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.

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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.

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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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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.

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

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

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

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

How to Know if Christian Marriage Counseling Might Benefit You

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

Something is off.

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

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

Your communication is lacking.

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

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

Your finances are stressing you out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely nothing is wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do everything in love.1 Corinthians 16:14

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9 Principles from the Bible to Enhance Your Married Life

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

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

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

What Does the Bible Say about Marriage?

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

Marriage was invented by God

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

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

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

Marriage is a good thing

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

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

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

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

Don’t sweat the small stuff

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

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

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

God hates infidelity

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

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

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

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

God hates divorce

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

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

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

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

God loves forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church

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

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

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

Love and respect

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t fight

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

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

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

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

Christian Marriage Counseling in Newport Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What are the Signs of Codependency I Should Watch For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beattie writes this about self-esteem and codependency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boundaries and Codependency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope for Codependents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Signs of Codependency

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

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

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

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

Where is Christ in Codependency?

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

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

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

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

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Is Emotional Affair Recovery Possible?

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

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

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

4 Steps to Emotional Affair Recovery

Here are four steps to achieving emotional affair recovery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Have a conversation with someone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Find a Counselor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4: Forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does Sex Get Boring?

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

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

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

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

How to Fix Boring Sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian Counseling for Boring Sex

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

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

Photos:
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