Christian Family Counseling: Finding Help When Your Family Needs It

Time spent with family can be stressful. For many people, the holidays and time spent at home are a difficult period because being with their relatives, the family that they were born into, can for whatever reason be overwhelming and taxing. Whether it’s the conversations or something amiss in the family dynamic, what is meant to be a time of relaxation and celebration becomes a chore at the best of times.

Family is meant to be an institution for nurture, growth, joy, and flourishing. When we go through tragedy, or when we’re celebrating, our family is one space where we should feel encouraged and supported. The gap between what is and what ought to be is often a yawning chasm.

What can families do about this reality? Some have chosen to ignore the issues, and they power through the awkwardness and pain. Other families have floundered under the strain. One avenue of aid is to seek the Christian family counseling from a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

God has a plan for families, whatever the shape of yours may be. Getting help in the form of Christian family counseling can make the difference between a family struggling and limping along, and a healthy, supportive, and nurturing family environment.

Christian Family Counseling: What’s That?

Christian family counseling is a form of counseling that looks to address the family as a unit to bring about flourishing for both individuals in the family and the family as a whole. Individual counseling, on the other hand, is primarily focused on addressing the concerns of the individual.

Christian family counseling addresses the family or individuals within it as is proper. Often, when one member of the family is going through something, it affects the others. If one of the children is having difficulties at school, it can affect how they interact with their siblings.

If one of the parents is facing mental health challenges or is dealing with grief, it will affect how they relate to their spouse and the family too. Family counseling recognizes this interconnectedness within the family, and the therapeutic techniques take that reality into account.

Does My Family Need Counseling?

Whether you and your family require counseling is something you must decide for yourselves. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, facing challenges for which you feel ill-equipped, or maybe you’re just feeling stuck, you can turn to Christian family counseling for help.

You don’t have to be a Christian to receive help from Christian family counseling, though the approach and emphases of the therapy will address spirituality as an important part of the whole. A Christian therapist will help you and your family identify behaviors that may be inconsistent with what God’s word says and that may be hindering your growth.

Christian family therapists are trained and licensed in the same way as other therapists who have training in psychology and understand the complexity of human relationships. One major difference is that a Christian therapist is also guided by Scripture and prayer, combined with their training in psychology. They help you address issues in your family life that are taking away from what God intends for his people.

Christian family therapists deal with a wide variety of issues. The issues they deal with include mental health challenges and relational dynamics within the family. They teach coping skills and tools to communicate more effectively so that the family can deal with changes and challenges in a healthy way. Here are some of the areas in which you can get help from a Christian family therapist:

Encouraging and strengthening your faith and relationship with God.

There are many challenges in living faithfully and connected with God. Sometimes work pressures, school, adolescence, or peer pressure and so much more can complicate or undermine one’s relationship with God. It might be that one of the family members is struggling with their faith, or that as a family you’ve been through a crisis that has rattled your faith.

Address trauma and abuse.

Living as we do in an imperfect world, we and our families may experience trauma and abuse. Trauma may occur through an event like a car accident, being mugged, experiencing a natural disaster, etc. Emotional or physical abuse can have a huge effect on mental health, and they need to be addressed in a safe environment

Social media addiction.

With easy and constant access to the internet, we can lose ourselves and our families to cyberspace; people can spend more time online than they do with their families, and they can become more invested in what happens online than what happens in their own home.

Help address marital issues.

Marriages face many challenges, and Christian family therapy can help you to work to avoid divorce, address infidelity, strengthen your emotional and physical intimacy, improve poor communication, etc.

Dealing with grief and loss.

Losing a loved one when they die or experiencing other losses such as divorce or relocation and leaving familiar people and places may take an emotional toll. Therapy can create the space you need to process those emotions.

Pornography addiction.

Porn addiction affects men, women, and children. It can damage relationships and produce distorted views of sex and sexuality, which can devastate your marriage, and negatively affect both work and school performance.

Substance abuse and addiction.

Addictions can end up ruling a person’s life, dictating their choices, breaking relationships and trust. Therapy can help not only with uncovering underlying issues that may be driving addictive behaviors but providing ways to overcome addiction and begin making healthy life choices

Parenting difficulties.

Children face a wide variety of challenges, and parents desire to help their children work through those difficulties. You may be dealing with a willful child, or other challenges such a mental health issues, learning disabilities, bullying, eating disorders, and so on. Therapy will not only inform your understanding of the issues but provide you with the tools you need to support one another.

A Christian family counselor can address these and many other concerns you may have and be dealing with. If your family life is affected by anyone or several of these issues, seeking the help of a therapist may be the best next step to take for your family’s sake.

Getting the Help You Need

If you decide to seek help, you need to find a counselor that works for you and your family. The first obstacle to overcome, however, is that sometimes people hesitate to find help because of feelings of shame or a sense of failure. We all have different struggles, and when you reach your limit, the best thing you can do for your family is to take that courageous first step and ask for help.

If you’re looking for a therapist, you can find licensed and trained Christian marriage and family therapists at your local church, and they also have independent practices in medical centers and elsewhere. Alternatively, a family member, friend, or spiritual advisor that you trust can refer you to a therapist.

 

If you don’t want to go into a brick-and-mortar office for your sessions, doing your sessions via online therapy is a possibility. The online option is attractive if you find a therapist you want to work with, but they are a long drive away or you can’t coordinate your schedule to attend in person, or if you have privacy concerns.

Another key point in finding a therapist that works for you is to check that their beliefs and approach align with yours, otherwise it may not work for you. Your relationship with your therapist is key to success in counseling and debating the meaning of certain passages of the Bible instead of getting on with the work may be an obstacle.

Because Christian therapists use a broad range of tools including evidence-based counseling methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), prayer, and Scripture, they address the whole person, including your spiritual needs.

When you’ve chosen the therapist you and your family want to work with, they’ll get a feel for what your needs are, work with you to set your goals, and set out steps to achieve them. Take that first step towards wholeness and look for a therapist who can help your family find the peace, joy, and flourishing you yearn for.

Photos:
“Tough Times”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Family”, Courtesy of John-Mark Smith, Unsplash.com, CC0 License;”Reading Together”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Difficult roads…beautiful destinations”, Courtesy of Hello I’m Nik, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Relationship Issues: Biblical Wisdom for Life

Human beings are, by virtue of our makeup, called into community and relationships. Having been made in God’s image, we are relational by nature and gravitate toward relationships with others – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). However, living as we do in the aftermath of Genesis 3, it’s not surprising that our various relationships (whether with our friends, spouses, colleagues, neighbors and even strangers on the internet) are complicated and difficult. You may find yourself desiring relationships but struggling with them for a variety of reasons related to relationship issues, including pride, anger, lack of forgiveness, hurt, lack of trust, struggles to be vulnerable and so on.

Bible Verses about Relationship Issues

God has not left us alone in this. The Bible gives us wisdom on how to navigate this important area of life, challenging and encouraging us to enter and conduct relationships in a healthy manner. Below are a few key verses with wisdom on handling and thinking about relationships in a life-giving way.

The call to love others

When asked to summarize what the message of the Bible was, here’s how that conversation with Jesus went:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.Matthew 22:35-40

In other words, love is what it’s all about. We are called to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.

The two commands to love God and our neighbor are very closely linked. Another biblical author expressed it this way: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:7-8, 20).

The gist of it is that we can’t say something like, “People are so hard to get along with, but what matters is that I love God”. This verse is saying if we know and love God, it follows that we love people too (as difficult as that may be!).

“A new command I give you,” Jesus told his disciples, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Our relationships are to be marked by love, which will show people that we truly belong to Jesus.

Living with compassion and forgiveness

We are all sinners. We hurt, disappoint, frustrate, annoy, and generally do stuff to one another that we shouldn’t. We need forgiveness from others (admitting this calls for humility), and we also need to extend forgiveness to others.

The apostle Paul said to the young community of Christians in Ephesus, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Not only are we called to get rid of bitterness, which undermines relationships, but we are to extend forgiveness, which builds and rebuilds relationships. To live well with others in meaningful relationships, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are necessary.

It’s challenging and interesting that Paul says to be compassionate and forgiving towards others in the same way God forgave us. That’s humbling, because we need forgiveness from God often, and he is more than willing to grant it. By the power of the Holy Spirit who can do more than we can even imagine or ask for, God is able to transform our hearts to enable us to forgive others.

Dealing with our anger

The earlier verse mentioned getting rid of anger. Anger is a real issue for many. While anger is a valid emotional reaction to circumstances or certain actions by people, it can become crippling if we live in it. Anger can fester and take root so deep that even being in the same room with the person becomes impossible.

Instead of stewing in our anger and letting it lead us down a dark path, we are encouraged, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The longer we hold onto our anger, the further it drives a wedge between us and the person we are angry with.

That wedge is something the devil can exploit to undermine or destroy the relationship. Sometimes you can be so angry with someone that after a while you don’t even remember why you’re angry because the issue has faded from view, and the anger has become an entity unto itself. That’s a dangerous place to be. It is wise to address our anger and its root cause sooner rather than later.

Being in community

Because we are creatures made in God’s image, we are relational by nature, though we come at this differently. Some love huge crowds, while others are content to have a deep conversation with one person. In either case, relating to others meets a need in us.

Ecclesiastes also makes this observation about human life: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion” (Eccl. 4:9-10). The book of Proverbs has this gem, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). We sharpen one another by giving each other wisdom, guidance, assistance and so much more.

God has placed us in many different communities, including the community of faith. To live out the Christian life, we need that community. The reciprocal pronoun “one another” is prominent in the New Testament: “Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16); “Be servants of one another’ (Galatians 5:13); “Comfort one another” (1 Thess. 5:11); “Submit to one another” (Eph. 5:21); “Forgive one another” (Col. 3:13); “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16); “Love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22) and so many more.

The Christian life is a life lived out in community, in a shared life with others. If you are not part of a community of faith, may I encourage you to join one?

Walking wisely

Lastly, but not least, part of being wise in our relationships lies in not only knowing who to be involved with, but who to steer clear of. “Do not be misled,” Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Be wise who you hang out and build your life with.

If you struggle with certain kinds of addictions, for instance, it may not be healthy for you to hang out with people that actively participate in that lifestyle. Cultivate relationships with people that love the Lord and are actively pursuing him.

Christian Counseling for Relationships

The area of relationship issues may be a complicated or painful one for you, whether you’re carrying hurt, disappointment, fear of commitment, or anger. A Christian counselor can help you, not only with thinking through relationships from a Biblical perspective but also with giving you skills and tools to enable your relationships to flourish. Whether it’s for talk or another kind of therapy, consider connecting with a Christian counselor.

Photos:
“Black Heart”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection”, Courtesy of The HK Photo Company, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of Emmanuel Phaeton, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading Together”, Courtesy of Cassidy Rowell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage? 6 Truths from God’s Word

Have you ever wondered, “What does the Bible say about marriage?” If so, this article is for you. In the beginning, when the world was young and harmony reigned, God blessed the first marriage, between Adam and Eve. After Adam was created, there was nothing in the creation like him, and God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”. God created and brought Eve to Adam. Created in God’s image and Adam’s equal, Eve was “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” as Adam put it.

Adam and Eve had one another in this brave new world – someone who was an equal but different and complementary. Since people are made in God’s image, it makes sense that Adam and Eve had an innate desire for relationship and that it wouldn’t be good for either of them to be alone. As descendants of Adam and Eve, all of us are the result of this first marriage.

Cut to the 21st century, where many struggle with the relevance of the institution of marriage. Despite our difficulties with marriage, there is a beauty to the way marriage brings two lives together and the two become one flesh, one new family unit when they leave their parents and cleave to one another (Genesis 2:24).

This “leaving and cleaving” creates a committed space of unashamed intimacy within which a man and woman build a life together. What can we continue to learn from the Bible about marriage?

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?

It is good

One of the things the Bible says about marriage is that it is good. The book of ancient wisdom called Proverbs puts it this way: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Presumably, she who finds a husband also finds what is good.

Again, this makes sense in light of human nature and our inclination toward being in relationship with others, including this most intimate of human relationships. The marriage relationship is a life-long commitment (Romans 7:2). All things being equal, weddings are generally a time of celebration.

In some liturgies, the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Jesus turned water into wine is mentioned as another divine endorsement of marriage. If God was behind marriage when the world was perfect and the specter of arguments and divorce was absent, the wedding at Cana shows us God still endorsing marriage even in our broken world. It is good, and it is worth celebrating.

It is a mystery

Of all the things one could say about marriage, one apt description is that it is a mystery. It’s a mystery in a least two ways. First, despite our culture’s fractious relationship with marriage, the vast majority of people are still drawn towards making the public and lifelong commitment that is marriage.

Second, and more important, reflecting on marriage while writing to Christians in the city of Ephesus, the apostle Paul brings up what was said in Genesis 2 and reminds these believers that when two people get married, something monumental takes place – the two become one flesh.

But then he says that human marriage is an echo of the relationship that Jesus has with his church. This is a “profound mystery”, he says (Ephesians 5:32). It’s a bit mind-bending, but human marriage is patterned after and is an echo of the relationship between Christ and his people. Getting married draws you inadvertently into something beyond yourself, something timeless and cosmic – profound mystery indeed.

It isn’t for everyone

Even though marriage is a good gift, it isn’t for everyone. There are some for whom the celibate life is their calling. Both Jesus and Paul make this point. Some people have made the choice to remain single “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus continues, saying, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12).

In other words, some people may decide to stay single to maintain an unswerving focus on the kingdom. Paul puts it this way:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…if you do marry, you have not sinned… I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.1 Corinthians 7:17, 28, 32

In other words, if you want to get married, that’s great, but marriage comes with certain responsibilities or anxieties, and you must be aware of that. If you want to stay single, that’s also great. The single life enables a certain kind of unbroken focus on the kingdom. In other words, the calling toward either marriage or singleness is morally neutral; each life comes with its own joys and burdens.

It’s not perfect

Marriage is not perfect because the people in it aren’t perfect. The reality is that people no longer get married in the blissful context of Genesis 1 and 2. Married life is now way more complicated than that. Coming after Adam and Eve and their rebellion, all marriage now happens in the context and shadow of Genesis 3.

Adam went from composing poetry for Eve, his beloved wife, saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) to blaming her for his disobedience of God’s command: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it”, he says (Genesis 3:12).

She’s now merely “The woman”. Humanity moved from loving adoration to shifting blame to one another, from being both “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25) to covering our nakedness and hiding ourselves and our motives from one another and God.

Instead of mutual care and self-giving, there is now selfishness, inordinate desire and seeking dominance over the other (Genesis 3:16). Sin entered our lives, complicating and twisting this beautiful relationship given to us by God.

It should be protected

Because we are not perfect and we’re getting married in a post-Genesis 3 world, marriages are fragile and need protection from the people in (and those not in) them. The Bible is full of warnings against adultery, but it also concerns itself with harmful attitudes between husbands and wives that undermine love, mutual appreciation, warmth, forgiveness and so on.

It also addresses the harmful attitudes of others who are not in the marriage and who don’t take the marriage covenant seriously. The letter to the Hebrews says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

God is aware of the world we live in, the temptations and challenges we encounter in daily life. Sometimes the spouses in a marriage, or the people close to them, don’t honor the marriage covenant. This can have dire consequences for all involved.

It’s a partnership

A marriage is a partnership in which both spouses have a role to play and something to contribute to the nurture and health of the relationship, and any children that may come from the marriage. Both the husband and wife have a role to play in instructing their children and in how they relate to each other.

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction,” says Proverbs 1:8, “and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”. Paul talks about the framework within which our relationships work. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”, he writes in Ephesians 5:21.

There is to be a conciliatory attitude in the marriage relationship to help that relationship flourish, so when we talk about “submission” and “loving one another,” it is not about sublimating your personality or strength but about leveraging it toward making the marriage work. This requires the work and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in us.

Christian Couples Counseling

Our marriages need strengthening and for us to grow in listening, handling conflict and hardship in a constructive manner. Couples counseling is a great way to continue this growth and address any underlying unaddressed issues so that your marriage flourishes.

Whether you are encountering persistent difficulties within your marriage or simply want to continue working toward a flourishing marriage, prayerfully consider Christian couples counseling with your spouse.

Photos:
“Bride and Groom”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wedding in Abruzzo”, Courtesy of Foto Pettine, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of freestocks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Putting the Ring on the Finger”, Courtesy of Sir Manuel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Effects of Childhood Trauma

We know childhood affects us as adults, but we may be unaware of the extent to which this is true. Childhood trauma, whether you know about it or not, may be impacting you or someone you love in ways you don’t realize. Identifying trauma symptoms and finding healing can make an immense difference in your life today.

Trauma isn’t something we want to spend a lot of time thinking about, but it’s a vital topic to consider, not just for the adults who are affected with post-traumatic stress, but for children who’ve experienced it.

Let’s start by defining what we mean by childhood trauma. The National Child Trauma Stress Network defines it this way: “When a child feels intensely threatened by an event he or she is involved in or witnesses, we call that event a trauma.”

Risk Factors for Childhood Trauma

The Trauma Services Network lists a number of factors that increase the risk for childhood trauma, although they are not established as definitive causes. They are:

  • Disabilities
  • Social isolation (family)
  • Lack of parental understanding of child development or children’s needs
  • Domestic abuse (parents’ history)
  • Poverty
  • Family disorganization/violence
  • Lack of cohesion
  • Substance abuse
  • Young, single non-biological parents
  • Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions
  • Parental thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviors
  • Parental stress and distress, including depression or other mental health conditions
  • Community violence

While some of these factors may constitute traumatic experiences, some are not directly traumatic but contribute to an unsafe environment that increases the risk that the child will experience trauma. If, for example, you are a parent of a child with disabilities and you are socially isolated and/or a single parent, you may not be able to change all of those factors, but you can be aware of the risks for trauma and take action to make your child’s environment as safe as possible.

Types of Childhood Trauma

The NCTSN lists several types of trauma that are commonly experienced in childhood:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Early childhood trauma (ages 0-6)
  • Traumatic grief
  • Medical trauma
  • Complex trauma
  • Domestic violence
  • Bullying
  • Community violence
  • Refugee trauma
  • Disasters
  • Terrorism and violence

Look Through Their Eyes is another organization that works to identify, prevent, and heal childhood trauma. Their list of most common childhood trauma includes most of those listed above, as well as:

  • Accidents
  • Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated)
  • Emotional abuse or neglect
  • Separation from a parent or caregiver
  • Stress caused by poverty

From both of these lists, we can see that abuse, neglect, and violence within the family cause traumatic stress for children, and so do wider-scale disasters, war, and terrorism.

So, if a child experiences any of these things, how does it affect them? How do they respond?

The difference between a child’s stress response and an adult’s stress response is that children are still developing. They don’t have the understanding that adults do, and their brain hasn’t finished growing.

This reality means that trauma can have a different impact as the child grows older than it would on an adult who has already reached full cognitive development.

Physical Responses to Trauma

While most people are aware of the “fight or flight” response to frightening events, the “freeze” response is not as well known. “Freeze” is a type of dissociation that means the person perceives the threat to be so severe that neither running nor fighting back is a possibility.

Freezing is the body’s reaction to being flooded with stress. A child, who is smaller and more vulnerable in every way than an adult, may experience the freeze response in a variety of different traumatic situations.

What happens if a child is exposed to trauma over a long period of time? Their trauma response continues, and this unhealthy state of physical stress, with hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the body, can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or C-PTSD (complex PTSD). The American Psychological Association notes that, “Children exposed to chronic and pervasive trauma are especially vulnerable to the impact of subsequent trauma.” (APA)

Regardless of whether the trauma response turns into a full-fledged disorder or not, the stress it causes can make a lasting impact on a child’s development.

How Trauma Affects Development

Researchers have noted that trauma in childhood can actually reduce the size of the brain cortex, which is a significant effect on a child’s physical and mental health and development.

Besser van der Kolk, who wrote the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, explains that, “Children’s brains are literally shaped by traumatic experiences, which can lead to problems with anger, addiction, and even criminal activity in adulthood.” In an interview with Side Effects Public Media, he explained:

“The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience, and that is shaped in order to respond to the experience that you’re having. So particularly earlier in life, if you’re in a constant state of terror; your brain is shaped to be on alert for danger, and to try to make those terrible feelings go away.

The brain gets very confused. And that leads to problems with excessive anger, excessive shutting down, and doing things like taking drugs to make yourself feel better. These things are almost always the result of having a brain that is set to feel in danger and fear.

As you grow up and get a more stable brain, these early traumatic events can still cause changes that make you hyper-alert to danger, and hypo-alert to the pleasures of everyday life…

If you’re an adult and life’s been good to you, and then something bad happens, that sort of injures a little piece of the whole structure. But toxic stress in childhood from abandonment or chronic violence has pervasive effects on the capacity to pay attention, to learn, to see where other people are coming from, and it really creates havoc with the whole social environment.”

As an adult who experienced childhood trauma, you may have mental health effects, including anxiety or expression, continued PTSD, substance use disorders, problems with relationships, or struggles with self-harm and suicidal ideation. Even if you do not have serious mental health problems, you may struggle with psychological issues. Psychology Today discusses four subtle but real effects of childhood trauma in adulthood:

Creating a false self that we think will be accepted (burying feelings, wearing a mask)

  1. Victimhood thinking (negative self-talk)
  2. Passive-aggressiveness (suppressed anger)
  3. Passivity (buried feelings = buried personhood)

Of course, these things can lead to problems with relationships and difficulty at work and in other areas of your adult life.

Harvard Health has reported on research conducted on adverse childhood experiences, shortened to ACEs, many of which include traumatic experiences, and these experiences have drastic effects on health, and are linked to negative outcomes in adulthood.

The bottom line is, if you have experienced childhood trauma—even if you are unaware of it—you may still be suffering from post-traumatic stress as an adult. And this stress can manifest in a number of ways: physically, mentally, and psychologically.

Child Trauma Symptoms

How can parents, caregivers, or teachers know when a child is exhibiting trauma symptoms, even if they are unaware of the trauma itself?

A child who is experiencing trauma, or has post-traumatic stress, may exhibit signs of clinginess, fear, aggression, and impulsivity, and have difficulty regulating their behavior and emotions. They may become fixated on death and/or safety. They might have trouble eating or sleeping. Other common symptoms are irritability, difficulty focusing, or separation anxiety.

While just one or two of these symptoms may be part of a normal developmental stage for a child, if you know a child who is exhibiting several of these symptoms, it may be time to find out if there is a more serious explanation.

Preventing and Responding to Childhood Trauma

Although it’s not possible to remove all risk factors for childhood trauma, we can work to create safe environments for children, and then educate responsible adults in how to respond in the best way to alleviate the aftereffects of trauma.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says that resilience is the biggest factor in a positive outcome for childhood trauma, and the biggest factor in resilience is the presence of one consistent caregiver in the child’s life:

“Research on resilience in children demonstrates that an essential protective factor is the reliable presence of a positive, caring, and protective parent or caregiver, who can help shield children against adverse experiences. They can be a consistent resource for their children, encouraging them to talk about their experiences, and they can provide reassurance to their children that the adults in their lives are working to keep them safe.”

The American Psychological Association adds that “The majority of children and adolescents manifest resilience in the aftermath of traumatic experiences. This is especially true of single-incident exposure.”

So, in a way, it’s possible to set children up for success both before and after any traumatic events have occurred. According to the Trauma Survivors Network, the following are protective factors in a child’s life that can help them with trauma and recovery:

  • Supportive family environment
  • Nurturing parenting skills
  • Stable family relationships
  • Household rules and monitoring of the child
  • Parental employment
  • Adequate housing
  • Access to health care and social services
  • Caring adults outside family who can serve as role models or mentors
  • Communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse

In other words, a child needs a safe environment with adult support. The good news is that if you are a parent or caregiver of a child, you can be that safe person for them, a consistent presence, and you can make a big difference for that child.

What about a child who has already undergone one, or multiple traumatic experiences? There are evidence-based treatment options, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a trauma focus. There is even inpatient treatment if necessary. The Gil Institute recommends trauma-focused integrated play therapy, and there is some evidence that neurofeedback can successfully treat trauma, even in children.

The bottom line is not to hesitate to get a child evaluated for professional treatment. It can make a big difference in the possibility of a positive outcome and trauma healing.

If you are an adult and you think or know that you were traumatized as a child, it’s not too late to get help. You can explore childhood trauma with a licensed counselor or therapist, and work through treatment for those issues.

Revisiting the past can be very painful, and a licensed counselor can help you walk through the process safely and compassionately. Contact our office today to take the first steps towards trauma healing for you or your child.

Resources:

  • https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types
  • https://www.ecmhc.org/tutorials/trauma/mod2_3.html
  • http://lookthroughtheireyes.org/
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both
  • https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects
  • https://www.traumasurvivorsnetwork.org/traumapedias/777
  • https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/recognizing-and-treating-child-traumatic-stress#types
  • https://www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com/topics/child-trauma/effective-treatments-child-traumatic-stress/
  • http://www.gilinstitute.com/services/treatment/tfipt.php
  • http://www.istss.org/public-resources/what-is-childhood-trauma/effects-of-childhood-trauma.aspx
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/past-trauma-may-haunt-your-future-health
  • https://www.addictionpolicy.org/blog/adverse-childhood-experiences-and-trauma
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201706/4-ways-childhood-trauma-impacts-adults
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201804/9-steps-healing-childhood-trauma-adult
  • https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/childrenz-trauma-update
  • https://www.sideeffectspublicmedia.org/post/childhood-trauma-leads-brains-wired-fear
  • https://childmind.org/article/signs-trauma-children/

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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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The Hidden Hurt: Signs of Physical and Mental Abuse

The lasting effects of childhood physical and mental abuse can take their toll on adult survivors. Learning to recognize the signs of maltreatment will enable you to step in and assist a child in need. However, children are not only the only targets for abuse. Spouses and elderly parents are often victims of domestic violence.

If you are an adult survivor of abuse, there is hope. You can find treatment to help you cope with the painful memories and negative thoughts.

Signs of Physical Abuse

Although not necessarily easy to spot, physical abuse is prevalent in domestic violence cases. Abuse can take the form of physically hitting, punching, or whipping another person. Other forms include sexual abuse and neglecting or withholding the basic needs of another human being.

Common signs of physical abuse include:

  • Bruises and cuts – Unexplained wounds that the victim probably tries to hide. They may wear clothing that covers their bruises, even during the hottest days of the year.
  • Burns – Small cigarette burns or burn marks from something larger being pressed onto the victim’s skin, such as a kettle. Typically, the victim isn’t even given proper medical care for these burns, resulting in scarring.
  • Frequent sprains or broken bones – Hospitals and emergency care centers will report frequent hospital visits for sprains and broken bones if the wounds cannot
    be explained satisfactorily by the victim (or the victim’s parents or guardians).
  • Concussions – Concussions from hitting or shaking the victim. Infants shaken to control their crying may develop Shaken Baby (Impact) Syndrome, which can lead to seizures, retinal hemorrhage, coma, and death.
  • Bite marks – Bite marks are signs of abuse that show in a pattern. Other items that are used to physically abuse a victim that leave patterns include belts and flyswatters.

Neglecting a person’s basic needs is withholding or not making sure a person has housing with clean living conditions, heat during the cold winter months, food, clothing, and medical care. Neglect also includes leaving a child or elderly (or disabled) adult alone for extended periods of time.

Since children receive bruises and cuts throughout normal childhood adventures, it is critical that you view the child’s entire physical and emotional wellbeing before assuming it is child abuse. If you are in doubt, speak to a licensed professional for confirmation, such as a child’s school counselor or an elderly person’s primary physician.

Signs of Mental Abuse

Signs of mental abuse in both children and adults can be harder to pinpoint. The caregiver may not even be aware that their words and actions are abusive in nature since it is not physical abuse.

Some of the signs of mental abuse include:

  • Withholding affection until the victim does whatever they demand.
  • Isolating the victim from friends and family.
  • Calling the victim names or spiteful pet names.
  • Sarcasm or joking meant to belittle the person or their achievements, dreams, or goals.
  • Yelling and slamming things to intimidate their victim.
  • Threatening the victim or the victim’s loved ones.
  • Keeping a close eye on where their victim is if they are an adult.
  • Controlling all of their adult victim’s finances or withholding money for basic needs.
  • Treating the adult victim like a child including making and canceling plans.
  • Giving commands and expecting them to be followed without question.
  • Ignoring the victim’s attempts at conversation.
  • Gaslighting the victim by pushing their buttons and then denying one has done anything.
  • Turning others against the victim with social manipulation and relational bullying.

Abusers frequently use emotions against their victims. The victim doesn’t know how the abuser will react to anything; they may show rage, love, or indifference. This is another way emotionally abusive parents or spouses can control their victims. When the victim reacts, the abuser may tell others that the victim is crazy or mentally ill.

Children living in a mentally (or physically) abusive home may worry about going home or how their parent is going to react to certain news. This anxiety is beyond the occasional bad report card. The child may become physically ill or develop a headache with the thought of going home.

The child may have learning delays or require the services of a speech-language pathologist. Children and adults under the strain of mental abuse can develop low self-esteem and mental health conditions like depression.

The Effects of Past Abuse

The scars from past abuse are sometimes harder to bring into the light as they are hidden, sometimes deeply, within the person’s psyche.

These wounds from physically or emotionally abusive parents can result in survivors with mental health conditions or adults who are emotionally distant from loved ones.

Some of the more common effects of abuse include:

  • Anxiety – Anxious thoughts can lead to physical ailments like anxiety attacks, sudden panic attacks, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal distress.
  • Depression – Survivors may experience bouts of deep depression, although they may be unaware of the root cause if the abuse occurred at a very early age. Some survivors develop manic-depressive states, an extreme swing between “high-highs and low-lows.”
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD can occur in both children and adults. The disorder dredges up the victim’s memories and feelings about the traumatic event with intrusive dreams/nightmares and thoughts. PTSD can also create hallucinatory visions.
  • Trust issues – A victim may not be able to lend trust freely after abuse, especially if the abusive relationship was long term. They may be afraid they are going to lose the love or approval of people, and therefore, appear emotionally distant.
  • Self-destructive behaviors – Eating disorders, self-harm behaviors like cutting or burning, and living a high risk-taking lifestyle are self-destructive behaviors created to numb the pain of the trauma. These survivors are not thriving but trying to control the only thing they can – their bodies.
  • Suicidal thoughts – A survivor may find negative thoughts too much to endure. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, seek help from a mental health professional or faith-based counselor immediately. Hope and healing are possible.

Often, a survivor of abuse is trying to figure out how to cope with past trauma while moving forward with their life. Talk therapy (also referred to as psychotherapy) and other techniques can help to replace those intrusive memories and beliefs with constructive and positive emotions.

Treatment for Physical and Mental Abuse

Children removed from an abusive relationship can heal from the trauma. A licensed therapist can assist the child through play therapy, art therapy, family therapy, and (depending on the age) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is commonly used with children and adults for a variety of mental health conditions. It is extremely beneficial for survivors dealing with PTSD. The therapy helps to identify the thoughts, memories, and emotions related to the event. Then the patient learns techniques on how to reframe the event and replace those negative thoughts, thus changing the emotions.

When they change how they feel about the memories, their behavior will also change. This can help reverse some of the self-destructive behaviors such as an eating disorder.

Talk therapy is effective in one-on-one sessions with a therapist or in a group therapy setting. These group or family sessions can be held at the therapist’s private office or in a facility. Some facilities offer faith-based counseling services that combine professional mental health resources with the Christian faith. These treatments focus on the healing of the mind and spirit after the trauma.

In these settings, the survivor will learn how to rely on God and prayer as well as psychological techniques to overcome the negative thoughts and memories. Depending on the specific circumstance, the patient’s treatment may focus on forgiveness and grace, not only for the abuser but for the victim.

As a survivor learns how to overcome and move on from a childhood of abuse or adult relationship maltreatment, they will realize that not only will they survive what happened to them in the past, but they will thrive. Although their hurts are hidden many times from the outside world, a victim of abuse should never feel alone. Help is only a phone call away.

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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

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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:
“Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Paola Chaaya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “God is Love”, Courtesy of Hassan Saleh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watching the Bay”, Courtesy of Charlie Foster, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Just Married”, Courtesy of Desiree Fawn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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

How Family Counseling Can Change Your Family Dynamics

Families today face a wide range of difficulties and challenges that impact family dynamics. Families may deal with the effects of divorces, separations, deployments, moves, or identity crisis. Families may also deal with a financial crisis, death of a loved one, medical issues, disabilities, or behavioral ups and downs.

Families may need to address overarching issues of grief, anger, stress, or poor communication skills. It is definitive that all families will face obstacles of various kinds; however, it is important to note that your family does not have to deal with these roadblocks without the support and guidance of a counselor who can aid you in your family’s journey.

If one of your children is struggling with explosive anger outbursts, family therapy can help the child specifically as well as help the family determine how to best aid the child during their outbursts. The therapist will work to get to the root of the issue and determine the best way to help the child deal with and process their emotions.

If one of your family members is battling severe anxiety, family counseling can help the person struggling with anxiety as well as educating the entire family on how to help identify and deal with anxious behaviors.

If your family dynamics are impacted by the effects of stress because of finances or dealing with the loss of a loved one, family therapy can help you learn effective coping strategies to work on the betterment of your family’s emotional health.

Friday nights should be more about making memories together than avoiding one another because of underlying issues or avoiding conversation because you are unsure of what to say.

How Family Counseling Can Change Your Family Dynamics

Family counseling may be the pathway to establishing healthy communication.

Kevin Thompson said, “Communication thrives in healthy families. Unhealthy families have many topics that are off-limits.” For the betterment of the emotional and spiritual health of every family member, it is important to lay a strong foundation for communication skills. Every family member needs to know that their family conversations are a safe place.

They need a safety net, a place of trust, a place to ease anxiety and make their feelings known. Children need a place to ask questions because the world will fill their minds with many thoughts and feelings that they are unsure how to process. Adults need communication with their spouse where they can make their feelings of depression or anxiety known without feeling like a failure.

Family therapy can address family dynamics and ways to improve communication without judgment. Every individual, marriage, and family can improve in this area; it is not something you need to feel like a failure in if your communication is suffering or at a halt. Does everyone feel heard? Does everyone understand how to communicate without immediate judgment? Is everyone given the opportunity to voice their opinion or ask a question?

Family therapists can also serve as a mediator if the issues are more resentment-driven or someone is simply having a difficult time knowing how to voice their feelings.

Family counseling may be the fresh start your family is desperately longing for.

Perhaps your marriage is on the rocks or you feel like you are not getting through to your teenager. Maybe your teenager is inwardly struggling to find themselves or is unsure of what their future should look like. Perhaps their college decisions or sports scholarships are weighing heavy on their shoulders.

Family counseling is a great opportunity to discuss important topics or past issues in a safe, judgmental free place. Sometimes people do not realize how quickly they begin talking over someone else or a child is unsure how to ask a parent for help because of the fear of disappointing them

Sometimes it is more about children aiming to make their parents proud and feeling uncertain of how to voice their struggles. It may be the peer pressures that weigh like a ton of bricks on their adolescent shoulders.

Family therapy can help your family determine how to walk alongside one another in the struggles of life when you feel like you are currently at very different phases of life.

Family counseling can deal with a variety of issues.

If one person in the family is struggling, it impacts family dynamics and likely means that the entire family is functioning differently. Most of the time, we do not struggle during the initial spiral of emotions and crisis, but afterward when the initial wave of support has come and gone.

A child struggling with peer pressure needs continued support. Someone battling anxiety and depression needs continued support. Someone battling struggles from their past, the loss of a loved one, or fear of the future needs more support than what one day can offer.

Family counseling can help family members at large address their struggles and involve the entire family in establishing a plan of continued support for the future. Jen Williamson said, “There is no right speed at which to process one’s healing. There is no one path that serves everyone all of the time. Not every answer is everyone’s answer.”

Every person processes, deals with, and copes differently. Family therapy can aid your family in establishing emotional first aid and help determine how your family can best function through phases of grief, anxiety, anger, poor communication, and withdrawal.

Family counseling can help children establish healthy coping skills for their future.

Not only is family counseling effective and helpful for the entire family at large, but it can also help children learn and establish healthy coping skills for today and in the days and years to come. Helping children establish healthy coping skills is first done by helping them realize it is healthy to be vulnerable and express their feelings and emotions.

It is not a weakness to ask for help. Children need to know that their home is a safe place – one where they can cry, laugh, sing, dance, ask for help, and dream gargantuan dreams.

One thing children in today’s society are longing for is a voice. They long for their voices to make waves and to make a difference. It is crucial to their development to help them understand this voice and the impact it can have. Our goal is for them to be world-changers who know that they can make a difference by doing the right thing.

Today, you can begin your family’s journey to health by:

  • Scheduling a family therapy session. Today is your day! It can be a place of reset, rest, and resolutions. Your heart may need to hear “you are not alone.”
  • Ensure that your family is pursuing open and honest conversation. Start by sitting down as a family and just having an open conversation. Ask everyone how they are really doing. Do not accept “I am okay” as an answer.

Dig deeper. Ask your teen how school is going. What are their favorite/least favorite classes and why? Do they still enjoy the sport they work so hard at? Ask dad how work is going. The first step is to approach conversations out of love and compassion rather than judgment and feelings of failure.

The key to open communication is to check your tone and your heart. Are you empathic or harsh? Are you truly asking someone how their day was, or are you going through the motions and not really listening?

  • Realize every family faces their fair share of setbacks and crises. Do not feel like your family is wrong or failing because of a personal or overall family setback or crisis. You are not alone in facing personal issues. You are not alone in dealing with financial crises, poor communication, staleness in marriage, or having a trying time conversating with teenagers.
  • Get involved at church and have a strong support system. An often-overlooked support system is right under our noses in the churches we attend on Sunday mornings. Ann Landers said it so well, “Church is not a museum for saints, but rather a hospital for sinners.”

It is so easy to feel like we must put on a façade at church. We feel we cannot ask for help or admit areas in our lives that are not picture-perfect. We can truly begin to experience a breakthrough when we put on fewer facades and more true faces.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” The church should be that place where we can come together like a village to help one another through the periods of darkness and ride along together during the periods of bountiful and immeasurable blessings. That is what family is really about.

Christian Counseling to Improve Family Relationships

If you’re looking to improve the family dynamics in your home, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to meet with you and your family to strengthen the bonds in your home.

Photos:
“Family Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Jude Beck, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family Crossing”, Courtesy of Sandy Millar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “On the Dunes”, Courtesy of Juan Cruz Mountford, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Family at the Beach”, Courtesy of Patricia Prudente, Unsplash.com, CC0 License