11 Ways to Love Your Spouse Well

Many marriages will end when one feels the other does not love them anymore or does not love them how they need. People will say that they have “fallen out of love” with their spouses, or maybe they are exhausted from giving so much love but not receiving enough love in return.

Even though love in marriage is about giving and receiving love (not just one or the other), it is often the culprit behind extramarital affairs, separation, and divorce.

11 Ways to Love Your Spouse Well

It is vital in healthy, thriving marriages to choose to love your spouse well every day because this is the most important human relationship in your life, so this is a shortlist of ways to love well.

1. Spend time with them.

This seems silly to say, but life gets seriously busy, especially with work and children in the mix. It is often difficult to prioritize spending quality time together, and there may often be days when you barely speak at all.

This behavior can lead to emotional distance in your relationship, where you become like ships passing through the night instead of partners, lovers, companions, and best friends. So choose time every day, even if it is simply 15-30 quiet and uninterrupted minutes (phones away, televisions off, children not with you) talking about how you are doing, how your day was, or any other important things.

Schedule date nights or date days/weekends with your spouse when you can get away and focus solely on each other. You will never be able to know how to love them well if you are not working to know them every day. They will change, and so will you. Do not let them pass you by over time so that you do not know one another anymore.

2. Prioritize them over every person in your life, including your children.

Your spouse should be (and know that he or she is) the most important person in your life, under your relationship with Jesus if you are a Christian. This relationship must be protected and nurtured because it is the glue of your family. Without a healthy marriage, parenting will always be a huge challenge, and there will be constant dysfunction.

Your whole family will be unhealthy if your marriage is unhealthy. Put them above your work, extended family (like your family of origin), and even your children. Though your children are next in line of priority, your marriage should be at the top. To love your children well you need to love your spouse well.

3. Develop empathy for them: put yourself in their shoes.

Consider how they feel, what they feel, and why they feel it. Empathy is a beautiful and effective way to demonstrate love. If you do not ever consider their feelings with family decisions or about the health of your marriage or any other matter of importance, they will feel unseen, unheard, and not valued by you.

4. Be honest with them when you feel like they are not loving you well in return.

If you are the one who is loving so much that it is hurting you, it is time to be honest with your spouse about this. If you are constantly working hard to meet their needs and fulfill their wants and wishes to the point that your own needs are not being met, your relationship could be unhealthy. It is time to share with them that you feel you are carrying the emotional load of the relationship and that you want a reciprocal relationship. Be specific with what you need and want in return.

5. Pay attention to their needs and wants.

Be on the lookout for what they want and what they need. Acknowledge that you hear and respect them when they directly share these with you. If you cannot meet those needs, and you will not be able to meet them all, help them problem-solve about ways to get what they need and want.

However, if it is something that they specifically need from you, make it your priority to serve them in the way they need. If they want something from you that will cause you pain or harm, then set a boundary, and say no. Offer a compromise.

You could also practice this if there is something that they want with which you are uncomfortable (like some sexual activity, for example). Just because your spouse wants it, does not mean they need it or will get it. If it seems reasonable and, in your power, to help, then do so.

6. Support their dreams and work.

This could be a great way to demonstrate your love for your spouse. Always be open in communication about dreams, goals, and work. Let them share with you and honor them. If there is something physical that you can do (like financially support a dream or carve out time to hang out with the kids so that your spouse can work toward it), then do it.

If it is not in your hands, then hear them and provide support. They need you on their team, just as you need them on yours.

If your dream is inconsistent with what your relationship needs, it could be that your dream needs to be carefully assessed. You should never pursue a dream at the expense of your relationship, so it is even more important to have your spouse on board (and to be on board with theirs, too).

7. Serve them.

Take over the dishes. Help take out the trash. Do the bills. Cut up the credit card if your spouse hates it. Book a trip. Make the bed. Take them lunch. Hang out with the kids. Serving is an incredible display of love.

8. Be willing to be wrong.

You are not always right, nor do you always know what is right. When you are willing to acknowledge that you are wrong, it goes a long way in your relationship. However, if you never apologize and always react defensively, your marriage will suffer in the long run. This kind of behavior turns your spouse away and reduces the feeling of emotional safety in the relationship.

9. Listen.

This is a way to show respect for your spouse. Be willing to listen. “Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry.” Listen to their words and listen to the things they do that speak louder than words. Listen to what they feel and what they think. Listen to their body cues and body language. Listen to their health and their other relationships. If you notice that your spouse is struggling or needs you to step in and love them better, it is your job to do that.

10. Keep the fun alive and flirt, too.

Remember when you used to have fun? Think of a list of things that you can do that you both (or even just one of you) enjoy, and spend time doing that together! What did you do before that you both used to enjoy? Is it possible to put it back into your life? If you enjoy game nights, going to the movies, going shopping together, or going on trips, it does not matter what it is, just carve out time to do what you enjoy together.

Keep flirting, too! It is a way to keep the fun in your marriage, and it will show your spouse that you still find them attractive and that you still want them. This can be a great way to nurture your sexual relationship.

11. Pay attention to how they feel loved most.

One helpful (but not exhaustive) tool to use is The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. He lists what he believed to be the top five ways that spouses give and receive love in his book, and they are relevant to discuss here. You may do some of the things above, but your spouse may not feel loved. Pay attention to how they feel love. It usually is different than what makes you feel love and how you give love. The five love languages are:

Words of Affirmation: Words that speak on how you feel or what you think about your spouse. They could be kind words about them as a person or something that they have done, or they could be how you feel about them.

Physical Touch: Some people feel most loved with hugs, cuddles, massages, kisses, or sexual activity. Touch your spouse! Your sexual health in your relationship is vital to the overall health of your relationship.

Gifts: Thoughtful gifts are how many feel loved, and if this is your spouse’s love language, be intentional about surprising them often with small (and sometimes big) gifts.

Acts of Service: Some find it incredible when their spouses serve them in some way.

Quality Time: Some just want to be together without distraction. That for them feels like love.

No matter what you choose to do, pay attention to what you need and what your spouse needs. Do everything in your power to love them well and meet any needs that you can. This is the foundation of a healthy marriage, and nurture it in the long run, helping safeguard against affairs, separation, or divorce.

Christian Marriage Counseling

If you’re looking for more practical ways to love your spouse or you could use some additional support in your relationship, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the counselor directory to schedule an appointment. We would be happy to help.

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“Dream Come True”, Courtesy of Oziel Gomez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bridge”, Courtesy of Shea Rouda, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Heart in the Sand”, Courtesy of Khadeeja Yasser, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walking on the Beach”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Premarital Counseling for Today’s Generation

Many couples are reflecting on how 2020 went for them and wondering how 2021 will treat them. We noticed a boom of weddings in 2020 despite the pandemic. This encouraged many to get engaged and to hopefully get married in 2021. We may wonder why people are getting married, and it could be as simple a matter as singles and dating couples being tired of living alone.

The pandemic has brought many issues to the surface such as depression due to constant isolation and anxiety when alone. Autophobia is the fear of being alone and is especially difficult the older you are. Undoubtedly families and couples did better than singles while being left alone for such a long time during the pandemic.

Although some took the risk of going out during the outbreak, many had no option but to stay at home out of concern for a loved one. This woke up many men and women to consider moving forward with their partners toward marriage. This is a noble solution to the problem of being alone. Wisdom would say that although it’s great to get married, we must build solidly to have a long-lasting marriage.

As a minister, I notice that couples in our church tend to rush into marriage but many, if not all, of these couples wisely seek advice. The pandemic is causing doubts and questions for possible weddings of 2021 such as financial costs, wedding attendance, where to live, school, jobs, family distance, etc.

A blessing in disguise of the pandemic is that it is helping couples to work through these issues with others, which is helping them to count the cost of moving forward.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’Luke 14:28-30

These couples cannot afford to put up money for a big wedding, and they are wondering where to live because, if the pandemic extends, they want to know could they be safe, and what is around them in walking distance i.e., parks, beach, trails, stores, etc. With this in mind, partners are asking one another about pre-marital counseling.

Premarital counseling is a foundational precursor to a healthy marriage because we tend to invest in what’s important to us. The passage in Luke helps us to consider how we are building. Couples aren’t just “fools rush in”, there is an alternative that can support a stronger relationship that will remain resilient during challenging times.

Sadly, many couples also ended their relationship in 2020 because the pandemic tested them beyond their capabilities and forced them to tap out. Couples’ characters were exposed and with the added pressures of isolation, they had no one to turn to. These marriages had little to no support that otherwise could have been of immense help.

The question is, why didn’t these couples have support? We could chalk it up to many possibilities, but one vital reason could be that it wasn’t discussed at their premarital counseling. We all have friends, but we don’t turn to them to get input especially about sensitive material as insecurities, sexual intimacy, conflict, jealousy, deceit, secrets, etc.

If adequate support is not set up in advance this challenge can be difficult to overcome. We all need support to move forward in life. We all appreciate the heroic stories of individuals, but the most encouraging ones are the teams of heroes that show everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Avengers, Justice League, and Star Wars are all some of the biggest box office hits in the last decade. The reason for their success is that they are teams fighting off a great evil. These have become bigger revenue-generating franchises and have overtaken the individual hero’s place as top of the box office king. Why do we have less enthusiasm about being a team in our marriages? Marriage is a perfect opportunity to be a team and have others team up to helps us.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

This is an interesting passage for couples because if my partner and I are one then who is going to help our one unit? Some may suggest that spouses are the other individual to help them out, but we can challenge that position by reminding everyone of the goal that God designed in Genesis 2:24 “the two will become one.”

By that principle, a couple who follows the word of God is one unit. The secret of Christian marriage is that we get to celebrate two lives joined together in holy matrimony, yet they are not alone. In the kingdom of God, we have support and guidance to face any issue. Marriages should never be alone. As separate individuals, we can support one another and maximize the potential of our unions.

2021 is going to be a full year of many couples dating, getting engaged, then married. Families will begin and many joyous occasions will take place. During those moments there will be stress and anxiety and one way to combat those symptoms will be to get premarital counseling as soon as possible.

First, dating or engaged couples can jumpstart their long-term relationship by investing in a healthy premarital counseling series so that they can develop a great foundation to make their marriage strong. Second, they can develop a support network. If they do these two crucial things, along with reading their Bible and praying every day, then they can have confidence that will stay together for the long haul.

If for some reason their church, ministry, friends, or community cannot provide that, then therapy can be a great alternative. Marriage and Family therapists are trained in basic approaches that can help couples in their relationships hence the title “marriage” therapist. Some may say that therapy is too pricey and could take up a lot of your time. An argument can be made that investing in your relationship is priceless.

When I married Nicole, there was no price too high to pay for the ring, wedding, and honeymoon. We had a budget of course, but my attitude was that I wanted to invest in the things I thought were important to me. Where we put our money shows where we are invested.

My advice to those of you reading this article is that if you are considering getting married soon, think about possibly getting premarital counseling through a therapist who will be impartial and professional. Sometimes our friends and family can mean well when it comes to giving us premarital advice but at times that can have some biases attached with it.

A professional therapist is trained to be in the middle and not side with either partner. The licensed marriage and family therapist will work with both individuals to help bring issues to light that could be of concern and to build skills to help them navigate expectations for the future.

Having a healthy dynamic marriage is priceless. I look back to when Nicole and I got premarital counseling and I shudder to think what would be said of us right now if we had never invested in our relationship after our engagement. In truth, our marriage would be a nightmare.

I’m grateful that others supported me and helped me to learn ways to communicate effectively, how to plan out my week with my wife, prioritizing biblical values, sexual intimacy, reconciliation, daily encouragement, effective roles, letting go of past hurts, submitting to one another, listening, finances, etc. Many couples get married and do not talk about these issues.

It is no wonder that couples have so many arguments. They approach their relationship with optimism but then they hit a snag after the vows. When conflict arises, they realize that they didn’t prepare for these issues and are shocked when they have no one to turn to. They want to save face, so they keep it “in-house”. They go to church and pretend that everything is fine.

Deep down, however, they are yearning for help so that they can grow. This piece is written for those looking forward to getting married this year but honestly, anyone can get counseling at any point in their relationship. It’s an investment that will reap long-lasting rewards. One spouse can go alone, although it is highly recommended that both attend.

If the couple is healthy, and one spouse wants to process a trauma from their past, then that one spouse should get therapy and may not need to include the other. If the conflict affects both, then both should attend to get therapy. Premarital counseling will prepare the couple so that they will not be blindsided by any potential threats.

Athletes say that the worst hit they take on the field is the one they don’t see coming. With premarital counseling, not only will you be ready for those challenges, but you will also be ready to confront them. Not only will you be ready to confront them but be victorious as a wonderful team. I close out with an encouraging analogy from Jesus on how to build our spiritual homes:

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.Matthew 7:24-27

Photos:
“Rings”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love & Respect”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions Together”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Looking for Love: How to Overcome Emotional Affairs

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Looking for love in all the wrong places”? It’s a phrase we throw around to our peers when we casually talk about a hopeless romantic who may be searching for love in areas where they will not find true love, such as emotional affairs. This idea of true love is what many are searching for.

Think about the following: fame, fortune, popularity, success, power, family, and so forth. Why do we want all these things? We want them because we want to be loved. Maybe we won’t admit it but at the end of the day, we work hard because we are searching for that endless love. There are some interesting proverbs in the Bible that support this.

What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar. – Proverbs 19:22

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find? – Proverbs 20:6

Unfailing love is what we all want right? That comfort of knowing that your partner or loved one wants to prioritize you and to hold you dearly. We look forward to that warmth and affection with our partners because it makes us feel so special. I remember the first few dates I went with my wife Nicole how easily I had butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t help it.

My emotions and thoughts just overwhelmed me with this notion that I wanted to be with Nicole and no one else. Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations, holidays are all special because we cherish these moments with those we genuinely love.

The flip side to that coin also is that we want a partner who is willing to be tried and true with us. Forgiving one another, being patient, understanding, supplying encouragement and support are all aspects of when things aren’t as blissful. We prefer that our partners work with us during challenging times and not give up on us when we royally mess it up.

So good or bad, we want true love that overrides all situations. Those two proverbs aren’t there by accident. They are there to provide insight into how we think and to bring to the forefront what our mission is. Our mission isn’t to be right, or to amass wealth, or to be famous. The goal is to find the cherished love that is so evasive at times. The question is how are we searching for this love?

2021 will be a year of growth for many of us and I’d dare say that growing in our relationships is a very top priority for many of us. 2020 brought hurt and discouragement for many of us also. Addiction grew, domestic violence went up, many betrayals surfaced because the pandemic of COVID-19 exposed our true natures.

One of those exposures may have been emotional affairs. Some may have caught their partners watching pornography on the internet. Others could have wondered why their finances were disappearing and still others may have been that substance abuse was uncovered. However, emotional affairs may explain why you are reading this article.

Maybe you were the partner that was affected by a spouse who connected with someone online in an inappropriate way. Maybe your partner has a bad habit of being flirtatious with the opposite gender with certain staff at a certain establishment which pains you to see. Despite bringing it up you may get accused of overreacting.

Another possibility is that maybe you or someone who is in an emotional affair and you’re wondering if you’ve gone too far. This article interested you because you are at a crossroads in your relationship, and you may have ventured out of the boundaries in an emotional relationship and now you are contemplating on what you are going to do.

Lastly, you could be a friend of someone who is either a victim or a perpetrator and you want to help them out. I applaud you along with our readers for your noble heart to research and understand ways to help your friends potentially stay together for the long haul. Not sure where you are at in this, but you’ve come to the right place to get some extra resources that can help them lovingly and spiritually.

What’s Wrong with Emotional Affairs?

Why are emotional affairs wrong? I want to tackle this first because some may say “there’s nothing physical so what’s the issue?” Indeed, an emotional relationship may not include any physical involvement but there’s a reason it hurts our partners. When we enter a relationship, we may not show our deal-breakers upfront. So, some partners may think they can enjoy their relationship if there’s nothing physical with someone else.

It’s kind of a taboo thing but nothing that could have enough substance to become a deal-breaker. We may point out that the Bible says that the only three ways out of a marriage are death, adultery, or abandonment. As an evangelist in my church, I can agree with that. However, emotional affairs cause major disruption in your marriage.

Think about it this way, would you want someone to be with you at the altar ready to say, “I do” only to hear them state that they will only be faithful to you “99% of the time”? No one would accept that. We want our partners to genuinely love us 100% of the time. It would be insulting to have dinner with your spouse only for them to be daydreaming of some crush they have.

Emotional relationships are a matter of the heart and that’s what needs to be addressed. Jesus calls this out as “matters of the heart”:

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. Mark 7:21-23

Jesus is calling out these physical issues, but he is addressing them from the perspective of the heart. Usually, perpetrators of emotional relationships state that they were reacting to someone else flirting or making advances. The perpetrator needs to understand that those boundaries aren’t to be crossed because something that has no strong boundary needs to be questioned.

We have doors in our home, locks on our windows, alarms for our cars, codes, and passwords to our computers for what reason? It’s to protect what we cherish. We protect what we love. If the boundaries are off, then we invite danger to our most intimate places and Jesus takes the ax to the root by saying that we need to look at our heart.

Adultery doesn’t just happen, it evolves, and these scriptures point out that it started within us. It could be why in the gospel it says that the most important commandment is to love our Lord with all our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. God wants all of us. He doesn’t accept partial love.

That expectation makes sense to me because I don’t want my wife to be thinking of some guy who flirted with her at the supermarket earlier that day. If we are having dinner, I want her to be present with me. We all want that. Should that situation arise, my wife has some great women in her life with whom she can be open about that temptation. She can seek input from women who will follow up with her and pray to God for her to be victorious in that area of her life.

The same thing goes for me. If I am tempted, I can call a brother in Christ who can listen and provide me with input so that I can tackle this from the beginning instead of it running ramped in my heart. Remember that these expectations are supposed to be high because we are searching for unfailing love. Our partners deserve to have us be present with them in mind, body, and soul.

Tips for Overcoming Emotional Infidelity

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a solid approach for confronting emotional affairs. A foundational core principle of CBT is that it helps us understand the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Anyone who is either a victim or perpetrator of emotional affairs should seek professional help to confront this at once to salvage their relationship.

A trained Cognitive Behavioral Therapist can validate your struggles from the start because they want to listen to your story without judgment. Does this mean that the perpetrator can be validated as well? Absolutely. As professionals, we are not here to take sides. Our goal is to provide you with tools to discover what is going on and work together to move forward in healthier ways.

Most Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) are trained in some form or fashion to provide CBT because it is one of the most widely used approaches for therapy. One of the main reasons it is widely used and accepted is because it deals with problems from the inside and out. Adultery is physical which means in CBT language that it can be labeled as an action.

But how would you go about an emotional affair? Can people just sweep it under the rug? Not with CBT. It can be classified as an emotional issue. The therapist would not just focus on emotions but would help the client process their thoughts behind their emotions and what actions they took.

With CBT it all works together. Not one part is left out. Interestingly, the gospels say that if we are to love the Lord then we need to do it all with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no shortcutting this process.

This approach is excellent for those who have been hurt by emotional infidelity because they feel the pain of being betrayed. They can explore those feelings and realize past trauma tied into the current hurt. The process continues as to what they are thinking and possible actions they can take to empower themselves. This is one of many possible approaches but in my work with hundreds of clients, I can’t think of a better approach.

Here are some tips to overcome emotional affairs based on the CBT approach that would include Thoughts, Emotions, Actions (T.E.A.) dialogue:

Thoughts

What thoughts are we processing? This is crucial to start with because so many times we rush to the evidence (phone, internet, talks, etc.) Once an emotional affair has been discovered, we need to ask both partners what they are thinking. One may think that the relationship is over. But is that true? Many people have different emotions, and they stem from what we think.

We don’t condone the affair, but we must try to listen to what our thought process was like to get to the root, recalling Jesus’ words to focus on the heart. The injured party should also voice insecurities, betrayal, shame, embarrassment, etc. The party who was emotionally unfaithful should be a great listener and confirm their partner’s thought process as well.

Remember this rule, if you do something or feel something, you must have thought of it beforehand. Unfaithfulness of any kind is not to be dismissed as a reaction incident. The mind played a role all along.

Emotions

What are we both feeling? What goes on inside of us internally is something to be appreciated. We love romance, zeal, and passion. Those same emotions can but in two ways because someone who is charismatic could also be a big-time flirt. So, we need to address our emotions and validate them further recognizing that emotions are tools and not weapons.

Validation by all parties, the partners, support, and the therapist are crucial. There is no such thing as crazy emotions. The betrayer should allow ample time for the hurting individual to gather their emotions and join in their mourning. This can be a painstaking process but one that leads to success more times than not.

Actions

The whole story must be told. This may sound unfair to the one who is betrayed but it is paramount that both spouses share their entire story of what happened without judgment. We don’t need to be sentimental with the party who committed the infidelity, but we need to understand what is going on in their hearts.

Sharing your story will cause discomfort but it will help the healing process the more times you share it. Get help and support. You don’t need to tell the world but view it as an opportunity to empower yourself. Recommit yourselves to one another, set up boundaries, and have weekly accountable times with your support system.

In conclusion, I want to say that no flaw is fatal. People who either commit emotional affairs or are betrayed by them can still recover and do well. We can make some terrible mistakes, but the grace of Jesus helps us during those crucial times. These are hurtful times but if we seek help and support there’s no telling of what incredible progress we can make as couples.

Photos:
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Christian Marriage Counseling: When to Go and Why it is Helpful

Too often, couples believe that they must be on the brink of divorce and feel repulsed when in the presence of their spouse as their cue to attend marriage counseling. Christian marriage counseling should be considered more of an emotional first aid kit for your marriage. This emotional first aid kit can aid you in the minor cuts, major falls, sprains, and breaks of your marriage.

“Couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy with their relationship before receiving help.”John Gottman

Perhaps you are on the brink of divorce. Perhaps you feel yourself or your spouse pulling back in your marriage and you are not sure why because you cannot pinpoint what is distant, lacking, or repulsive to you.

How to Know if Christian Marriage Counseling Might Benefit You

Here are some circumstances that you might be able to relate to right now and why Christian marriage counseling might benefit you.

Something is off.

You cannot name it. You feel like you are communicating, you are still intimate, and you consider your spouse your best friend. Perhaps one or both of you are dealing with anxiety. Perhaps the stress and chaos of work and managing the home and kids are making it difficult for more time to connect on a deeper level, leaving you feeling somewhat distant or disconnected.

Perhaps you are in a season of raising babies and toddlers and the lack of sleep and quiet is just wearing on your mind, body, and relationship. Marriage counseling might benefit you in this stage of life because your mind is always whirling in a million directions. Your mind might feel stuck like the spin cycle on an aged washing machine, making it important to take time to work through your emotions and stressors together.

Your communication is lacking.

Tony Gaskins said “Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. Without it…it dies.” Relationships take work. Healthy communication takes a lot of work and marriage counseling can be helpful to help you work through the kinks of different personalities, different love languages, different coping mechanisms, and through various forms of communicating.

Communicating is about so much more than the words that come out of your mouth – your tone, your timing, and your body language are all telling in the way that you communicate with your spouse.

Your finances are stressing you out.

Finances can be a divisive quicksand in your marriage if you are stressed about your financial situation, are drowning in doubt, or found out about an extensive debt that you did not know your spouse was bringing into your marriage.

Marriage counseling is a powerful tool in working through the ins and outs of finances, what is stressing you out, how to make a plan, and how to communicate and deal with your situation without letting it impact the continued blooming and blossoming of your relationship.

Sometimes it is the stress of not knowing how to talk about finances that creep into your marriage and try to rip it apart. Marriage is about teamwork, not trying to figure everything out on your own.

You are thinking about starting a family, but you are not sure if you are ready.

Marriage counseling might benefit you and your spouse if you are considering starting a family but are unsure of how to talk through your own upbringings and why you want to do things differently. Perhaps you both have different ideas of a family timeline and want to talk about it with a third-party who can ask different questions and facilitate healthy discussion and planning for your future.

Maybe one or both of you were raised in an unstable home and want to begin working through that emotional baggage and turmoil so that when you have a family of your own, it does not bring up unhealthy feelings and memories at every milestone. Marriage counseling can offer a different perspective to help you prepare for your future together so you can thrive.

One or both of you is carrying emotional baggage and it is weighing you down.

When you are carrying emotional baggage, it can impact you without you realizing it. It can also impact your closest relationships because you are holding back and trying to ward off those unwanted feelings and memories. Perhaps your baggage comes from a previous relationship, making it difficult to bare your soul with your significant other.

Dr. Steve Maraboli said, “How many of us walk around being weighed down by the baggage of a journey? You can’t possibly embrace that new relationship, that new companion, that new career, that new friendship, or that new life you want while you’re still holding on to the baggage of the last one. Let go…and allow yourself to embrace what is waiting for you right at your feet.”

Your partner is right at your feet, and it is important to be willing to serve them, have fun with them, talk with them, laugh with them, and cry with them. It is important to be able to grow together, evolve together, and blossom in your relationship with Christ together.

You are having issues with in-laws or extended family.

We often value the opinion of our parents and close family, and when family members are unsupportive of your marriage or talking badly about your spouse, then it is time to consider marriage counseling. When you get married, your priority is your spouse and your home. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

While your family will always be a priority to you, your spouse must come first. When you make this commitment, you mustn’t let others try to come between it. Mark 10:9 reminds us, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Guard your marriage. Protect your relationship. Prioritize your spouse. Make Christ the center of your marriage, rather than the opinions or approval of other people.

Absolutely nothing is wrong.

Christian marriage counseling can be beneficial not because your marriage is falling apart, but because you want your relationship to thrive. Perhaps you want to be challenged on a deeper level. Every marriage must weather the torrential storms of life, but it might be helpful to walk through the bountiful and the weary seasons of marriage with a counselor.

Christian marriage counseling can serve as a “wellness check” for your marriage – talking about life, growing in your relationship together, challenging you on a spiritual level together, improving your communication, and continuing to work through any baggage from the past. Marriage counseling is helpful for any day and any season of life.

Today might be a day of sadness or distance in your marriage. Today might be a day when you feel like life is throwing you curveball after curveball, and you are not sure how to move forward. Today is the day to choose reconciliation – with yourself, your spouse, and others. When your overall emotional health is in check, your marriage will continue to grow and thrive.

Do not let six years of unhappiness be the alarm that sounds in your mind to schedule your marriage counseling appointment. Marriage counseling can be for a rainy day, a slightly cloudy day, or a day where the sunshine is on full display.

Whether you feel like your marriage is stale or constantly surprising you, take to heart these verses for your marriage. Pray them with your spouse. Start a Bible study with your spouse. Make your spiritual health a top priority.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.Ephesians 5:25-33

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.Ecclesiastes 4:12

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Do everything in love.1 Corinthians 16:14

Photos:
“Love & Respect”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee and Conversation”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “How Are You Really?”, Courtesy of Finn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

What is the Christian Perspective on the Law of Attraction?

Ever since the publication of the 2006 book The Secret and the 2007 movie of the same name, the law of attraction has circulated in our pop culture vernacular. Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey, and other celebrities are adherents of this movement. You might not even realize the roots of the movement, but maybe you’ve heard people talking about positive vibes, manifesting what you want, and other similar buzzwords or phrases.

If you’re interested in self-help or self-development, you might have noticed popular social media figures promoting law of attraction concepts. For example, YouTuber Lavendaire, who has a million subscribers, wrote this on her blog:

All realities begin in the mind: your beliefs become thoughts, thoughts become words, words become actions, and actions become reality. As you take action towards your dream, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it.

What exactly is this philosophy? Where does it come from? Is it compatible with a Christian worldview? Let’s talk about the background of the law of attraction and compare it with Scripture, and consider how we as Christians can think about this philosophy.

What is the Law of Attraction (LOA)?

The law of attraction is based on the New Thought movement, which began in the early 1800s in the United States under the teachings of Phineas Quimby. Quimby believed in mind healing and practiced hypnotism. Throughout the 1800s, Quimby’s ideas gained popularity, and in the early 1900s, the New Thought Alliance was formed, based on the idea that your mind creates your reality.

In 2006, Australian author Rhonda Byrne published the book and created the documentary called The Secret, and these ideas subsequently went viral. Dr. Neil Farber, writing for Psychology Today, summarizes the law of attraction:

The law of attraction (LOA) is the belief that the universe creates and provides for you that which your thoughts are focused on. It is believed by many to be a universal law by which ‘Like always attracts like.’ The results of positive thoughts are always positive consequences. The same holds true for negative thoughts, always leading to bad outcomes.

In other words, you focus on your desired outcome, and the universe will give you what you want. Your thoughts become your reality, and even more so, your feelings become your reality. The more you focus on health and prosperity, the more healthy and prosperous you’ll become. The more you focus on sickness, negativity, and poverty, the more sick and unhealthy you’ll become.

Of course, this concept is attractive! It offers us a sense of control. Who wouldn’t want to be healthy and wealthy? But is this belief based on science and evidence, or is it pseudoscience? And more importantly, does this concept align with Scripture, or is it based solely on humanistic or New Age teachings?

LOA ideas include many concepts you may have heard in passing, including visualization, positive vibes, manifesting, mind over body, source energy, and more. This article will address some of those specific concepts and compare them to the truth of Scripture.

The LOA sucks people in by convincing them that they can receive their truest desires if they:

  •     Believe hard enough,
  •     Visualize clearly enough,
  •     Put out enough positive energy,

These ideas hold a kernel of truth. Positive thinking can, to a certain extent, improve your mental and physical health. Optimism is one key to resilience. Treating other people well and being a happy, upbeat person tends to have a ripple effect on those around you. In the book of Proverbs, we often see that wisdom is its own reward (e.g. Proverbs 8:18, 9:12, 22:4).

However, LOA ideas represent a perversion of these truths. You can’t trust the universe to bless you just because you’re putting out positive vibes. Indeed, because the universe is a created thing, it has no power at all to either bless or to curse – that power belongs to God, alone. In the end, this belief is just another futile attempt to manifest happiness and prosperity through one’s own efforts.

Criticism of the LOA

Scientists, psychologists, and other experts claim the law of attraction is pseudoscience, yet its ideas are still wildly popular and gaining traction. Writing for How Stuff Works, Nathan Chandler says:

But Byrne’s ‘secret’ is not really a secret. For centuries, both philosophers and con men have leveraged the LOA and its ilk both to buoy the spirits of the downtrodden and in some cases bilk vulnerable targets out of their cash.

Certain aspects of positive thinking can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You decide to be positive, so your happiness attracts people to you, leading to improved relationships, career progress, etc.

Ultimately though, the law of attraction requires belief in order to “know” if it works or not, which is why it can suck you in. You place your faith in attracting positivity, but you have to be fully invested – mentally and emotionally – to see if it “works” for you.

And if it doesn’t work? Well, instead of acknowledging their ideology is false, LOA proponents will claim that you didn’t put out enough positive vibes:

If you are focused on the belief ‘The Law of Attraction isn’t working for me’ then you dramatically increase the chances that the Law of Attraction won’t work. This is because you are focused on the concept of lack, which attracts yet more lack into your life.Katherine Hurst

The Bible and the Secret Law of Attraction

Let’s compare some of the most popular concepts from the law of attraction with relevant Scripture passages:

Cognitive reframing and creative visualization.

The law of attraction requires that you reframe your thoughts from negative to positive, and visualize what you want to achieve. There is a scientific basis for visualizing an action before performing it, and how that makes you more likely to succeed. This is different from visualizing yourself winning the lottery, however.

The Bible teaches us to reframe our thoughts according to God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2). It also teaches us that we can trust and rely on God to take care of us (Proverbs 3:5). We don’t have to rely on putting out the right energy into the universe. The Bible tells us that God wants us to rely on Him, and He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Positive vs. negative and like attracts like.

Again, there is a kernel of truth here. Science shows us that positivity improves mental and physical health. Common sense tells us that happy, healthy people tend to have more stable and functional lives.

But this doesn’t mean that your mind creates your reality. While God’s word teaches us to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2) and that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7), it also teaches us that we’ll have trouble in this world (John 16:33) and that we must overcome evil with good (Romans 12:1).

Mind over body.

LOA proponents teach that you can overcome sickness and poverty, etc. if you let your mind conquer your body. But God’s Word teaches that he is the Creator, who is sovereign over his creation (Colossians 1:16).

If you’ve ever had the stomach flu, you know that all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to get you out of it. You can’t manifest a cure for cancer (or coronavirus). Instead, we must turn to God the Creator and trust him in both good times and bad.

Source energy.

We don’t all come from the source energy of the universe, as The Secret Claims. We were made by God, and he is a being whom it is possible to know.

Manifesting.

Some adherents of the Law of Attraction claim Bible verses to support their beliefs (e.g., “with God all things are possible”). The prosperity gospel and Word of Faith movements teach similar concepts: if you believe in God’s Word, you will have a good life with many blessings; if you “speak truth” from God’s Word, you will attain material benefits and wealth.

The Secret claims that we are all divine and have one consciousness. If we just tap into the source energy, meditate, and put out positive vibrations, we will attract wealth and happiness.

These concepts are not in line with Scripture or science. They provide a false sense of control, as well as the temporary benefits that you can derive from optimism and healthy positivity. The shreds of truth can suck you in. We don’t manifest our reality. We simply take action, as human beings whom God created.

The law of attraction is not the same as the Bible. Here’s what Christians should do instead to improve our lives: live by faith, walk in obedience, and trust God. God is pleased by our childlike faith, rather than our hope that the universe will manifest wealth for us.

If you are struggling with hope and want to experience the mental health benefits of optimism and positivity, grounded in a biblical worldview, don’t hesitate to contact our office to set up your first appointment for Christian counseling.

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-blame-game/201609/the-truth-about-the-law-attraction

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/boundless/201706/the-law-attraction

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_attraction_(New_Thought)

https://www.britannica.com/event/New-Thought

https://people.howstuffworks.com/law-of-attraction.htm

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-science-of-visualizat_b_171340

Photos:
“Barbed Wire Crown”, Courtesy of Jclk888, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Milky Way”, Courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Intersection of Impossible and Possible”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Compass”, Courtesy of MarandaP, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Is Fear of Commitment Ruining Your Relationship?

Emily and Eric had been dating for one year, and they’d had several conversations about getting married, but Eric hadn’t popped the question yet. Emily’s friends asked her regularly when they were planning on getting married because she had often talked about wanting to be a wife and thinking that Eric was the one.

Everything seemed to be going well. Emily and Eric’s friends liked the relationship, and their families thought they seemed very compatible. So Eric was shocked when after two years of dating, Emily turned his marriage proposal down.

That night, Emily’s mom called. Through tears, Emily told her mom, “I wasn’t ready yet. I love Eric, and I want to be his wife, but when I saw him kneeling there with the ring, I just couldn’t say yes. I feel like I’m going to be trapped if I say yes.”

Maybe you’ve never turned down a marriage proposal, but have you ever been flooded with fear before making a big decision? It can be so much more comfortable to linger in uncertainty instead of choosing a course of action, knowing you can’t go back.

The fear of commitment can surface in other areas of your life besides romantic relationships. It might prevent you from settling on a career path, moving to a new area, or choosing a major in college. Any decision that limits your future can seem daunting and frightening. It’s too hard to deal with the overwhelming fear, so you end up avoiding these decisions or putting them off as long as possible.

What causes an unreasonable fear of commitment? How can you overcome it, and how can you know if and when your fears are justified? If you’ve realized that your commitment phobia is affecting your life, you’re probably ready to do whatever you can to overcome it. Or maybe it’s your partner who has a fear of commitment and you’re feeling hurt that they are keeping you at arm’s length.

Keep reading to find out more about the fear of commitment and how you can work through it in your relationships and your life.

What is Fear of Commitment?

How can you tell if you just have “normal” cold feet in your relationship, vs. allowing a dysfunctional fear to wreak havoc? Don’t most people feel kind of afraid to commit? When does it cross a line into something you might need help overcoming?

If you’re reading this article, you probably recognize that the fear of commitment is causing problems in your relationship, whether it’s you or your partner who is fearful. So let’s break it down a little more. The word commitment means “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.”

A commitment restricts your freedom. Isn’t that the root of your fear? When you keep your options open, you still feel free. But there’s a problem with this kind of freedom. When we always keep our options open, we never get to enjoy the rewards of commitment – a fulfilling marriage, for example, or a rewarding career.

A fear of commitment can also be known as commitment phobia or relationship anxiety. These terms aren’t an official diagnosis; they’re just used to a sense of extreme anxiety in a relationship that prevents the relationship from moving forward naturally. According to Psych Central:

“People with a commitment phobia long and want a long-term connection with another person, but their overwhelming anxiety prevents them from staying in any relationship for too long. If pressed for a commitment, they are far more likely to leave the relationship than to make the commitment. Or they may initially agree to the commitment, then back down days or weeks later, because of their overwhelming anxiety and fears.”

As you can see, relationship anxiety prevents you from having what you really want. You might desire to be in a long-term relationship, to get married, to trust your partner and enjoy your life with them. But you’re held back from this ultimate goal by your own overwhelming fear.

If this describes you, don’t lose hope – you can overcome the fear of commitment. It doesn’t have to prevent you from having the relationship or life you desire.

Commitment and Attachment Theory

Psychologists offer a few explanations for the root of commitment phobia, and one of the explanations stems from attachment theory. Good Therapy explains:

“According to attachment theory, the quality of the relationship will depend on an attachment figure’s alertness,responsiveness,and availability to meet the individual’s personal needs. Additionally, attachment theory suggests that prior social interactions – particularly those experienced in childhood – can also influence a person’s behavior and may have a significant impact on the way an individual perceives relationships in adulthood.” [emphasis added]

So, if you experienced an insecure attachment with your caregiver(s) as a child, you might struggle to have a healthy attachment in adult relationships. You might be afraid to trust them and make a long-term commitment.

Or you might have experienced an insecure adult relationship that has led to fears of committing to someone else. Your partner may not have been emotionally available or responsive to your needs. Here are a few more possible causes of the fear of commitment (Psych Central):

  • Dysfunctional environment in the family of origin
  • Experience of trauma or abuse in childhood
  • A past unhealthy relationship
  • Specific fears: of the relationship ending without prior notice, of someone hurting you unexpectedly, etc.

Many experiences can act as triggers for a fear of commitment, causing you to struggle with ongoing anxiety.

Symptoms of the Fear of Commitment

Here are some behaviors that you or your partner might display if you are afraid to commit:

  • Feelings of anxiety or uneasiness when your partner brings up plans or talks about commitment
  • Avoiding planning for the future or discussing where the relationship is headed
  • Avoiding emotional vulnerability and closeness
  • Engaging in a series of short-term relationships that lack depth; moving on before things get too serious
  • Ghosting the other person for days at a time, especially once you’re past the very early stages of a relationship

Every relationship moves at its own pace, and it takes some people longer than others to make a decision to commit. That’s normal. But a chronic fear of commitment can prevent you from moving forward even when you really want to. It can become an inner battle to allow yourself to commit to someone. This struggle can prevent you from enjoying a fulfilling relationship.

Is a Fear of Commitment Ever Justified?

It’s crucial to listen to your intuition in every relationship, not just romantic ones, but especially before you make a lifetime commitment to someone. A fear of commitment and a sense that something is wrong or unhealthy are two different things.

If you are in a relationship and you are hesitating about commitment, ask yourself whether this fear is a pervasive pattern or whether it’s specific to this relationship. The younger and more inexperienced you are, the harder it can be to tell the difference.

Get advice from your family, friends, or a qualified Christian counselor if you need help discerning whether you’re dealing with an unhealthy relationship. Don’t ignore red flags, warning signs, or the fact that you and this person may not be compatible. Taking your time, praying, and using discernment are all healthy behaviors that partners should respect in each other.

But allowing a chronic fear of commitment to prevent you from forming an emotional attachment is something altogether different. Don’t feel bad about taking time to commit, but don’t let fear control you, either.

Overcoming a Fear of Commitment

Anxiety isn’t a rational thing; it’s a stress response to a perceived threat. So you can’t just reason yourself out of your fear of commitment. But you can start gradually teaching your brain and emotions that you’re safe and it’s okay to let your guard down little by little, and eventually make a long-term commitment.

You can start by taking small steps in the right direction. Commit to short-term plans. Commit to plans a few months away. Gradually increase your capacity to make a commitment for your future.

Recognize that regret is part of life. None of us have perfect foresight and unrestricted freedom. Every choice we make to do one thing is a choice not to do something else. None of us will choose perfectly. Our realities will always be limited by our own decisions.

Trust God’s plan for your life and that he can and will work all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). Commitment and responsibility are inextricably linked. Once you’ve committed to a course of action, you now have responsibilities related to it, and that’s okay. Living up to your responsibilities and commitments will make you a healthier, stronger person.

If you or your partner is struggling with a fear of commitment, don’t be afraid to talk about it together. The individual struggling may choose to get individual counseling for fear of commitment, where he or she can work through possible attachment issues, childhood experiences, and past relationships. Couples counseling can also help you work through these issues together.

The fear of commitment doesn’t have to stop you from having a fulfilling life and relationship. Reach out for a risk-free initial appointment with one of our Christian counselors today so you can take the next steps towards living in freedom.

Resources:

  • https://www.healthline.com/health/fear-of-commitment
  • https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/commitment-issues
  • https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-is-commitment-phobia-relationship-anxiety/

Photos:
“Dilemma”, Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Do I Love Him?”, Courtesy of Jonathan Andrew, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of TranStudios Photography Video, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Bonds of Love”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License

9 Principles from the Bible to Enhance Your Married Life

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the institution of marriage has fallen on hard times. The divorce rate has soared even among couples who would label themselves as “Christian” and even where divorce has not actually taken place, many marriages are unhappy, unhealthy, and unfulfilling.

A quick search through a local bookstore or online will turn up thousands of books on the subject of married life. Even after allowing for what could be termed the “celebrity factor” well-known people writing books on a topic because it’s fashionable one is still left with an overwhelming list of books and the unmistakable sense that many peoples’ marriages are in trouble.

God, the inventor of love and marriage, has much to say about love and marriage in the Bible. It has rightly been said that married life can be either a Heaven or a Hell on earth. Which one it is will depend on how well a couple is able to adopt God’s view of marriage and to put His principles into practice in their relationship.

What Does the Bible Say about Marriage?

Though there are many Bible verses for married couples, here are seven Bible verses about love and marriage to get you started.

Marriage was invented by God

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.- Genesis 2:22

One of the first things that we notice about marriage is that it was invented by God. This may seem basic but it is such a profound truth that it has affected the history of mankind ever since creation.

It was God who created the first woman and God who brought her to the man. Marriage was God’s idea.

Marriage is a good thing

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord. – Proverbs 18:22

In this verse, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, tells us that finding a spouse is a good thing. This is a natural conclusion to be drawn when we understand that God invented marriage and that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

Furthermore, Solomon tells us that one who finds a spouse “obtains favor from the Lord,” meaning that our spouse is a gift given to us by God Himself! Where two partners are striving to live lives pleasing to God, these things are true of marriage.

The bad news, of course, is that people and their relationships are not what they should be and couples often do not seek to live their lives according to God’s Word. However, the fault for this lies squarely at the feet of mankind and the corrupting power of its sin, not in the institution of marriage.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. – Proverbs 19:11

How often in your married life has your spouse done something to irritate you? Probably daily. How did you react? Did you let your anger loose and snap at them?

Again, Solomon tells us that being “slow to anger” displays good sense and this is nowhere more true than in married life. We shouldn’t let little things irritate us and when they do irritate us, it is to our glory to overlook them. How much more peaceful would our homes be if we were to put this principle into practice?

God hates infidelity

…the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant . . . guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. – Malachi 2:14-15

In this passage, we see God’s view of infidelity in marriage. Some translations actually prefer the word “treacherous” in place of “faithless” which rightly gives it a much more sinister and menacing tone.

We have developed an amazing range of words to soften this particular sin. We call it “having an affair,” “cheating,” “a fling,” “playing around,” etc. anything to avoid the force of the word adultery. God calls it “faithlessness” and points it out as a sin.

Because adultery strikes at the heart of the covenant relationship that was made before God that lies at the center of marriage, there is never any excuse or justification for it under any circumstances. It is always wrong, always a sin, no matter what. Period. End of story.

God hates divorce

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:31-32

In our time, divorce is available to anyone for any and every or even no reason and the reasons society invents are endless. “We just don’t love each other anymore,” “He says mean things to me,” “Our sex life has grown stale,” “All we do is argue all the time,” “I don’t feel fulfilled,” “It was time for a change,” or “We’re incompatible,” are just a few of the excuses that people give for seeking a divorce.

In this passage, however, Jesus narrows down the legitimate reasons for divorce to just one namely, infidelity. In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul adds one other legitimate reason abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Any reasons other than these two are not biblical and are therefore sinful.

These are hard words to hear in a culture dominated by easy, no-fault divorce. But Jesus didn’t come to give us words that we want to hear He came to give us words that we need to hear. Other than for the exceptions mentioned above, God intends for marital issues to be worked through, not divorced over.

God loves forgiveness

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Every one of us are sinners and we sin against our spouse and against God every day. Though the primary reference is to the church, this passage has much broader applications for all of our relationships. The Apostle Paul teaches us that we are to be characterized by forgiveness in our relationships.

We are to not merely forgive in a grudging way (which is not really forgiveness at all), but to be “tenderhearted.” This means that our forgiveness is to be at hand, ready for when it is needed.

Why is our forgiveness of others so important? The rest of the verse tells us it is because we have been forgiven by God. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have no reason in the world not to forgive and every reason to forgive. After all, when Christ has forgiven you such a huge load of sin, how can you not forgive your spouse’s sins against you?

As Ruth Bell Graham has said, “A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25

In this verse, we read that husbands are to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church. This is a tall order. Christ loved the church by sacrificially giving Himself to die for her. While, admittedly, most husbands will not be called on to die for their wives, they are nevertheless called to live sacrificially for her good.

In Ephesians 5:27, Paul reveals that marriage is a picture of Christ and His church. This makes the command for husbands to love their wives even more urgent. Imagine how many fewer divorces and how much greater marital harmony there would be if more husbands sacrificially loved their wives this way!

Love and respect

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:33

Here we read that there is to be a mutual love-respect relationship between husbands and wives. The husband is commanded to love his wife “as himself” and the wife is to make sure to respect her husband.

It might be tempting to conclude that the husband somehow needs to learn to love himself before he can love his wife but that is absolutely not Paul’s point. On the contrary, the implication is that the husband already does love himself in that he does good to himself by nourishing and caring for himself. In the same way, he is to love his wife by nourishing her (physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.) and caring for her.

Wives, on the other hand, are to respect their husbands. One of a husband’s greatest needs (relationally speaking) is to know that his wife respects him. It may be many wives’ greatest struggle to respect the man she married. She may love him, but respecting him may be hard.

None of this is to say that husbands don’t have to respect their wives, nor wives love their husbands. Rather, Paul tells husbands and wives what they most need to hear.

Don’t fight

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15

It may be against the common wisdom to say that married couples should avoid arguing and fighting, but the common wisdom is not always wise. In this passage, Paul tells us to do all things “without grumbling and without disputing.”

This is not merely to retain marital harmony, though that certainly is in view. We are to maintain peaceful relationships because the society around us is watching. Paul tells us that we are to appear as “lights in the world” that show up in contrast to the “crooked and twisted generation” around us.

This is, of course, an ideal. Very few married couples are able to go through life without any arguing or fighting. However, even when they do, it is to be overcome and handled in a way that is pleasing to God.

Christian Marriage Counseling in Newport Beach

Does all of this strike you as idealistic and impossible to put into practice? That’s not surprising, because it is. As an unbeliever, you won’t have the power of the Holy Spirit to help you overcome your native sin and selfishness and so you will struggle to even accept that these things are necessary for your marriage.

Even if you are a believer who has the power of the indwelling Spirit of God to help, you will still struggle with the sin that remains in you even after you became a Christian. The sinful self always struggles to dominate the life of the Christian even though it is “on its way out,” so to speak.

Prayer, a necessary element of the Christian life, is a vital component to any marriage. Through prayer, we communicate our trials, struggles, and temptations to God, the only one who can truly help.

If you struggle to put these things into practice in your marriage, and you do not have a pastor available to help, try seeking out a Christian counselor to assist you in working through these things for your marriage.

A Christian counselor can come alongside you and share the joys and pains of living the married life before God. They can help you work through the problems or issues that might arise and be a neutral party in settling disputes.

May your marriage grow and prosper and may “God, the best maker of all marriages, Combine your hearts into one.” (William Shakespeare)

Photos:
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Relationship Help: Learning to Fight Fairly

Fighting, or strongly disagreeing, doesn’t always have to be a terrible experience. Of course, if it is done badly, it can be incredibly damaging and unpleasant. However, there are some simple rules and bits of relationship help that, if followed, can ensure that energetic disagreements can be handled and resolved in a civil and loving manner.

One thing to remember is this: when it comes to fighting, you cannot control the other person’s reactions nor regulate their behavior. You do, however, have complete autonomy over your own responses.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a series of fair-fighting rules that will provide relationship help as you resolve your differences in a productive and gracious way.

Relationship Help: Rules for Fair Fighting

Ask yourself why you are upset

Before entering into a disagreement, assess your emotional state. Have you had a long day at work? Are you hungry or tired? Retaining a bit of self-awareness in these moments can ensure that you don’t, without good reason, launch into a fight that is going to hurt others and negatively affect the relationships closest to you.

If it is too late for you, and you’ve already switched into attack mode, it is worth reflecting on whether there were any outside factors that caused you to launch into a fight. Knowing your weak spots can ensure that you don’t fight unnecessarily, which can be detrimental to you and your loved ones.

How can you guard against starting unnecessary fights? Well, implementing techniques of mindfulness can be extremely beneficial, as you attempt to healthily regulate your emotions. Take a moment, breathe, and reflect on why you are feeling stressed or upset. If you are still tied up in a “work” headspace, let it go as you walk through the front door and don’t let your feelings dictate your emotional responses once back in the home.

Take on one issue at a time

Too often, fights are sparked by a small thing which you hoped could be addressed briefly and without too much issue. However, things often escalate as other factors get added to the mix. This can muddy the waters of the discussion and make things more complex than they should be. As such, it is important to make a conscious effort to stick to just one issue at a time.

Set yourself a rule that prohibits you from bringing up other issues when you are setting aside time to discuss one particular thing. This can be incredibly difficult and will require the biting of your tongue. However, in the long run, it will save you a lot of stress and hassle and will make your fights much more productive and solution-oriented.

It might be wise to note down a few things that you wish to bring up with the other person prior to the discussion beginning. With this guide for reference, you will be able to stick to the issues at hand instead of straying unnecessarily into other areas. Focusing on one dispute at a time will greatly improve the likelihood of a positive outcome after your fight.

Cut out degrading language

When you are extremely stressed out, tired and frustrated, it can be easy to let the tongue go a little loose. However, calling the person names and insulting them will only put them on the defensive and make it difficult for productive discussion to ensue.

Of course, venting anger in this way can feel rather cathartic at the time, but it never encourages life in a discussion or energetic conversation – it only stunts the resolution and causes emotional damage.

Instead, you might be wise to exchange harsh terms for constructive questions. For example, if you are tempted to call the person an “idiot” for not understanding how they have hurt you, hold your tongue! Instead, you could ask something to the effect of “can you help me understand why you did this?”

This technique ensures that the fight does not get overly personal and will reduce the heat of the exchange. It is incredibly important that these passionate conversations stay within the parameters of the issue at hand and do not, in an unwarranted way, become about the other person’s character.

Put across your feelings with words

Expressing your inmost feelings, particularly if you are upset, can be incredibly difficult to do. However, it is possible to put across your feelings and emotions in words. If you are upset or disappointed, simply state “I’m upset” and explain why. When you fail to express your feelings verbally, you tend to internalize and, eventually, burst out in anger or frustration at the person.

Always beginning these remarks with “I” or “I’m” will ensure that you do not unfairly pin blame on the other person for making you feel a certain way.

Try not to talk over each other

In order to keep the discussion cordial and productive, try not to talk over each other. Taking turns adding to the conversation will ensure that you do not become frustrated by a lack of progress. When someone talks over you, it can be incredibly annoying and only go to stoke any anger or frustration you may be feeling.

Sometimes, this will require you to take the high road and break the cycle of interruption. It can be tempting, when you are being interrupted yourself, to hit back with a louder voice and stronger opinions, but this only results in more heated arguments and therefore less productive conversation.

Take your time, think, listen and prepare your response. Resist the urge to impulsively jump into the conversation before the person has finished expressing themselves.

Resist stonewalling

Stonewalling is when you decide to completely shut down the conversation or argument, often without good reason. While some argue this is because they “don’t like arguing,” it can become an unhealthy coping method that leaves things unresolved and allows resentment and bad feeling to fester and grow.

It is so important that you express your feelings and allow the other person to do the same. Do this well, and you will avoid a huge amount of unwanted conflict in the future. Stonewalling might appear to be a “quick fix,” but it rarely solves complex relational difficulties. Things must be brought out into the open between two people so that healing and reconciliation can take place.

Don’t yell

Yelling very rarely has any positive impact on a fight or argument. More often than not, raising your voice simply causes the situation to spiral out of control. When one person raises their voice, the other often feels as if they must match the volume, and this quickly results in stunted progress in the conversation and an escalation of negative emotion.

In addition, when you raise your voice, it can come across like you are attempting to shut the conversation down. This may result in the other person completely withdrawing from the argument and so no resolution is achieved.

Take a break if you need it

There is no harm in taking a timeout. If things have gotten out of hand, just take five minutes to cool down. This will ensure that things to do not become corrosive or damaging between the two people. When you are embroiled in an emotionally-charged argument, it can be incredibly difficult to simply “leave it there” for now. But sometimes, this is essential to avoid serious relational damage.

If you are breaking too many of the conversational rules that should govern good arguments, you might be wise to take a break, take a breather and come back to it refreshed and with a calmer mind.

Always attempt to compromise

Compromise is an essential element of any relationship. Of course, we all want to get our own way entirely, but this is just not how life works. Sometimes, you have to give a little in order to come to an amicable agreement. Total agreement does not have to be achieved, and you might even be uttering that famous phrase “let’s agree to disagree.” However, this is much better than being at loggerheads with each other.

Allowing the other person to “get their own way,” might not be as hard as you think, and the benefits of showing this grace will be evident to see. So, always try and compromise in some way even if it feels self-sacrificial.

How to get help with fighting fairly

The right therapist can be an absolute lifesaver for any couple seeking to improve the way they disagree or fight. You might need to try a few different ones to find a good fit but putting the time in to do this is absolutely worth it.

A therapist will help you see things from the other person’s perspective and ensure that you are equipped with the tools required to be able to argue and fight with the bigger goal of reconciliation at the forefront of your mind.

If you’re looking for a professional, qualified, and faith-filled therapist who will be able to help you get your relationship back on track, contact us today to schedule an apppointment. We would be happy to help.

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What are the Signs of Codependency I Should Watch For?

When a client describes him or herself as a “people pleaser,” an alarm bell might go off in a counselor’s mind. That’s not because codependents are psychologically disturbed; instead, it’s because signs of codependency can subtly wreak havoc in relationships.

If someone has codependent behaviors, this equates to a lack of boundaries, and a client who is struggling in this area will need help working through issues of self-esteem and personal identity.

Have you heard of the book Codependent No More? Melody Beattie wrote this landmark primer on codependency in the late 1980s, and this is how she describes codependency: “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” (Codependent No More, 1992 ed.)

We’ll get into the details later, but for now, remember the key points of codependency:

  • Being overly affected by other people’s actions.
  • Being obsessed with controlling other people’s actions.

This description might sound confusing at first because codependents do have people-pleasing behaviors; they don’t always seem controlling at first glance because they’re not angry, powerful people. But, as we will see, codependency is rooted in fear, and when someone feels afraid and helpless, they often grasp for control as a way to feel safe.

Pia Mellody has also researched codependency extensively. She breaks down the specific areas codependents struggle with:

  • Having healthy self-esteem.
  • Setting healthy boundaries.
  • Being confident of their reality and able to express their perspective.
  • Taking responsibility for their own needs and desires.
  • Experiencing and expressing their reality moderately.

Beattie writes this about self-esteem and codependency:

If codependents have any kind of esteem, it is not self-esteem but other-esteem; which is based on external things such as how one looks, how much money they make, who they know, what kind of car they drive, what kind of job they have, how well their children perform, how powerful and important or attractive their spouse is, the degrees they have earned, how well they perform at activities in which others value, etc. Facing Codependence, p. 9

In moderation, it’s natural to enjoy our accomplishments, but if you derive your worth from impressing other people or winning their approval, you don’t have healthy self-esteem. You have other-esteem. Does this sound familiar, possibly for you, or for many people you know? Codependency is quite common.

Social media tends to magnify underlying personality issues such as narcissism or codependency. We can see that while using social media, everyone is mostly competing to be recognized, “liked,” and “favorited” by others. Accomplishments, material possessions, and experiences are all fodder for public admiration.

Social media can pose dangers for everyone, and if you are prone to codependency, you might notice that social media magnifies your drive to find your value in what others think. As Christian counselors, our goal for our clients is a life of healthy interdependence, not codependence or complete independence.

David Richo, the author of How to Be an Adult, writes:

In a healthy person, loyalty has its limits and unconditional love can coexist with conditional involvement. Unconditional does not, after all, mean uncritical. You can both love someone unconditionally and place conditions on your interactions to protect your own boundaries. It is building a functional healthy ego to relate intimately to others with full and generous openness while your own wholeness still remains inviolate. It is a great boost to self-esteem to be in touch and intact. This is adult interdependence. How to Be an Adult, 1991, p. 58

A clear view of healthy relationships reveals that love and approval are not always synonymous. You can love someone unconditionally, yet not approve of their actions, just as God loves sinners.

Boundaries and Codependency

The word boundaries can turn into a catchphrase that’s thrown around when people don’t like how others are treating them. But, boundaries aren’t a way to control other people. They are the freedom we have as humans to make decisions for our protection and autonomy. Based on our discretion and other people’s choices, we decide our level of participation with them.

When you lock your doors at night, you’re not insulting your neighbors, or controlling them. You’re protecting yourself and what’s inside your house.

Boundaries are similar to locking a door. They help us delineate what belongs to us, and what belongs to other people, and how we can peacefully coexist while protecting our property. As a human, your mind, heart, soul, and body are your “property,” and boundaries are meant to help you thrive and to prevent potential violations of your rights and autonomy.

So as opposed to being a form of control, boundaries are the ultimate admission that we can’t control other people. But, we can proactively create a healthy environment for ourselves. In our relationships, we can observe others’ choices and modify our behavior as needed – acknowledging that we can’t control their actions, only our own.

By reacting in a way that preserves our health and freedom, we’re not overly attached to the other person’s choices. That’s not to say we won’t be hurt or feel emotional pain, but we experience hurt and pain and express it without trying to force the other person to change.

On boundaries, David Richo writes: “I know I have lost my boundaries and become codependent when: I don’t let go of what doesn’t work, and it feels like I cannot let go of what could possibly/hopefully work. Codependency is unconditional love for someone else that has turned against oneself.” (p. 59)

So, why are we talking about boundaries? Because this concept intertwines with codependency. Codependency, low self-worth, and poor boundaries always coexist. As we mature from childhood in adulthood, we should find our value and worth in God as believers. We depend on him to meet our needs.

On a human level, we recognize that we are responsible for taking care of ourselves. We do not expect others to do it for us, and we do not make ourselves accountable for other adults. We have many responsibilities to other people, but we are only responsible for ourselves.

Hope for Codependents

If you recognize codependent traits in yourself, don’t lose hope. You are not defective or inadequate; you just need to work through the heart issues and learn healthier ways of relating to others.

Codependency is often learned as children in our families of origin, when we witness poor boundaries, enmeshment, low self-esteem, enabling, or other unhealthy relational patterns. Many codependents grew up with a parent struggling with addiction.

In its original definition, codependency described the relationship between an alcoholic and an enabler, but mental health experts realized that many relationships display these traits even if there is no substance addiction. Although you may have developed these behaviors to survive, they are now, in turn, preventing you from living a full and healthy life.

So, what exactly are healthy boundaries? In How to Be an Adult (59-60), Richo provides a helpful summary of how to set boundaries. Here are some thoughts, based on his summary:

  • Learn to ask directly for what you want. Pursue your good desires. Refuse to live in fear, isolation, or bitterness.
  • Care for yourself and receive God’s care for you. Ask God for wisdom and discernment in managing your relationships. Work on developing a robust support system that can give you feedback when needed, whether that be a counselor, friends, or a group that you join.
  • Observe, don’t absorb. Practice “watching” how other people treat you and letting that inform what will you accept from them. This stance allows you to act instead of reacting.
  • Acknowledge that you can’t change others. Instead of basing your relationship on hopes for the future, decide how much you can handle in a hurting and disappointing relationship. How many lies and betrayals will you accept? You are your advocate.
  • Trust God alone. Only he is worthy of our complete devotion and trust. All humans will fail us, some more destructively than others. We will fail the people in our lives too. Finding security in the Lord helps us to work through hurt from others without letting it define us.

Good relationships involve an investment in the lives of others, a giving of power, without us diminishing ourselves in any way. We voluntarily enter vulnerability freely as lovers, not as helpless victims. In an unhealthy relationship dynamic, we fail to protect ourselves and live from a place of reaction versus acting on behalf of ourselves.

On the other hand, in unhealthy relationships, we don’t have a sense of self-protection, and instead of choosing how to act, we merely react to how others treat us.

Common Signs of Codependency

Not all mental health professionals agree on how codependency presents. But there do tend to be some common symptoms. The following list is adapted from Codependent No More. A person with codependency:

  • Takes responsibility for how other people feel, think, and behave.
  • Finds their sense of worth in “rescuing” people from the consequences of their own decisions.
  • Says yes when they would rather say no, to meet someone’s expectations instead of doing what they would rather do.
  • Neglects their own needs and lives to please others.
  • Feels insecure and guilty if someone else serves them in some way.
  • Notices how often they give to others and how rarely people give to them and feels sad about it.
  • Is attracted to needy people.
  • Finds that other needy people seem drawn to them.
  • Feels restless or unsatisfied in the absence of a crisis or a problem to solve.

What are the outward signs of someone who has low self-worth? According to Beattie, a codependent person with low self-esteem:

  • Feels hopeless, like nothing good will happen to them.
  • Is indecisive.
  • Has survived abuse, neglect, abandonment, or addiction.
  • Fears rejection.
  • Rejects compliments.
  • Probably comes from a dysfunctional family, but may deny it.
  • Feels unworthy of love, so settles for being needed.
  • Puts others first, often to the detriment of their own needs.
  • Has a lot of negative self-talk.
  • Takes things personally.
  • Feels guilty for doing something nice for themselves.
  • Blames themselves for things that are not their responsibility.

Where is Christ in Codependency?

In the gospel of John, Jesus promised his disciples that he would bring them abundant life. As Christians, we don’t have to live a life of survival, or barely getting by. No matter what trials we face, we can look to Christ for unconditional love. When we know how much he loves us, we are free to love others from a place of abundance instead of lack.

When Jesus taught the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving others, he added: “as you love yourself.” This teaching assumes that we have a healthy perspective on our worth and know that God loves us; and, moreover, it implies that we are to love ourselves well and love others the same.

If you feel deprived of love or acceptance, you’ll always be looking for those things in human relationships. If you know Jesus Christ richly loves you, you won’t have to feel so desperate for other people to assure you of your worth.

If reading these descriptions of codependency has opened your eyes to the possibility that you might be in a codependent relationship, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our Christian counselors. We are here to help you work through your foundations of love, worth, and value while encouraging you to pursue healthy boundaries and bonds in your relationships. And above all, we want to help you realize the fullness of your worth in Christ.

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Do We Need a Communication Coach? How a Couples Counselor Can Help

Your nonverbal communication says more than the words coming out of your mouth. Your facial expression, the look in your eye, the tone of your voice, and your body language speak volumes.

When someone else is talking to you, their nonverbal communication is talking as well. As your mind processes what they’re saying, and what they’re not saying, you’re also thinking about how you’re going to respond!

It’s not surprising that we have trouble communicating with each other. When you hit a snag in an important relationship, a professional communication coach can help you untangle it.

Case Study: Jenna and Austin

Jenna and Austin have been married for five years and have two young children. They’ve agreed that Austin will be the breadwinner and Jenna will stay home with the kids.

Today, Jenna’s had a hard day. The kids have been difficult, the check engine light came on, she spilled coffee everywhere, and her mom called and gave her some “constructive” criticism that just ended up discouraging her.

When Austin comes home from work at 6 p.m., Jenna is trying to finish dinner while the kids whine and argue. The first words out of his mouth are, “You forgot to close the garage door last night.”

Can you predict what Jenna’s response might be? If you empathize with her feelings of being overwhelmed, you know she’ll be tempted to snap at her husband.

Austin could have prevented this scenario by assessing the situation for a minute when he came in. Instead, he was focused on something his wife did wrong, and he chose to confront her immediately.

This is a perfect example of the futility of communicating with someone who is distracted, anxious, stressed, or angry. Your chances of getting your point across in a helpful way drop significantly.

What does this mean? Should we never communicate unless everything is perfect? Not at all, but we should use wisdom to know what to say, how to say it, and when is a good time to speak.

A communication coach can offer effective communication tools that will provide practical help so you can speak lovingly and effectively.

The Benefits of a Communication Coach

Meeting with a communication coach is a great way to learn practical tools for communicating more effectively with your spouse or partner.

Here are a few examples of tools you might learn from a communication coach:

Take a minute

Just like in the example with Austin and Jenna, many arguments can be prevented if the person about to initiate conversation does three things:

1. Pause.
2. Assess the situation.
3. Make a reasoned decision about whether to speak at that moment.

If you’re feeling upset when you start a conversation, an argument will most likely follow, and effective communication won’t happen. The first thing to assess isn’t the topic you want to address, but how you’re feeling right now. Are you anxious? Is your stomach in knots? Are you angry? Is your heart racing?

What is your goal? Do you want to shame or hurt the other person? How will your words affect them? Are you trying to get your point across regardless of their feelings?

Are you trying to start an argument? Even if you aren’t trying to start an argument, have you had a lot of conflicts with this person lately?

Ask permission

The simple question, “Is this a good time to talk about x?” can prevent many, many arguments! If you ask permission, you’re honoring the other person from the get-go. You’re acknowledging that they have individual freedom, emotions, and their own stressors to manage. You’re giving them an opportunity to defer the discussion until a better time.

Of course, it’s important to make sure you’re putting the conversation off, not avoiding it altogether. If your spouse initiates a conversation about an issue, and you feel like they’re attacking you based on past conversations, let them know your concern.

If they tell you it isn’t an attack, give them the benefit of the doubt, but you have the freedom to end the conversation if they do start to attack you. Tell them you will continue the conversation only if they can agree to mutual respect.

Set ground rules

Arguments devolve quickly when the people involved fight unfairly. And when we are upset, that’s what we’re prone to do—act irrationally and emotionally. Anger and anxiety lower our capacity for logical thinking and relational bonding. We end up acting out of frustration instead of wisdom or love.

That’s why before you go into any discussion that might devolve into an argument, it’s best to have previously agreed-upon ground rules, such as:

  • Staying on topic: If the topic of conversation is corrective, meaning one person wants to discuss the other person’s shortcoming in some area, you have to stay on that one topic.

When someone confronts you about something, it’s very tempting to turn it around on them and point out one of their failures. Or, if you’re the person doing the confronting, you might be tempted to bring up other examples to “make your case,” but this just ends up coming across like an attack.

Instead of turning a constructive criticism into a long list of disappointments and failures, address one issue at a time and focus on resolving that.

  • Framing: If you think your conversation is going to be sensitive, try to prepare for it. Ask the other person when would be a good time to talk about a sensitive subject. If they don’t want to talk now, ask if they could talk in 20 or 30 minutes.

Some people, especially those with avoidant conflict styles, dread having a difficult conversation, but it’s important to have them anyway. If you’re afraid of how the other person will respond when you start the discussion, you can use framing to share your fears. “I need to talk to you about this, but I’m afraid you’re going to get angry or stonewall me.”

Framing gives the other person an opportunity to prepare themselves for what you’re going to say. Hopefully, they will be able to respond maturely and the conversation will have a better chance of not devolving into an argument.

  • Meta-conversations: Or, talking about talking. “When you said x, what I made up about it was y, and I felt z.” For example, “When you said you forgot to do that errand, what I made up about it is that you don’t care about my simplest requests, and I felt disappointed.”

You can even have a meta-conversation in the midst of a discussion. If you’re feeling hurt by how it’s going, use the template above to clarify what happened. If they won’t respond in a helpful way, it may be time to take a break from the discussion.

  • Avoid taking too much responsibility: We are each responsible for own emotions. Nobody can “make” us feel the way we do. Saying, “You made me angry” is not a valid accusation. Also, it’s normal to feel hurt, upset, or another negative emotion when someone gives us constructive criticism.

Sometimes we have an even more visceral reaction to any form of criticism. We might feel a deep sense of shame and woundedness arising from childhood hurt, and tempting us to lash out at the other person.

If we each stay on our emotional side of the street, we can resolve conflict and address issues without taking responsibility for each other. We are responsible for each other, but we can’t control the other person’s feelings or behavior.

Of course, we all influence each other, and when you love someone, it’s natural to want to improve their emotional situation or make them feel better. You can do your best to create a relational environment for happiness, but you can’t control the outcome, and you shouldn’t take the blame if they’re still not happy.

Picture this: you buy your child an expensive birthday gift. Think about the anticipation you feel before they open it. But, when they open it, they get upset because it’s not what they wanted.

Imagine your feeling of disappointment. Then, remember that it’s okay if your child feels differently than you do. If you choose to lash out in anger because your child seems ungrateful, even if they are legitimately being rude, it means that in some measure you were “owning” their reaction. You felt you deserved for them to react in a certain way.

It’s normal to be disappointed or hurt by other people’s words and actions. But lashing out in anger because we feel rejected is unhealthy. It means you allow your sense of self to be impacted by how other people respond to you.

As a parent, it’s easy to repeat emotional narratives from our childhoods, whether they’re good or bad. A licensed mental health professional can help you process those narratives so you can respond out of freedom instead of old patterns.

  • Body awareness: This might be a surprising ground rule for conflict, but physical sensations are closely tied to emotional situations. Our body has built-in defense mechanisms that help us survive intense or traumatic situations, but we’re not meant to live our everyday lives in a state of heightened alert.

Shutting down from your feelings isn’t healthy, either. It might seem like you’re protecting yourself when you do this, but you’re actually cutting yourself off from intimacy and healthy relationships with people you love.

So, when you find yourself having a difficult discussion with someone, check in with your body every so often. How do you feel? Is your chest tight? Is your stomach in knots? Do you feel shaky? Is your heart beating faster?

These physical signals are anxiety indicators. If your anxiety is rising, pause the conversation, tell the other person that you’re feeling too anxious to keep talking right now, and take a few minutes to calm down.

Deep breathing by counting to three as you inhale and exhale can help settle down your parasympathetic nervous system. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, pursing your lips like you’re blowing out a candle.

Like anger, anxiety can cause a conversation to go instantly downhill. If, instead of feeling anxious, you find yourself mentally checking out of (or dissociating from) your surroundings, center yourself back in reality. Touch a couch cushion, pick something up and notice its texture, or do whatever it takes to root yourself in the current moment.

  • Anyone can push pause: If someone is getting more and more upset, or starting to raise their voice, or sobbing, it’s time to take a break. Certainly, if someone is being verbally abusive, you have to stop talking. If someone has checked out and isn’t listening, stop trying to talk to them.

When you decide to take a break, use an “I” statement to identify why you’re stopping. “I feel like you’re not listening,” or “I feel hurt by what you’re saying,” etc. Setting this ground rule ahead of time allows the two of you to agree that you don’t want to argue, and pressing pause can help prevent that.

No matter what relationship you’re in, over time it will develop a history that gives you the potential to hurt each other. If you don’t process the hurts and frustration in your relationship, any difficult conversation will probably trigger them and make things harder to work through.

A licensed therapist or professional communication coach can help you set limits and navigate the use of communication tools in your relationship until you’re ready to consistently use them on your own. Contact one of the practitioners in our counselor directory to schedule an appointment today.

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