If you have recently learned that your spouse has cheated on you, you may feel like you are barely hanging on. However, you can experience affair recovery with help from Christian marriage counseling. Here are our seven best tips for surviving infidelity after the affair.
7 Tips for Surviving Infidelity
1. Commit Everything to Prayer
If there is ever a time to draw close to God in prayer, it is during affair recovery. The Bible promises that God is close to those who are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). As you carry all your hurts and fears to him, he will comfort and sustain you.
God understands what it is like to feel betrayed by those he loves. The people of Israel strayed from him many times, breaking his heart each time. Only God can fully identify with your pain. He will guide you into the next steps to take and hold you close during your suffering.
Commit to meeting him in prayer every day. Take every matter of your mind and heart to him, and he will heal you. You can trust God to help you through this crisis and you will feel closer to him as you pray.
2. Let Your Feelings Flow
An affair causes a wide range of feelings to erupt. At first, you may feel shocked by the news and rightfully offended. You may move between anger, shame, depression, and worry. One moment, you may blame your spouse for everything. The next moment, you might blame yourself and feel deep shame.
To deal with this rollercoaster of emotions, it’s essential not to bottle them up. You could explode with rage and bitterness or destroy yourself with hopelessness. Let your feelings flow without judgment.
You may find journaling helpful. Simply record your feelings as they occur, not editing them as you write. By letting your feelings flow, you can release them so that healing can enter in. No one needs to see this journal; it is for your eyes only. Let God guide you as you write.
3. Take One Day at A Time
When you experience a marital affair, you may be overwhelmed by choices that need to be made. Should your spouse move out right away? Or should you wait until a calmer moment to discuss things? What do you do about finances?
How much should you tell your children, if anything? Do you tell your extended family members what happened? Do you need to begin divorce proceedings? These are important questions to consider, and you may feel pressured to answer them as soon as possible.
Your spouse’s decision to have an affair creates a world of choices for you. But you don’t have to make decisions about all of those things at once. In fact, it’s better not to make life-altering decisions when you are in the middle of a crisis.
Take one day at a time, making decisions only when you feel peace about them. You need time to pray, consult with trusted friends, and receive counseling. Don’t rush to make decisions that you may regret later. God will lead you on what to do next, and that takes time.
4. Practice Self-Care
Surviving infidelity requires a lot of energy. Don’t take on more than you can handle as you heal from the affair. It’s probably not the best time to start something new. Instead, find activities that bring you pleasure, and do them just for enjoyment.
You may enjoy a bubble bath, bike ride, walk in the park, or time to read. Whatever brings you joy should be a priority on your schedule. Your self-care activity will serve as an oasis in the hard times.
It’s also important to get adequate rest, eat right, stay hydrated and exercise during your trial. If you neglect your health, your mind and emotions will suffer even more. Make your health a priority and you will feel better both inside and out.
5. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Whether you and your spouse reunite or not, your marriage will never be the same after the affair. You need to grieve the dreams you had that did not come true. Grieving is hard work that cannot be rushed, and you must make time for it.
It’s important to go through all the steps of the grieving process so you can fully heal. You will move back and forth between the grief stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and sadness before you reach acceptance. This could take months or even years to complete. Realize that as you allow yourself time to grieve, you open avenues for hope and healing.
6. Talk with a Trusted Friend
Talking with a friend after an affair can serve as a pressure release. However, don’t talk to just anyone during this difficult time. You need a trustworthy friend who will keep your secrets and not hurt you by spreading them around. It’s also essential to choose a friend who will comfort and encourage you instead of condemning or criticizing you. If you can find a friend who is also willing to speak the truth in love to you, you have found a treasure.
If you don’t have a friend that fits these descriptions, be sure to speak with a Christian counselor. By talking about your feelings, you can gain clarity and relief. Your counselor can offer a valuable and objective perspective on your problems. Talk therapy, whether with a trusted friend or counselor, can be a life raft during your affair recovery.
7. Consider Your Options
Sooner or later, you will need to take a hard look at your options. These all depend on your unique situation, and only God knows the best answers. Cover them in prayer, consult with trusted friends, and make choices only when you have had time to carefully think them through.
If you choose to divorce, know that the Bible is clear on this issue. An affair is a biblically-permitted reason to divorce (see Matthew 5:32, 19:19). This may be the best option for you after an affair.
However, it’s wise to consult with your pastor or priest, as well as a marriage counselor, before speaking with a divorce attorney. You don’t want to proceed with such a definite decision without solid counsel. If divorce is your choice, you can benefit greatly from divorce support groups.
However, divorce is not required after an affair. Many couples have healed and reunited after affairs. If you choose to reunite, there is much work to be done on both sides. You will need to set boundaries, rebuild trust, establish healthy communication, and set up accountability factors.
Most people are not equipped to take these steps on their own. To heal your marriage, consult with a Christian counselor. We can walk you through the steps that are necessary for restoration and prevention of another affair.
Christian Marriage Counseling for Surviving Infidelity
If your world has been shattered by your spouse’s affair, there is no shame in reaching out for professional help. If you decide divorce is the best option, a Christian counselor can help your heart heal.
If you and your spouse wish to reconcile, we offer both individual and couples counseling. Please give us a call to learn about the services we offer. We are ready to help you at San Diego Christian Counseling.
“Prayer”, Courtesy of Samuel Martins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “One foot in front of the other”, Courtesy of Zack Minor, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Grieving”, Courtesy of Wallace Chuck, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Decisions”, Courtesy of Kat Stokes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
Are you looking for relationship help regarding fair fighting rules for relationships? Do you find yourself getting into heated arguments with the same person regarding the same issues, over and over again? Perhaps you end up fighting over the smallest of things and never being able to bring the issue to an acceptable resolution.
This article will discuss some suggestions for fair fighting rules so that you’re in a better position to have effective conflict resolution in your relationships.
Rules for Fair Fighting in Relationships
Ask yourself why you’re upset in the first place.
If you’ve ever begun arguing with someone simply because you’re upset, you’re not alone. It’s actually really common. For example, you might return home from work after a really long day and find that no one has bothered to tidy up or even wash the dishes they’ve used.
Before you know it, you’re yelling at the kids, your partner or your roommate, yelling that they need to start cleaning up after themselves and start being more responsible. Later, you begin to regret the way you reacted and find yourself beating yourself up because of your overreaction.
One of the key ingredients of fair fighting is being able to figure out why you are upset and how this can lead to picking a fight for the smallest of reasons.
For example, in the scenario above, it may be that earlier in the day your boss was yelling at you and took you off the big project that you’ve been working on for weeks. Being upset isn’t a justification for taking your feelings out on others, so it’s important to learn to recognize when you’re upset before you start overreacting.
Mindfulness techniques can help you to recognize your feelings before they become your justification for starting a fight. Mindfulness keeps you in the moment and helps you to be much more aware of your emotions.
If you tend to pick fights when you get home from work, you can try taking a few deep breaths and some time to explore your feelings before you go in the house so that you don’t mistake seeing a messy house as the cause of your upset.
It can be helpful to have a place in your home that you can retreat to, a place that is solely yours so that you can calm your emotions and get back to a more settled baseline.
One issue at a time
Do you find that you can start fighting with someone over a really small issue which quickly becomes a much more complicated fight about something much bigger? This is a common problem, and these kinds of fights can quickly become emotionally draining.
For example, if you’re driving somewhere with your partner and they take a wrong turn, you may start fighting about that, but it quickly escalates into a much more heated argument about the way that he never listens to you or respects your opinion.
If you commit to only fighting about one issue at a time, then in this scenario, your fight would just be about taking the wrong turning. Abiding by the one-issue-only rule means that you’re not allowed to bring other issues into the fight. It can take a lot of work and a lot of time to be able to completely stick to this rule, but it will set you on the track towards being able to resolve issues by focusing on finding a solution.
One way to try to stick to a single issue is to make a list of things you want to bring up and gradually tick these off as they’re discussed, one at a time. By doing this, you stay focused and are less likely to try to bring all of the issues into one almighty fight.
Avoid using degrading language
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or your emotions are really running high, the language you use tends to become more derogative. Calling someone a mean name can feel like a good release of the anger you’re feeling but it won’t help the situation. Derogative and degrading language can quickly escalate an argument into a much more serious fight because it makes the other person defensive.
There’s no way that a fight can be productive if you are resorting to degrading language. It is, therefore, a good idea to find less antagonistic ways of releasing your anger in order to keep an argument productive.
For example, instead of yelling, “you’re an idiot” at your partner, you could instead ask, “I don’t understand why you think it’s okay to behave like that, can you explain your reasoning?” It’s much more productive to ask questions rather than to jump to conclusions.
Alternatively, if your emotions are really heightened and you don’t feel able to have a discussion without it turning into a huge fight, you could try writing down what you would like to say and they tearing it up or burning it. That way you get to release your anger and use all the degrading language you like, but it doesn’t cause a massive fight. You’re in a better position to have a less heated discussion later.
It’s also important that you ensure that you’re fighting about an issue rather than fighting about the things you don’t like about the person you’re fighting with. For example, if you’re fighting about the dishes not being done, you shouldn’t make the fight about the person being lazy and irresponsible because taking that approach is degrading the person rather than seeking to understand reasons why the dishes haven’t been done.
Take responsibility for your feelings and express them with words
Emotions can be expressed in a variety of different ways, not just through words. You can express your feelings through your tone, your volume and other types of non-verbal communication such as the way you stand and the expressions on your face. For fair fighting, you need to learn how to express your emotions using your words, not these other ways.
For example, if you’re feeling angry, say “I’m angry” rather than yelling or becoming aggressive. If you’re feeling disappointed, say “I’m disappointed”. When you use “I” statements, you are taking responsibility for your emotions.
When things get heated and accusations start flying, it’s common to fall into the pattern of making “you” statements and putting blame on the other person. For example, “you make me so angry!”
Using “I” statements can make arguments much more productive. You’re talking about how you feel without blaming someone else. For example, if your teenage son stays out past his curfew and you wait up for him, worried that something has happened to him, your emotions will be running high. He doesn’t pick up his phone but eventually sneaks in two hours past his curfew. Your immediate reaction, based on your emotions, might be to yell at him and make “you” statements.
If you make “I” statements instead, such as “I get worried for your safety if you’re not home when I expect you to be and I can’t get you on the phone. Next time, I just need you to let me know where you are,” you’re owning your feelings and explaining them. This approach is more productive and may mean that your teenager will answer his phone next time he misses his curfew and you phone to check if he’s okay.
Take turns talking
It sounds easy to take turns talking since that’s how we know that conversations work. In fights, however, it’s much more difficult to hold back and wait for the other person to finish talking. You might interrupt or talk over them or yell over them. This can then become a vicious cycle where the other person feels justified in interrupting you because you interrupted him.
That’s not a productive way to fight, because neither of you is going to feel heard. Feeling heard is one of the most important aspects of having a productive fight. If you get frustrated that your partner isn’t listening, then they must feel the same way.
Learn to respect each others’ right to be heard, and allow for pauses so that you’re both able to collect your thoughts and think about what to say next. Pauses are not opportunities to jump in and continue your side of the fight. If one of you is breaking this rule, you should not continue the fight, but rather take a break and wait until you’re both able to abide by the rules.
Stonewalling is a term that’s used to describe a situation where you shut down and stop participating in the fight. In some cases, this is because you don’t want to argue, or you feel that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t bother saying anything at all.” This attitude is more common if the relationship is more superficial and expressing your true feelings might not be the best approach.
In long-term or serious relationships, however, stonewalling is a problem. That’s because the emotions that you have don’t just go away when you shut down. They simmer away in your mind, festering like open wounds, and negative feelings tend to grow until you reach the boiling point and all those feelings just erupt in a massive argument.
For productive fighting, you need to express your feelings in the moment. Problems can be solved when you talk about them but keeping them festering away doesn’t solve them. You can use phrases that start with “I feel” or “I noticed that I was thinking” to discuss how the conversation or argument is making you feel.
Yelling is one of the things most commonly associated with fighting, so why would it be against the fair fighting rules? The answer is because when you’re yelling you’re using your tone and volume to express how you’re feeling rather than expressing your emotions in words. When you yell, all the other person is focused on is the yelling. They don’t take in the words, they just focus on the fact that you’re yelling at them. Yelling makes people defensive, too.
If the other person in the fight feels that you are attacking them with the tone and volume of what you’re saying, things can quickly escalate, and a simple disagreement can become a nasty fight. Lower the volume, try to neutralize your tone, and you’re in a much better position to have a positive resolution to the argument. Be mindful that raising your voice can seem like yelling to some people, too.
Take a timeout when the fight is getting heated
There are points in a fight when things have gone beyond the point of having any possibility of resolution when you’re both yelling and screaming and breaking all the rules of fair fighting. At this point, taking a break from the discussion is the best solution. It’s okay for both of you to walk away from a fight when you’re too emotional to be able to keep to the rules.
Taking a break from the argument doesn’t mean that it’s over and that one of you has won. You will have to go back to the conversation at some point but ensure that you’re both in the right frame of mind when you do reopen the conversation. In the meantime, practice skills like mindfulness to help you manage your emotions during a fight better.
Reach a compromise
First of all, it’s important that you realize the difference between compromising or an understanding and coming to an agreement. A compromise is not agreeing that the other person is right, nor is coming to some kind of understanding. You have no doubt heard the phrase “agree to disagree” – that’s what it means to compromise.
When you come to an agreement or decide on a compromise, you are both agreeing that the other person’s opinion is valid. For example, if you’re engaged in a fight about a TV show, it’s possible to validate the other person’s view about the show, while maintaining that you have a different opinion. With more serious issues, like buying a new house, a greater level of compromise will be necessary, however.
For example, if you’re house hunting and you just can’t come to any kind of agreement, you may need to find a compromise by choosing a property that meets some of your individual demands. It might be that there’s a house that has the living room that your partner wants, but you’re not keen on. However, you do love the pool in the backyard, so you’re able to compromise on other features because the house has some things that each of you likes.
In some cases, the other person may be unwilling to make a compromise – for example, with regard to the number of children they want. In those cases, you may need to respect their boundaries and come to an understanding instead of a compromise. If you’re the man in the relationship, you need to recognize that it should be a joint decision with your wife as to how many children you will have.
Getting relationship help from a Christian counselor
It can be daunting to explore the idea of finding a therapist to help with your relationship but getting professional help can make a lot of difference. There are lots of therapists who are experienced in working with couples who have a volatile relationship and struggle with keeping to fair fighting rules.
Find therapists in your local area and schedule appointments with several of them. Often initial sessions are free or discounted, so you’re able to try different therapists to find the one that is the best fit for you. You should be looking for a therapist that you feel comfortable with, who welcomes you and your partner and makes you feel supported.
Look through the profiles of Christian counselors for therapists who specialize in offering therapy to couples and in aspects of communication. You should ask any questions that come to mind in order to find out whether a particular therapist is going to be right for you and your partner. Even if the first few that you try aren’t a good fit, keep looking. There is bound to be a therapist who will be able to help you and your partner work through your issues with fighting.
“Married Fight,” courtesy of Gratisography, pexels.com, CC0 License; “The Boxer”, Courtesy of antfrank, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “US”, Courtesy of Harsha K R, Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0 License; “They ARE”, Courtesy of Celynek, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License
Getting married is a really thrilling point in your life. Congratulations if you’re about to start out on a journey with the love of your life!
Marriage is an adventure that works best if you prepare well for it. Just as you would plan, in advance, a physical journey you are planning to take, preparing for your wedding and married life will ensure a smoother ride than if you just see how it all works out.
There are some things that you can’t prepare for, of course unexpected situations or events that can only be dealt with when they happen. However, God is always with you no matter what you face. What’s more, you can trust in His promise that He will never leave or forsake you. Even in the most challenging of situations in your marriage, you can depend on God.
There are some things in your marriage that don’t come with a universal how-to-guide to help you navigate turbulent times. These include your relationship with your in-laws. While you may be blessed with really great in-laws who accept you into their family and treat you just like they treat your partner, sadly this may not always be the case.
You may face other challenges in your marriage related to your in-laws for example, if your partner continues to rely on his or her mother or father instead of you. It may be that your partner calls her mother when she’s upset instead of discussing the issue with you first. Or, your marriage may be strained by an expectation that you’ll be able to do home improvement tasks just as well as your partner’s father or brother.
When you’re entering into a marriage, being aware of the conflicts that you may face can help you to deal with these if (or when) they occur. It’s important to acknowledge your concerns from the outset and not try to brush them aside and hope that they get better in time.
This is particularly true if you have concerns about your future spouse’s relationship with his or her family. Discussing these things with an experienced pre-marital counselor will help to reduce the potential negative impact or conflict in the future.
Premarital counseling can help you to start your marriage with a really healthy relationship. Its aim is to strengthen foundations before entering into a covenant with God. You may have to work hard to iron out some issues, but if you’re planning your wedding you should already be committed to doing whatever is needed in order to make the relationship work.
Working on building a healthy relationship can be challenging – because human nature is to become easily discontented and to complain rather than resolve problems. We’re also prone to comparison – comparing our lives to the lives of others that we know. Taking the idea of divorce as a possibility out of the equation from the start can motivate you to put more effort into your marriage.
This understanding, of course, is regarding the ‘normal’ conflicts that emerge in marriage not infidelity or abuse. When infidelity or abuse is the problem then there needs to be a different approach. Premarital counseling helps you to prepare for more everyday challenges, not more serious issues.
Premarital Counseling Topics
There are certain topics that should be discussed during premarital counseling sessions. Firstly, it’s important to establish how you and your future spouse define commitment. When you think about commitment, what immediately comes to mind? What experiences have you had in your family (throughout childhood) that may have affected your view of committment? Commitment is a vital first step in building strong foundations for your marriage in the years to come.
Another subject that you might want to discuss in premarital counseling is your goals for the future. For example, if your future spouse plans to start his own business, but that will involve moving to another region or state, you need to talk about what this means for both of you. It’s important to discuss these things before you make the covenant of marriage, to avoid difficult conflicts later.
You may want to stay close to your parents and siblings or have family-related responsibilities that require you to stay relatively close. If you and your spouse are both aware of these kinds of things, you can discuss any compromises that you might need to make so that you can both fulfill your goals for the future.
What are your thoughts about children? It’s really important to discuss this subject in premarital counseling, as well as considering what you might do if you are unable to conceive children naturally. You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but talking through these kinds of things can help to reduce conflict later in your marriage.
You should also discuss what your expectations are for your marriage. This might include things like spending time with your own group of friends, and what your social life might look like as a couple. If one of you is extroverted and the other is more introverted, how will you organize your social life to have a balance that works for both of you?
What do you plan to do about roles in your new family? If you plan to have children, do you want to be married for a certain amount of time before you start trying for a baby? How will you manage birth control if that’s your plan? What about your career when your children are young? Will one of you stay at home or do you intend to use daycare? Discussing these issues in advance isn’t vital, but it can help to reduce problems in the future.
There are four particular issues that absolutely must be discussed during premarital counseling. These are finances, intimacy, spirituality, and conflict. While finances and intimacy are always evolving in your relationship, they are hugely important. In fact, finances and intimacy can make or break a relationship.
Finances can cause a lot of conflict in relationships, so it’s essential that you spend time during premarital counseling discussing your thoughts and feelings about finances. You could discuss:
- Who will be responsible for paying the bills?
- Will you make financial decisions together?
- How will you deal with any disagreements about your finances?
- What amount of savings will make you feel that you’re secure?
- How do you feel about debt?
Debt is an issue that can lead to a lot of arguments. If you and your future spouse have differing views about debt, then this is something you really need to discuss in detail so that you can come to an agreement about debt before you get married. It’s quite common to have different ideas about debt – these usually come from our childhood experiences.
For example, if your parents struggled with debt and you saw the negative impact that had on your family when you were young, you may be staunchly against any kind of debt. If, on the other hand, you haven’t had personal experience of debt, you may have a more relaxed approach to the idea of debt. Coming to an agreement about how you and your future spouse will handle financial situations, including debt, can be achieved by using the Bible as a guide.
This is how the Bible talks about debt. You can see how God views it:
Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.
The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives.
God has always wanted for us to experience true freedom (John 10:10) but when we are in debt, it’s impossible to be truly free. Debt means that we owe someone else, which gives them a kind of power over us.
If you have a relaxed view of debt, it’s important that you realize that this view isn’t aligned with the word of God. You can pray with your future spouse for help with changing your heart so that you can be more aligned with God’s will for your married life.
No matter what the topic, if you and your future spouse have opposing views, it’s a great idea to look to the Bible for wisdom so that you can both come into agreement with God’s Word.
You can pray and ask God for help if you are experiencing conflict over any issue. When you pray, God will bring answers into areas of confusion and give you the direction that you need to have a happy and healthy marriage.
Intimacy can be a topic that’s uncomfortable to discuss but there’s no need for it to be. It’s really healthy to discuss issues around intimacy. For example, in premarital counseling sessions you could discuss:
- How frequently do you each desire to be intimate?
- How are you going to manage any dry spells (e.g. when one of you doesn’t want to have sexual intimacy)?
- What preferences do you have for intimacy?
- What are your views about sex?
- How do you view sexual temptation, and how can it be managed?
Even if discussing these things makes you feel uncomfortable, you still need to talk about them. It’s really important that you and your future spouse understand each other’s thoughts and feelings about intimacy. For example, if you’re not aware that a certain kind of behavior during intimacy is triggering for your partner, you may inadvertently create difficulties with intimacy.
It’s also helpful to talk about things like yours and your partner’s love languages. For some people, whose love language is physical touch, physical intimacy is more important than acts of service. Different love languages create different expectations and needs so knowing your partner’s love language can enable you to meet their needs (and they can meet yours) to create a really healthy marriage.
Intimacy isn’t just limited to sexual intimacy. There’s much more to it than that. You will need to discuss emotional intimacy, too. Everyone is different, and some people (often, although not always, women) like to have a strong emotional and/or intellectual connection (or intimacy) before engaging in physical intimacy.
For example, if your partner desires an emotional connection, it’s important to meet that need. Failing to do so may mean that your partner can’t get “in the mood” for physical intimacy. It may also be that if you’re not affectionate with your partner in public, then he or she may feel rejected and later refuse physical intimacy.
It’s important to explore why you have certain views about intimacy so that any difficulties can be worked through before you are married. It may be that your childhood experiences have impacted on your thoughts about intimacy, for example.
When you’re planning to make a marriage covenant with someone, you need to discuss your thoughts and feelings about spirituality, too. You should discuss:
- How you think about and/or define spirituality
- What expectations you have for married life and being involved in a spiritual community
- Your views on the man as the spiritual leader in the household and how you will navigate this issue in your marriage
- Whether you share the same views about spirituality
It’s actually really important that you and your future spouse are in agreement about spiritual issues. That’s because the Bible tells us:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living god. As God has said, “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.
2 Cor. 6:14-16
Conflict is an issue that can often be directly traced back to your childhood experiences. The conflict you witness in your childhood home can cause you to have maladaptive views about conflict that will need to be explored in premarital counseling.
It’s common to have a variety of experiences of conflict that have shaped your views, and these can lead to a more confrontational approach that causes damage to relationships. It’s important to recognize that conflict can be productive and intimacy-building this is how God intended for conflict to be used.
Good conflict can resolve issues in a positive way that does not demean the other person. This approach is not demoralizing and it’s not about us desiring to be “right” about an issue. At the heart of good conflict is a discussion that takes both sides into consideration before making a decision that you are both able to agree to. This way you’re not working against each other, but working together, in the same direction.
Being in a relationship is like being on a team, and marriage cements that team spirit. This is important to remember when you face conflict about an issue. Because you’re on the same team, it’s counterintuitive to be fighting against each other. You’re both, ultimately, striving for the same goal for your relationship.
That’s not to say that you won’t have different ideas about how to achieve your marriage goals but good conflict can help you to make joint decisions that are good for both of you. You need to adopt a united front in order to achieve your goals.
Accessing Premarital Counseling
There are more issues that you may need to discuss in premarital counseling, but this article has highlighted some of the more important issues that you’ll need to give more time to. If you are getting married in the near future and you want to have premarital counseling to ensure your marriage gets off to a strong start, there are Christian counselors available who can offer a Biblical perspective as well as a psychological one.
You should remember that God intends marriage to bring Him glory. Marriage is designed to mirror the covenant love and relationship that God has with us a constant reminder of how much God cares for us.
In your marriage, you may face challenges, but God is always with you, and He is always rooting for you. When you start premarital counseling with a Christian counselor, you can be sure that God will be invited into the sessions so that He is the foundation stone in your marriage covenant.
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When someone describes themselves as a “people pleaser,” a counselor’s mind jumps to codependency. Usually, as the sessions progress, it usually comes to light that these self-identifying “people pleasers” have poor boundaries with friends, family, and colleagues, thereby making them feel like they need to meet other people’s need while theirs remain unmet.
Melody Beattie, a leading researcher in the field of codependency, describes the condition in this way:
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.
Do you feel confused by that definition? This article will help explain and illustrate this definition later on.
Pia Mellody, another key researcher in the study of codependency has found that codependency makes it difficult to manage the following areas:
- Maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem
- Establishing healthy boundaries
- Understanding and owning reality for yourself.
- Self-care, meeting your own wants and needs
- Not being overwhelmed by life
Regarding self-esteem, Mellody continues explaining, “if codependents have any kind of esteem, it is not self-esteem but other-esteem; which is based on external things” (Facing Codependence, p. 9).
A sense of satisfaction surrounding how others think we look or what others think of us isn’t necessarily wrong, but if we need their approval then we don’t have self-esteem, we have others-esteem. Maybe you are thinking, if this is what constitutes codependency, then aren’t we all codependent?
The reality is a lot of us are codependent to some degree. Technology has not helped. The invention of social media has ingrained comparison and other-esteem into the very fabric of society because social media is all about showing people what we are doing and awaiting their affirmation.
We’ve lost the art of keeping things to ourselves. As we’ve lost the ability to have a private life, we’ve lost our sense of personal worth and value assigned by God. We seek the affirmation of others, living from a place of codependency rather than a place of interdependency.
David Richo states, “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.” (How to Be an Adult, 1991, p. 58,).
What this means is that God can love us unconditionally without unconditionally condoning our actions and choices. Approving of our decisions and unconditional love are not the same thing.
A lot of people don’t understand boundaries. Boundaries are not things used to control other people, rather they are opportunities for us to decide how much we will participate with others, depending on the decisions they make. The goal of a boundary is to protect us, not control someone else.
In other words, it’s like when you lock your doors at night. Are you locking them to try to prevent crime and wrongdoing on the streets? Of course not. You are locking them in an attempt to prevent crime and wrongdoing in your home.
Boundaries do the same thing. They keep your sense of self safe. An alcoholic has the right to drink as much as they want to. No one else can make their choices for them.
So a boundary for someone in a relationship with an alcoholic might look like this: “You can drink whenever you want. That is your choice. However, know that if you choose to drink, I will choose to remove myself from the situation to protect myself. I know that if I remain nearby, then I will get hurt, and it is my job to protect myself.”
Some may complain this is manipulation, but that isn’t true. You are simply choosing to behave in a way that protects yourself without trying to control others.
An excellent chapter on boundaries is found in How to Be an Adult by David Richo. In the chapter, he says, “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)
Boundaries and codependency are interlinked. Codependency is essentially not having healthy boundaries to protect yourself. Often, this stems from low-esteem because you don’t think you have the right or ability to stand up for yourself. As children, we are meant to depend on our caretakers.
As responsible adults, we should, in most circumstances, be able to take care of ourselves and, when we can’t, know when it is appropriate to ask for help. This is concerning a human dynamic. When it comes to God and us, we must recognize that he is the only person who can meet our every need on a spiritual level.
It is important to understand that being codependent doesn’t mean you are defective, bad, or hopeless. Most of the time, we learn to be codependent through our early life and family experiences. The lack of boundaries, low self-esteem, enmeshment, and other unhealthy behavior we see in ourselves were likely modeled for us at home.
The experience is only more intense for someone in a relationship with an addict. It may feel like the addiction has taken control of you and your relationship, making it feel impossible to break free from the codependency due to your love for the addict.
You may not have had a choice growing up. Codependency may have begun as a way of surviving, but we need to realize when it is damaging us and no longer helpful. If we don’t, it will remain a pervasive and unhealthy presence, preventing us from living from a healthy, confident place.
So what does it look like to have healthy boundaries?
David Richo provides an excellent summary of what they look like (see p. 59-60 in How to Be an Adult):
- A big part of healthy boundaries is asking for what you want and going to get it. By doing so, you claim your identity and reveal it to others, creating a sense of liberation rather than isolation, bitterness, or fear.
- Take care of yourself and receive love from God. Ask God for discernment and courage to know when a relationship has become toxic and no longer a safe place for you. Having a good support system is key for you to get helpful feedback about what is going on in your life ( therapists, friends, groups, etc).
- Look at how other people treat you and analyze the behavior. Don’t get bogged down in the emotion and tension instead of from a place of confidence decide how you will let yourself be treated.
- Face the fact that you may be intoxicated by unhealthy relationships, looking for love in all the wrong places. Hold a bottomline of how much pain, lying, and hurt you are willing to put up with in a relationship. Keep track of how others treat you and fight for yourself. If you don’t, no one else will.
- As we grow up, we need to learn and understand that God is the only person we can trust fully. Human beings can and will fail us. And we can and will fail those around us. But we need to learn to trust our self, knowing we are worthy of love and not letting other people or our pain define us.
Being part of a healthy relationship means investing in other people, giving up some of our power, without our identities being diminished. We love and surrender parts of ourselves as lovers, not as powerless victims. If we live as victims at the mercy of others, we will be unable to protect ourselves and live from a place of reaction rather than self-confidence.
Common Signs of Codependency
Professionals don’t fully agree on the defining characteristics of codependency, but usually look for these key signs when determining if someone is dealing with codependency (adapted from Melody Beattie’s definition in Codependent No More):
- Taking responsibility for other people’s thoughts, feelings, choices, or behaviors
- Finding a sense of value in “saving” other people from their own choices
- Doing things because you are expected to and saying yes when you really want to say no
- Being more concerned about other people’s wants/needs instead of your own
- Experiencing Uneasiness or guilt when someone helps you
- Being disappointed and sad when your whole life is spent serving others, while nobody serves you
- Finding yourself drawn to needy individuals and needy individuals being drawn to you
- Experiencing boredom or a lack of purpose if nothing is going wrong.
Melody Beattie then describes how low self-worth typically manifests for a codependent person:
- Tend to come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families and deny this fact
- Blame themselves for everything
- Reject compliments
- Feel guilty about doing something good for themselves
- Fear rejection
- Take things personally
- Have been victims of emotional, sexual, physical abuse, neglect, abandonment or drug/alcohol addictions
- Their inner-dialogue consists almost solely of negative self-talk
- Help others instead of helping themselves
- Live with a pervasive sense of hopelessness that good things will happen to them
- Settle for being needed while believing others won’t love them
Jesus promised us a life of abundance, not a life making it through. This doesn’t mean we won’t have trouble or trials, but a Christ centered life has him a source of unconditional love, acceptance, and validation.
When we live from this place, a place of abundance, we can give love and care to others. If we live from a place of scarcity and searching for validation from other people, then we won’t have anything to give anyone.
Do you remember the famous passage where Jesus tells us to love others as we love ourself? We rarely ever talk about how that command is predicated on the idea that we already love ourselves. Some people think that we need to learn to love ourselves before we can love others, but the truth is that we already do love ourselves. Just as we feed, clothe, and nurture our own bodies, so we are to show love to others by seeing to their needs.
When we give anything, it should be done from a place of abundance, not scarcity. If we think we lack acceptance, love, etc., then it is difficult to give those things to anyone. Instead, we will always be looking to other people to fill us up with love and acceptance, which can only be found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
If reading this article, you resonated with the signs and characteristics of codependency, resulting in depression, anxiety, and general apathy in your life, then reach out to a counselor. A trained professional can help you figure out what is at the root of your issues.
Dealing with symptoms is helpful, but can’t ultimately fix the problem. To really deal with the issues, you will need a counselor to help you process your life and story in order to develop a healthy sense of self. Reach out to us to day to start your journey of healing!
“Needed”, Courtesy of Cristian Newman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Warmsweaterday”, Courtesy of Anne-Marie Pronk, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yes”, Courtesy of Chris Benson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fear of Abandonment”, Courtesy of Rebcenter Moscow, Pixabay.com, CC0 License
There are four general communication styles: assertive, aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive. These categories provide a solid base when discussing communication styles.
It’s true that communication style can vary depending on situation, mood or who you are conversing with. However, most people revert to one of the four communication styles mentioned above. Once you are aware of how you tend to communicate, you can begin taking measures to improve your communication skills.
What’s Your Communication Style?
Let’s discuss each communication style to see which one you relate to the most.
Someone who exhibits an aggressive communication style normally disregards the feelings, emotions, and perspectives of others. This person is laser-focused on their own feelings and views.
Communicating aggressively can come off as being abrasively honest without caring about how that abrasive honestly might be received by the other person. Honesty is a key component to having beneficial communication, but when someone incorporates aggressiveness into their communication style honesty can come off as condemning or blatantly rude.
An example of this might be saying to your roommate who is always leaving messes around the house, “You always leave your filthy clothes on the floor! You are dirty and lazy.” This might be partially true, but the way you delivered the message will only cause the conflict to escalate and not come to a peaceful agreement on next steps.
Those who communicate aggressively come off as attackers to the one on the receiving end. This causes problems because once someone feels attacked or blamed they either become defensive or withdraw which are not healthy for constructive communication. Tempers end up flaring, people say words they regret and a bigger mess is the result.
Hostility, anger, and stubbornness are also qualities often used to describe aggressive communication. Instead of seeking to understand opposing views, aiming for compromise or extending respect for other people in the conversation, aggressive communicators tend to be unwilling to budge in their perspective. Their ability to compromise is lacking.
It doesn’t end at verbal communication either. People who tend to have aggressive communication styles have hostile body language too. This body language coupled with their harsh words can cause fear in others who end up bending to their wishes. Aggressive communication may get you what you want in the short-term, but over time it destroys relationships.
A person who communicates passively normally denies their own desires, emotions or opinions. They feel like their voice doesn’t matter and may take the blame for everything, even when it’s not their fault.
You can recognize passive communication if a person constantly apologizes, is a doormat to what other people want, and puts the emotions of others before their own. Let’s take a look at the roommate who leaves clothes all over the house.
A passive person might say, “It doesn’t matter to me. You are so busy.” This deters the communicator from getting their needs met. They desire for the clothes to be picked up, but they want to avoid confrontation, hard conversations or rocking the boat.
It often means that the person sacrifices their needs to keep the peace. This person can become like a volcano about to erupt. After suppressing their true feelings and thoughts they end up exploding suddenly.
Passive-aggressive communication style is described as using a passive communication style initially, but later using subtle, aggressive forms of non-direct communication.
Let’s take a look again at the roommate with clothes strewn on the floor. The passive-aggressive communicator might say, “This floor sure does have a lot of dirty clothes on it.” Instead of directly asking the roommate to clean up the clothes or even brainstorming ways to keep the area tidy, the passive-aggressive communicator speaks in a non-direct manner.
The also might opt to say anything and then burn with anger internally the longer the clothes are on the ground. This communication style can be received as manipulative or dishonest and can create constant tension in relationships.
Everybody looks to assertive communication as the ultimate communication style to create healthy and growing relationships. Assertive communication is direct, clear and leaves no ambiguity. The assertive communicator is able to show respect for other people while maintaining their own beliefs and feelings.
Assertive communication seeks to both understand and be understood. This person doesn’t have to fight to be right but is able to find a compromise. Of course, compromise isn’t always the answer and there are times and circumstances when you should stand your ground on a subject and have firm boundaries. It’s important to do this in an assertive way rather than an aggressive way. An assertive communicator can identify when to cool down and allow some time before responding.
Keeping the above statement in mind, an assertive communicator might say, “I noticed that you continue to leave your clothes on the ground in our shared space which leaves me frustrated when I get home. I know you’ve had a hectic schedule lately, but is there a way we can keep the house tidy on a consistent basis?”
An assertive communicator focuses on nonverbal communication as well which may mean displaying a safe smile or refraining from using a sarcastic tone when speaking.
Active listening is crucial during communication. Active listeners aren’t thinking about what they need to do after the conversation or what they want to say next. Active listening is giving your full attention to someone, trying to understand what they are saying, and showing that you are engaged in the conversation.
This creates a productive conversation. The two parties end up feeling heard and respected. It compels the other person to model the same level of respect when it’s your turn to talk. Active listening creates an environment of safety and promotes healthy communication. Both parties can be vulnerable without fear or repercussions.
Here are a few ways to practice effective active listening:
- If you notice your mind beginning to wander (thinking about dinner), gently redirect it back to what the person is sharing. Active listening does take work, especially in today’s distracted world, but once you master it you will notice an improvement in your relationships.
- Don’t disregard their body language. It’s not always what they are saying, but how they say it. Take the full picture into account as you seek to understand the message being sent.
- Avoid thinking ahead to what you want to say next. This can happen almost without you noticing. You must be aware when your thoughts are not aligned with what the person is sharing. The more you practice, the better you will become.
- You can show you’re engaged with the conversation by nodding your head or encouraging the speaker to continue to share. Feedback is important in communication and these are small ways to not interrupt the speaker, but still, show you are with them. Avoid showing disinterest by checking your phone, looking at your watch or even staring out the window. Your body language will speak loudly during active listening moments.
- Summarize what the person has said at the end of the conversation. If the speaker didn’t ask for your advice, shy away from offering your advice. Instead of offering advice, you can repeat what you heard. If someone tells you their boyfriend doesn’t call them every night. Instead of saying, “It sounds like you are not a priority to him.” It’s better to say, “It sounds really hurtful that he doesn’t call every night to talk to you.” She might tell you that she’s not hurt, but annoyed instead. This puts you guys on the same page.
- Ask open-ended questions to draw out more to the conversation. In the above scenario, an open-ended question would be, “How can I support you as you navigate this relationship?” This gives the speaker time to reflect and build on what they are sharing. They will draw their own conclusion and may have specific revelations that weren’t there before.
- Validate the person who is speaking even if you aren’t in complete agreement. Validation shows empathy and helps a person feel heard even if you disagree with each other. Let’s say a person thinks her boss is unfair. However, you have a different perspective that person on the boss in question. You can still say, “It sounds like you are having a hard time a work and I’m sorry to hear about the frustration.”
Communication is complex and vast. There are many strategies and techniques to try depending on the person, situation and context. Everybody makes communication mistakes. A good place to start is by paying attention to how others make you feel in situations. Do you feel validated? Understood? Respected?
You can learn from the situations that leave you feeling heard and the ones that leave you feeling misunderstood. Begin implementing what works and avoid what doesn’t work. If you feel supported when someone smiles, nods and makes eye contact, you can experiment with these same strategies.
If you find yourself annoyed when a friend is constantly on their phone or saying “Yeah” too often during communication, you can avoid this in your approach. Lastly, pay attention to your interactions to identify which relationships have healthy communication and which relationships have room to grow. If you want extra support in growing in your communication skills, reach out to a counselor today.
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