Family Evaluation, p. 75)

The backdrop for Bowen’s concept of emotional cutoff was his observation of many young people running away from home during the 1960s. Parents were seen as the problem and getting away as the quick-fix solution. The one who cuts off, however, brings the unresolved attachment issues with parents to relationships with people to new settings. It has temporary benefits but long-range deficits, solving nothing. Bowen wrote:

One of the most important functional patterns in a family has to do with the intensity of the unresolved emotional attachment to parents, most frequently to the mother, for both men and women, and the way the individual handles the attachment. All people have an emotional attachment to their parents that is more intense than most people permit themselves to believe. (p. 433)

The more intense the cutoff, the more he is vulnerable to duplicating the pattern with the parents with the first available other person . . . When problems develop in the marriage, he tends also to run away from that.  (p. 85)

Cutoffs are either 1) primary when directly related to one’s parents, or 2) secondary, indirect and inherited, when they based on the multigenerational emotional process and can be traced back to the primary parental cutoff. (Titelman 2003) Bowen’s use of the phrase “separation of people from each other” to describe cutoff indicates it can occur in other emotionally important “secondary” relationships. In this article, I apply the term emotional cutoff to both parent-child relationships and “secondary” ones, including marriage.

Emotional cutoff is the universal mechanism for dealing with unresolved emotional attachment. Richardson comments, “Cutoff and having nothing to do with the previous generation betrays an intense attachment that is denied but is equally powerful.”

Anxiety that is unresolved in one relationship is plays out in others. Emotional cutoff therefore is systemic and multi-layered. Cutoff from parents in one’s past shapes the degree and intensity of one’s emotional cutoff in such present and future relationships as marriage. (Titelman, Emotional Cutoff, p. 24) Without chronic anxiety, emotional distance often does not develop into emotional cutoff. Chronic anxiety is sometimes called emotional pain. Bowen theory distinguishes between chronic, ongoing anxiety and acute, intermittent anxiety. While acute anxiety is a reaction to what is happening, chronic anxiety is a reaction to what is not happening and might not ever happen. How we observe and manage anxiety is key to strengthening marriages and reducing cutoff.

Emotional cutoff from previous generations causes spouses to overestimate the importance of the other partner. Overdependence on the present generation raises one’s anxiety level, making a person more likely to cut off emotionally from her spouse. The high divorce rate in North America appears closely linked to multigenerational emotional cutoff from families of origin. Multigenerational connectedness is the healthy alternative.

Where there has been violence by parents to each other or their children, emotional cutoff can function to increase violence in the present generation. Michael Walker’s 2007 research with 290 people in substance abuse treatment centers showed that those describing greater emotional cutoff were more likely to report at least one instance of relational violence in the previous year. When emotional cutoff in instances of marital violence is not addressed, it may end up fostering the very violence it is seeks to escape.

Cutoff for the Lindsays occurred during a work dispute. The reconciliation with the Lindsays has surprised many, and given others hope for similar marital breakthrough.

Changing the Focus

Couples having difficulties often come to a pastor with a sense of failure and sometimes fear. When a marriage is facing challenges, it is very easy to focus only on the problems, and lose sight of the forgotten strengths that brought them together in the first place. Focusing on strengths helps couples become more objective. Bowen theory helps marital objectivity through distinguishing between facts and feelings. By focusing on what is right with the couple rather than pathological symptoms, the couple’s anxious reactivity and emotional cutoff can be reduced. The focus on strengths lowers anxiety – making the couple more open to each other and thus reducing cutoff. The first week of the Strengthening Marriage Workshop focuses on “Discovering Strengths.” Both Lloyd and Linda identified their friendship as a strength. Resources already present in the Lindsays’ emotional system could be tapped into.

Many couples struggle with an imbalance of marital closeness and distance. All relationships have some degree of fusion, or emotional togetherness. Cutoff is a reaction to this fusion and an expression of it. Some couples are less fused than others. The right amount of emotional space increases accurate marital hearing, thereby bridging emotional cutoff. Marital cutoff and fusion have a remarkable ability to morph into each other in a repeating circular fashion. Only calm, unfused connecting brings lasting reduction of anxiety and emotional cutoff. No connection is ever totally without fusion, and some fusion aids survival. Such marital closeness needs to be a choice rather than a pressured obligation. The Lindsays had been very emotionally fused in the context of their divorce and emotional cutoff. Lloyd still came over and helped Linda with fixing appliances after the divorce. Through attending the Strengthening Marriage Workshop, the Lindsays reported being able to hear each other more accurately without giving up self. Playfulness and appropriate humor go a long way toward bridging emotional cutoff in marriage. As chronic anxiety has decreased, the Lindsays’ natural sense of gentle humor has become a source of healthy bonding.

Ronald Richardson writes that finding marital strengths “often put(s) people back in touch with good things they have forgotten, what originally brought them together.” Marital pain affects everyone in an emotional system. Linda identified keeping distance as her family’s pattern of dealing with emotional pain. Lloyd had the same pattern in his family as well.

One of the unintended consequences of emotional cutoff in marriage is increased loss of self. Recovering self in Bowen theory involves differentiation of self, which involves the ability to have one’s own opinions and make and act on one’s own choices. The Lindsays each worked on growing self. Facing one’s own emotional cutoff in marriage can be daunting. It is encouraging to know that emotional cutoff is not a sentence that people are doomed to endure. Self-examination and work within one’s family can be vital in reversing emotional cutoff in marriage. Bowen saw notably more success when people worked in their extended families rather than just within the marital relationship itself. Bowen theory emphasizes working on relationships in the family, rather than working in the relationship of counselor and client, which often leads to dependence or blurring of roles that can bring difficulties. Valuing one’s spouse’s strengths and differences bridges emotional cutoff through reducing homeostatic sameness, stuckness and stagnation. (Richardson) Becoming one’s own person and holding to personal principles is an antidote to emotional cutoff. It is a major step for some spouses to act on their wants and needs when they are accustomed to being shut down by their spouse. The work that the Lindsays have done on their marriage has resulted in their daughter becoming married.

Cutoff in marriage is reduced through neutrality and curiosity, through humor, through saying no to quick fixes, through valuing conflict, through thoughtful questions about process or through reducing over/underfunctioning. Conflict avoidance and people-pleasing increase emotional cutoff in marriage. With emotional cutoff, people lose the opportunity to face, to process and to grow through the inherent conflicts and differences in marital relationships. Reducing blame and shame is vital in bridging emotional cutoff. Bowen theory seeks to blame no one. Overfunctioners sometimes use blame and shame to take self from underfunctioners. By establishing permeable boundaries in marriage, the Lindsays reduced their multigenerational default level of emotional cutoff. Through use of a family diagram and questionnaire, the Lindsays identified strong tendencies in their families of origin towards emotional cutoff and divorce.

Marriage in no way guarantees emotional maturity. The higher the emotional reactivity, the greater the likelihood of emotional cutoff, which brings a loss of flexibility. With emotional cutoff, a spouse may perceive that there are fewer choices for functioning in the marriage. Since being remarried and taking the Strengthening Marriage workshop, the Lindsays have become more flexible.

Covert emotional cutoff in marriage may be hidden behind togetherness, which masks an internal cutoff in which marital differences and personal issues are avoided. Many couples put a lot of energy into pretending that everything is wonderful, but mindless conformity does not bring a satisfying, stable marriage. The more rigid a couple, the more vulnerable they are to loss of self and/or loss of their marriage. Thoughtful observing and controlling of reactivity reduces the tendency to cut off emotionally through withdrawal. Similarly, the more nonjudgmental observations are, the less emotional cutoff there is in a marriage. Couples often underestimate how difficult it can be to perceive things that they do not want to see.

Bowen Theory and Pastoral Counseling

Applying Bowen theory in pastoral counseling involves a shift from “couch” to “coach.” Coaching focuses on helping people identify patterns that are not helpful and where they come from, and then adopting new, more productive ones. Reducing cutoff through coaching doesn’t mean telling couples what to do but rather asking questions to help them discover and understand their family emotional processes and how they function within their lives.

Churches and pastors involved in wedding preparation are on the frontlines of marriage strengthening. Longevity in coaching rather than frequency is linked to reducing emotional cutoff. The maturing of marriages is a natural process that takes time, sometimes years. In Western society, people often want fast results. But if a pastoral coach rushes to try to provide a marital quick fix, he/she may make emotional cutoff worse. Bowen talked about four years before generational transmission patterns will be modified. (Friedman, Bowen Theory and Therapy, p. 163) Because there is no quick fix, strengthening marriages is both costly and messy. The Lindsays have continued in marriage coaching from time to time over the past twelve years.

Greater clarity is key. The pastoral coach is looking for the couple’s most objective thinking. As the Lindsays became more aware of how they functioned, they became more responsible for their own parts in the dance. Lloyd has said that what excites him most about the possibilities of their marriage is being together in the future. In structured interviews, Linda and Lloyd identified their remarriage as the most important turning point in their lives.

Marriage is strengthened when couples take the brakes off, commit to the unknown future and launch into a covenantal adventure of life. Emotional cutoff often occasions the loss of marital adventure and anticipation.

Bridging Covenantal Cutoff in Marriage

Cutoff is a Bowen family systems theory concept. In the biblical tradition covenant is a metanarrative, that is, a foundational, overarching theme that can offer a major resource for framing marriage both intellectually and theologically. God as covenant maker remains faithful to his covenant even when his people are not. When a marriage relationship is rooted in this metanarrative, it offers the prospect of substance and fidelity. Covenant is first and foremost a promise, a pledge, a vow. This theological foundation supports work on self within family and marriage. The biblical concept of covenant offers a different image and the possibility of a different outcome for marriages.

Covenant-breaking increases emotional cutoff. Christian sacrificial covenant-making bridges it. Covenant-breaking is a breakdown of faith, hope and love, three things that matter most. Moving from covenant-breaking to living in sacrificial covenant is at the heart of the biblical ideal of marriage. The covenant’s strength becomes a strength of the marriage. The emphasis on covenant gives a couples a supportive theological/intellectual framework for going forward. A wedding is not the apex of the covenant, but its beginning, a promise of working together. Marriage for both Jews and Christians is rooted theologically in the covenantal leaving and cleaving in Genesis 2: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 19:5. Emotional cutoff in marriage endangers the covenant, a breaking of faith. Covenant can be stronger than the forces of emotional cutoff. Covenant renewal is at the heart of marriage renewal. Marriage can be seen as a covenantal pilgrimage, moving hand in hand with a spouse toward a Kingdom future. Some couples have few examples in their family of origin of lasting, satisfying marriages. People who see other couples with successful covenant marriages are less likely to give up during times of acute anxiety. Celebrating otherness and differences within covenantal relationship supports differentiated marital intimacy and reduced cutoff.

Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 suggest that every marriage needs a radical unshakable dream. Marital emotional cutoff is often connected to broken dreams and visions. When a spouse cannot trust what his/her partner says, emotional cutoff is just around the corner. Sometimes it can be the other way – emotional cutoff followed by lack of trust.  Because there is no verb in Ephesians 5:22, covenant marriage should be understood in light of the mutual reciprocation in verse 21. Unilateral domination is replaced by covenantal mutuality. The covenantal image of the bridegroom and bride is an expression of profound love. In Christian scripture, covenant love is about mysterious uniqueness, like that between Christ and his covenantal bride the Church.

Paul’s covenantal insight into marriage is elaborated in Philippians 2:1-11, where covenantal restoration is about making oneself nothing and taking the very nature of a servant even to the foot of the cross, which echoes what Bowen theory calls “making yourself small.” (Friedman, Bowen Theory and Therapy, p. 154) The more differentiated spouses are, the more they are willing to make themselves small in their marriages. Authentic repentance in a relationship requires that a person make self small, admitting that one was wrong and choosing to make restitution.

Bridging Emotional Cutoff in Marriage Ministry

Clergy have opportunities to provide pastoral care and coaching for people going through marital challenges. Bowen theory gives pastors ways not to make things worse but rather to aid the couple in building a renewed marriage. Well-intended overfunctioning and rescuing by the pastor does not help a couple bridge emotional cutoff. Applying Bowen theory is not about a pastor’s “fixing” couples. It is rather about non-reactive, thoughtful connectedness. The best gift a pastor can give couples is to work on her/his own bridging of emotional cutoff in her/his own life. The pastoral coach can then be a more calming presence, who reduces the tendency of the couple to vent, dump on each other and emotionally cut off.  Strengthening the covenant of marriage is not just the responsibility of clergy. To view the church systemically is to realize that the entire church family can play a part in strengthening marriages and bridging emotional cutoff. Pastors and churches can play a major role in providing a setting and resources to help couples bridge emotional cutoff, such as through the four-week Strengthening Marriage Workshop. Strengthening marriages is key to living out a calling to be a church where emotionally cutoff couples like the Lindsays are covenantly restored. If pastors and church members keep doing what they have always done with respect to marriage in the 21st century through their own family patterns, they will not see needed breakthroughs in marital stability and satisfaction.

In summary, Bowen theory offers tools to strengthen marriage through bridging cutoff and restoring covenant. marriages. The Christian tradition understands that God, the covenant-maker, rescues, renews, forgives and heals, taking what is broken and making it whole. Covenantal restoration through bridging emotional cutoff has great power to strengthen marriages, bringing greater stability and satisfaction. Through the strengthening of marriages, a new generation can receive hope that faith and God’s covenant community make a genuine difference in their covenant relationships.

References

Akers-W. M. Understanding the Attitudes Toward Marriage of Never-Married Female Young Adult Children of Divorce Using Bowen Theory, Psy.D. Dissertation, Alliant International University, San Diego, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 36. 2003.

Bowen, M.  Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, (Jason Aaronson Inc, New York, NY, 1985, 1983, 1978, 1992), p. 433.

Bowen, M. The Origins of Family Psychotherapy: The NIMH Family Study Project, Lanham, Maryland, Jason Aronson, 2013.

Bowen, M. “Theory in the Practice of Psychotherapy.” In P. J. Guerin. (Ed.), Family Therapy: Theory and Practice. New York: Gardner Press, 1976.

Dillard, D., and H. Protinsky, H. (1985) “Emotional Cutoff: a Comparative Analysis of Clinical Versus Nonclinical Populations” (citing Bowen, 1977), International Journal of Family  Psychiatry, 6, 5p. 40.

Friedman, Edwin, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in an Age of the Quick-Fix, The Edwin Friedman Estate / Trust, Bethesda, Maryland, 1999.

Kerr, Michael  E., and Murray Bowen, Family Evaluation: An Approach Based on Bowen Theory, The Family Center, Georgetown University, New York: Norton & Company, 1988.

Kline, Meredith G., The Structure of Biblical Authority, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975.

Peleg, Ora & Arnon, Tom, “Are Differentiation Levels Associated with Schizophrenia?” Deviant Behavior (2013) 34:4:321-338.

Peleg, Ora, “The relation between differentiation of self and marital satisfaction: What can be learned from married people over the course of life?” Academic Medicine, Vol. 84(10), Oct, 2009. pp. 388-40.

Peleg, Ora and Yitzhak, Meital. Differentiation of Self and Separation Anxiety: Is There a Similarity Between Spouses? Contemporary Family Therapy (2011) 33:25–36.

Richardson, Ronald, Couples in Conflict: a Family Systems Approach to Marriage Counseling, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2010.

Skowron, Elizabeth A. & Friedlander, Myrna L. “Differentiation of Self Inventory: Development and Initial Validation” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2009, Vol. 56, No. 4, 597–598.

Steinke, Peter, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, The Alban Institute, Herndon, Virginia, 2006.

Titelman, Peter. Clinical Applications of Bowen Family Systems Theory, Haworth Press, New York, N.Y., 1998.

Titelman, Peter, ed., Emotional Cutoff: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives, The Haworth Clinical Practice Press, New York, NY, 2003.

Tuason, Maria Teresa, and Friedlander, Myrna L. “Do Parents’ Differentiation Levels Predict Those of Their Adult Children? and Other Tests of Bowen Theory in a Philippine Sample,” Journal of Counseling Psychology,Vol. 47:1, No. 1, p. 27-35, 2000.

Walker, Michael W. “Differentiation of Self and Partner: Violence Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol.  67(12-B), 2007, pp. 739.