How Forgiving Others Can Positively Affect Your Mental Health

Why is forgiving others so hard to do? How can forgiving others benefit the person who is forgiving? Learn more in this article about forgiveness and mental health.

Forgiving Others from the Heart

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

Forgiving others is very hard to do in this day and age. Nowadays, society emphasizes much the love of self, encouraging people to always stand up for themselves.

While this is good to an extent, as abuse and other forms of injustice should never be tolerated, it has also made it increasingly difficult for people to forgive as they believe that they need to protect their personal honor, even if it is just a minor slight.

Sadly, when one is unable to forgive, the hurt and pain linger in the mind, affecting a person in many different ways. Though contrary to the ways of the world, biblically, forgiveness is something everyone should strive to do, for their own sake and others.

The Effects of Not Forgiving Others from the Heart

Lots of people today continue to hold on to their hurts. Some claim the bitter memories serve as motivation to become better than whoever stepped on them in the past. Others choose not to forget so that they can truly savor their triumph when they defeat their rival. And then there are those who cannot forget and forgive as their past trauma continues to haunt them and stir up hateful thoughts.

Regardless of the reason, harboring such negativity can really take a toll on a person. Mentally, such bitterness just adds to a person’s daily stress, affecting one’s concentration and even memory. It can also lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

This can also be felt physically. The stress of recalling past hurts lowers the body’s immune system, making a person more susceptible to sickness. There may also be daily body pains (e.g. headaches, muscle aches) and difficulty sleeping or eating.

Relationally, the past pain affects a person’s bond with those who have slighted them – be they colleague, friend, or family member – preventing the relationship from growing stronger. Such hurt can also cause additional problems as the bitter memory may hinder a person from widening their social circle or becoming intimate once more (e.g. fear of loving again).

Moreover, this bitterness affects a person spiritually as this hate for our brother or sister-in-Christ is directly against what God wants us to do, which is to forgive. Because of this, the person may choose to avoid spiritual activities, like praying or going to church, believing they are no longer worthy of God’s love.

Misconceptions and Clarifications about Forgiving Others

Many times people do not forgive because of their misunderstandings about forgiveness. These, however, need to be corrected for the person’s sake and for others.

Misconception 1: Forgiveness excuses the offender

One wrong idea is that forgiving means condoning the offender’s actions or behavior. Not only does the offender get a free pass, but it also makes the victim feel powerless about the incident. Since no one wishes to feel that way, the person continues to feed their anger – through negative thoughts and even actions (e.g. backbiting) – which may make them feel more in control of the situation.

The Clarification:

Forgiveness, however, never means approving the wrongs done, as everyone should be loved and respected. Instead, forgiveness means NOT allowing the past hurt to have a hold on one’s life. As earlier mentioned, the more such bitterness lingers in the mind, the more the person suffers internally, and even physically. But when a person forgives, the mental and spiritual burden is lifted, allowing them to feel at peace once more. It may also heal a lot of physical ailments.

Misconception 2: Forgiveness means granting legal mercy

For victims of crime or abuse, it can be difficult to forgive as they mistakenly think it means allowing the offender to escape punishment. As there may be a fear of possible retribution or future harm to someone else, forgiveness for many is often out of the question.

The Clarification:

For legal matters, forgiveness does NOT mean pardoning someone of the crime. For the public’s safety or for the recovery of resources, legal proceedings should generally continue on (with possible exceptions if it really is a very minor matter). Again, the point of forgiving someone, even one who has caused much pain to a person or their family, is to free up the mind and spirit so that the person can live normally again.

Forgiveness here also means treating the offender with dignity and compassion, even if the crime was grave. If not, then a person may become prejudiced against similar offenders or even suspected offenders in the future.

Misconception 3: Forgiveness means reconciliation, even if you do not want to

Others choose not to forgive because they believe it means they have to reconcile with the other, even if they do not want to. For former sweethearts, this may be a big no-no as they have already found someone else or they have already realized they were not meant to be. For business partners, this may be seen as a useless endeavor as there may be no point of working together again.

The Clarification:

Choosing to forgive does NOT mean one has to always get back together again. In situations like exes or business dealings gone sour, it really is not logical to do this. As in the first two misconceptions, forgiveness here is to stem the spread of internal negativity, lest a person continue to hold back in future relationships with others. Forgiveness also means still respecting the rights of the one who hurt them to prevent other untoward incidences from occurring (e.g. defaming the offender or other acts of revenge).

It should be noted, however, that in family matters, particularly when the issue is between spouses or children, reconciliation should generally be the goal for the family to properly function once more.

Misconception 4: Forgiveness means forgetting what happened

Another misconception is that forgiveness means erasing one’s mind of the incident. However, with our God-given minds, it can be very difficult to simply forget. And if the experience was particularly painful, most really do not want to forget to prevent similar future mistakes.

The Clarification:

Forgiveness NEVER means forgetting the painful lessons of the past. If this were to happen, then definitely history would repeat itself. People are meant to remember past experiences to prevent the bad ones from occurring again. Choosing to forgive the bad that has happened allows the person to appreciate the present and positively move forward, rather than always wallowing in the past.

The Phases of Forgiveness Therapy

Despite the very clear benefits of forgiveness, it can really be difficult to forgive. A person’s natural instinct is to protect themselves which makes it hard to let go of the negative emotions. Fortunately, there is a four-step method to work towards forgiveness.

The Uncovering Phase

In the uncovering phase, the one offended objectively views the transgression to see how it has affected their life. Has it disrupted many key areas in their life? Have they changed for the worse because of it?

By doing this, the person may begin to understand the results of an unforgiving heart in their life. Once understood, the individual may then begin the necessary steps to overcome its effects.

The Decision Phase

In the next stage of therapy, the person is taught more about the nuances of forgiveness. Proper knowledge of this allows the person to truly decide if and when they decide to forgive.

But as in many big decisions in life, people may need more time before they can forgive and move forward, and that is alright. This stage may be revisited later on once the person has had more time to reflect.

The Work Phase

In this phase, the offended person is asked to understand the perspective of the offender: What was their past like? What might have been their motivation for the transgression? The hope here is that the person’s heart will begin to change as they are able to comprehend the reasons behind what had happened.

The Deepening Phase

In the final phase, the person is asked to find new meaning in the experience. Instead of simply thinking of themselves as a hapless victim, they are encouraged to identify the positive changes that have occurred. Did they become more loving? Are they stronger now or more confident?

By acknowledging the positive growth in their life because of what had occurred, it may become possible to finally forgive.

Understanding God’s Forgiveness

Despite the availability of such therapeutic steps, many still have difficulty learning how to truly let go and forgive without dreaming of vengeance in their unguarded moments. This is because of mankind’s sinful nature that seeks self-protection and the uplifting of self.

Real forgiveness, where the spirit is at peace, cannot truly be understood without knowing Jesus Christ. The way He lived on earth, obeying the Father while humbly showing his disciples how to live and love, is the best example of what it means to be human. And the way He died for us, even if we did not deserve such a sacrifice, is the perfect model for forgiveness.

If a person wants to be able to let go of the past hurts that are holding them back, they need the love of Christ in their life. And this can only be done by intentionally getting to know Him through prayer and the reading of Scripture.

Seeking Christian Counseling for Forgiveness

In Christian counseling, the latest counseling methods will be used to help the individual better understand what had happened, their current emotional state, and the effects on their life. They will then be taught what can be done to positively change their perspective so they can forgive.

But most importantly, the person will be introduced to the love and mercy of God through prayer and Scripture. By knowing more about Jesus’ compassion for sinners (of which we all fall under), the person will be able to truly understand what forgiveness entails, allowing them to have true internal peace.

If you or a friend is having difficulty forgiving others, seek professional help soon. God is asking you to forgive so that you can experience life to the fullest.

Photos:
“Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Empty Hands”, Courtesy of Jeremy Yap, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hand Across the Water”, Courtesy of Lukas, Pexels.com; CC0 License; “Touch of the Other World”, Courtesy of Akshay Paatil, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Signs of Emotional Abuse: How to Respond

Many people in the United States will have experienced emotional abuse or know someone who has endured it. Although emotional abuse is something that people are often reluctant to talk about, it really is quite pervasive.

In the past, the things that are now considered to be emotionally abusive would never have been recognized as being problematic, but now the emotional impact of words and actions are much better understood.

It’s important to draw a distinction between someone who is an emotional abuser and a person who says or does emotionally abusive things. To be clear, an emotional abuser intentionally and continually seeks to hurt, undermine or manipulate other people.

By contrast, everyone has the ability to say or do something that can be considered to be emotionally abusive in a certain situation – but unless they do this continually, this is not the same as being an emotional abuser.

While, as human beings, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, a majority of people will repent of their actions and seek to repair the damage done. However, a minority fall into a category of people who repeatedly hurt others and deliberately destroy relationships with people. Unfortunately, these types of people are rarely able to change for the better.

Emotional abuse can happen in a range of different relationships: romantic, parental, siblings, friendships, colleagues, and in church communities. It is not limited to specific demographics or locations – potentially anyone can either abuse or be abused emotionally.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

The exact signs of emotional abuse vary from person to person, but there are common characteristics for each of the types of relationship context the abuse occurs. It can be helpful for you to consider which of these types of abuse you most relate to, as well as to reflect on whether you may have used these behaviors yourself in your relationships.

Neglect as a Type of Abuse

Parents who are physically neglectful of their children, through withholding interaction, for example, are being emotionally abusive. It is also possible for people to neglect their children and other family members emotionally, by refusing to engage in any way with them. Additionally, parents who are providing for the physical needs of children but prioritizing other areas of their own lives can be considered to be neglectful.

Ultimately, when a caregiver or partner neglects to meet the needs of the other person, they are doing emotional harm. It is considered to be neglectful to fail to meet needs because there are general expectations associated with being a parent or being in a romantic relationship.

When you decide to become a parent or enter into a serious relationship, you are signing up for the responsibilities that come along with those things, and to be an active participant in the relationship. Failure to meet those responsibilities and expectations for care, whether that care is physical, emotional or financial, constitutes neglect.

Verbal Emotional Abuse

There are a number of ways in which someone can be verbally emotionally abusive. For example, a person may continually refuse to accept or consider your opinion and actually force you to accept their opinion. Another example might be a person who refuses to speak to you or interact with you in any way as a form of punishment or control.

People who always insist that they are right, those who have to have the last word, and those who judge you and others harshly, causing you to feel guilt and shame are also being emotionally abusive. Some methods of emotional abuse are more obvious than others.

It is the tactics being used that make these things examples of verbal emotional abuse. Verbal emotional abuse can have a significant impact on your self-worth and sense of uniqueness. A more surprising example of verbal emotional abuse is sarcasm. People are less likely to view sarcasm as emotional abuse since it’s common and many in our society see it as permissible as long as it’s funny.

However, when we stop to think about the sarcastic comments that we either make ourselves or receive from others, it becomes clear that sarcasm, regardless of humorous intent, can really hurt people’s feelings. Ultimately, sarcasm belittles others while masquerading as humor.

Verbal emotional abuse can take the form of a person who is always being prepared to preach to you about the faults and errors in the way that you live your life and attempting to control you. Even when this is done with good intentions, it lacks grace and understanding and doesn’t help you resolve issues.

Another common type of verbal emotional abuse is the person who insists that they have forgiven you for something – but then takes every possible opportunity to bring up the past grievances so as to shame you and make you feel guilty. At the heart of all these examples of verbal emotional abuse is the use of language to control and belittle others.

Emotional Abuse Via Behavior

While physical abuse generally tends to be also emotionally abusive, emotional abuse is not necessarily physical. There are different ways in which emotional abuse can take place through actions and behaviors. For example, people who intimidate others and incite fear as a means of control are being emotionally abusive.

People with unpredictable moods that tend to swing from extremes can be considered to be emotionally abusive since the people around them often struggle to feel safe. A more extreme example might be the Jekyll and Hyde personality – people who have a charismatic public ‘side’ to their personality but are very different (and emotionally abusive) at home. It’s hard to know where you stand with both of these types of people.

Favoritism is another means by which a person can be behaviorally abusive. Favoritism is where a person has a ‘favorite’ and uses their favorite as a measure for other people’s accomplishments. Favoritism has a profound impact on someone’s self-esteem and self-worth.

In family situations, favoritism is a common problem. Another family-related example of behavioral emotional abuse is role-reversal, where parents expect their children to assume a parental role while the parent takes on the role of a child.

A severe example of role reversal is emotional or covert incest, which was identified by Dr. Kenneth Adams in the book Silently Seduced. This happens when a parent who feels neglected by the other parent uses the children as substitutes for their partner.

This type of emotional abuse can have profound and long-lasting negative effects on children – and the dysfunction may continue well into adulthood. Christian counsellors are often consulted by people who are concerned by the unhealthy relationship that their spouse has with a parent, and which consequently is affecting the marital relationship.

People who constantly make promises that turn out to be empty may also be considered to be guilty of emotional abuse. Empty promises result in a loss of security and trust and may impact on the victim’s ability to experience hope. That’s because when you experience constant disappointment, you can begin to question whether good things will ever happen.

The Effects of Emotional Abuse on Relationships

Now that you understand more about the types of emotional abuse and their signs, we need to consider how emotional abuse impacts people’s lives.

If you’ve been the victim of emotional abuse at some point in your life, you may find that you struggle with intimate relationships. This is because emotional abuse tells us that other people are not emotionally safe, and as a defense mechanism you may distance yourself from others or avoid being in any way vulnerable around people.

Another example of the impact of emotional abuse is known as co-dependency. This leads to people continually seeking validation and approval from their significant others. Their entire sense of self-worth is dependent upon another person – this is often the result of emotional neglect in childhood.

Enabling behaviors can also be caused by emotional abuse in the past. For example, someone who has a history of being emotionally abused will enable other people to behave in ways that are unhealthy or inappropriate just in order to feel needed or wanted. Often, people who come to therapy because of their engagement in abusive relationships have received a message in the past that they deserve to be abused.

People who isolate themselves completely from others have frequently been the victim of emotional abuse. On the other end of that spectrum, victims of emotional abuse may also crave relationships (due to neglect in the past) to such an extent that they will endure anything, and do anything that they’re asked to do, perhaps to avoid abandonment.

What Does the Bible Have to Say About Emotional Abuse?

Although the Bible does not specifically address emotional abuse by name, there are plenty of examples in Scripture of God’s view of emotional abuse:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. – Ephesians 5:1-4

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

He who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment. A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in airing his opinions. With a wicked man comes contempt as well, and shame is accompanied by disgrace. The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. A gossip’s words are like choice morsels, and they sink into the inmost being. – Proverbs 18:1-4 & 6-8

It is clear from these verses that God is particularly concerned with the way that we interact with others, and how we use our speech and the intentions within our hearts as part of our daily interactions. There is much wisdom to be gleaned about emotional abuse from these verses.

Many people experience emotional abuse and suffer the long-term effects in their lives. However, it is possible to heal from the impact of emotional abuse, and a San Diego Christian counselor can help you start your journey towards healing.

A Christian counselor can give you the tools that you need to challenge the distorted beliefs that result from emotionally abusive relationships. Working together, it is then possible to build a much healthier belief system and develop your sense of identity.

It is an unfortunate truth that hurt people hurt people. When you have been hurt or broken by past abuse, it can lead to long-term problems not only for you but for the significant others in your lives. You can hurt people without intending to when you have distorted beliefs about what is, and isn’t, acceptable.

The emotional abuse that you experienced was not your fault, and you did not deserve it, but it’s important that you seek help in order to heal from the effects – both for your emotional wellbeing and for the wellbeing of your loved ones. Reach out now so that you can begin the process of change.

Photos
“Downcast,” courtesy of Avenue G, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License; “Victim”, Courtesy of Zach Guinta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Blindfolded”, Courtesy of Oscar Keys, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Open Bible”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Sex Therapy for Married Couples: Does it Work?

Here’s a truth: Sexual issues are common in most marriages. It may be differences in opinion or disagreeing about physical intimacy. Many couples view sex as an indicator of health in the relationship, which is why a problematic sex life gives rise to concern.

Here’s another truth: Even happy couples can experience these complications. Sex incorporates psychology, biology, and sociology so more factors than simply “being a happy couple” determine your sex life.

Imagine marriage as a functioning human body with different facets and multiple factors that determine health. Checking your level of health can be done in different ways too. You can check heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, temperature and more.

The same goes for a marriage. Don’t use sex as the only way to determine your long term viability; complications don’t prove you have a bad marriage. But of course, it’s frustrating and can be damaging, just like an unchecked fever can lead to more issues. It could be a sign of deeper needs such as the desire to be understood.

Firstly, you should remove the pressure regarding the sexual act. There are other ways than this to experience intimacy and enjoyment. We may think sex should simply “happen” and always be natural and magical. In truth it’s complicated because it concerns these areas of the entire person:

  • History
  • Trauma
  • Expectations
  • Culture
  • Connection with each other
  • Biology

There are many areas for problems to occur and both people bring unique aspects to the table. You may feel that these problems are unique to your relationship, but most couples (even happy ones) need to work through these, including medical challenges such as hormonal issues or erectile dysfunction.

Since biology plays a big role you must consult your doctor regarding sexual problems so you can rule out causes or treat them. The same applies to psychology. The important thing is that you don’t see sexual problems as a death warrant for your marriage, but recognize that your relationship requires attention.

When to Consider Sex Therapy

After ruling out biological causes or if you want to have counseling during medical treatment you’ll need to know what to expect from sex therapy.

This is daunting but can lead to much more fulfilment and intimacy. Results aren’t guaranteed but couples counseling is worth considering if:

  • Individual work didn’t help
  • You want to consider it with your partner alongside you
  • You realize the problems aren’t limited to the physical
  • You want some help to move forward in building intimacy

It may help to know what it won’t be:

  • Physically intrusive
  • A beauty magazine
  • A Kama Sutra class

It is facilitated by trained professionals. You’re the expert on yourself, but you may need them to provide objective insight regarding causes, foundations, and problems.

What Will Happen in Couples Counseling?

Each experience will be unique because therapists differ, training differs and there are different schools of thought. You need to find someone you’re comfortable with. Therapy doesn’t happen in a prescribed, set-in-stone manner. It will take different directions based on what you, your partner, and your therapist prioritizes.

Learn more about your love languages

An important component is how each person gives and receives love. You may be on different pages, needing to realign.

Here are examples: “I always make sure his coffee is made every morning, and he doesn’t appreciate it.” “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but I really wish she’d cuddle with me more.” They speak different languages and during therapy, these expressions can be explored.

Discover more about your negative cycles

If you have negative patterns you need to identify them first and then break them. Think about the following:

  • “We just have the same argument over and over again”
  • “All of our fights end in the same way with no resolution.”

An objective third party will identify problems more easily and help you ve to break the cycle.

Learn mindfulness skills

Things such as deep breathing and meditation can minimize anxiety so you can engage with your own body, mind, and emotions. It’s also described as radical acceptance.

Explore what sex means to both of you 

When your ideas about the parameters of sex vary widely it can impact how you experience physical intimacy and fulfilment as a couple.

Broaden your definition of sex and physical intimacy

It could be vital to broaden both of your ideas about what sex is and how it’s experienced, especially when there’s sexual dysfunction.

Learn what holds you back from emotional intimacy

When you can’t be vulnerable or there’s no safe space for emotional vulnerability it can affect emotional intimacy. Your past traumas can also affect your ability to become emotionally aware and emotionally available regarding your spouse.

When you know which factors are at play it benefits healing. A professional can teach you to create safe spaces in your marriage where you can be emotionally vulnerable.

Learn how emotional intimacy impacts your physical intimacy

Many of these factors can impact your physical intimacy and sexual relationship such as libido changes. You’ll learn how a lack of emotional connection will influence this, so you can start fixing the problem.

Explore why your relationship has changed over time

Many people experience sex life changes over time, such as frequency and libido differences. You may think it relates to the health of your marriage but you’ll explore this to discover the true reasons.

Explore your roles in your sex life and in your marriage

If one partner initiates more often, chances are good that the other one never does. One partner may have a higher libido than the other. People step into these roles and believe they have to fulfill them. Because these roles have pros and cons you need to know if they’re adaptive or maladaptive. Also, realize why you take up these roles and see if they’re bringing fulfillment or dissatisfaction.

Explore past trauma

Your past trauma can impact your sexual experiences. If this is the case your therapist may want to explore this in individual counseling and ask a trauma counselor to help as well. If they affect your ability to enjoy physical and emotional connectedness, these experiences need to be explored.

Address differences in expectations

You may not agree about what you want from your sexual relationship such as frequency or type of sex. Acceptance, compromise, and working together to discover a mutually satisfying sex life may be one of your therapy goals.

Set boundaries

Having boundaries is a healthy aspect of any part of your life. Therapists help you to set and keep them.

Determine how sexual problems are impacting your marriage as a whole

Sexual issues can cause insecurities and resentment. It’s difficult to foresee their consequences so a therapist’s objectivity can help.

Address consent

Giving and understanding consent are important actions but you may need help from a therapist to get it right.

Learn how to talk about sexual issues

A therapist will help you feel comfortable talking about sex and physical intimacy. You need to build a language about this aspect of your marriage to help create safe space and work together better towards your goal, as you understand each other more.

Begin to create a comfortable space to talk about sex with your spouse

Topics may include:

  • Problem solving
  • When and where check-ins
  • How to discuss sex

Talk about how God created sex and His role for sex in the marriage

God created a beautiful design for sex inside of marriage but it can be difficult to understand. Your therapist can help discuss this and provide insight.

Explore topics about sexual satisfaction and what it means for your partner

It’s common not to understand what you or your partner likes or dislikes during sex. For mutual fulfillment, you need to discuss this topic together.

Explore how culture has impacted your ideas and expectations around sex

Culture affects how we think about sex and analyzing this can help you understand yourselves as well as your partner.

Alter the goals of sex

The idea of sex can be broader and more fulfilling than simply intercourse ending in orgasms for both parties. You can change your goals so they suit your current circumstances.

Possible Benefits of Sex Therapy

Important fact: No two couples are the same. Therefor your results and benefits will be unique and there are no guarantees from your therapist. But possible outcomes include the following.

Find your sex life more fulfilling

Compromising, working on frequency, and learning what you really enjoy can often lead to more fulfilment.

Understand your own and your spouse’s boundaries better

Communicating about boundaries leads to safety and vulnerability in your relationship.

Learn to problem solve together

When you can solve problems together you’ll overcome obstacles and use collective brainpower.

Learn what your partner likes

Knowing will affect your actions. Eventually, this can make both parties happier.

Understand how sex speaks to your partner

The different experiences of sex range from feeling connected to feeling loved to expressing desire. Learning to speak the language helps you understand what you’re saying and how your spouse receives the message.

Understand the impact of culture and prescribed roles

Roles may not be wrong and cultural viewpoints don’t have to change. However, when you understand these aspects you grasp your roles better.

Gain an understanding of your negative cycles and how to get out

Understand your conflict coping mechanisms and your negative patterns as a couple. Reaching your goal means you’ve problem-solved and found a solution.

Learn more about the physiology of sex

This leads to more understanding and pleasure for both parties.

Learn more about yourself, your partner, and yourselves as a couple

Understanding each other leads to more progress as a team.

Work towards learning an entirely new language

To discuss sex and intimacy you need emotional vulnerability and feeling comfortable talking about it. Learn:

  • How to talk about sex
  • What you like
  • What you want
  • What your spouse wants

Then you’ll speak the same language so you have better communication; this can lead to more fulfilment in your sex life.

Learn how sex can be a beautiful part of God’s plan for your marriage

When you know God values your marriage and intimacy within you’ll understand marriage in general. This also includes valuing sex as a vital part of our union.

Leave with a better connection

When you’ve dealt with sexual issues you’re bound to connect better overall and by working on communication, removing obstacles and being honest, you build a layer free marriage: No resentment or misunderstandings or unexpressed thoughts.

It will be complex and you’ll respond differently than others. Because there are no guarantees, nervous comments often include:

  • “We don’t need someone else involved in our business.”
  • “I know another couple who tried counseling and it just made things worse.”
  • “I can’t talk about sex with anyone. It’s so awkward.”
  • “Talking in a room doesn’t fix real life.”

Yes, this is very complicated. But as it can indicate how your marriage fares – such as checking your body’s heart rate – attending to the problem is vital. It can also help many aspects of your union.

Here’s another truth: Your marriage is worth this complexity and hard work.

Consider marriage therapy when you realize there are sexual concerns that aren’t getting any better. If you feel that it’s urgent and your doctor confirms that it’s not a biological issue, see a professional therapist for couples counseling.

Talk to your spouse to gauge whether he or she is comfortable visiting a couples therapist with you. Talk together about:

  • Preferences regarding gender
  • Preferences regarding the therapist’s background
  • Questions you want to ask about experience

When you’re ready, vet counselors to find one that matches your preferences. At San Diego Christian Counseling you’ll find many professionals who can assist with this process. Let’s start helping your marriage today.

Photos:
“Feet”, Courtesy of Rawpixel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading Material”, Courtesy of Zun Zun, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “In the Mood”, Courtesy of Sasint, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Adult Affection”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License

Am I in a Codependent Relationship? Signs and Solutions

When people hear the word codependency, thoughts of a clingy girlfriend or boyfriend come to mind. What most people don’t know is that there’s more at play in codependent relationships than just appearing to be excessively needy. Codependency has many layers that often go unnoticed.

This article will explain the dynamics of a codependent relationship and how to recognize the signs of a codependent.

What is a Codependent Relationship?

Before trying to understand if you are codependent, we must first define it. A codependent is someone who has toxic relationship patterns and behaviors that are emotionally destructive. Usually, a codependent empties herself or himself for an enabler who finds satisfaction in seeing the codependent person sacrifice on their behalf. Codependents want others to depend on them.

Many people struggle with codependency and the signs often go unrecognized. For codependents, their self-esteem depends on the validation of those around them. They often fall into a caretaker role and lack the ability to set firm boundaries.

Codependents can often look like heroes on the outside because they are often the professional volunteers who go above and beyond to fulfill their need for worth. They constantly find themselves doing favors for others or anticipating the needs of others to influence how others receive and react to them.

Signs of Codependency

Codependency can impact every relationship. Codependent behavior is not limited to only romantic relationships. The following traits are associated with codependency.

  • Relying heavily on others’ approval or acceptance to determine self-worth
  • Sacrificing oneself in an unhealthy way, usually stemming from a fear of being alone or unwanted
  • Repressing their own feelings or always feeling misunderstood
  • Extreme difficulty saying no or setting healthy boundaries
  • Constant anxiety about what others are saying about them
  • Unable to make decisions on their own,
  • Taking on the role of caretaker or acquiring a rescuer mentality
  • People pleasing or manipulating others into liking you
  • Difficulty identifying their own feelings apart from the other person
  • Low self-esteem
  • Obsessive fear of abandonment
  • Lost sense of self or losing oneself in others

Codependency is dynamic and these are just a few traits that a codependent might have. During sexual relations, a codependent person usually is unable to say no when something that they are uncomfortable with is going to happen to them. They choose submissiveness over speaking up for what they think or feel.

If codependency has been a lifelong battle, the person struggling with codependency could develop depression or addictive behaviors to cope with the feelings they are trying to repress. Codependents sometimes struggle to believe they can overcome their unhealthy behaviors and thoughts, but this is completely untrue. Many people who get help with their codependency are now in thriving, flourishing relationships.

Upon analysis of codependent relationships, the person who is codependent is understood to be trying to manipulate others’ feelings, thoughts and actions out of fear of abandonment.

If you lived in a home where your dad would shout and physically abuse you, then you could have a real fear when a man starts to yell at your or in your presence. Your brain can recall the sequence of events that happened in the past and that familiar fear comes rushing back in without warning.

As a way to cope, children in these situations learn how to behave to avoid abuse and control the moods of the abuser. This behavior can spill over into adulthood and fear arises when a male’s voice escalates. Subconsciously, you might be attempting to control others so you don’t end up in the same childhood situation.

Codependent behaviors often stem from childhood trauma. Children learn unhealthy ways to control their dysfunctional home environment. These coping mechanisms naturally transfer to adulthood unless worked through and taught new behaviors that create healthy relationships.

Codependency vs. Being a Good Christian: Where Do You Draw The Line?

Codependency and being a good Christian are sometimes hard to separate. Some codependent traits resemble Christian traits like the call for Christians to serve others and love their enemies. Let’s take a look at some of the verses that express this call.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:10

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

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.1 Peter 4:10

Each of these Scriptures is calling us to be good, sacrificial, selfless, and forgiving and it could be easy to excuse codependent tendencies as following God’s instruction. But a deeper look at the Scriptures shows that even Jesus set boundaries too. He constantly spent time away from people to pray. He wasn’t focused on pleasing people but doing what he saw his Father in Heaven doing.

In John 5:19 Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

Jesus looked to his father for love and acceptance, not to other humans. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Living for people’s’ acceptance will result in constant changing beliefs and behaviors that might not be consistent with God’s call on our lives.

It’s normal to worry about the opinions of others. Of course, we should listen to the wisdom of people, but not at the expense of following God’s word. Sometimes having someone highlight our character flaws is hard to digest, especially if you are prone to enter a downward spiral after hearing constructive feedback. Christian accountability is critical to mature as Christians and to continue following God’s plan for our lives.

Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps: Melody Beattie

Melody Beattie authored a phenomenal book for those struggling with codependency. In Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps, Beattie provides practical ways to work through codependency traits and understand codependent behaviors and patterns in your life.

You are not alone in your battle with codependency. The shame you might be feeling has been experienced by many codependents who isolated themselves. This book reminds readers that codependency can be overcome and that there is hope.

Maybe you didn’t relate to all the signs of codependency mentioned earlier in this article. This book can still be a helpful resource to grow in constructing healthy boundaries and to have mutually beneficial relationships. If you want to replace your codependent behaviors with positive actions, this book is the tool to help navigate codependency.

What Should I Do Now?

The first step is always acceptance. Are you able to acknowledge that you are a codependent or at least struggle with some of the codependency traits mentioned in this article? Once you have accepted this fact, the next best step is to reach out for help navigating codependency and replacing unhealthy behaviors with God-honoring behaviors.

Deciding to look for help, can take many forms. You could talk to a professional Christian counselor, talk to a close friend or mentor, join a recovery group like Codependents Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery, and educate yourself with professional resources designed for codependents.

A counselor that specializes in codependency, offers expert input and has helped a host of others that struggle with codependency. A codependency counselor knows how to navigate through codependency behaviors while encouraging your growth.

Change is never easy and rewiring your brain to respond differently in relational situations will be challenging. Don’t expect change to happen overnight. There’s a high probability you have engaged in codependent behaviors for an extended period of time.

When you begin to set firm boundaries, those that relied on the codependent version of yourself could be resistant to the changes you are making. They are accustomed to you bending over backward and going the extra mile for them whenever asked. This can cause some conflict or tension in relationships that you should be prepared for.

Enlisting the proper support and accountability will help you remain strong during your season of growth. If you isolate yourself, it’s easy to give up or move backward instead of forward. There is strength in numbers. Take the time to find a recovery group or accountability partner that you can trust to be truthful and loving.

If you find yourself battling codependency, please reach out to a counselor. You do not have to walk this road alone anymore. God has designed us to have mutually beneficial relationships with healthy boundaries.

Photos:
“Seesaw Crossing”, Courtesy of Rachaelvorrhees, Flickr.com; CC BY 2.0 License; “Sad Woman”, Courtesy of Vansterpartiet Bildbank, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Turn to God,” courtesy of unsplash.com, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Green spaces,” courtesy of jean_mingmo, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License

Marriage Problems: What Happens When You’re a People Pleaser

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Deut. 31:6 (ESV)

For those of us who are constantly worried about pleasing others, nothing can be more frightening than interacting with someone who is ill-tempered – especially if we might have been the cause of their ill temper in the past.

That feeling of having butterflies in your stomach, your palms turning wet or fidgeting with your nails is how you feel when you have to face that ‘Scary Giant;’ a ‘Giant’ who after all is just another person like you.

This article touches upon a few aspects of personality imprints covered in “How We Love” by Milan and Kay Yerkovichhen

People pleasers are generally those whose childhood is nurtured either by a parent who was either overprotective or hypercritical.

In the first case, the child learns to fear many things. Here the parent is always eager to swoop down to keep any unforeseen worry or harm away from their precious little child, resulting in the child never having to stand up to face situations on their own.

In the case of the hypercritical parent- the child becomes a pleaser in order to avoid the constant anger and criticism of his parent. As the Yerkovichs put it, they turn into ‘good boys’ and ‘good girls’ in order to escape anxiety or abuse. Ultimately concerned with attending to the feelings of others, they ignore their own, never learning to deal with them. (71-73)

Their imprint might also because of constant anxiety or even some sort of learning disability. School is a trial since they abreast of others and the other kids mock them for it. They always fearful of having to give answers out loud or of having to work problems on the board. (76)

Time away from home can be a source of stress for these types of kids. This is because they are not able to keep tabs on the home environment while they are not there. Returning home means that they have to assess everyone’s mood so that these young people-pleasers can accommodate their behavior to the home environment. (75) As these little ones grow up they are constantly monitoring their spouse’s emotional moods even without realizing it.

Not Worried, Just Stressed

Pleasers are people who engage in a continual subconscious emotional battle. They are ruled by a constant feeling of stress, which is their anxiety to please others. They tend to absorb all the emotions and anger of everyone around them, trying their best to keep them all relaxed and comfortable, which in turn reduces their tension and keeps them happy.

Since they were never taught to handle situations as children, as adults they try to avoid them altogether. Their parents might have been a source of unpredictable anger so they keep track of the emotions of everyone around them, looking for the telltale signs, and instantly attempting to flee or to please them.

Pleaser adults live in constant fear of being accepted or rejected by those that surround them. Their actions are designed to seek acceptance from those they come into contact with. They frequently permit themselves to be taken advantage of.

Taking a firm stand for something they believe in is extremely difficult for people pleasers. Saying “no” to someone might incur anger from them. They often end up with too much on their plates because they say yes to everything. Paralyzed with fear of rejection, they struggle to solve problems and take independent action because they lack the required confidence

What the Bible Says About Man-Pleasers

As Christians, the Scriptures warn us against fearfulness. Though life is often filled with challenges and crossroads, we are encouraged to trust in the God who holds our future.

“Let not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). The Bible also assures us that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).

The Lord has cautioned us to think before we act, but He has also promised: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you …” (Is 41:10). Consider some of the well-known characters of the Bible: Abraham, Elijah, David, Peter, etc. Though they were all in difficult situations at various times, they knew that they could rely on God, who is faithful. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps. 56:3).

Christian Counseling for People Pleasers

Imprints are difficult to grow out of. But if you are willing to break free from the old self, you can learn to be comfortable with who you are, and not be so afraid of others. A professional Christian counselor is equipped to employ proven therapeutic methods alongside spiritual principles to help you live a life free from fear.

Photos
“Lost in the Wilderness,” courtesy of Toa Heftiba, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Keep the Blinds Closed,” courtesy of Iz zy, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Surprise,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “For Me?” courtesy of iPrice Group, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License

How to Work on Relationship Problems: Confronting Someone

Our world is made up of relationships. From the moment of birth, we begin forming relationships with the people immediately around us. With every move we make, whether at school or work, there are opportunities to create long-lasting relationships.

There is one inevitable downside to all relationships, though. The longer you spend with someone, the greater the probability that they will say or do something hurtful along the way. Loving people is messy.

When someone close to you hurts you, the best action to take is to address the pain with that person. Though there are times when it’s wisest to overlook the offense, if offenses are left unaddressed they can gradually turn into bitterness and resentment.

If you want to keep the relationship flourishing it’s important to confront the person that has harmed you. Confrontation doesn’t come easily to most people, but it’s a necessary life skill to learn.

Here’s how to lovingly, yet firmly, confront someone after hurtful behavior by learning how to work on relationship problems.

Steps to take to confront someone

1. Agree on a time and place where distractions will be eliminated. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, so this lowers the number of excuses that can be made to dodge the conversation.

2. Consider writing a letter beforehand in case the conversation gets off track or emotions begin to escalate. This will help to articulate your thoughts clearly while keeping your composure during the talk.

3. The goal is to present your side without attacking the other person. It’s normal for the other person to become defensive. Nobody enjoys being confronted and will lash out when threatened.

We’ve all been on both sides of hurt. It’s essential to treat that person in a respectful, understanding manner. A good place to start would be to say, “Thank you for taking time to listen to me with an open heart and mind. I know you might not realize how hurtful it is when you do “x.” It hurts me because “Y,” and I’d appreciate it if it could be avoided in the future.”

This dialogue is designed to direct you toward reconciliation. If the other person genuinely cares about your feelings he or she will be receptive to what you have to say.

What to avoid when confronting someone

1. Don’t fall into the temptation of becoming passive-aggressive. People won’t naturally notice you are angry and uttering rude, cutting remarks instead of addressing the issue face-to-face will only feed your inner turmoil and bitterness.

2. Don’t seek revenge or retaliation. Maybe your friend used their words to hurt you. It’s not wise to stoop to their level and use your words as weapons too. It’s never good to confront someone when you are still dealing with anger. If you give yourself some time to cool off the tension will decrease.

3. Don’t drag your feet. Of course, if the person you want to confront just got into a car accident, it’s probably not the best time to share your heart. However, some people get into the cycle of waiting for some “opportune” moment that never arises. You have to swallow that lump in your throat and ask to speak in person.

4. Take the time to talk to this person in private or with a third-party person present. Refrain from attacking in a way that will publicly humiliate them.

What if they don’t see it your way?

In a perfect world, all conflict would be resolved and tied neatly with a bow. However, depending on the other person’s level of defensiveness, the meeting could end without resolution and reconciliation. This outcome isn’t ideal.

You put yourself in a vulnerable place and were met with hostility instead of humility. Insecure thoughts begin swirling around in your head, “Am I wrong? Did this ruin our relationship? Why did I even say anything?”

When a person completely denies doing anything wrong or minimizes its effects on you, it’s likely they are struggling to empathize. If you believe you did your best to think through the conversation, kept your cool during the talk and didn’t resort to any forms of name calling, then the issue is theirs, not yours. At this point, putting in place healthy boundaries might be the best option.

You can try to get the person to hear you out again. If the issue is severe enough, invite an unbiased third-party mediator into the conversation. A Christian counselor can help you learn how to work on relationship probelms and figure out how to navigate these difficult, uncomfortable conversations.

If the person doesn’t reflect any type of concern for your feelings or opinions, moving forward without their close friendship could be the recommended route.

If necessary, attend a counseling session alone to discuss the issue.  Your counselor may be able to help you find a more productive way of communicating with the other person about your grievances. Standing up to someone who is consistently rude to you can boost your self-confidence, lower your fear of confrontation and teach you the best ways to resolve conflict.

Photos
“Estrangement”, Courtesy of Gerd Altmann, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Coffee Chat,” courtesy of Burst, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Diselo a la mano!” courtesy of Pablo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Together,” courtesy of Timothy Paul Smith, unsplash.com, CC0 License

Do Codependent Relationships Exist in the Church?

Codependents are people that come to the rescue time and time again. This could look like saving a drug-addicted child from his toxic choices or entering into a caretaking relationship despite the cost. Maybe it sounds good in writing, but codependency creates unhealthy relationship patterns.

The term “codependency” has been around for decades and traditionally refers to the adjustment that a family member would make in their life to accommodate the addict’s dependency on substances.

Codependents are magnetically drawn to people who are constantly in crisis. They find purpose in pouring themselves out through extreme self-sacrifice, neglecting their well being to serve others.

Codependent Relationships in the Church

Codependents will go to great lengths to be the hero. When codependents place other people’s welfare before their own, they can lose touch with their own needs and identity.

Getting lost in service to another sounds like what an obedient Christ follower should do, but even Jesus gave us a different example. If Jesus recognized and implemented boundaries in his ministry, what makes today’s Christians think they should operate differently?

He went around healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and preaching about the Kingdom. The needs that would need to be met were unending, yet he gave us a perfect example. Luke 5:15-16 tells us, “Yet the news about him spread all the more so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Even in his days of serving the needs of a community, he didn’t lose sight of the need to spend time in prayer and solitude.

Relying on the Holy Spirit instead of the Flesh

A codependent is addicted to control as much as an addict is addicted to a substance. Codependents interfere with the growth of addicts by not allowing them to face consequences. The codependent person’s emotional state is influenced by how well the other person listens to their advice.

The Bible provides a principle that can’t be avoided, “A man reaps what he sows.” It’s hard for a man to reap what he sows when another person is constantly rescuing him from negative outcomes.

A good way to gauge if you are helping people in a constructive way is to ask the question, “Am I trying to be their bread (strength) or just trying to show them where to get some?” A good follow-up question might be, “Now that I have shown them, are they taking steps to feed themselves or are they depending on me?”

Every Christian is responsible for working out their own salvation. We may want people to follow our advice, heed our instructions and avoid painful situations, but growth is hindered when a person relies on someone else for all the answers and not on God. What happens when that man is removed?

If that person wasn’t clinging to God, his world will crumble. Christians must learn to seek God’s direction in prayer and search Scripture for answers. This creates a mature, strong Christian that doesn’t rely on being fed by man to be alive in Christ.

In church, it’s easy for young followers to become enamored with more mature followers. To prevent any type of codependent relationship from forming, lend a listening ear and instead of giving answers you can ask questions like, “How does this passage of Scripture speak to you?”

The goal of a healthy spiritual relationship in the church is to encourage, empower and equip each other to constantly grow in Christ. Codependent relationships can rob people from experiences that they need to go through to learn how to depend on God.

Motives of the Codependent

We live in a fallen world. One result of living in a fallen world is growing up in broken homes. All families have some form of dysfunction, meaning not all our love needs are being met when we are adolescents.

Individuals who are more prone to codependent relationships are often looking for a reliable way to gain a sense of value that was lacking during childhood.

Often, the church environment creates the perfect place to prove your worth. The more you serve, the more visibility and recognition that’s given. Codependents thrive when they know they are needed and praised for always being present.

Only the codependent truly knows if they are doing good deeds out of the overflow of God’s love in their heart or secretly wanting to secure a feeling of worthiness from those around them. Performance-based love can become completely ingrained in a codependent person to the point that when she experiences “unearned” love it feels almost foreign and uncomfortable.

Interdependency is the answer

Codependent relationships run counter to true abiding in God’s unconditional love. It is an effort to control what others think or feel about us through rigorous engagement in socially acceptable “church” behaviors. Creating a church culture of interdependency begins by taking our focus off ourselves and placing our focus on Jesus.

Jesus often asked his followers and crowds questions. He pushed them to use their minds to think for themselves. The people left empowered instead of Jesus dictating their next move. When we try to make other people like “God” in our life it has devastating effects.

Being helpful is natural. Serving is the hallmark of a Christ follower. Even Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. But a Christian must constantly point back to God, not to herself. People must put their hope in Jesus.

The one person who never fails forgets or breaks His promises. Putting our hope in anything or anyone else will only end in disappointment and dismay. Interdependency in the church means we help each other daily to deepen our dependence on God and strengthen the church body as a result.

Photos

“Seesaw Crossing”, Courtesy of Rachaelvorrhees, Flickr.com;CC BY 2.0 License; “Help,” courtesy of Cristian Newman, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Face-off”, Courtesy of Silvia and Frank, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Lean on me,” courtesy of Rosie Ann, peels.com, CC0 License

7 Reasons for Professional Premarital Counseling

You probably remember how it felt when you first fell in love with your spouse. It was an unforgettable state of mind and heart. The whole world and everything in it seemed changed for the better. Every good thing was a reminder of them. You drifted off to sleep with a smile on your face, and your first thought upon awakening was looking forward to the next time the two of you could meet.

When you made eye contact and they smiled at you, your heart felt like clay in their hands. Everything they said and every time they laughed, you were captivated.

While speaking about them to someone else, you would trip over your words. You thought they were practically perfect, and you wanted them to think you were, too.

You would rather spend time together than sleep, even if it meant you’d be miserable at work the next day. Your companionship seemed to meet all of your needs. The sense of satisfaction in being together was overwhelming.

This quote from Dr. Seuss may summarize your state of mind at that time: “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Now it is five years later, and you’re married to that same person. You’ve seen the ups and downs of your relationship over time, and you’ve learned that sustaining a beautiful marriage requires a deeper commitment than those thrilling feelings of falling in love. The stage of intense infatuation can’t be maintained indefinitely, and when those initial emotions started to dwindle, differences between us began to surface.

This doesn’t mean that falling in love is a bad or false experience. It’s the natural response to the beginning of a good relationship. This stage can provide the “spark” that motivates us to continue to grow in intimacy with our spouse.

Our goal should be to fan this spark into a flame that lasts for a lifetime. In Gary Chapman’s book Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, he writes, “Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.”

The Benefits of Christian Premarital Counseling

If you’re engaged and still in this season of infatuation, consider the help that a Christian counselor can provide for looking at the big picture of your relationship. You can work to build your marriage on the foundation of Jesus Christ. As Solomon declares, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Meeting with a Christian counselor before you get married can help you consider the sacred nature of the union you’re about to enter into. It’s vital for both partners to grow in their individual and joint commitment to Christ as they prepare to enter the marriage relationship.

Even if both of you are mature believers, you will find it difficult at times to show the patience, sacrificial love, and other Christian graces that enable a marriage to thrive. You can’t sustain your marriage without His help.

Making this investment in your future marriage can help you grow in emotional and spiritual intimacy as you prepare for your life together, and consider what to work on to build a strong foundation for your relationship.

7 Reasons Why Premarital Counseling Should be the Norm

Here are seven reasons why engaged couples should strongly consider premarital counseling:

1. Premarital counseling is an opportunity to learn to love each other more.

Whenever I ask an engaged couple their reason for getting married, their typical response is, “Because we love each other!” What they mean by “love” is generally an element of their relationship they want to protect and preserve in its current state.

Their experience of being in love motivates them to make it last indefinitely, so they are getting married to sustain their bond. Even the phrase “we fell in love” connotes something that happened by chance, implying that the romance in a love relationship is derived from its quality of being irresistible. However, this is a problematic perspective for two reasons.

First, this perspective makes love seem like a feeling or a possession instead of an action. Because it is simply a state of consciousness, there’s no compelling urge to work hard at loving one’s partner.

The second problem is that love viewed in this way is out of one’s control. So not only did you fall into love, but it’s possible that one day you might fall out of love. If you’re subject to emotional whims in this way, you might not see the necessity to intentionally nurture your commitment to your spouse.

In premarital counseling, you’ll have a chance to learn how to put your feelings of love into action, and to be intentional about expressing love to your partner.

The act of getting married doesn’t preserve romantic feelings in a vacuum. You’ll still need to be committed to working on your relationship, your commitment, and your intimacy. The wedding is the starting point, not the finish line.

John Mayer reminds us:

“Love ain’t a drug
despite what you’ve heard
Yeah love ain’t a thing
Love is a verb.”

2. Marriage lasts far longer than a wedding.

When a couple gets engaged, much of their focus shifts to preparing for the wedding day, but often there’s not as much attention paid to preparing for marriage itself. This is a shame, because the wedding lasts only for a day, and is merely a symbol of the reality of marriage.

Our cultural priorities appear out of whack when we compare the breakdown of marriage and the family to the extravagance of weddings.

On a global scale, the wedding industry is worth $300 billion, and over $55 billion of that is spent in the United States alone. Even if you’re trying to plan a frugal wedding, you’ve probably realized how overpriced everything is, from flowers to decorations to attire.

TheWeddingReport.com lists the average price for a 2016 U.S. wedding at $26,720. This huge expense is coupled with the time, stress, and energy involved in planning one’s “dream wedding,” adding up to a monumental amount of expense and trouble centered around this one day.

Getting married is truly a significant event worthy of celebration, and it’s not wrong to want to have a wedding to remember. But it’s important not to neglect the more vital aspect of your commitment: the lifetime you’re preparing to spend together.

This is where premarital counseling can be of great assistance, in helping you to prepare for the marriage itself. It does require an investment of time and money, but this will pay dividends when the honeymoon is over and you wake up to spend the rest of your life together.

A wedding lasts for a day, but a marriage for a lifetime.

3. Love is blind.

You’ve probably this cliche before, and it has an element of truth. Romantic love tends to blind us to our partner’s faults.

This isn’t altogether a bad thing. It’s good that we can be focused on the other person’s strengths, spotlight their good qualities, and gloss over their shortcomings.

Maybe you’ve had a conversation in which a friend waxes rhapsodic about the person they’re in love with, and you’ve privately thought that your friend was naive and that it was impossible for anyone to be so perfect.

However, this is a perspective many couples who’ve been married for awhile could benefit from. One tool I like to use with married couples is to ask them to describe one another’s positive characteristics in as detailed a way as they can.

It’s wise to be cautious about looking through rose-colored glasses before marriage. Making an error in judgment in choosing who to marry will affect your entire life. Rushing into marriage based on feelings of infatuation does not honor the sacredness of this union the way God designed it.

In the gospels, we see Jesus calling us to count the cost before we follow Him. In the same way, we should consider what marriage will demand of us before we take our vows. This doesn’t mean changing your mind out of fear and deciding never to get married; it means holding the institution of marriage in high regard and taking our future vows seriously.

In Christian counseling, you’ll have a place to discuss common challenges married couples face, preparing you to handle them in the best way possible. You’ll also have an opportunity to discuss each other’s faults in a safe environment, and commit to loving one another regardless, instead of believing that your partner is perfect.

The role of a Christian counselor could be compared to that of an optometrist; people can already see, but the Christian counselor wants to help them see better.

4. You need to prepare for conflict.

Some engaged couples can’t even consider the possibility that they might face conflict one day. Of course, they inevitably do, and then they wonder if they made a mistake in who they married. But no matter who we are, we will have disagreements now and then, and this is normal. The important part is how we handle conflicts when they arise.

As Gary Chapman writes, “Large or small, all conflicts have the potential of destroying an evening, a week, a month, or a lifetime. On the other hand, conflicts have the potential of teaching us how to love, support, and encourage each other. This is by far the better road to travel. The difference is how you process the conflicts.”

In premarital counseling, you can learn to accept the fact that conflict is inevitable, and prepare for it by planning how you’ll respond. Therapists work to help you listen to each other with empathy and seek to understand, instead of assuming the other person has bad motives.

If you don’t prepare for conflict, you risk being torn apart by it. Counseling is one helpful way to learn to grow through conflict and become more (rather than less) intimate as a result.

5. You need a financial plan.

You may have heard that money is one of the top subjects to cause arguments in marriage. Statistics prove that this is true. Talking about finances can seem prosaic and unromantic, but it’s a vital part of preparing for marriage.

It’s important for couples to set aside the idea of individualistic ownership of money, and to view all resources as joint property. Becoming one flesh applies to every area of life, including bank accounts.

In Christian counseling, you can discuss your plans for budgeting, spending, and saving. This will prepare you for a well-stewarded financial future and will help protect the peace in your relationship.

6. You had different parents and different upbringings.

What we saw in our parents as we grew up tends to set the norm for us as to how we think marriage should be. Maybe your parents had a loving commitment to one another, or maybe they argued a lot and were verbally abusive. Whatever the situation, it’s likely that you subconsciously internalized it as being normal.

This obviously carries into one’s future marriage relationship, even in ways you may not have expected. A wife might act the same way she saw her mother act while assuming that her husband will behave in a similar way that her father did. But meanwhile, her husband might have seen his father act in a completely different way, and this influences how he behaves in his own marriage.

Taking the time to work through these issues before the wedding can prevent disastrous misunderstandings afterward. Your counselor can work through your upbringings with you and discuss how they influenced your expectations for marriage.

7. God honors marriages that bring glory to Him.

It’s crucial to remember that marriage is an institution created by God Himself, and we need His blessing in order to thrive in it. It is a high calling and a difficult one, but if we are called to be married, God will enable us to obey Him in it.

If you and your partner are walking with God, you can be confident that he will provide everything you need to sustain your marriage. You might recall the famous “love passage” in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul outlines what true love looks like when it’s lived out perfectly.

Sometimes we can feel that this standard is unattainable and not even worth trying for, but we can rely on God’s power to love beyond what we can do in our human strength.

A Christian counselor desires to see you thrive in your marriage and depend on God’s strength to do so. If your heart is to glorify Him, you can cultivate a heart of humility and servant love that desires to serve Him first and foremost. Marriage can be a channel through which you and your spouse experience the blessing of His love.

If you are engaged, please don’t neglect to prepare for marriage with focus and intention. Contact a Christian counselor to help you work through both the positive and negative components of your relationship, and prepare to enter marriage from a place of truth and strength.

Paul’s prayer for the first-century church is also applicable to marriage: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other ” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Photos

“Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Twirl Me,” courtesy of Clarisse Meyer, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “In love,” courtesy of Valerie Everett, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0, CC0 License; “Married Fight,” courtesy of Gratisography, pexels.com, CC0 License

Essential Premarital Counseling Questions to Ask Before Marriage

The Bible recognizes the importance of marriage. In the Bible, it is the first human relationship described. In the New Testament, Jesus, our Lord and Savior, affirmed marriage as one man and one woman becoming one flesh. Christ’s married followers were encouraged to love their spouses as they love themselves and to submit to one another out of reverence to him.

 

Knowing this, it is important that everyone who enters into this sacred union is aware of what they are getting into. It is an exciting step but one with many responsibilities.

Essential Premarital Counseling Questions

This article presents some vital premarital counseling questions to answer before making that lifelong commitment.

Such premarital counseling questions are often raised in session to ensure that the engaged couple is truly prepared for life together. Before tackling such questions, consider reading the accompanying Scriptures to prepare you spiritually for discernment.

Has God Called You to Marriage?

(1 Corinthians 7:17)

Marriage life is not meant for everybody. In marriage, personal privileges may be lost, responsibilities are multiplied, and there is an increase in personal and relational boundaries.

Given these, have you sensed the calling to this life-long vow? Are you willing and able to become one with your partner – physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Can you sacrifice personal habits and preferences for his or her sake? Is your view of your future together something positive?

Are the Two of You Truly Compatible?

(Genesis 2:24-25)

Life together under one roof is very different to just seeing one another a few days a week. It is during marriage that the “real” self is fully revealed as the good and bad sides are seen daily.

Do your personalities really complement one another? Are you able to laugh together and at one another? Do you feel secure in fully revealing your inner self – the good and bad, the hopes and fears – to your partner? Are you attracted to one another physically? Do you feel fully accepted by your partner? Do you fully accept him or her? What makes you say that life together will be better than life apart?

What Past Baggage are You Both Bringing In?

(Exodus 20:5-6)

Who we are now has been affected by what has happened to us in the past. Emotional setbacks and disappointments, personal tragedies, vices and other habits can take a toll on us. If such things have not been properly dealt with through authentic repentance and emotional and spiritual healing, it is possible for them to return to haunt us.

To what degree are you still affected by your past failures, losses, fears and unrealized dreams? Does your partner know of these past struggles and how they affect you now? Are you aware of your partner’s past setbacks, worries, and tragedies? Have these been overcome or is he or she still trapped in the past? How well do you know your partner’s family background?

How is Your Communication?

(James 1:19-20 and Ephesians 4:26)

In a healthy relationship, communication is very important as people cannot read minds. When communication is clear, conflicts can be resolved and goals can be attained. Without such, then much suffering and hurt may take place.

Do you communicate regularly and openly? Can you easily understand one another? Are you both able to open up or is only one of you doing the talking? Are conflicts and misunderstandings dealt with immediately and in a positive manner?

Do You Complement Each Other Spiritually?

(2 Corinthians 6:14)

Friends and even relatives can have very similar likes and dislikes. But such similarities do not always pertain to how they view the Eternal. Married couples must be spiritually compatible lest they become drawn apart by conflicting spiritual views.

How does your partner affect your personal relationship with God? Do you encourage one another to love Jesus more than you did before? Are your spiritual beliefs and ways of worship the same or are there distinct differences? Does your partner inspire you to become a better person? Do you regularly pray together?

Are Your Beliefs About Money the Same?

(1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17)

Though money should never be the be-all and end-all, it is still an important part of human life and it may be used to bless the family and those around us. This is why money matters ought to be clear before this life of shared togetherness begins.

Are your ideas of about the importance of money the same? Do you have similar financial principles and practices (e.g. tithing, saving, investments)? Who is expected to earn and who is expected to manage the funds? Is it ok to have personal accounts? Can you afford married life with or without kids?

Do Those Closest to You Agree With Your Decision?

(Ephesians 4:15)

It is true that love is a personal choice. No one can force you to love another. But it is also true that love can be blind. When we are experiencing happy moments together, it is possible that we turn a blind eye to habits and actions that would normally alarm us.

Do your friends and family affirm this commitment? Is there anyone who believes that you or your beloved are not yet ready for that next step? Is there someone (other than your ex-flame) who thinks that the two of you are not compatible? What are their reasons for saying so?

Are You Both Emotionally Ready for Marriage?

(Galatians 5:22-23)

Society today likes to designate milestones for people so sometimes people rush into things to avoid being labeled as “behind” or “unsuccessful”. Emotional maturity, however, is not the same for everybody. It cannot be rushed.

Are you both able to take responsibility for yourselves or is there a sense of dependency? Can you both handle your emotions in a healthy way? Do you trust one another? What addictions are present in your current relationship? Are you seeking help with such addictions? What makes you believe you are both ready for marriage?

Be Better Prepared for that Next Step Through Christian Counseling

Contrary to the world’s current beliefs, marriage is not something that should be taken lightly. There are many dire consequences that may occur when people jump into it without proper thought and guidance.

If you and your partner are seeking honest answers to the abovementioned questions, then Christian counseling can help. A professional Christian counselor can help you decide whether you are both ready or if there are some spiritual and emotional steps to take before committing for a lifetime.

Photos:
“I do,” courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Twirl Me,” courtesy of Clarisse Meyer, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Studying together,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License

Effective Methods to Treat Symptoms of Codependency

Author Charles L. Whitfield states in his book, Codependence: Healing the Human Condition, that codependence is a “disease of lost selfhood.” When people try to become what others want them to be, they lose their personal identity and goals. It is this handing over of personal responsibility for themselves to somebody else that causes them to be defined as codependent.

This inability to feel complete as themselves requires codependents to find completeness elsewhere. Whitfield describes it as an “addiction” since people are looking outside themselves to find fulfillment and happiness, similar to other addictions like alcohol, drug, or sexual addiction.

Other sources define codependence as a dysfunctional relationship where one person may be supporting another’s addiction (e.g. alcohol, drugs, gambling) or undesirable traits such as immaturity, irresponsibility, poor mental health, or even underachievement.

Alarmingly, studies have shown that codependence can be passed from generation to generation as the ability to relate to one another is learned in the family. For example, it is quite common in families struggling with an addiction, such as alcoholism, for one of the members to deny the problem and instead sacrifice him or herself for the addicted relative, especially if the addicted one is a parent.

This self-sacrificing member becomes more attuned to the needs of the addicted relative and eventually begins to define themselves according to the requirement of the situation.

So rather than becoming who they would like to be, they change their habits and plans according to the relative’s needs. It may seem like a noble sacrifice, but in many cases, it is not. The result may be an adult who has difficulty expressing emotions and one who is not in touch with who they truly are.

The Symptoms of Codependency

There are many symptoms of codependency. In the books Codependent No more and Facing Codependence, author Pia Mellody lists several signs to watch out for.

Anger

Codependents usually feel afraid and wounded which leads to frequent anger. They tend to live with people of the same sentiments creating a vicious cycle. Codependents frequently cry, become depressed, overreact, easily get sick, and are prone to unhealthy temper outbursts. They try to punish people for making them feel angry.

Caretaking

Codependents have a driving need to take care of others. They want to help solve the other person’s problem by making things right, easing their feelings, or guiding their thoughts or actions.

So they are much more comfortable around people with needs yet feel quite uneasy when people try to help them instead. Codependents are often overburdened with demands from others but willingly forego their personal plans to be of assistance. Boredom often sets in for them when there is no crisis to prevent or problem to fix.

Controlling

Codependents like to be in control since they have experienced difficulties with people who were out of control (e.g. a violent alcoholic parent or an incessant gambler who lost the family’s money). Control is maintained through manipulation, threats, seeming helplessness, or by guilt. In the end, however, the codependent may feel manipulated and controlled as well.

Denial

Codependents often pretend that everything is manageable, that the situation is not as terrible as others may believe. Such people often depend upon prescriptive tranquilizers or other such drugs to help them. They may also enmesh themselves in work to stay busy; spend compulsively for a temporary happy feeling; or overeat to make themselves feel satisfied. They may wonder why they feel crazy at times.

Dependency

Codependents cannot find internal peace and search for it outside themselves since they often feel incapable of self-care. Many believe that they cannot be truly appreciated or properly loved by others. Some stay in abusive relationships because they believe it is the best that they can ever receive.

Lack of trust

Codependents do not trust themselves nor do they trust others. Sadly, they believe that God has abandoned them, possibly in favor of someone else.

Low self-worth

Codependents do not respect themselves. They believe they are not worthy or that they are not good enough. They usually blame themselves and believe that the good things in life are meant for other people. Though they also long for praise, when they do receive it they reject it, believing that they do not deserve it.

Obsession

Codependents are worrywarts. They are anxious about the problems of others, focusing all their attention and abilities on somebody else’s concerns.

Poor communicators

Codependents rarely know how to communicate well. Instead, they may intimidate, beg, or blame other people. They usually hide the truth and their feelings and have difficulty saying “no.” Gossip is something they may do as well as it is about other people and not themselves.

Repression

Codependents are inflexible and controlled. They are usually embarrassed to be their real selves for fear of the judgment of others.

Sex problems

Codependents believe sex equates to love. So even if they do not wish it, they will engage in it just to feel loved by their partner or to make their partner feel loved. When they are upset with their partner and wish to withdraw, they often abstain from sex and may even be disgusted by the idea of it. Thus, sex becomes a tool for them – something they do, but do not necessarily always enjoy.

Weak boundaries

Codependents have a hard time establishing healthy relationship boundaries. Others regularly violate their boundaries since they cannot say “no”. Though they may make such rules more flexible to tolerate the needs of others, this may also cause them to become angry or intolerant.

Codependency is unhealthy, especially if the home or work environment is particularly harmful. Physical sickness, mental disorders, broken relationships, dangerous addictions, and even suicidal tendencies may eventually.

If you believe that you or someone you care about has been described in this article, then it is important to seek help. A licensed mental health counselor can help overcome the situation before it is too late.

Photos:
“Yet More Balance” Courtesy of Murray Barnes, Flickr.com; CC BY 2.0 License; “Angry Man,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Face-off”, Courtesy of Silvia and Frank, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Worry”, Courtesy of Maria Victoria Heredia Reyes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License