The Other “F” Word

n-FEMINISM-628x314Feminism has become the other “F” word. Speak it in any friend circle and you’re likely to provoke a myriad of emotions and strong responses. You either embrace the movement or you hate it; there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground here.

A colleague recently shared with me the sordid details from her book club’s current selection. Just one chapter in and she was quite shocked with the steamy storyline.   Being the helpful person that I am, I recommended the book Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. My colleague caught up with me a couple of weeks later to let me know that most of the women in her group were receptive to the title, but at least one replied “Uh (insert friend’s name here), please- you know how I feel about that (feminism).”

The rest of our conversation went something like this:

Me: “So, let me get this straight…it’s okay to read about giving your BOYFRIEND a blow job, but it’s not okay to read a wholesome book from a Christian perspective about the radical notion that women are people too?”

Colleague: “Yep, pretty much.”

Me: Very loud sigh of frustration.

I used to be a closet feminist. I believed (still do) in the movement, kept myself apprised of the movement’s progress and educated those closest to me about the movement, but my thoughts and opinions went no further than my inner circle for fear of judgment. My turning point was five years ago when I became an ordained minister. My teenage daughter was attending a Christian fundamentalist high school at the time and for the next four years she was ridiculed for both her feminist beliefs and my ministerial ordination. She was called a Nazi Feminist, told that women cannot be president because they are too emotional and challenged daily on her interpretation of the Bible as it relates to female pastors.

Two of my closely held beliefs are: (1) People fear things they don’t understand and (2) People need to be educated. Since I was a lead pastor at the time my daughter was in the frying pan, I began to preach more on egalitarianism and the dangers of patriarchy. I didn’t saturate people with the ideologies and I ensured my approach was gentle; I literally preached on these topics maybe once every other month. On one occasion, a female congregant told me that I might want to consider backing off.

What makes a person a feminist and aren’t feminists man haters? I’ll answer the first part of this question by providing a definition of the term in a moment, but my response to the second portion of the question is CERTAINLY NOT! I am not a man hater! I am married to a man, I have two sons and two grandsons and I love each of them dearly.

A quick search on the Internet returned the following definitions for feminism:

  • The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.
  • A range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.
  • The radical notion that women are people too.

If after reading the above definitions, you still firmly stand against feminism- you really need to ask yourself this question: “Do I really believe that all human beings deserve equal rights?” Because at its core, this is what feminism is about…equal rights. Whether you love or hate feminism, every woman alive today has benefited from its fruits. Here is a short sampling of our benefits:

  • The right to own property
  • The right to vote
  • Access to contraception
  • Higher education
  • Access to broader job selections
  • Equal pay
  • Decrease in domestic violence rates

I encounter a lot of folks who are happy to share in the benefits of feminism as long as they don’t have to do the hard work to bring about equality or claim the feminist label. All I am promoting here is the notion that we need to be having open conversations on this topic instead of running from them and spewing unkind words at each other. When we come from a place of understanding instead of fear and hatred, the world is a nicer place for all of us!

 

 

Twelve Steps to Facilitate Affair Recovery

affair-recovery-300x200You’ve decided to salvage your marriage after an affair. It’s not going to be easy to sift through the wreckage and there will be no quick fixes. Re-establishing trust after a monumental transgression is grueling, but with grit and determination you can rebuild. The saying, “What you have done, you will do again,” in the context of infidelity means: once a cheater always a cheater. I reject that belief, having one affair is not the same as being a serial cheater.

Of course you don’t have a guarantee that your partner will never cheat again, but you never had a guarantee to begin with. No human is above falling. If you were the faithful spouse, it is crucial you understand the infidelity wasn’t your fault. You are not responsible for your spouse’s actions and poor decisions. There is no magic recipe for healing, but these twelve steps can be instrumental in the process of rebuilding.

  1. Forgiveness– There is nothing fair about forgiveness; it is a costly gift the betrayed spouse offers to the unfaithful one. Healing will take time and you will most likely need the assistance of a counselor. Therapy can help you flesh out the affair narrative and get you the answers you need to move forward in order to forgive.
  2. Recommitment– Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long-term successful relationship. The higher the commitment level, the more likely you will be to stay together when the storm winds blow. Trust can be re-established, love can be revived, but once you throw in the commitment towel, the relationship is essentially dead.
  3. Affair Termination– If the primary relationship is to survive, the affair must be terminated abruptly. No explanation is needed. If you work closely with the affair partner, transfer to another department or change jobs altogether. Block rather than delete phone numbers and email addresses.
  4. Disclosure– As a therapist, I advocate for full disclosure of the affair so the faithful partner can make informed decisions, such as seeing a doctor for STD testing. A word of caution however, you will need to balance your partner’s full disclosure with your ability to cope once the specifics come out. Any communication from the affair partner should be divulged to your spouse immediately.
  5. Secrets– Affairs thrive in secrets and marriages thrive in transparency. When all secrets are on the table, you know who and what you are up against and you are better able to move forward in the healing process. Sharing social media accounts and passcodes for phones, iPads and bank accounts assists in recovering trust. Agree to never change the passwords without consulting with the other partner.
  6. Remembrance– Emerson Eggerichs introduces the 80:20 ratio in his book Love and Respect. This concept says that 80 percent of the marriage can be categorized as good or great while 20 percent is troubling. Many times (pre-affair) couples are focused on everything wrong with each other. As you pursue healing, make a conscious decision to remember the good, get the derailed back on track, forgive the flaws and make new memories.
  7. Romance– You can sabotage your marriage by spending more time on the things that annoy you. In doing so, you water the weeds and strangle the romance. If you want your reconstruction efforts to be fruitful you will have to make a deliberate choice to revive the passion through flirting, laughing, kissing, and when going on dates- staying off the cell phones.
  8. Counseling– Attending weekly sessions will provide you both with the support you need in order to re-launch a better than ever marriage. It also provides a safe place to voice your opinions and concerns about the affair while examining the causes of the unfaithfulness.
  9. Partnership– Marriage is a partnership, which means one person does not hold too much or all of the power. Both parties should contribute meaningfully to the relationship while respecting each other’s contributions.
  10. Grief– One of the best gifts you can give to yourself is permission to grieve the death of your marriage as it was. Set up a support system of friends who will allow you to lament freely. Journaling can provide the outlet to express intense emotions so you do not grow bitter. Whatever you do, stay with your grief work for as long as it takes. There are simply no short cuts.
  11. Boundaries– Trust can be re-established, but getting there will take time, patience and boundaries. Explore those boundaries together so both of you are clear on what you are expecting. If you were the unfaithful spouse, engage a friend or pastor as an accountability partner; your spouse cannot police all of your actions. Finally, commit to a new and higher standard of sexual conduct.
  12. Bonding Time– Initiate a nightly routine of “pillow talk” before going to sleep. This is a good opportunity to strengthen your emotional bond as you recount the day, talk about future plans, pray, or read a devotional together.

Five Ways to Increase Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

images-1What does it mean to be intimate with your mate? I’m not talking about the physical expression of your relationship; I’m talking about knowing one another on a profound emotional and spiritual level. You might have a decent marriage even if you don’t have much intimacy, but I have come to realize that we will never truly be fulfilled in life until we have depth in our closest relationships. Depth gives birth to purpose and meaning, security is fostered here and love is nourished.

I see three broad bands of people as it relates to intimacy:

  • Those who really do have intimacy and want more. Their marital relationship is rich with sharing and experiencing. There is an indescribable connection at this level. This isn’t something typically achieved in the first few years of marriage. Nope, these folks are veterans and need to be teaching the rest of us how they got to where they are. I’m not referencing an ooey gooey love here- this is a patient, kind and reverent devotion that is beyond the euphoric first stages of love.
  • Those who think they have intimacy, but don’t. Oh they pay lots of lip service to it, but what they really have is a shallow relationship at best. There is no depth or significant meaning in the marriage. They are roommates. They guard their feelings and finances and avoid sharing secrets and dreams. Priority is placed on relationships with children and friends over their spouse.
  • Those who don’t have intimacy and don’t want it because it requires being vulnerable and they don’t want any of that! Why? Because it’s uncomfortable and risky. Their chief thought about intimacy would sound something like this: “The last time I was vulnerable, I got hurt!” They are most concerned with protecting their own heart instead of guarding their partner’s.

When people don’t want to be vulnerable they will do almost anything they can to clothe themselves with modern day fig leaves. They construct emotional walls, cross all sorts of boundaries, participate in affairs, self-medicate with all their vices and forms of escape- some socially acceptable and others…not so much. They bury their emotions and never speak of them again, but anger, grief and sadness always find a way out of our human made cellars.

People pull away in their closest relationships when it leaves them feeling weak, exposed, helpless, ashamed, naked, or afraid. It’s easier to hide behind the fig leaf than it is to reveal one’s inner most thoughts and feelings. In the end this form of self-reliance leaves us feeling more afraid, alone and desperate than if we had just removed the covering in the first place. Vulnerability is crucial, without it you will never experience genuine emotional and spiritual intimacy with anyone.

These five strategies will facilitate greater intimacy in your marriage:

  1. Want it- You have to have a desire for intimacy with your wife or husband. Wanting it is the starting point. If you don’t “want” intimacy with your mate, the other points will be meaningless to you.
  2. Create it– This means you create essential time for each other. Your spouse is a priority over hobbies and other people. Use non-sexual touch to convey your feelings. Reveal your emotional needs to each other; your partner can’t meet needs they are unaware of.
  3. Protect it– Creating an environment of safety will serve as a protective barrier. Use effective boundaries to guard against affairs. Be sure you cut apron strings with your parents; your marriage is not “family business.” Placing a priority on your marriage partner above the children actually makes the little ones feel more secure. Your children’s whole world is wrapped up in the security of your marriage- so guard it like a watchdog!
  4. Communicate it– Use assertive communication skills rather than raising your voice and using disparaging comments. Tell the truth, articulate your fears and dreams and refuse to keep secrets. Share your faith with your partner, make time to pray and worship together. Discuss the finances and major spending.
  5. Practice it– By confessing your faults to one another and inviting your spouse into your mess. Allow your husband/wife to see you cry and accept their comfort. Assume good will, you’re a team and there is no “I” in team! Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help. Finally, remember this is a lifestyle not an event and practice makes better!

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Reignite the Romance in Your Marriage

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  • Feel more like roommates than lovers?
  • No longer connecting emotionally?
  • Attraction waning for each other?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions or if you just want to increase the passion in an otherwise good relationship, read on.

I get it…you work a stressful eight-hour shift, hustle out the door just to taxi the kids to their evening activities during rush hour traffic! You finally arrive home, but there’s more work waiting for you in the kitchen; after all, dinner’s not going to cook itself. Then there are the dirty dishes to contend with and perhaps even a load or two of laundry before you finally collapse into bed only to repeat the same madness the next day. Given the rat race, it’s no wonder couples fall into boring routines and drift apart emotionally and sexually. Not many people feel sexy when they’re operating from a sleep deficit. Bad as it sounds, when you’re exhausted, romance and sex just seem like more work.

The truth is, it’s common for busy couples who have been married a while to lose their passion. Early love is euphoric as the brain releases certain hormones that bind us to our lover. Dopamine, or the “pleasure chemical” gives us a natural high. It causes our heart to race and pupils to dilate. Oxytocin is released when we touch or have a sexual experience. These chemicals have a drug like influence on our brain, but like any drug, the effect does not last forever; the euphoria eventually fades. As the relationship makes new demands, our love must strengthen and mature or things grow stale signaling relationship danger.

So if you want “that lovin’ feeling” back, here are five ways to rekindle the fire:

  1. Create time for each other during the day: The average person spends 8-10 hours away from home daily depending on workday length and commute. Couples are left with four or five hours together at the end of the day and depending on your evening routine and exhaustion level, you may not spend any quality time with your mate. So one way to get the spark back is to create time for each other during the day. Commit to checking in by calling your other half to ask how they’re doing or send each other flirty text messages. The family has to eat and somebody has to prepare the meal, so why not join your spouse in the kitchen and work together? Take an evening stroll to discuss the days events, future plans or simply enjoy the night sky. Finally, before your head hits the pillow, spend ten minutes reading a couples devotion and pray together. God is for your marriage!
  1. Speak your partner’s love language: Gary Chapman author of The Five Love Languages, discovered five ways people use to communicate and understand emotional love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Take the assessment and discover your love language at 5lovelanguages.com. My primary love language is words of affirmation, so I really feel appreciated and loved when my husband gives me a card, love note, or pays me a sincere compliment. My husband feels loved when I hold his hand, hug him or sit close to him. The way my man speaks to me throughout the day has a lot to do with my response to his romantic gestures and the way I take time and care to address his need of physical touch communicates how “into him” I really am and that friends…can lead to fireworks!
  1. Physical affection: I’m not necessarily talking about sex here, rather I’m referring to holding hands, kissing, embracing one another, eye contact, tone of voice and just a general posture that conveys “You matter to me.” Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) recommends a daily 30 second kiss + 30 minute talk + 3 minute prayer to increase your emotional connection. I’ve noticed the more I stare into my husband’s eyes, speak to him sweetly and respectfully not only causes him to strive harder to meet my needs, but my love for him grows stronger as well. So if you’re thinking “You know, I’m just not feeling that way towards my spouse anymore,” express physical affection anyway. Feelings aren’t facts, do the actions and your feelings will follow.
  1. Increase your sexual intimacy: After couples have been married for a while the physical can become boring and lovemaking becomes a rote act or is relegated to the back burner altogether; this is very damaging to your marriage. So to keep things fresh and exciting, flirt with each other and let the tension build throughout the day or week. Be an expert in learning how to please your spouse. God created sex within the context of marriage, not only for pro-creation, but for your enjoyment- explore it together.
  1. Turn towards each other: After facing a few life challenges the marital bliss fades and couples have a tendency to turn away from each other, no longer supporting or meeting each other’s needs. The relationship then grows cold and lonely. But remember, you married your partner because you were unable to meet your own needs of companionship, emotional love and support. You are team- you are not enemies. Be intentional about turning toward each other for support. Learn to depend on each other (again). Enjoy frequent date nights, laugh together and reflect on why you fell in love in the first place. With time and intentionality, your love will mature, your relationship will strengthen and your spark will return!

Three Ways to Love Successfully

loveSecular advice on love and success focuses on ways to maintain another person’s sexual interest or directives on getting your emotional needs met. In the end, this cheap brand of love is shallow and doesn’t lead to long term success. Genuine love is sacrificial and pure, it doesn’t demand its own way or take advantage of others. If you are interested in a love that endures all things, continue reading. I have identified three essential ways to love and be loved successfully:
1. Pursue love- How would you feel if you were deeply in love with someone who was investing more time and energy with their friends, career or hobby? Most likely you would feel insignificant and you certainly wouldn’t feel your love was reciprocated. We invest in the things that are important to us. People think nothing of investing in vehicles, real estate or the stock market, but they rarely apply that same logic to their relationships. Love is a verb. Couples must sacrificially work together to keep love safe, secure and alive. You cannot assume the passion you felt early in the relationship will remain if you invest little effort.

So just how do you pursue love? Put your partner’s needs ahead of your friends. If your other half is sick, cancel your golf game and play nurse instead. Enjoy each other’s company and pursue BFF status with your significant other. Regularly participate in activities you have in common. When eyes start wandering, people begin wondering what they’re missing; love has to be guarded with fierce devotion. Make your relationship an exclusive two-person arrangement. Continue dating after marriage, see a counselor before things go south and finally, never stop discovering new things about one another.

2. Nurture love- Love is among the most basic of human needs; everyone wants to be loved by someone. The ability to express love is what makes us human and sets us apart from the animal kingdom, so before we go any further, let’s define love. Is it a feeling? Is it a decision? Is it more spiritual than emotional or more cognitive in nature? Love is too broad a term to adequately describe in the English language. Would you take a bullet for your car or die for your favorite jeans? Of course not! You probably would, however, give your life for your child or your soul mate! The Greek language provides four major words (and at least eight minor ones) for love:

1. Agape- the idea of a person giving all his or her love or favor to another. Often associated as the love God demonstrates towards us, it is a pure and whole love.
2. Phileo- emotional love, emphasizing affection or a fondness one person has for another.
3. Eros- refers to the passionate love between a husband and wife.
4. Stergo- refers to the love between parents and children.

When the passion fades, you will have to make a decision whether or not to keep on loving in spite of how you feel or you will never leave Phileo Land and experience the depth and richness of “eros” or better yet, the perfection of “agape.” Love is sacred and for it to grow, it must be nurtured. Love should not be repetitive, it should be creative, original and inspired.

3. Hold on to love- Our culture has sold us an unrealistic brand of love. We have been deceived into believing that love is simply physical, which makes you and I no better than Fido the family pet. Romance novels and the silver screen hold men and women to unbelievable standards that devalue love and set us up for failure. Beauty is fleeting, in time romance dwindles, the physical gets boring and eventually, without a strong commitment, we abandon ship and jump into the next hot relationship. Initially love begins as a feeling, but if you want love to last, you must make it a choice and hold on with all your might. Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long term successful relationship. Commitment means honoring the promise to love someone even when the “feeling” is lacking.

In reality, there is no fairy tale ending and there is nothing magical about “true love’s kiss.” Successful love is an unfailing love and in all its splendor, it is quite ordinary. Love that never fails is long-suffering, it is the first to forgive, always seeking to understand rather than seeking to be understood. It means loving a person when they are unlovely or unlovable and loving in spite of each other’s failures and short comings because people are imperfect. Enduring love understands that there are not those couples who have it together and those who do not. We are all broken, messed up and in need of redemption, grace, mercy and forgiveness. So, you want to be successful in love? Pursue it, nurture it and hold on to it with fierce devotion!

Three Fundamentals Boundaries in Marriage

As a counselor, I meet with a lot of couples who are in relationship trouble. Ten minutes into the first session and it’s not too difficult to figure out how they wound up in my office. As personal stories unfurl about adultery, communication breakdowns, reconnecting with old flames, flirting with strangers, and verbal and physical abuse, I am amazed the marriages have lasted to this point. Each of these couples share a common link: they lack boundaries in their marriages. Failure to establish boundaries at the beginning of the union prevents couples from experiencing true intimacy and creates a rift in the relationship.

A boundary is simply a property line that determines who is responsible for what. Boundaries help individuals hold one another accountable in the relationship. Once you boundary_line-300x225are aware of who is responsible for a particular behavior or attitude, the opportunity for change becomes possible. Each party must assume responsibility for their own part in a problem. Assuming responsibility for your feelings, behaviors, attitudes, thoughts and choices empowers you to live an abundant life. Accepting responsibility becomes the change agent for a more loving and satisfying marriage. Boundaries are liberating! I have identified three boundaries that I believe are foundational for successful marriages.

1. Resolve your anger before it controls you- Anger is a powerful emotion, and in certain situations it can be useful, but human anger does not bring forth the righteousness that God desires (James 1:20, NIV). For love to grow, it must be nurtured and pursued; anger unchecked is like metastatic cancer, it spreads to the heart and kills love. Anger is a secondary emotion, it is the result of some other potent primary emotion. To demonstrate this point, I use the following formula in counseling to assist clients in identifying and discussing their true feelings:

fear + hurt + frustration = anger

Understanding this point is crucial in resolving anger for this reason: if I know my anger is the result of another emotion, I can identify and process the real emotion(s) instead of holding on to the toxicity that is eating away at me and killing my marriage. This is more productive than lashing out verbally or physically at your spouse, which only creates emotional distance and may even lead to divorce.

2. Protect your marriage from intruders- Marriage is an exclusive, two person arrangement that requires “forsaking all others.” Marriage is unique among all other human bonds because it symbolizes Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church. Because third parties threaten the marital union, it must therefore, be guarded with fierce devotion. Couples must sacrificially work to keep love safe, secure and alive. You cannot assume that the passion felt early in the relationship will remain if you invest little effort.

You are a steward of a sacred covenant between yourself, your spouse and God and as a steward, you must guard against intruders that may include: in-laws, work, hobbies, Internet, affairs, friends, addictions, and even church. A marriage is only as strong as what it costs to protect it; You value what you invest in. People will invest in houses, vehicles, boats, the stock market, etc., but they hesitate to invest in their marriage. Americans think nothing of spending $10,000 or more on a wedding, but they scoff at spending a few hundred dollars on counseling that may save a derailed marriage.

3. Establish personal limitations- Boundaries are not something you place on other people, they are set on yourself, to control yourself, because you are the only person you can control. Establishing personal boundaries is a method of serving and protecting the relationship, it says to the world “I value my marriage.” Consider these points when setting your personal limitations:

  • Tell your spouse the truth [in love; in a normal voice…without yelling] if your needs are not getting met. Use “I statements” such as “I don’t want to do that,” or “I like it when…”
  • Don’t reconnect with old flames through social media and texting. Unless you are actually planning to have an affair, no good can come from this action.
  • Refuse to foster secret friendships with the opposite sex, it only promotes jealousy and betrayal and erodes trust.
  • Guard your eyes. Greet the opposite sex eyeball to eyeball; forbid your eyes from roaming all over someone else’s body, regardless of their attractiveness.
  • Refrain from full frontal hugs with the opposite sex. Offer a side hug or better yet, extend a handshake.
  • Compliment your spouse more than you compliment anyone else.
  • Get the log out of your own eye before pointing out the speck.
  • Be the first to offer forgiveness.