Sunday, April 7, 2013


Boundaries necessary to prevent costly and painful affairs
David and Marva Coombs

Many people give in to the temptation to look past their spouses and notice others who appear more interesting, more attractive, more responsive to their needs, more willing to listen, more empathic, more understanding and even more in need of their love. Most of us think this would never happen to us because of our determination to keep our marital vows.  
However, the reality is that adultery happens too often and to those who believed it could not happen to them. And it is devastating to everyone involved. But there is an easy solution: people can establish boundaries that make it clear that they are not available for any inappropriate relationships. By doing so, they protect themselves from liaisons that may jeopardize their marriages. Here are some suggestions gleaned from my counseling practice that may help couples avoid being unfaithful to their spouses.
Dress modestly; avoid clothing and styles that are provocative and that say, “I’m available; I’m looking.” Dismiss inappropriate and lustful thoughts and avoid anything that feeds them. 
Limit the amount of time spent alone with anyone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse: i.e. don’t share rides to work or to church; don’t go on errands or to lunch, lectures or social activities with persons of the opposite sex. Don’t share intimate details regarding your personal lives. Don’t give or receive personal compliments, personal gifts or special favors that may be mis-interpreted.
Men cross lines when they tell their lovely, attractive co-workers, “My wife doesn’t understand me. She’s not as sensitive to my needs as you are. She doesn’t take care of herself as well as you do.” Not only is this an unfair comparison to wives who may be stay-at-home moms, but it is an invitation that can lead to chaos and heart break. 
Husbands also cross lines when they try to rescue female associates in trouble. Men can refer these women to helping agencies. They should never go to a woman’s home to help out or to fix a few things alone. 
These situations may be reversed and apply to women as well to men.
Some greet people with hugs and kisses. Such greetings can be appropriate; however, some are too intimate and generate uncomfortable feelings. All of us must use caution and block any such greetings that seem to go to far. 
All people like approval, validation and acceptance by others, but if this desire is too strong, it  can lead insecure people to want everyone to think they are especially attractive. Those going through mid-life crises may be particularly vulnerable because they wonder if they are still desirable. Some flirt and make comments with sexual innuendoes yet believe they are impervious to any consequences. This is a mistake; there are always consequences.
Pride interferes with sound thinking. Whenever people think they are exceptions to the rules, they have crossed lines; they are in danger. Rules are simply boundaries that keep us safe. That bears repeating: rules (some known as commandments) are simply boundaries that keep us safe.
Those with their boundaries firmly in place are spared the pain, embarrassment, remorse and possibly divorce caused by infidelity.
Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Phone 435-705-3579 or email to dmcoombs@gmail.com or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.


Forgiveness in Marriage
David and Marva Coombs

“A happy marriage is a union of two good forgivers,” said Dr. Frank Finchman, co-author of a report entitled, “Forgiveness and Relationship Satisfaction” (2011 Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 551-559). “Forgiveness is a process, not an event.” He also said that failing to forgive carries a heavy burden that can actually shorten our lives. “So if you want to live a long and fulfilling life, you will want to find forgiveness as a way of life.”
All people have been victimized and have been offended. It is also true that all have been guilty of afflicting harm.  All have felt the pain of being betrayed, and all have betrayed others to varying degrees. We must not only give forgiveness but also must ask for forgiveness; to be forgiven we need to repent.
Possibly that is why the Lord, when giving us the example of how to pray, included the phrase, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). As emphasis to this point, He adds: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). We are forgiven to the level we are willing to forgive. We can’t say, “Lord curse those who offended me. But Lord, be gracious and forgiving of my offenses.” 
Possibly, we may not understand the principle of forgiveness. We may think that if we forgive, we must forget the incident and the pain. In serious circumstances, this may not be possible. God promises to forget those sins we have confessed and forsaken. He has said He will “blot out, as a thick cloud, our transgressions” (Isaiah 44:22). However, it may take a long time, coupled with many positive experiences in order to forget. Certainly, with small trespasses, we can quickly forgive and even forget.
Some think that to forgive means we condone the wrong, that we pretend the wrong is not that bad. People fear it is our responsibility to reconcile, to immediately trust and to allow closeness. Not true. 
Dr. Finchman explains that forgiveness “is more like giving up the perceived right to get even. It’s like giving up the attitude, ‘You owe me.’ Forgiveness is a response to being wronged that entails a change in which justified anger and resentment are freely given up.” When forgiving we no longer want harm to come to the offender. We’ve given up any need to punish.
For marriages to endure, transgressors must sincerely apologize and ask for forgiveness. This validates their partners’ pain. When forgiveness is granted, the transgressors receive an undeserved gift from their spouses. This is similar to our approaching the throne of God, unworthy and undeserving, and asking for God’s gift of forgiveness. As we forgive we are developing a God-like quality.
When the gift is granted, all is not immediately well. In serious offenses the transgressors promote healing by their actions showing that they have fully and honestly confessed, sincerely repented and have made the necessary changes.  
It is most unfair, for example, for a husband to say, “Ok, I know I have been addicted to drugs since I was a teenager, but I have mostly stopped. With the exception of a few recent incidents, I have been good. Now it is up to you, my dear wife, to forgive me and get over it. God has forgiven me so why haven’t you? You are the one who is creating the rift in our marriage.” He hasn’t yet won her trust by completely quitting or by getting help to quit. He has minimized his behavior and counter attacked. She may have empathy for him, not wish him any harm, but also not want to be with him. 
If we have seriously offended our loved ones, we need to be patient with them and not think that we can correct long-standing issues with a quick fix. Large doses of humility help others forgive us. Human emotions cannot be switched on and off. Pain may linger longer than any would like which requires the repentant to be patient and humble as part of the penance. There cannot be quick flights into health with expectations that all is well immediately.
No marriage can last long or be happy unless spouses become good at apologizing and at forgiving each other and “find forgiveness as a way of life.”

Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-272-4292 or email to drmcoombs@gmail.com or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.

What is the difference between guilt and shame?
David and Marva Coombs
Guilt is the feeling people have when they have done something wrong and feel bad about it. Shame goes deeper: people feel they are bad. They feel rotten to the core and think they have little or no redeeming value. Guilt is relieved by repenting, forsaking past sins, asking for forgiveness and seeking actively to live a better life. Shame is an overwhelming, dark feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness that afflicts some people, and they refuse to let it go. They believe they will never be worthy to receive forgiveness from God, from others and certainly not from themselves.
Guilt plays a healthy role in helping people repent and change. Such feelings keep them on righteous tracks, let them know when they have crossed lines and motivate them to make course corrections. But shame is another matter. It creates a barrier that family and friends can’t cross. Shame’s victims seem impervious to comfort or advice.
I counseled with a young, single woman who had aborted her baby although her family and friends tried to convince her not to do so. But she could not see a way out of her predicament except to abort her baby. Immediately after the operation, she felt she had committed an unforgivable sin and fell into a deep depression. She made several attempts at suicide and was admitted to a treatment center. 
She allowed me to meet with her in private sessions but refused to attend group therapy. She remained distant and uncooperative but, paradoxically, wanted to continue our sessions. Apparently, she sensed me as someone who hadn’t judged her; perhaps I was her link to the outside world. Six months passed and I began to wonder if she would ever come out of her dark, self-imposed prison. 
Her shame could not be alleviated by medication, counseling or encouragement from family and friends. She came from a deeply religious home. Regardless of efforts to explain the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ and how she could be forgiven, nothing worked. She had built an impregnable wall around herself, preventing anything or anyone from getting in. In her shame, she was convinced she was worthless and unredeemable.
But then a ray of hope began to shine upon our sessions. She gave herself permission to smile and began to take care of herself. She bathed more often and cut her long hair which she had used to cover much of her face. She enjoyed her food. She opened up in her sessions and began attending group therapy. It was like watching a person being reborn. It wasn’t long till she was able and willing to leave the facility and live a normal life.
I asked her what the turning point was in her therapy that began her healing. She told me she felt she had simply suffered long enough to pay for her sin. She was ready to let go of the need of further punishment. It was as if she believed she had to atone for her own sin before she could accept love from others and particularly love from her Heavenly Father. 
Those who suffer from shame often have to hit bottom before they can begin to move up. They have so developed the inner language of self-destruction that learning the language of self-support comes slowly. Because of their negative self-talk, they have trouble accepting the truth about their self-worth. 
As they come to believe that all their sins are forgivable, they realize that God still loves them and always has. They realize there is no exception to the word “all” and no matter what they have done, they finally believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ and that it applies to them. 
Through the process of repentance, the Lord’s love heals all of us from our past sins. Our God is big enough to deal with all our guilt and with all our shame.

Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-705-3579 or email to dmcoombs@gmail.com or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Making Valentines Day Easy


Making Valentines Day easy
David and Marva Coombs

I counseled with a husband who was reluctant to romance his wife; I asked him to explain his fears about courting his sweetheart. He said he just didn’t see himself as the romantic type. He felt awkward doing things he had heard that other men do for their wives, particularly at Valentines. He reasoned that jewelry, flowers, candy, movie or a concert and dinner at a restaurant were all too expensive. And he was not about to write love letters because his handwriting was illegible and his spelling was awful. He didn’t know any poetry, and she would probably laugh at his silly attempts to write something mushy. 
He continued, “Besides, she knows I love her. I shouldn’t have to buy her expensive gifts to prove it. I feel I am being manipulated into doing something that is unnecessary and costly.” I assured him he was not being manipulated, but he was being invited to join with others in an international holiday for couples to express their love for each other. I said, “Your wife is entitled to small gifts of appreciation and sweet expressions of love. And they don’t have to be costly.”
He rambled on, “The bottom line is I am afraid I wouldn’t do any of this romantic stuff right, and I would feel stupid. I fear failure. So the safest thing for me to do is to do nothing.” In his frustration he stated, “Why doesn’t she accept me just the way I am?”
I asked the wife what she expected from her husband. She said, “I need to feel loved and special. When I tell him this, he looks at me with those eyes that say, ‘I don’t know if I can give you what you want.’ I say nothing because I want him to show his love for me and not do some thing I tell him to do because then it won’t mean as much. If I tell him, then he’ll be doing it because I told him to do it.” Her attitude reflected the romantic myth that people in love simply know what the other is thinking.
I invited her to re-consider her self-imposed rule. I told her she needs to state clearly what she wants. “He can’t read your mind. If your husband is not aware of your thoughts, dreams and hopes, how will he ever know how to be successful as your loving husband? He thinks he has to dazzle you with a lot of expensive activities and gifts which he can’t afford. And if he doesn’t do it just right, he fears you will be disappointed and be critical of his efforts. And his worst fears will have been realized; he will have failed. Is that what you want?”
She turned to her husband and said, “This is what I want. You don’t have to bring me a bouquet of flowers; a single rose would warm my heart. I don’t need a whole box of chocolates but giving me my favorite ice cream would be super. I love having not to cook, but if a restaurant costs too much then bringing home a dinner from Kentucky Fried would be great. I’ll set the table nicely and we’ll eat by candle light. Movies can be expensive but a romantic DVD rental would be perfect, and we could watch it as we cuddle on the couch. While I would cherish love letters, a special card signed by you would be something I would save. Hugs and kisses and sweet nothings whispered in my ear telling me I am beautiful will make me melt in your arms.” 
He responded, “I didn’t know it would be that simple. This will make you feel loved and special? This I can do.”
Blessed are those who make efforts, great or small, to send the important message that they deeply care for and love those who are special in their lives. When husbands and wives ask one another what they would really like, they are saying, “I love you.” When folks love each other, they need to say so, to show their love with tender deeds, to give gifts and to hold their loved ones in their arms and kiss them. Now that doesn’t sound too hard does it? Happy Valentines!

Dr. Coombs is a marriage, family and individual therapists. Call 435-272-4292. Email to dmcoombs@gmail.com. or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Sensitivity in marriage
David and Marva Coombs

Years ago, I had to attend an early morning meeting, and we had only one car, so I promised Marva I would be home in time for her to keep her appointments later that morning. Things didn’t go as planned. First the meeting ran late. Then I remembered I needed to make another stop. So I called Marva to inform her that I wouldn’t be home, so she would have to make other arrangements.  I said to her, “Honey, I’m sorry. You do understand don’t you?”
She could have reluctantly agreed with me, buried her feelings of resentment and pretended that it would be all right. Instead, being honest with her feelings and with me, she kindly said, “David, I really need you to keep your commitment to me! I need the car, and I need your support. I have no time to make other arrangements. So will you please come home as soon as you can?” I did as she requested and felt grateful for a wife who tells me her feelings while still being sensitive to mine.
Thinking of that experience later, I realized what I had done. Having made a commitment to her, I seemed ready to break it casually. Without knowing it, I was telling her that my schedule was more important than hers, and if there was to be a sacrifice, she would be the one to make it. Of course, I didn’t use those words, and I would have been shocked if she had accused me of feeling that way. But when I considered the incident afterwards, I concluded I was really giving her that message and that I was being insensitive to her needs.
I’ve noticed this problem--self-centeredness and insensitivity--over and over in my work as a professional marriage counselor. The problem is a real one, and it isn’t unique to just men--both husbands and wives struggle with it. But it can be overcome by partners using a little kindness and empathy.
At a party Marva and I attended early in our marriage, I told what I thought were cute jokes on her and also a few regarding her mother, of course, at their expense. It seemed innocent enough to do because others were doing it too. But when we were driving home, she told me how embarrassed and hurt she was. She requested that all jokes and personal experiences shared publicly be positive and complimentary. When I considered my behavior, I agreed that I had no cause to belittle her or her mother--that derogatory jokes about women are unnecessary. Her request was reasonable. Again, I was glad she pointed out my insensitivity so sensitively. 
In our previous house, we had a desk in our bedroom which Marva used. I often found myself reminding her to keep it cleared off and orderly. On one occasion when I was tired and angry about something else, I used her cluttered desk as an excuse to vent my angry feelings--demanding that she immediately clean it off. I let her know that since she’s home all day, she could have taken a few minutes to put her desk in order.
She responded by gently leading me over to the closet to show me all the shirts she had washed and ironed that day, then to my dresser to show me all the clean clothes she had washed, folded and neatly put away. She calmly reminded me of the sick children she had cared for and taken to the doctor, and of the good dinner she had ready for me when I came home. Then she said, “Honey, what I need from you is not criticism for what I haven’t done but expressions of appreciation for what I have done.” I apologized; she accepted. I expressed my appreciation for her good work, and the next day I took the kids to the park and gave her time to clean her desk.
Now, I haven’t given any examples of Marva’s flaws and foibles. Being true to my commitment, and being the smart husband that I am, I am not going to say anything about her that is not complimentary. She is a wonderful wife who has taught me what it takes to be a good husband and who loves me regardless of my flaws and foibles. May all of us take time to consider how our actions impact others and to be more sensitive to their needs and feelings.

Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-272-4292 or email to dmcoombs@gmail.com, or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


What is the difference between guilt and shame?
David and Marva Coombs

Guilt is the feeling people have when they have done something wrong and feel bad about it. Shame goes much deeper: people feel they are bad. They feel rotten to the core and think they have little or no redeeming value. Guilt is relieved by repenting, forsaking past sins, asking for forgiveness, seeking actively to live a better life. Shame is that overwhelming dark feeling that afflicts certain people and they refuse to let it go. They believe they will never be worthy to receive forgiveness from God, from others and certainly not from themselves.
Guilt plays a healthy role in helping people repent. Such feelings keep them on track, let them know when they have crossed lines and motivates them to make course corrections. But shame is another matter. It presents a difficult challenge of preventing those who love them from convincing those steeped in shame to let it go.
I was counseling with a young single pregnant woman who had purposely aborted her baby, even after her family and friends tried so hard to convince her not to do it. But she could see no way out of her predicament except to abort. Immediately after the operation, she felt she had committed an unforgivable sin and fell into a deep state of depression. She made several attempts at suicide and was admitted to a treatment center. 
She allowed me to meet with her in private sessions but refused to attend group therapy. She remained distant and uncooperative but, paradoxically, wanted to continue our sessions. Apparently, she sensed me as someone who hadn’t judged her and maybe I was her link to the outside world. Six months had passed when I began to wonder if she was ever going to come out of her dark, self-imposed prison. 
Her shame was impervious to medication, counseling and encouragement offered by family and friends. She came from a deeply religious home. Regardless of efforts to explain the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ and how she could be forgiven, nothing worked. She had built an impregnable wall around herself, preventing anything or anyone to get in. In her shame, she was convinced she was worthless and unredeemable.
But then a ray of hope began to shine upon our sessions. She gave herself permission to smile and began to take better care of herself. She bathed more often and cut her long hair which she had used to cover much of her face. She enjoyed her food. She opened up in her sessions and began attending group therapy. It was like watching a person being reborn. It wasn’t long till she was able and willing to leave the facility and live a normal life.
I asked her what the turning point was in her therapy that began her healing. She told me she felt she had simply suffered long enough for her sin. She was ready to let go of the need of further punishment. It was as if she believed she had to atone for her own sin before she could accept love from others and particularly love from her Heavenly Father. 
This is an example of those who suffer from shame. They have to hit bottom before they can begin to move up. They have so developed the inner language of self-destruction that learning the language of self-support is slow to come. Because of their negative self-talk, they have trouble accepting the truth about their self-worth. 
As they come to believe that all sins are forgivable, as they realize that God still loves them and always has, as they realize there is no exception to the word “all” and no matter what they have done, they finally believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ and that it applies to them. 
Through the process of repentance, the Lord’s love heals all of us from all of our past sins. Our God is big enough to deal with all of our guilt and with all of our shame.

Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-705-3579 or email to dmcoombs@gmail.com or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com. 

The best and the worst parents may still have surprises
David and Marva Coombs
Parenting is not easy! In fact, it is the most challenging--can be the most heartbreaking--and yet one of the most rewarding experiences of life. Few things are as important than good parenting skills. 
People tend to follow the example of their parents. If their parents were not good role models, then they may have unresolved anger towards them. This needs to be faced and resolved by forgiving their parents, who likely did the best they knew how. They themselves were raised by imperfect parents. How well we parent can be affected by how well we have forgiven our parents for their mistakes; we hope our children will do the same for us.
The best gift a father could ever give his children is to love their mother and vice versa. This relationship sets the tone for a stable family. When children see their dad and mom being tender, kind and affectionate with each other, they feel safe. When they see their parents resolve their differences without being ugly; they feel at peace. Peaceful children are easier to raise.
We are blessed by the attitude that children are on loan to us from Heavenly Father, and we want to do all we can to prepare them to return home to Him. We are humbled by the thought that God will ask us to give an accounting of our parenting when we stand before Him to be judged. Parenting is a sacred privilege and honor. This attitude colors how we talk to our children, how we nurture them and how we relate to them.
We show our love by spending time working and playing together.  A truck driver said he knew he had been spending too much time on the road away from home when his little girl said, “Daddy, will you come visit me again soon?” Children need to feel our hugs and hear love in our voices as we teach them and especially when we discipline them. We all want to be the best examples of Christ-like behavior as we can be. Our greatest joy comes from feeling successful in our roles as parents. Most parents pray earnestly that their children will be happy and successful. 
Occasionally, in spite of our best efforts, some of the worst kids come from the best homes. Conversely and surprisingly, some of the best kids come from some of the worst homes.
We have to remember that we as parents are not the only force that influences the lives of our children. We may be good parents and provide the best environment emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and physically. But there are many factors over which we have no control. Each child comes with a unique personality already hard-wired into their psyche. Kids may develop into adults who are stubborn, independent and unresponsive to good counsel. Their sexual orientation may be a surprise. 
They may be mentally brilliant or have learning disabilities. They may have a pre-disposition to addictions to alcohol or other drugs. They may be affected by their cultural surroundings and be readily influenced by bad friends. They may be born with diseases that permanently alter their lives. 
Most parents do all they can to be the best they possibly can be, but they may have to resign themselves to the fact that even their best efforts may not produce their expectations. Moms and dads need not judge the eternal destiny of their children because they cannot know what changes their children will make somewhere between now and God’s final judgement. That’s why parents can never lose hope or never give up on their wayward children.
Some children are absolutely amazing and wonderful, but parents cannot necessarily take credit for their successes and achievements. Their children may have come that way from Heavenly Father bringing with them their own gifts and abilities.
Additionally, children have their agency with the power to choose for themselves what they will do with their lives. Their choices may or may not reflect their home life. As stated in the beginning: parenting is the most challenging--can be the most heartbreaking--and yet can be he most rewarding experience of their lives. Parents can only do their best and leave the rest to God.

Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-705-3579 or email to dmcoombs@gmail.com or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.