I just got through reading Dr. Laurel Shaler’s new book (released on February 5th, 2019), Relational Reset: Unlearning the Habits That Hold You Back. And it is absolutely WONDERFUL! She has done an amazing job of clearly articulating a number of exceedingly difficult concepts and issues connected to our relationships — romantic, friendship, or otherwise.

On the back cover of her book it says the following: “As a Christian counselor, Dr. Laurel Shaler has observed 11 common blind spots that sabotage otherwise healthy friendships, work relationships, and marriages. That’s why she wrote Relational Reset to help you:

  • identify what’s holding your relationship back
  • break bad habits that hurt you and others
  • create new habits that build healthy bonds”

Even though Dr. Shaler’s primary target audience is women, let me just say that, as a man, I definitely got a lot out of it from a basic how-to-have-healthy-relationships perspective. Therefore, I’ve invited Laurel for an interview on my blog, because I think she has a lot of good things to say, things we can all benefit from hearing.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me give you a brief biographical introduction to my special guest, Dr. Laurel Shaler.

Dr. Laurel Shaler, Author and Counselor

Dr. Laurel Shaler is a national certified counselor and licensed social worker. She is an associate professor at Liberty University, where she serves as the Director of the Master of Arts in Professional Counseling program. Dr. Shaler writes and speaks on the intersection of faith, culture, and emotional well-being and is also the author of Reclaiming Sanity: Hope and Healing for Trauma, Stress, and Overwhelming Life Events. She and her husband, an officer in the Navy Reserves, have one daughter and live in South Carolina.

Now on to our eye-opening interview . . . (*Laurel’s responses are in boldface.)

Laurel, thank you so very much to agreeing on such short notice to take the time for an interview. I truly love your approachable writing style and find it to be so very practical and biblically-based. But, I am curious to find out what is was that inspired you to write Relational Reset? And what chapters were the most challenging for you to write from a personal level, and why?

I have wanted to write a book on relationships for a long time. It started many years ago centered on friendships, but the Lord kept expanding that into a book about these difference problem areas that interfere with any kind of relationships – yes, friendships, but also romantic relationships, workplace relationships, church and community relationships, family relationships, all kinds of relationships! I really wrote this book from a place of “me too” which is what made some of it challenging. It was tough to be vulnerable, especially when writing on topics such as insecurity and envy. 

In chapter three, “Overcome Offenses,” you discuss the importance of empathy and grace in lowering your “offense-ometer” (a term of yours I love, by the way!). How can women and men alike in our friendships and romantic relationships learn to be more gracious, understanding of others, and less prone to unhealthy defensiveness?

I am still learning how to do this myself, but one thing I have been working harder on lately is taking a step back. I don’t have to reply to the text or email right away, especially if – at first – it steps on my toes. I try to really see what is being said from the other person’s perspective. This can be a bit more challenging  in real time when you are sitting with someone face to face or talking with them on the phone, but there is still an opportunity to ask the other person if they can help you understand their perspective more or to even say you need a little bit of time to think before you respond. Empathy is really about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. What would you possibly think or feel if you were them? That can go a long way in helping us to become less easily offended.

When in comes to dismissing blame, it seems like there is also the trap of exceeding our appropriate degree of responsibility by internalizing unhealthy self-blame (and false guilt) for things beyond our control. How can we work towards overcoming that tendency as self-conscious, second-guessing believers?

Dr. Laurel Shaler, Wife and Mother

I love this question. There is an activity in counseling called “level of personal responsibility”…in this activity, the individual takes a deep dive into an issue that they feel guilt over and works on determining their actual level of responsibility. A popular TV show right now is “This Is Us.” It’s no secret that one of the beloved characters died in a house fire in the 1990s. HIs daughter feels immense guilt because they were all out of the home safe when he went back in for her pet. He later died. Is Kate – who was a teenager at the time – truly responsible for her father’s death? Of course not! But so often we are like her. We take on guilt that does not belong to us. Never the less, there are times when we are guilty. In those instances, Believers need to remember and apply 1 John 1:9. We need to repent of our sin and accept forgiveness that Christ offers. 

Your sage cautionary advise regarding the use of Social Media, and its potential for negative impact on relationships is so very helpful. What might be some pointers you could share for younger people (i.e., teenagers and/or college students) in their digital (over)connectivity and communication with friends?

Technology is wonderful and challenging. There was a campaign at Liberty a few years ago called “Look Up.” It had to do with the idea that instead of walking around with your face in the phone, look up and greet people as they pass by and make sure you are looking up when you cross the street! But, seriously, establishing margins and boundaries with technology is so important. For example, my iPhone has a feature called “screen time” ad it allows the to establish downtime where I cannot use all of the features on my phone during certain hours. Too many of us are obsessed with our phones and only communicate that way. So, instead of constantly texting or snap chatting, try calling a friend. There are many technology boundaries that we should put in place for our own sanity!

Offering forgiveness and making apologies can represent such a huge hurdle for us as prideful human beings in striving for peace and reconciliation in our relationships. What roles do you see vulnerability and humility playing when it comes to mending emotional hurts and reestablishing trust in the challenging journey of “making up”?

It really can take humbling ourselves to apologize. I think of Jesus describing Himself as humble. This is how I want to be too. I want to care more about my relationships than my own pride. The same is true when it comes to forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins against him, Jesus told him not 7 times, but 77 times. My pastor says it this way: “Stop counting and keep forgiving.” 

Laurel, thanks so much for sharing your heart with us. You’re a blessing to so many people!

To learn more, you may contact Dr. Shaler at drlaurelshaler.com.