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:
“Holding Hands”, Courtesy of rawpixel.com, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Follow Me,” courtesy of Yoann Boyer, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Trouble”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Joyful Couple,” Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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.

Photos:
“The Champ”, Courtesy of Skitterphoto, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “US”, Courtesy of Harsha K R, Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0 License; “Argument”, Courtesy of Vera Arsic, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Beach Stroll,” courtesy of Joyce Huis, unsplash.com, CC0 License

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.

Photos:
“In Love”, Courtesy of Henry Washington, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Social Media”, Courtesy of Adrianna Calvo, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Warmsweaterday”, Courtesy of Anne-Marie Pronk, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tarnica Beech,” courtesy of jarekgrafik, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License

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.

Photos:
“Conversation”, Courtesy of Alex Holyoake, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Attitude” Courtesy of Lucas Lenzi, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Date Night”, Courtesy of Huy Phan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Communication”, Courtesy of Rawpixel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

How to Find the Right Family Therapist for You

Could your family benefit from getting counseling together? If so, how do you find a family therapist that’s right for you? It’s normal to feel hesitant about finding a good match for your family. A therapist can make or break the entire counseling process.

By reading this article you’re taking the first step in what can be a journey of healing and hope. We’ll discuss different types of family counselors, how to select one who’s right for you, and how to budget for counseling. Take the time to consider each point in the selection process, and you’ll be equipped to make an informed decision.

Does My Family Need Therapy?

Just as with physical illness, early treatment for family issues can prevent many problems later on. Unfortunately, many of us don’t seek relational help until we are at our wits’ end.

You’ve probably made several attempts to heal the brokenness in your family. Maybe you feel like you’re in crisis mode now. Counseling becomes the last resort when you’ve done everything else. If you’re at this point, there is hope.

Secrecy empowers sin and strife. As painful as it can be to talk about what’s going on, verbalizing the issues can offer massive relief and help you figure out what to do next.

If you’re not in crisis yet, be encouraged. It’s wonderful to seek help early. Your problems are not too small; rather, they have huge potential for healing when they’re brought out into the open before they’ve taken over and destroyed lives.

What is the first thing to consider in your search for a counselor? Take a step back and assess your family’s most pressing needs. Although not everyone will immediately let their guard down in counseling, each member of the family should feel emotionally safe and honored in therapy.

What Are Your Family’s Specific Needs?

Do your best to nail down your family’s specific counseling needs, because some family counselors specialize in specific areas of treatment.

What areas of your family life need the most help? Many families seek help for their children in a group setting to offer their support. Sometimes couples need help with communication issues, or parents feel overwhelmed and want to set new and healthier patterns.

Read through the following types of therapy and think about which one(s) may meet your needs:

Couples Therapy

Counseling for couples can really run the gamut from neutral to desperate situations, but it’s not just for the desperate situations, even though many people associate marriage counseling with imminent divorce.

Couples therapy can apply to you if you are in a relationship or engaged or married. Maybe you’re in a destructive conflict cycle, or you just need help communicating effectively, or you want to strengthen your relationship even though you’re not having any major issues now.

Behavior Intervention

Behavior intervention applies to children who are struggling with problem behaviors, or to adults who are behaving inappropriately either in public or at home. In the family therapy setting, parents and the child will work with the counselor to identify unacceptable behaviors, set boundaries, and create rewards systems, along with other helpful skills.

This type of therapy really thrives on parental involvement. The parents can witness the tools the therapist uses during sessions, and then practice applying those skills at home with their child.

Behavior intervention for children usually starts with a conversation between the therapist and the parents. The therapist usually asks about three components of problem behaviors:

  • What happens before?
  • What happens during?
  • What happens after?

Once the parents explain how these situations normally transpire, the therapist will work with them and their child to change everyone’s behavior in all three areas by using education and practical skill development.

Parent Coaching

Behavior intervention focuses on both parents and children, but parent coaching focuses on the parents and how they can improve their skills. Children may be present for sessions, but the therapy won’t focus primarily on their behavior.

As opposed to an interventional approach, coaching helps parents develop positive skills to become more effective in nurturing their child(ren)’s physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. Coaching will address discipline, helping children to listen and obey, and setting appropriate boundaries for each member of the family.

Parent/Child Issues

Do you feel that your relationship with your child has had a breakdown, and you’re not sure where to turn to fix the damage? Family therapy can help rebuild your relationship and find the right parenting method for this particular child.

Children going through puberty or experiencing life stress or mental health issues may struggle to have a good relationship with their parents. They may exhibit disrespect and dislike. Parents also deal with life stressors, mental health issues, and other factors that can make positive parenting difficult.

Counseling can help stop unhealthy patterns and replace them with healthy habits that will facilitate a thriving relationship between parent and child.

Navigating Systems Involvement

Child Protective Services, law enforcement, or the schools may involve themselves in family life for a number of different reasons. Families in crisis often have experienced intervention in one or more of these areas. How do you navigate these systems? A clinical social worker can provide advocacy and therapeutic support.

What’s Most Important in a Family Therapist?

In large part, the success of your counseling experience depends on your comfort level with your chosen therapist. Therapists have different beliefs, skills, and temperaments. Some use tough love, while others have a gentler approach. Not everyone’s personalities will mesh well together, so it’s important that yours is a good fit with your counselor’s.

It’s not unusual to meet with a couple of therapists before you find the best one for you. Remember, you can interview them by asking questions about their practice and what the process usually looks like.

Before you even meet with them, you can screen out potential problems online by reading about their practice and any articles or blogs they’ve written. Finding the right personality and specialization will help you get the most out of therapy.

What kind of practice does your potential therapist work in? What are their specializations? Maybe you have young children, but your potential therapist is most experienced in working with adult children and parents. A therapist with child-specific experience may be skilled in using play therapy in the family counseling setting.

If you are looking for a faith-based counselor, you’ll want to carefully screen therapists to make sure you won’t be working from conflicting worldviews.

Other Considerations

Budgeting for therapy can concern potential clients quite a bit, so it’s important to discuss this practical side of seeking counseling.

First, consider the value you place on therapy and the perspective that it can preventative medicine for your family relationships. Yes, therapy is expensive, but as counselors, we truly believe it’s worth it.

Next, sit down and figure out exactly what you can afford to spend. When a therapist bills insurance directly, they are considered an in-network-provider. These providers will take payment from you and bill your insurance for you.

Some therapists will directly bill your insurance, making them an in-network provider. But many therapists don’t take insurance due to high operating costs; instead, they operate as out-of-network providers.

With an out-of-network provider, you will pay a fee for each session and receive a receipt. You can give the receipt to your insurance provider, and they may reimburse you for some or all of the fee.

Before you attend your first session, please call your insurance provider to find out if they will reimburse you for any counseling services rendered.

What if you don’t have insurance, or your insurance won’t cover counseling? You can choose to pay out-of-pocket for each session, most of which run between $150 and $200 each. Some therapists may have different fees or operate on a sliding scale based on income.

Both fees and sliding scales vary widely among individual therapists and practices, based on operating costs, client income, practice size, etc., so don’t hesitate to look in several places to find an option that meets your family’s needs.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to make private therapy work for your family, you may be able to find a non-profit provider who takes state insurance or a local clinic that offers inexpensive therapy. Some people are able to meet with counseling interns who are in the process of receiving their master’s degree or licensure and can offer therapy at a reduced rate.

Where Can I Find a Family Therapist Near Me?

Now that you’ve considered some of the most important factors of finding the right family therapist for your needs, a good first step is to call your insurance company to discuss in-network providers who will bill sessions to them.

If you are looking for Christian counseling, you may be interested in our practice at Newport Beach Christian Counseling. We are one of the largest faith-based counseling practices, offering skilled, compassionate therapy for families, couples, and individuals. Visit our website to find a family therapist near you.

Photos:
“Family”, Courtesy of Laurel Harvey, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Resting”, Courtesy of Ardanea, Morguefile.com, CC 2.0 License, “Her own girl”, Courtesy of Ian Dooley, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “FlattopFamilyTime,” Courtesy of Flattop341, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)

What is a Codependent? Find Out Here

Around the world, people face many mental issues that can be resolved if action is taken sooner rather than later. Some are these are easier to recognize than others as their symptoms are quite clear to the person or to their loved ones. Others, however, are difficult to determine, such as codependency.

This article will discuss more about codependency in the hope that sufferers of it will have a better idea of the problem and what can be done.

What is a Codependent?

A codependent is someone who seeks out, consciously or even subconsciously, one-sided relationships that are oftentimes emotionally damaging and possibly even abusive. In this kind of relationship, the codependent usually tries to keep the other person happy by sacrificing personal time, wants, or needs. This “other person” is usually the spouse, but it may also be a parent, sibling, child, colleague, or a close friend.

Though seemingly strange to some, there are many who are in a codependent relationship. Some are aware that they are, yet many others are not sure if they are, thinking that they are just giving their all to love others.

How to Tell if it is Codependency

Generally, a codependent is a “people pleaser,” trying to do or say things so that others may like them. Such a person often relies on the approval or acceptance of others, causing them to feel bad when they are criticized, ignored, or rejected.

To ensure acceptance from other people, a codependent may repress their own feelings in favor of what the other person wants, making it difficult for them to set personal boundaries as they have trouble saying “no” to requests, even if these requests intrude on personal time or require too much of their personal resources.

Other unhealthy traits of a codependent include low self-esteem, constant fear of abandonment, and an uncertainty of who they really are. In fact, if a person has been a codependent for quite some time, they may have addictive behaviors or may be suffering from symptoms of major depression.

Some Examples

In codependency situations where the “other” is a substance abuser, the codependent may give in to requests for “another drink” or may facilitate the purchase of alcohol or drugs just to keep their loved one (e.g. spouse, parent, sibling) happy. In cases of sexual codependency with a spouse or a girlfriend or boyfriend, this may mean doing something sexually even if they are not comfortable doing so. In codependency at the workplace, this may mean always rendering extra service to be of help, even if it causes much stress and fatigue.

The Desire to be Needed

From afar, many may view the codependent as the victim who should be applauded, rather than stopped, for their efforts at self-sacrifice as they are the ones going the extra mile to be of help. However, when viewed closer, a codependent is actually trying to manipulate the actions of those around them to fulfill their desire to be needed.

The fear of pain or abandonment, real or imagined, is what usually fuels such actions. In domestic situations, the codependent may be afraid of the pain that will follow if the “other” becomes angry.

It is also possible that the codependent is afraid that the “other” will leave them, so they try to be a “good” wife, husband, or child. At work, there may be that fear of rejection by peers or their superiors, which causes the codependent to work extra hard, even if it is no longer healthy.

Sadly, even if the “abusive relationship” has ended, codependents often find themselves attracted to similar, one-sided relationships in the future, believing that they are not worthy of something better, even if such a relationship is literally hurting them. It is not a good situation to be in.

Drawing the Line between a Good Christian and Codependency

While it may be easy for others to recognize the unhealthiness of codependency, for some Christians, the line may be blurred. Throughout Scripture, Christ’s disciples are asked to love others:

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. – 1 Corinthians 10:24

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. – Luke 6:35

Thus, as a follower of Christ, a codependent may become confused, thinking that their personal sacrifice is for the sake of the other.

However, in the Bible, it can be seen that our Lord Jesus set boundaries. Though he loves his people and gave his life for them, he did not become a slave to everyone’s whims, especially when sin was involved. Instead of working for the praise and approval of people, he only sought the approval of his Father in heaven.

In John 5:44, it says, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” This means that we ought to look to God for approval, not to others.

Seeking Help through Christian Counseling

As in all problems, the initial step is to acknowledge that there is a problem with codependency. Next, one must seek for help, since overcoming it on your own will be very difficult indeed.

In Christian counseling, encouragement will be given, and sound counseling methods will be applied to help the codependent change their mindset about their situation. It is really hard to step out of one’s usual relationship patterns to try something new, so professional help is needed to reframe the sufferer’s thinking patterns.

But most importantly, the Christian counselor will connect the sufferer to God who can fully empower them to break this cycle. Through prayer and meditation on Scripture, the codependent may realize that their life depends on God alone and not on the approval other people. This will give them the strength to reject disadvantageous requests; say “no” to abuse and ridicule; and overcome this unhealthy dependency on others.

If you or a friend suspects that you are in a codependent relationship or that there are signs that you are leaning towards codependency, seek help soon from a Christian counselor. God designed us so that we will be wholly dependent upon His grace and love, so it is important that you are able to break free from codependency.

Photos:
“Dependency”, Courtesy of Lautaro Andreani, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yes”, Courtesy of Chris Benson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fear of Abandonment”, Courtesy of Rebcenter Moscow, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Counseling”, Couretsy of Tiyowprasetyo, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Is Emotional Affair Recovery Possible?

Emotional affairs aren’t often talked about but can be as disastrous to relationships as physical affairs would be. You might be asking yourself, “Are emotional affairs even real?”

Unfortunately, not only are emotional affairs real but they are increasingly common in our extremely connected world. Spouses who cross certain emotional boundaries with someone other than their spouse are most likely involved in an emotional affair.

Whether you are the one who is trying to define the relationship you are having with someone outside of your marriage or you are the spouse who wants to understand what to do next, this article might be just right for you.

4 Steps to Emotional Affair Recovery

Here are four steps to achieving emotional affair recovery:

Step 1: Accept that you are participating in an emotional affair.

Emotional affairs often begin as casual friendships, so it can be hard to identify in the early stages. Normally, people are looking for something in another person that they aren’t receiving from their spouse.

Let’s say your spouse never compliments your appearance or talents. At work, your assistant is constantly building you up and giving you daily compliments. You begin to grow closer to your assistant and further away from your spouse.

You begin to look forward to seeing your assistant, making sure you are looking your best. Those everyday compliments transform into late-night chats about home life and work stress. Your assistant is overly compassionate and nurturing, something you haven’t felt from your spouse in years.

Although you notice desires begin to arise, you tell yourself that you respect your marriage too much to jeopardize anything. As the months pass, you begin to celebrate special moments in your life with your friend at work exclusively.

Your wife thinks you are constantly working late, but you are spending time at the office working with your assistant and swapping stories. Your assistant takes emotional priority over your spouse and you begin to feel a greater intimacy with her.

One night you get in an argument with your spouse. She doesn’t remember something you told her that was important to you. Suddenly, you remember it wasn’t your wife you shared these feelings with, but your assistant at work. You are not sure how your appropriate relationship turned inappropriate, but you now recognize that it has to stop. You want to make things right.

Here are some common signs that you are in an emotional affair:

  • You feel you have to hide your conversations with your friend from your spouse.
  • You begin to send more flirtatious messages to each other.
  • You find ways to spend more alone time with this person.
  • You desire to spend more time with this person and make sure you look your best if you know you will see him or her.
  • You compare your spouse to this friend, noticing your friend has qualities your spouse lacks.
  • You share personal issues with your friend because you see them as someone you can trust.

Step 2: Have a conversation with someone.

Now, that you have identified what’s happening as an emotional affair. The next step is to have a conversation with someone, admitting to the emotional affair.

If you are comfortable talking to your spouse about what’s been going on, this might be the ideal place to start. If you don’t feel safe sharing with your spouse yet, enlist the help of a pastor or Christian counselor to support you as you prepare to share with your spouse.

You might be afraid of the outcome of sharing this news with your spouse. Guilt and shame could be overwhelming right now and you are still confused exactly how your friendship became something more. Telling someone will help bring freedom into your life and put you on the path toward healing.

Broken places in your marriage can be restored as you learn more about root problems. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” There is power in talking to a pastor or a Christian friend of the same sex and asking for prayer.

It’s important to share, but you still might be wondering how to begin a conversation of this nature. You can start by saying something simple like “I really got caught up in a situation that went too far emotionally. I would like to tell you about it now.”

Your goal is to share with someone (spouse, counselor, or pastor) what has been happening and then work toward discovering what led you to enter into an emotional affair. A Christian counselor can offer ways to ensure you avoid going down the same path in the future.

Step 3: Find a Counselor

It would be beneficial to find counseling individually and with your spouse. Individual counseling will help you uncover why the affair began and continued over time. A Christian counselor will walk you through different aspects of marriage and what a healthy marriage looks like to you.

You might be dealing with a past hurt that you carried with you into marriage. Individual counseling can help make you healthy and whole which will then contribute to a healthy marriage.

If you are the one who just found out your spouse had an emotional affair, counseling is a safe place to share your current feelings. You might be dealing with anger or bitterness that can be talked through with a professional before beginning a dialogue with your spouse.

It is helpful to have a conversation with a counselor about ways for you to regain confidence in yourself and your marriage. Meeting with a counselor will grant you clarity and help you move forward in a healthy manner.

Marriage counseling is vital at this point. A Christian counselor can help you both navigate your emotions so that you can understand where things may have taken a turn in your marriage. Counseling sessions are meant to equip you with the tools to communicate with your spouse.

It’s difficult to recover from an emotional affair without understanding fully why the affair happened, what maintained the affair, and how to prevent an affair in the future. A Christian counselor is trained to work through the deepest of pains and more complicated of emotions.

Step 4: Forgiveness

After going through the previously mentioned steps, you might be at the place where you are willing to work on forgiveness.

You will likely have to decide what forgiveness will look like for you either as the person asking for forgiveness or having to forgive. Some people need a verbal apology and explanation of what was wrong and how they will not do it again.

Other people don’t value a verbal apology and would rather see proof of changed behavior. The two people in the marriage should discuss what the offense is and how the future will be different. Trust-building is an important part of this step.

Forgiveness is unique to each individual so understanding what your spouse is needing from you in order to forgive is helpful.

You don’t have to face emotional affair recovery alone. Contact a Christian counselor to begin your journey toward healing and restoration today.

Photos
“Dinner Date”, Courtesy of Jack Finnigan, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Decay,” courtesy of WEB AGENCY, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Strolling,” courtesy of photo fiddler, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0, CC0 License; “Therapy”, Courtesy of Rawpixel.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Are You and Your Spouse Having Boring Sex? What to Do

When sex becomes redundant in marriage, couples complain of a boring sex life. It’s like a domino effect in the bedroom. If you or your spouse think you’re having boring sex then intercourse often becomes nonexistent, which can lead to a host of other marital problems.

After years of marriage, going through the same playbook can become tedious. Think of it like enjoying your favorite meal every single day. It might be your favorite, but over time you will get tired of eating the same dish, prepared the exact same way.

Why Does Sex Get Boring?

Humans are creatures of habit. Spouses find what works for them and, because there is a level of security involved, lack the desire to deviate from the routine.

Not everybody wants to step outside their comfort zones, especially when it involves changing bedroom activity or admitting things could be improved in the bedroom. However, if you want your sexual relationship to thrive, both parties will need to endure some necessary discomfort to become sexually satisfied.

Fear can intensify as partners become more important to each other. Nobody wants to rock the boat by asking for certain things they like. It’s important to respect each other, but avoiding these conversations about specific preferences will only create a silent wedge in the relationship.

When it comes to sexual intimacy, keeping the peace won’t be beneficial in the long-term. If things have grown stale, it’s time to sit down and address the issue directly.

How to Fix Boring Sex

You can’t fix anything that you haven’t admitted to being in need of repair. Once you’ve agreed to work on the sexual side of your marriage, the next step is to be vulnerable. You must let your guard down and have conversations that dig deeper into your sexual desires that aren’t being currently fulfilled.

What is something you would like in bed but are afraid to ask for? What is something you have wanted to try, but normally resist doing?

These conversations are rarely easy, especially to those who aren’t familiar with sharing intimate feelings and desires. Refusing to share will only keep your sex life stagnant. As I’ve always heard said, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

This is not an opportunity to guilt your spouse into doing something or to be overly forceful. Many men and women have experienced certain pain in the past, where boundaries are necessary to protect themselves from reliving certain pain. The goal of this discussion is to be open and honest in an effort to feel safe talking about sensitive subjects.

Insisting on hiding parts of yourself from your spouse will only cause tension in your marriage. In the end, both people must be willing to hear each other out and take a step of courage together.

Sex should be mutually meaningful and enjoyable. Trying new things together can create a sense of adventure and a deeper bond.

Christian Counseling for Boring Sex

If you, or your spouse, want to reignite the spark in your relationship, consider marking an appointment to meet with a professional Christian counselor.

Counseling is a safe and private place to discuss personal problems that you might have trouble discussing normally. Counselors are trained to draw out the reasons for boring sex and create a plan for you and your spouse.

Photos:
“Under the Covers,” courtesy of Prinz Peter, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Still in Your Arms,” courtesy of Toa Heftiba, unsplash.com, Public Domain; “Indie Cuddles”, Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Back of the Car,” courtesy of picjumbo.com, pexels.com, CC0 License

Are Christians Allowed to have Sexual Fantasies?

References “A Celebration of Sex” by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau

Getting married doesn’t mean you’ll never notice another attractive person. It’s normal to recognize that someone is good-looking and as long as you respond with integrity this isn’t something to feel guilty about.

God created us to be imaginative, but because of our sin natures we often use the gift of imagination for evil purposes, such as sexually depraved thoughts. By contrast, it’s vital for Christians to cultivate a healthy sexual thought life. If you’re married, this doesn’t mean repressing sexual thoughts; it means channeling them appropriately.

If sex within marriage is good, then thinking about it must be good too, as long as our thoughts love and honor our spouse (for example, avoiding fantasies of degrading or harmful behavior).

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:13-14

Sexual sin first gains a foothold in one’s thought life. Here are some tips for avoiding it.

How to Avoid Sexual Temptation and Relationship Problems

Don’t Linger

“Keep your gaze moving rather than lingering.” (79)

Again, it’s normal to simply recognize that someone is attractive, but it’s sin to allow that thought to turn into something more. This means you need to avoid “checking out” anyone other than your spouse.

Casually noticing someone’s appearance is different than looking them up and down with a lingering gaze. Rosenau suggests the “one-second” glance as a helpful rule.

Avoid Ungodly Media Sources

Sexual messages permeate our culture, but this doesn’t mean you’re doomed; after all, alcohol commercials are almost as pervasive, yet you certainly wouldn’t do a shot every time you saw one. Avoid any form of media that encourages adultery, hook-ups, casual sex, etc.

The entertainment industry glamorizes illicit sex, yet often ignores the resulting fallout of heartache, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, broken families, and more.

 

Avoid Adulterous Sexual Fantasies

Keep your thoughts far away from going down this road. Adhere strictly to this rule, especially where it concerns people who are accessible to you. Sin begins in the heart. The more often you cultivate sinful fantasies, the less resistance to temptation you will have when the opportunity presents itself. Cut this sin off at the root where it counts, in your thought life.

Focus on the Positive

We all have physical flaws; don’t focus on your partner’s while fantasizing about perfection. “Continued fantasies about women with big breasts, or men with muscular shoulders, are stupid if your partner is small. The same can be said about not taking the energy to allow your mate to be erotically attractive to you and fantasizing that you are making love to someone else.” (79)

It’s futile and selfish to focus on your partner’s imperfect characteristics; instead, pay attention to the qualities you most admire about them, both inside and out.

Refresh your Relationship

Anything can get worn out over time, even your thought life regarding your sexual relationship. Creative lovemaking starts in the mind; consider new experiences you and your spouse could explore together. You can start with these ideas from Rosenau:

  1. Describe a sexual fantasy out loud, or write it down, including how both you and your partner would participate, where and when it would take place, and why it appeals to you.
  2. Ask your spouse to do the same, and share them with each other.
  3. Elaborate on your spouse’s ideas by adding some of your own. Keep it lighthearted.
  4. If you’re uncomfortable with any aspect of your spouse’s fantasy, share why in an honest, loving way.
  5. Create a list of mutually appreciated ideas, and plan when you’ll implement one or more of them.

Christian Counseling: How it Can Help Your Sex Life

Processing sexual difficulties in your relationship can take a lot of time and patience. Conversations may be challenging, awkward, or lead to arguments or misunderstandings because this is such a sensitive subject.

Professional Christian counseling can help you verbalize your thoughts and feelings and address any conflict the two of you have. Our counselors combine both a clinical and Biblical approach that seeks to apply God’s principles to the sexual relationship in marriage.

Photos
“Together at Sunset,” Courtesy of Ryan Holloway, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Romance,” courtesy of Nguyen Hoangnam, Flickr Creative Commons, 2.0 License; “Empty bed,” courtesy of HS Lee, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Indie Cuddles,” Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com; CC0 License