Guide to Managing Media for Tweens and Teens

GUIDE TO MANAGING MEDIA FOR TWEENS AND TEENS

Jill Murphy

With kids consuming more media than ever before, parents need new rules for how to manage it.

The Common Sense Census: A Day in Teens’ Digital Lives

Today’s kids are immersed in media. More than ever before, tweens and teens are watching, reading, listening, creating, and communicating throughout their entire day. It’s become harder to distinguish between screen time and just … time. The Common Sense Census found that American teens average about nine hours of media per day and tweens about six per day. This doesn’t include time spent doing homework on a computer or tablet or reading books for school.

Beyond the amount of time kids are spending with media, the Common Sense Census identified several patterns, from what boys and girls do differently to their favorite media activities. If you’re wondering how this all affects your kid — well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But what’s clear is that parents, teachers, and supportive adults can help support kids in using media and tech in healthy, productive, and responsible ways. Here are tips for parents:

Parents should feel empowered to set limits on screens of all sizes. Devices are a huge part of screen time, and kids need support in establishing balance and setting limits. Depending on your family, these rules can be as simple as “no phones at the dinner table” or “no texting after 9 p.m.”  

Encourage your kids to be creative, responsible consumers, not just passive users. Media can be incredibly productive, educational, and empowering. Helping younger kids find great content and get access to quality books, complex movies, challenging games, and safe apps and websites fosters a positive relationship with media.  

Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. Our research shows tweens and teens think multitasking has no impact on the quality of their homework. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in conversation.  

Talk the talk, walk the walk. Lead by example by putting your own devices away during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.

How to Set Screen Rules That Stick

HOW TO SET SCREEN RULES THAT STICK

Caroline Knorr

Easy tips for limiting kids’ computer, TV, game, and movie time.

In many homes, getting kids to turn off their cell phones, shut down the video games, or quit YouTube can incite a revolt. And if your kids say they need to be online for schoolwork, you may not know when the research stops and idle activity begins.

When it comes to screen time, every family will have different amounts of time that they think is “enough.” What’s important is giving it some thought, creating age-appropriate limits (with built-in flexibility for special circumstances), making media choices you’re comfortable with, and modeling responsible screen limits for your kids. Try these age-based guidelines to create screen rules that stick.

Preschoolers. There are lots of great TV showsappsgames, and websites geared for this age. But too much time spent in front of a screen can interfere with activities that are essential for growing brains and bodies.

  • Go for quality and age-appropriateness. Not everything for preschoolers needs to be a so-called “brain-builder,” but there’s a difference between mindless and mindfulentertainment. Our reviews can steer you toward titles that help preschoolers work on developmental skills like sharing, cooperation, and emotional intelligence.
  • Sit with them, and enjoy the discovery process. There will always be moments when you need to rely on the TV or an app to distract your preschooler while you get something done. But as much as you can, enjoy media together. Little hands and developing brains really benefit from your company (and guidance!).
  • Begin setting limits when kids are little. Habits get ingrained early, so try to establish clear screen-time rules when your kids are young. For games, apps, and websites, you may need to set a timer. For TV, just say “one show.”

Elementary and Middle Schoolers. At this age, kids love TV shows, games, movies, and online videos. They begin to explore more and hear about new shows and games from friends. Because they can access these things by themselves, it’s crucial to continue to supervise their activities and help them stick to your rules.

  • Start with an endpoint. Use whatever tools you have — your DVR, Netflix, OnDemand — to pre-record shows, cue them up, or plan ahead to watch at a specific time. That way, one show won’t flow into the other, and you can avoid commercials. If your kids are into YouTube, search for age-appropriate videos, and add them to a playlist to watch later. Because most games don’t have built-in endings (and are, in fact, designed to make kids play as long as possible), set a timer or some other cue that says “time to stop.”
  • Help them balance their day. Kids this age need guidance from you on a daily plan that includes a little bit of time for everything. And staying involved works: Kids whose parents make an effort to limit media use spend less time with media than their peers do, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ worksheets to create a family media plan. 
  • Practice what you preach. It’s tempting to keep reaching for your phone to check email, texts, Facebook, or the news. But your kids will be the first to call you out for not “walking the talk.” Plus, they’ll pick up habits from you. Model the media behavior that you want your kids to emulate.

High Schoolers. You’ll have more success with teens if you explain the reasons why too much screen time is harmful. For example, social media may contribute to anxiety

  • Help them make quality choices. You still have a say in what they see, hear, and play. Put in your two cents about the importance of quality shows, games, and movies.
  • Crack down on multitasking. High school kids who’ve discovered texting, IM, Facebook, and music tend to do them all at once — especially when they’re supposed to be doing mundane tasks like homework. But a University of Michigan study found that humans are terrible multitaskers and that the practice actually reduces the ability to concentrate and focus.
  • Find ways to say “yes.” Look for movies they can watch. Find games you’re OK with. If your teens ask to see something you don’t approve of, help them find alternatives.

School-Year Screen-Time Rules from a Teacher

SCHOOL-YEAR SCREEN-TIME RULES FROM A TEACHER

Rebecca Young

Take it from a middle school teacher and mom: Kids need to manage their online activities — and parents need to help them do it.

This article is part of Common Sense Media’s Parent Voices series, which provides a platform for opinions about parenting in the digital age. All ideas expressed are the writer’s own.

Last year Fortnite invaded my middle school classroom — as I believe it did to middle school classrooms across the country. Students who were usually on task and high-performing were nodding off and “forgetting” to do their homework. The morning conversations about how late they stayed up or who was the last man standing became part of our early morning check-ins. Then the phone calls with parents started: Over several months, I had numerous telephone and after-school meetings with parents concerned about their kids’ performance. When I brought up screen time, there were a range of reactions. Some parents seemed oblivious as to what their children were doing after hours, some didn’t know how to rein in screen time, and some thought they had it all under control — but clearly did not.

I get it. I’m not just a teacher: I’m a mom who struggles with screen time, too. I spent last summer trying to keep my own middle school daughter unplugged in the rural English countryside. After the first week, when the iPad started appearing little by little, I tried to use my own advice — “However much you read is how much screen time you get” — and reasoning, “Make sure you balance your learning games with your other games.” But then I’d hear my daughter yelling at a friend who’d just left her online game, and I’d feel like I’d lost the battle.

The thing is, I’m not anti-screen. I’ve seen technology bring some amazing teaching momentsto my classroom — and to my own life. One student, whom I could never get to write a complete sentence on paper, wrote the most heartfelt poem about how he “nearly won” in Fortnite. It became his breakthrough, and he hasn’t stopped writing since. Other kids made parallels to the dystopian books they were reading and wrote very poignant compare-and-contrast papers to prove their points. And, far away from her friends in the United States, my daughter was able to stay in touch with her friends online, keep herself occupied with Roblox, and feel a part of pop culture by watching every Miranda Sings video ever made.

Those breakthrough moments of connection, creativity, and critical thinking are what I strive for as a teacher and a mother. What it tells me is that however parents handle the management of their kids’ screen time, it really does have to be a balance. And knowing middle school kids as well as I do, I know that they aren’t always able to shut down Fortnite or YouTube without the guidance and support of their parents. I’ve also discovered that tech is never going to be a one-size-fits-all thing. What works for some kids will not work for others. Finding what is best for your family can involve a bit of trial and error.

These are the strategies that worked for many of my parents last year and that I’m sure I will be trying with my middle schooler this year:

Be present. Know what your child is playing and when. That seems simple, but it is so important. So many of my parents last year had no idea that their child was staying up until all hours in the morning playing games. I heard more than once, “I have never had to worry about their screen use. They have been so good up until now.” I remind them that this is middle school, they are not bad kids, and they are just testing the boundaries — so set them!

Control the Wi-Fi. I touched base with some of my parents after their children made improvements in class, and I found that they had put in place simple household internet controls. The kids had passwords to access the internet, and the parents put a time limit on when the password could be used. Please note that a few of my tech-savvy kids confided that they were able to “override” this function.

Remove the temptation. Some families took all screens out of the children’s bedrooms and stored cellphones in a locked charging box until morning. This might seem extreme, but I know for at least one of my students this worked. He was struggling socially and trying so hard to fit in with a certain crowd. He later acknowledged that he needed help — beyond the gaming community.

Parental-control apps. I’ve had students tell their parents that they have online homework to do and then end up playing a game instead. Parental-control apps can help, but it takes some research to find the right one for your needs. Making the homework space at the dining room table or another central location can make it easier to keep an eye on kids, too.

Balance. Kids need downtime. I have these hormonal, opinionated, stressed-out middle schoolers for two hours a day, and I push them. I know that the other teachers at my school also carry high expectations. Finding time to completely unplug is important. One parent told me today that they have a hard rule of no screen time except for homework on weekdays, and the way to lose weekend play time is by breaking that rule. I personally allow weekday screen time, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

John Gottman and Brené Brown on Running Headlong Into Heartbreak

JOHN GOTTMAN AND BRENÉ BROWN ON RUNNING HEADLONG INTO HEARTBREAK

Kerry Lusignan

To a seasoned couples therapist, the telltale signs of a relationship in crisis are universal. While every marriage is unique, with distinct memories and stories that capture its essence, how it looks at its core, the anatomy so-to-speak, adheres to certain truths. The bones of love, what builds trust (and breaks it), what fosters connection (and disconnection) we have widely come to understand through the work of Dr. John Gottman.

Gottman, renowned for his research on marital stability and demise, and recognized as one of the ten most influential psychotherapists of the past quarter-century, has at this stage of his career amassed over 40 years of research with 3,000 participants. The quality and breadth of his studies are recognized as some of the finest and most exemplary data we have to date, and serve as an underpinning for how we understand what makes love work.

Enter Brené Brown, a self-described researcher, storyteller, and Texan. She’s gritty and funny, and like Gottman, a formidable researcher. Over the past two decades, Brown has studied shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy. She’s published five New York Times #1 bestsellers, and over 40 million people have viewed her TED Talk on vulnerability. Her passion for living a wholehearted life is contagious and convincing. Her research has confirmed a core human need to belong and connect, and at a time when many of us are feeling the absence of such, she’s tapping a deep well—inspiring a tribe of the wholehearted, people committed to practicing shame-resilience, Daring Greatly, and embracing vulnerability.

Gottman coined the term “Masters of marriage” to describe the couples in his research whose relationships not only endure, but thrive. These are people who cultivate trust, commitment, responsiveness, and an ability to cherish their partner’s feelings throughout a lifetime. Brown speaks of the “wholehearted” individuals who engage their lives from a place of worthiness. They cultivate courage, compassion, and connection. Both groups, the masters of marriage and the wholehearted, display a host of traits that we now know are associated with health and thriving.

Having had the good fortune to train in both the Gottman Method and The Daring Way® (an experiential methodology based on the research of Brené Brown), I cannot help but wonder, what life would be like if we could take our cues from the masters of marriage and the wholehearted? How might this shape who we are as individuals in a partnership? What might the ripple effects be to our children and society at large if we aspire to love as Gottman and Brown are suggesting?

The implications of following in the footsteps of the masters and the wholehearted are huge. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most extensive study of its kind, has taught us three things. First, that loneliness can kill as surely as smoking or alcoholism, and that when we are connected, we live longer and healthier lives. Second, the quality of our relationships matter. It’s not the number of friends we have, or whether or not we are in a committed relationship that predicts thriving. Being in a high-conflict marriage is bad for one’s health. It is worse than divorce. Third, good relationships don’t just protect our health. They protect our mind. Memory loss and cognitive decline are more prevalent in lives permeated by conflict and disconnection.

And if that is not compelling enough, Brown’s research on the implications of shame paints a similarly grim picture, depicting shame as correlated with loneliness, depression, suicidality, abuse, trauma, bullying, addiction, and anxiety.

So while love may not heal all wounds, it is undoubtedly a panacea for preventing them.

Gottman and Brown give us a map—a macro perspective of the wilderness of our hearts, and the wildness of love. It’s a rocky path, fraught with challenges and risk. But vulnerability is inherent in any stance that places courage above comfort. And should we decide to follow it, the destination it promises to take us to is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The paradox of trust 

Gottman, in his book The Science of Trust, astutely asserts that loneliness is (in part) the inability to trust. And sadly, the failure to trust tends to perpetuate itself. For when we don’t trust, over time, we become less able to read other people and deficient in empathy. He states, “Lonely people are caught in a spiral that keeps them away from others, partly because they withdraw to avoid the potential hurt that could occur from trusting the wrong person. So they trust nobody, even the trustworthy.” 

According to both researchers, it’s the small interactions rather than grand gestures that build trust and break it. “Sliding door moments,” as Gottman calls them, are the seemingly inconsequential day-to-day interactions we have over breakfast, while riding in the car, or standing in the kitchen at 9 p.m. Within each act of communication, there is an opportunity to build a connection. And when we don’t seize it, an insidious erosion of trust ensues, slowly overtime.

Our relationships do not die from one swift blow. They die from the thousand tiny cuts that precede it.

But choosing to trust is all about tolerance for risk, and our histories (both in childhood and with our partners) can inform how much we are willing to gamble. Brown speaks to the paradox of trust: we must risk vulnerability in order to build trust, and simultaneously, it is the building of trust that inspires vulnerability. And she recommends cultivating a delicate balance, one where we are generous in our assumptions of others and simultaneously able to set firm boundaries as a means to afford such generosity—being soft and tough at the same time, no small feat. 

When our stories write us

According to Gottman, the final harbinger of a relationship ending is in how couples recall memories and the stories they tell. Memories, it turns out, are not static. They evolve, change, and are a living work-in-progress. When a relationship is nearing its end, at least one person is likely to carry a story inside themselves that no longer recollects the warm feelings they once had for their partner. 

Instead, a new narrative evolves, maximizing their partner’s negative traits, and quite likely, minimizing their own. “Self-righteous indignation” as Gottman aptly refers to it is a subtle form of contempt and is sulfuric acid for love. This story, laced with blame and bad memories, is the strongest indicator of an impending breakup or divorce.

But, as Brown cautions, “We are meaning-making machines wired for survival. Anytime something bad happens, we scramble to make up a story, and our brain does not care if the story is right or wrong, and most likely, it is wrong.” She points out that in research when a story has limited data points, it is a conspiracy, and a lie told honestly is a confabulation. 

In social psychology, this pre-wired bias is referred to as the fundamental attribution error (FAE). The FAE speaks to our tendency to believe that others do bad things because they are bad people, and to ignore evidence to the contrary while simultaneously having a blind spot that allows us to minimize or overlook what our behaviors say about our character. In short, we are partial to giving ourselves a pass while not extending the same generosity to others.

When our minds trick us into believing we know what our partner’s intentions, feelings, and motives are we enter a very dark wood—one where we truly can no longer see the forest for the trees. The ramifications of this are significant because the stories we tell ourselves dictate how we treat people.  

In portraying ourselves as a hero or victim, we no longer ally with the relationship, but rather, armor up and see our partner as the enemy. And if memory is malleable, and we’re prone to spinning conspiracies and confabulations, there is a strong likelihood that we run the risk of hurting ourselves and those we love in assuming this stance.

Acknowledging our tendencies towards mishaps and misperceptions is not easy. It requires a certain humility, grace, and intentionality. But as Stan Tatkin points out in his TED talk, Relationships are Hard, “We are mostly misunderstanding each other much of the time, and if we assume our communication, memory, and perception is the real truth, that is hubris.”

The wholehearted and masters of marriage bypass such hubris and navigate the terrain of relationships differently than those who get lost in the wood. If we want our relationships and quality of life to thrive, it’s essential we take our cues from them and cultivate new habits.

Embracing emotions (and the suck)

To do so, we must first expand our emotional repertoire to include a wide range of feelings, not just our go-to ones. “Emotion-embracing,” as Gottman calls it, is a central building block for healthy relationships. We are aiming for what Pixar’s Inside Out so brilliantly depicts: inviting sadness, joy, anger, disgust, and fear all to the table. 

Put simply, Brown suggests we “embrace the suck,” stating that the wholehearted demonstrate a capacity to recognize when they’re emotionally ensnared and get curious about their feelings and perceptions. 

Both Gottman and Brown draw on the Stone Center’s Strategies of Disconnection, which propose that people respond in one of three ways when hurt: by moving away, moving toward, or moving against that which feels painful. And what I find interesting is that while Gottman advocates for turning toward your partner when injured, and Brown speaks more to leaning into (and getting curious about) our own uncomfortable emotions, both are emotion-embracing and courageous stances that emphasize mutuality over individualism.

Unfortunately, most of us are not taught as children to embrace painful feelings. It’s counterintuitive and goes against our neurobiological wiring. If we have a traumatic history, all the more so. And our society by-and-large is an emotion-dismissing culture. But as Brown cautions, there’s a price to pay when we selectively numb emotions: when we numb our painful feelings, we also numb our positive ones. So, if we want the good things in life (and I think most of us want the good things), then it’s a package deal. 

Running toward heartbreak

If the most significant indicator that a relationship has reached a tipping point is a rewritten story devoid of fond memories, then it stands to reason that a narrative free from blame, interwoven with curiosity and even goodwill is indicative of love that will last. Therefore, one of the central tasks of any healthy relationship is to co-create stories from a lens of “we” versus “me.”

It involves little (and big) reckonings as Brown calls them, sliding door moments where we pause long enough to reflect and ask ourselves (and each other), “What is going on right now?” Together, we cultivate a broader understanding of a disagreement or hurt feelings, one not possible when left alone in our heads to spin narratives that defend our most vulnerable parts and simultaneously ensure that we will go to our grave more swiftly, lonely, and armored.

When I reflect on the lessons of Gottman and Brown, one concept stands out: we must run headlong into heartbreak because there are things far worse than having our hearts broken. Such as the harm we inflict on our loved ones when we disown pain and transmit it onto them. And the legacy of trauma that ripples into our children’s hearts and the generations to come—veiling us in a seemingly impermeable barrier to vulnerability and all the fruits that go with it.

And let us not forget the Harvard Study of Adult Development and the toll that a conflict-laden life combined with emotion-dismissing has on our health.

Yes, running headlong into heartbreak is running directly into vulnerability. It involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But, as Brown reminds us, vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. 

Should we choose this path, there will be moments (likely many) where we find ourselves facedown in the dirt because the road to wholeheartedness guarantees we will get our hearts broken—again and again. But, in choosing to embrace heartbreak, we empower ourselves to experience the myriad of ways love manifests itself and the beauty life affords us. In the end, it’s not a question of if we will experience heartbreak but of how.

What will you choose?

Can Words Really Hurt Me?

CAN WORDS REALLY HURT ME?

Shantel Patu

Emotional abuse is real. In my line of work, I’ve watched women of all different backgrounds live through the pain it can cause, and I’ve seen it haunt them. I’ve seen them suffer the trauma of someone dominating, berating, criticizing, and chastising them. 

It brings unanswered questions. Questions like whether the very act of breathing is allowed. I’ve witnessed their agony of hoping that someone, anyone, will finally notice their torment.

Although emotional abuse has many forms, it’s still wildly taboo and often considered something people should just get over or simply live through. It can leave victims completely unaware that they’re even being oppressed. 

They feel that it’s not as nearly as “bad” as physical violence or that they aren’t in the same situation. And in some cases, they feel they simply aren’t worthy enough to call themselves violated.

Whether pain from abuse stems psychologically, verbally, physically, emotionally, or sexually—abuse is abuse. And it needs to be stopped before another person has to suffer in silence. 

I’m reminded of the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But in all truth, words do hurt.

How emotional abuse feels

I stop short of the door and hold my hand against the frame. I just want to leave so bad. I know somewhere inside that I don’t have to take this. I am free to simply walk out of the door. But I am frozen. Transfixed by the threshold, unsure of how to cross while keenly aware of how many steps there are toward freedom. Gripped by courage, I take a step forward.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I freeze again, feeling the hairs stand up on my neck.

Hearing his voice so close, I want to scream. Subliminally I bolt, not physically but emotionally, running freely. I watch my imaginary self run away, stationary. I stare ahead, watching, oh how I envy her. 

Psychologically, I can feel my overwhelming desire to just get away—to run and find a way to completely disappear. He speaks again and the echo of his hate hangs in the air, unsettled, like a rancid stench. I feel smothered by the scent and I grapple with the meaning of words that he speaks at me. The ruthless force of his weapon of words, aimed at my jugular, he wields indifferently. It is dehumanizing.

I wonder how many times I would let the effects of such an attack be a part of my life. How long would I stay put and continue to just endure? How long would I allow the steady stream of vulgarities and disparities to fill space in the vulnerable recesses of my self-esteem, or what was left of it? I can’t explain away why this hurts so badly, why the memories stay etched in the fibers of my muscles as if I were being physically struck every single time he opens his mouth.

I bruise in the form of a blush as my cheeks fill with heat from the harassment and embarrassment of the steady barrage of animosity that spews from his mouth when he directs his anger at me. I flinch and attempt to speak up. Raising my voice, I pretend to find courage. 

Every time he is triggered, I fleetingly try to defend myself. I imagine standing my ground while weakly defending my principles as I am annihilated by the sheer brute force of his words. He speaks and his power shuts off my reasoning and takes seize of my oration. In stunned silence, his assault leaves me inundated with fear and has literally forced my words to recoil back into my throat, extinguishing the very air from my chest.  

Defenseless and silent, I again attempt to summon my deserted courage, finding none. So many times, tears spill from once dry places, saturating my hot cheeks. And I take it. All of it. The full force of his revulsion, saying nothing in return.  

How often I just take every verbal blow, every strike against the temple of my ego. I find myself listening hungrily, gobbling up every detail of what is wrong with my person. My sullied thoughts can no longer comprehend my ability to try and defend myself. I recognize that I don’t have any of the ammunition needed for this battle. 

I wait, pitiful and exhausted, as his abusive tirade doesn’t show signs of ending.  My attacker screams poison and I’m paralyzed as his vitriol intensifies, relentlessly pointing out fallacy after fallacy. I find that I cannot stand, so I finally sit down.

This only seems to reinforce my vulnerability and inferiority. Now he is standing over me, conquering me. His spittle flies from the hate-filled spaces in his mouth as he covers me in his blatant and unforgiving verbal attack. His speech never falters. He’s dramatic and animated, as if giving an audition to an unseen crowd. Forced to listen to his words, as he calls me a “slut and a whore,” I try to drive the unyielding impressions from my mind. Nevertheless, I can feel myself recording him, pervasively, into the deep and unprotected crevices of my hearing, defining me.  

He waits only for silent applause from his own spirit. Enjoying his speech, he smiles at my deprivation as he goes for the kill. “Your stupidity knows no bounds,” he yells, “your incompetence is at an all-time high.” He screams more hate, “You’re fat, ugly, and useless. No one wants you, you’re unlovable, undeserving, undesirable,” and he ends with the booming, “You’re nothing.”

Again, I take it all in, memorizing every detail from the jarring baritone of his voice to the sadistic way he crafts his words. Every time I survive this experience, I still die, just a little, on the inside.  I can’t help but seek the sweet and silent solace of death, feeling like this has to be the only way out.

Emotional abuse is just as damaging

This is just one example of how emotional abuse is experienced. It makes the recipient think there’s no way out, and no way to overcome all that they have gone through. The unhealthy tethers to their abuser are simply a coping mechanism and make it so much easier to believe the lies—like verbal abuse isn’t “real” abuse. 

Most people don’t recognize that emotional abuse is just as damaging and traumatizing as physical abuse, sometimes even more so. While physical bruises will fade over time, emotional bruising leaves an invisible disfigurement that materializes as soon as the wound is reopened.  

So many people suffer in an unacceptable silence, dealing with the emotional scars as if they were never there. No amount of makeup can cover the unseen evidence and as a result, many women try to pretend it never happened.

The heartless onslaught of pain that is created by verbal manipulation and abuse takes the battered to a place of hopelessness and introduces them to a type of emotional suicide. They never know how to accept what they are surviving. People around them tend to admonish them or minimalize their trauma.  

“All he does is yell at you. You got it easy.” 

These statements make abused women feel like they shouldn’t even try to escape. That they should be accepting and even appreciative that their abuser doesn’t physically assault them. No one sees the patterns of self-defeat and destruction that come from these types of assault.

I want women, and men, to recognize their worthiness. Everyone is worthy of being treated with respect. Your opinions and your desire to have autonomy over your life does not give someone the right to hurt you or your feelings. You deserve to find someone who truly loves you for who you are. Someone who understands what you need and doesn’t feel threatened by you offering your opinion.  

Real freedom means “free at heart and free in mind.” You have to begin to realize that you are worthy and to remind yourself of this every day. You have to rebuild the positive levels of self-preservation that your self-esteem needs to heal. 

You can do this. You deserve this and you have to see it first for yourself. You have to un-believe the lies and trust that there is hope for you.  

It’s this way of thinking that will lead you towards the path of healing, and in the process, you’ll recognize that you don’t have to pretend not to hurt, you can recognize that your pain is real and that your voice deserves to be heard. 

So speak up and acknowledge that words hurt, too.

The Apostle Paul: His Secret to Fighting Sexual Sin

THE APOSTLE PAUL: HIS SECRET TO FIGHTING SEXUAL SIN

Luke Gilkerson

Hugh Hefner didn’t invent sexual sin. It is a problem that has been around since our ancestors walked east of Eden, and it will be around until the new Jerusalem descends upon us. The good news is that the Bible promises that we can experience foretastes of that coming freedom in the here and now. But how?

The Apostle Paul commands the Christians at Colossae, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). But how do we do this? If we rip this verse away from the letter, we’re likely to apply it the wrong way, so we need to look closely to understand what Paul is talking about.

1. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Not About “Do More, Try Harder”

A dangerous philosophy was circulating in the church at Colossae that was championing asceticism: if you want to remain pure, then separate yourself from the pleasures of the body that are so often a source of temptation. This philosophy said if you really want the fullness of divine life within you, then insulate your life.

But Paul delivers a crushing blow to this philosophy:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

No value. That is Paul’s verdict on asceticism. It simply doesn’t work. Yes, there is a grain of truth in the philosophy—all popular philosophies contain at least some wisdom in them. If you are tempted to sin sexually then it makes sense to get away from sexual temptations. This will keep sin at bay—but ultimately the flesh remains unsatiated.

This false philosophy is still circulating in the church today. When the best advice we can give people is better Internet filters, cold showers, more hours in prayer, and trying harder, we have given into this philosophy that Paul says is of no value.

This false philosophy either totally underestimates the power of sin, or it sets the benchmark of holiness too low. It either doesn’t get just how ingrained sexual sin is in us, or it thinks that merely getting rid of outward, blatant sexual sin is the goal. Neither is accurate.

2. Fighting Sexual Sin Starts with a New Identity

Paul offers his readers another approach to fighting sin, and it starts with these core identity statements:

  • “With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20)
  • “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3)
  • “You have been raised with Christ” (3:1)
  • “You were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12)
  • “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9-10)
  • “The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27)

This is where a lot of modern readers check out. “Don’t give me these abstract theological ideas. I need something practical,” they think. But for Paul, there was nothing more practical, nothing more life-changing, than these ideas.

We are united to the risen Christ by faith. His resurrection life flows in our veins now. The Spirit of the living Christ lives inside us, so we no longer belong to this world and the rules it plays by—we belong to Christ and the age to come. In order to have the power to fight lust, we first have to understand this: we no longer belong to sin. We belong to God who has accepted us and forgiven us, not because we purified ourselves first, but because we are united by faith to the Pure One, Jesus Christ.

In order to fight lust, we must understand that we no longer belong to lust.

3. Fighting Sexual Sin Continues by Kindling New Desires

Knowing we are united to the living Christ, Paul writes, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:1-2). The terms Paul uses here mean to center one’s interests, focus, and passions on something—to savor something. Now that God has united us to the risen Christ, we savor that reality, and this kindles new desires in us that displace a desire for sin.

What are these “things” above that we should savor?

  • First, we are to savor Christ himself. This is one of the reasons why Paul spills a lot of ink in this letter describing who Christ is. He is the beloved Son of God (1:13), the image of the invisible God (1:15), creator and sustainer of all things (1:16-17), the one whose blood reconciles us to the Father (1:20), the firstborn from the dead (1:18), and the one seated at God’s right hand (3:1). In him all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (2:3). The fullness of deity dwells in Him (1:19; 2:9).
  • Second, we are to savor our new position before God. Christ is seated at God’s right hand and we are seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). To be seated at a ruler’s right hand meant to be in the position of greatest authority, honor, and delight. Because Christ is in us, we share in the favor He has with the Father.
  • Third, we are to savor the hope that someday we will see and experience these realities. Someday, Christ Himself will appear and we will appear with Him in glory (1:4). It is our destiny to be like the holy, pure Son of God. Someday our eyes will see the one who died for us and rose again, the one who is God in the flesh, and God will honor us as his royal children before every creature, every human soul, every angelic being in the universe.

How does this practically help us to fight sexual sin? The reason why sexual sin can have such a grip on us is because of its power to define us and what is most valuable, how sexual pleasure makes us feel about ourselves. Sexual fantasy, pornography, or pursuing illicit sex makes us feel desired; it makes us feel valued and validated; it gives us a refuge; it gives us connection; it can even make us feel powerful. This is why setting our affections on things above is so important: it gives us a new center to our lives and gives us a completely new sense of value—not based in our worthiness but based on the love God has for Christ that overflows to us.

4. Fighting Sexual Sin Is About Fighting For Our New Desires

Finally we come to Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Paul here is not endorsing asceticism—something he has already refuted. Asceticism is about fighting to get rid of something we think is unholy, but mortifying sin is about fighting for the new affections that God is giving to us.

We can construct helpful boundaries in our lives that keeps sexual sin out of reach, but we should do so standing on our identity as God’s beloved children, standing satisfied in Christ and God’s love. When sexual temptation comes knocking, we can say to it, “No, sin. That’s not who I am anymore. You do not define what life is to me anymore. You do not define me anymore. Christ is in me. I am a child of the king, and one day the whole world will know it.”

5. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Sustained by Relationships that Remind Us of Our New Identity

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

This is the essence of real accountability in the body of Christ. Yes, accountability involves confessing our temptations, sins, and the state of our heart, but it also involves godly encouragement. Accountability is not just about someone calling you out on your sin, but someone calling you up to the person you already are in Christ. Accountability is about surrounding yourself with the kind of Christian friendships that teach and admonish you, that inspire thankfulness, and that help us unpack all the wisdom contained in the great mystery that Paul called “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (1:27).

Accountability is like stoking the embers of the fire. It does not add energy to the embers. It only exposes those embers to the air so new reactions can happen. When we engage in the disciplines of confession, encouragement, and mutual prayer we expose our souls again to the life-changing gospel, and God’s power is released again and again.

How to Change the Way You Feel (Without Changing Anything Else)

HOW TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL (WITHOUT CHANGING ANYTHING ELSE)

Marc Chernoff

Happiness does not start with a relationship, a degree, a job, or money.  It starts with your thinking and what you tell yourself today.

“I had a date scheduled for last night with this guy I started talking to on a dating app.  I waited outside the diner where we agreed to meet for 30 minutes past the time we were supposed to meet.  He never showed up.  All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my head.  I thought maybe he saw me from a distance, didn’t like what he saw, and then bailed.

Just as I was about to leave, one of my old college friends, Jared, who I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, walked up to me with a huge smile on his face and said, ‘Carly!  It’s great to see you!  You look fantastic!’  I almost blew him off because of how I felt inside at the moment.  But luckily I pulled myself together to engage in a conversation.

After we talked in that same spot for awhile, he said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?’  We ended up going into the diner I was supposed to eat at with the no-show date and having an amazing conversation filled with laughter.  After dinner he walked me to my car, we exchanged numbers, and he asked me out on a formal date for this Friday night.”

Our Stories Make or Break Us

The story above comes from Carly, one of our recent Think Better, Live Better 2019 attendees (and of course, we’re sharing her story with permission).

Think about how her initial reaction was rooted so heavily in negativity.  Her date didn’t show up and she immediately crumbled inside.  Now think about the amazing opportunity she would have missed if she had let that negativity endure.  And think about how often your negativity gets the best of you.

How often do let your insecurities stop you?

Or, how often do you judge others for their imperfections?

What you need to realize right now is that you have a story about yourself and others (or perhaps a series of stories) that you recite to yourself daily.  This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind.  Your movie is about who you are and how the world is supposed to be: your tummy is too flabby, your skin is too dark or too pale, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough.  And of course, you catch yourself picking out all sorts of imperfections in others, and the world at large, too.

Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are or facing the realities of life—because it affects everything you do.  Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you.  It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.

Ready to rewrite the script?

Let’s start by being honest… Sometimes negativity absolutely dominates our better judgment!

So, how do we outsmart our own negative tendencies so we can feel better, behave better, and ultimately live better?  There are many ways, but Angel and I often recommend two simple (but not easy) practices:

1.  Practice questioning your stories.

You know what they say, don’t believe everything you hear nor everything you read.  Don’t believe the gossip columns in every magazine, the doom and gloom predictions from your co-workers, or the “shocking news” that you hear on TV… until you have verified it.

Well, the same concept applies to your inside world—your thoughts.

We all have stories about ourselves and others even if we don’t think of them as stories.  Case in point:  How often do you pause to logically contemplate what you really think about your relationships, your habits, or your challenges?  How often, on the other hand, do you just blurt out whatever fleeting emotion comes to mind—i.e., the pre-recorded movie script you’ve been holding on to—without even thinking straight?

Stories can be short, such as “I’m not a good writer,” “I’m not good at yoga,” or “I have intrinsic relationship problems.”  And if we were to dig deeper into your own personal version of these stories, I bet you’d be happy to go on and try to explain why the stories you’ve been holding onto are real.  Even though the aren’t.  They’re just stories.

So the key practice here is to question your stories.  For instance, let’s take the writer example.  Ask yourself: Why do I think I am not a good writer?  What would it look like to be a good writer?  Can I describe my current writing in a way that serves me better?

You will be surprised by how often the questioning process helps you emerge with a clearer and more accurate version of your story.  Give it a try!

2.  Practice running your thoughts through three key filters.

Sometimes you are in a hurry, and not having a great day to boot.  On days like this, there’s a mental conditioning exercise I recommend that’s super quick and can help keep your attitude in check…

I’ve been in arguments with my my wife, Angel, in the past and one of the things I certainly regretted was not filtering my words before saying them.  At the time of these arguments, I did not have the right tools, except for thinking “Be nice!”, which does nothing for you when you’re feeling the opposite of nice.  Some years later I found this simple tool that helped me shift my behavior.  Here’s how it works:

Before you utter anything, run your thoughts through three key filters and don’t speak unless you get three resounding “YES” responses:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it helpful?

For example, let’s say a running thought in your head says that your partner doesn’t care about you, and you are about to shout those words out because he or she didn’t do the last chore you requested.  Question that thought first: Is it true that my partner doesn’t care about me?  Is it kind for me to say or think this?  Is it helpful for me to say or think this?

Remember you can’t take your words back.  What’s more, you will never regret behaving in a true, kind and helpful way down the road.  So make it a ritual in your life in the days and weeks ahead.

Now, it’s your turn…

Leverage the two practices above to gradually rewrite the script of your mental movie.  Learn to recognize the worn-out flicker of your old movie starting up, and then stop it.  Seriously!  Whenever you catch yourself reciting lines from your old script (“My arms are flabby…” or “My spouse deserves the silent treatment…”), flip the script and replace those lines with truer, kinder and more helpful ones.  This takes some practice, but it’s worth it.  Just keep practicing, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.

And keep in mind that various kinds of external negativity will attempt to distract you from your new script and your better judgment—comments from family, news anchors, social media posts… lots of things other people say and do.  When you sense negativity coming at you, learn to deflect it.  Give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark is not really about me, it’s about you.”  Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them difficult and thoughtless sometimes.  They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues.  In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like an obnoxious little dog barking in the distance) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.

So, what was your biggest takeaway from this short article?

Anything else to share?

Divorce is the Most Important Story You’ll Ever Tell Your Child

DIVORCE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY YOU’LL EVER TELL YOUR CHILD

Kerry Lusignan

Nothing quite prepares you for what it’s like to go through a divorce when you have children. 

While the statistics say somewhere between 40-50% of adults will have to navigate this terrain at some point in their lives, when you embark on it, when it finally happens, your divorce can feel excruciatingly unique. Painfully individual. 

And it is. 

Rituals, rhythm, and rules. Your family is a microculture. The unique fingerprint of you and your spouse. The weaving of bones. Divorce, in turn, is the dissolution of such. The severing of a limb to save the tree. A metamorphosis that is characterized more by coming undone than by becoming. For the first time, you and your partner will have to venture into something together that is, by definition, designed to be done alone. You will go through divorce alone, together. 

In my work as a couples therapist, if a couple with children decides to divorce, I caution them that this is a time when they must be careful. I remind them that most likely, their bodies have come to recognize the other as the enemy and that given this, their heart rates will increase to over 100 beats per minute whenever they are in close proximity to the other. For many, this physiological response to threat will occur even at the mere thought of the other. Like a bulimic, whose body learns to regurgitate food without even the slightest touch of a finger, so too do our nervous systems learn to expel the other. 

And while these biological alarms may very well prepare you for war, they also come at a cost. Diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) is the amalgam of bodily stress responses. In addition to an accelerated heart rate, DPA is characterized by an increase in stress hormones. The result is an inability to think, communicate, or hear clearly. 

Not surprisingly, divorce is a time when you will struggle with periods of psychological, physiological, and emotional impairment. All of this occurring, while you are simultaneously called on to make critical decisions, single-parent, generate income, sell or relocate your home, and navigate the grief and loss of dreams. Your life is coming undone faster than you can rebuild it, and the seeds of regeneration have yet to sprout their tendrils.

According to John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, if you want to know whether a kid is navigating parental crisis at home, there’s a litmus test. It turns out that children exposed to “great marital hostility” have markedly higher levels of stress hormones than children of parents with stable marriages. 

Remember this when you’re seething in anger at your ex-to-be, and it threatens to overtake you. Your kid will excrete toxins of distress that their body cannot possibly metabolize. By a familial nervous system, you are all still interconnected on a subterranean level, and their body is screaming “stop,” even if they never utter a word to you.

Though if you listen carefully, they will and do tell you. And how you respond (or not) to what your child shares is critical. Their tummy may hurt at bedtime, or they’ll have an amorphous list of upsets that seemingly have no immediate cause (and therefore no remedy readily at hand). 

You’ll want to make it better, cheer them up, play a game. If they’re older, they might ask questions and even insist that you confide in them as a way to ease their angst. It can be tricky to discern who is comforting whom. Divorce is lonely, and even the best of single parents can experience the understandable tug to derive comfort at times like these. 

Tempting as it may be, try to refrain from responding to your child’s feelings by offering a distraction or cheering up. Such gestures, though well-intended, often come from our discomfort when we see our kid is hurting. We want to make it better—to offer relief. It’s natural to want to put a band-aid on an “ouch.” Unfortunately, divorce is bigger than that.

Instead, aim for what Gottman calls Emotion Coaching. To emotion coach, you must first cultivate an awareness of your child’s feelings. Notice their body language, their tone of voice, and their eyes. What do you imagine they might be saying (or not saying) in their actions and gestures? 

Be curious and avoid projecting your feelings and thoughts. Expand on such moments, listening more than speaking, validating more than fixing. Let them know you see they are struggling and offer to help them to name their struggles—encouraging them to use their words. 

Emotion Coaching can turn the mysterious case of a tummy ache or just feeling blue into a teaching moment from which your child derives comfort from feeling seen and understood. It will also offer them increased insight into their inner workings, allowing them to connect the dots between their tummy ache and their heartache.

The heartache of divorce is essential as air. Cultivating the ability to breathe through it and mourn is both the last and first stage of ending one story (your life as the family you were) and starting the next (your life as the family you are becoming). 

You are closing a critical chapter of your life and simultaneously embarking on a new one. There is also compelling evidence to suggest that the narrative you write, speak, and live from will have a profound impact on the adult your child has yet to become. How you make sense of memories, your past and the ways it has shaped you in the present, the answers you give to the fundamental questions of such, have the potential to pass down (or not) the same painful legacy that marred your early days.

Daniel Siegel, author of The Whole Brained Child and Parenting from the Inside Out, states that the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to their parents as children, but instead how their parents made sense of those childhood experiences. I want to go out on a limb and assert that how we as parents make sense of any significant experience, whether we’re talking childhood or adulthood, has the potential to shape the adults our children have yet to become and, in turn, our grandchildren and so it goes.

The telling of how your marriage came to fracture will evolve, and as it does, and as you begin to understand the role you played in it, it’s important to see yourself as neither victim nor villain. Similarly (although it can be hard) aspire to view your ex from an equally generous and compassionate lens. After all, not many embark on marriage hoping love will end, and very few of us have a baby wishing our family will shatter.  

Breaking up a family when children are involved is akin to pulling bones out of your body while you are simultaneously growing them. Aspiring to narrate the story of your divorce from a place of empowerment will inform every interaction with your child, from the day-to-day to the essential rituals of transition, including bedtime, pickups, and drop-offs.

Here is where divorce presents its most significant opportunity—a window of time where the stars align in such a way that you have a chance to shift the future. 

Create a constellation that serves as a map of where you have been, how you have gotten here, and where you wish to go in the days and years to come. It’s an atlas that will serve not only as a touchstone for you, but as a beacon for your children. 

Your story will become their story, so write it well.

10 Phrases You Should Never Say to Someone Experiencing Betrayal Trauma

10 PHRASES YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO SOMEONE EXPERIENCING BETRAYAL TRAUMA

Beth Denison

Discovering the sexual betrayal of a spouse is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can suffer. There are so few people with whom the wounded spouse can confide. Imagine this devastated individual mustering the courage to share the story with a close friend or family member only to receive comments or advice that inflict further damage. How tragic!

Knowing what to say to someone who has experienced a loss is difficult for most people. I believe there are many well-meaning, loving individuals who truly want to be helpful to a wounded spouse but are simply ill-equipped in that situation. What should be said at such a time?

The Bible tells the story of a man of God named Job. His life was filled with prestige and possessions, but God allowed him to be tested and he lost his ten children, all of his livestock, and even his health. In the midst of his misery and devastation, he had three friends who came to comfort him. The Bible says,

“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13).

Wow! What great friends. Unfortunately, whatever comfort Job felt by their presence quickly ended when they opened their mouths and began to speak.

If you have an acquaintance, friend, or loved one who has experienced sexual betrayal, one of the greatest things you can do for him or her is just show up. Most people going through such trauma feel alone and isolated. Your presence, at that time, can be a gift. Silence is okay.

If you do speak, here are ten things best left unsaid.

1. “Things will get better.”

This person’s life has been shattered. How can you possibly know things will get better? Unfortunately, things may get a lot worse. Certainly, the wounded spouse can pursue and achieve healing, but that does not mean the circumstances will get better.

2. “You just need to forgive.”

Such a comment is callous to the pain this person is feeling. There are many things someone who has been betrayed may need, such as testing for STDs, counseling, self-care, safety, a support group, and healthy boundaries.

While forgiveness will eventually be in this individual’s best interest, to suggest this initially may imply that there should be no consequences for the offending party, regardless of current behavior. This, in turn, may pressure the wounded spouse into granting a false forgiveness before adequately processing the devastating emotions that naturally accompany betrayal. This can lead to confusion and delayed healing.

3. “It could be worse. At least he didn’t                  .”

Any comment that minimizes the behavior or the pain is hurtful. Betrayal is betrayal, regardless of the method. Period. To say such a thing is as insensitive as saying to someone who lost a child, “At least you didn’t lose both of your children,” or saying to an amputee, “At least you still have your hands.” The fact that someone else may have it worse does not lessen this person’s pain.

4. “If I were you, I would leave and get a divorce.”

You’re not. Job’s friend made the same mistake. Eliphaz said, “But if it were I, I would… (Job 5:8). The reality is that you cannot know what you would do if you were that person. You only have a perspective based on your own experiences.

5. “Have you been meeting his physical needs?”

Any comment or question that implies fault on the part of the wounded spouse is not helpful. Most are already feeling some sense of guilt and shame. Job’s friends also made that mistake. They assumed that he must somehow be responsible for the suffering he was experiencing. There are no perfect spouses because there are no perfect people. Nothing justifies a partner sexually acting outside of the marriage covenant. There is always a choice.

6. “You deserve better than this.”

This kind of statement usually comes as a result of strong feelings for the individual, which may cloud the judgment of what is actually best. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul was told by a prophet that he would suffer and be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem. “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). Paul went anyway because he knew God had a greater plan that would result in furthering the gospel.

It is unsettling to see someone you love suffering. But, it is important to remember that you may not be able to see the big picture and all that God can accomplish through the difficulties.

7. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Is this really true? Does God have a grand design that only allows for what he wills? If my husband repeatedly cheats on me, is that God’s will? No. It is not God’s will for us to sin. He knows how destructive that is for us. But he has created us with free will. We are not created as robots with no power to choose. When a person is overwhelmed with grief due to the sexual betrayal of a spouse, God grieves, too. We live in an imperfect, fallen world.

The good news is that what God allows, he redeems.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

8. “I know how you feel.”

Though you might have lived through a similar experience, you can never know exactly how someone else feels. No two situations are exactly alike. We all have our own unique experiences and perspectives.

9. “Just let it go.”

This is akin to “get over it,” or “just move on.” This is easily said by someone who is neither married to the individual nor emotionally attached to the situation. The reality is that the choice to stay or leave is incredibly difficult and not one that can be made quickly or lightly. There will be pain and complications either way. Seldom does anyone “get over” such trauma, though he or she will eventually get through it. Such flippant statements fail to acknowledge the depth of grief the wounded party is feeling.

10. “God wants you to                  .”

Be very, very careful about speaking for God. Job’s friends spent considerable time representing to him what they were convinced were God’s ways. In the end, the Lord spoke to Eliphaz and said, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7). Even if what you plan to say is biblically accurate, are you sure this is the right time to say it? Saying the right thing at the wrong time is still wrong.

What should we say?

With so many things we shouldn’t say, how can we know what we should say? “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When someone you care about is suffering due to betrayal trauma, show up and focus more on listening than speaking. Will Rogers went straight to the point: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Before you do speak, ask God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Offer practical assistance. When Jesus was dying, he asked his closest friend, John, to take care of his mother. The Bible says, “From that time on, the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27). You can help by bringing a meal, taking the kids for the afternoon, giving a gift card for a massage, or anything else that might relieve some of the pressure your friend may be experiencing. Jesus’ example of love was in deed, not word. We can’t go wrong when we follow his example.

A Letter to My Younger Self on My Wedding Day

A LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF ON MY WEDDING DAY

Shantel Patu

Dear younger self, 

I’m writing to explain what marriage really means because I remember all too well your fairytale ideology that marriage is about a beautiful wedding, then fast forward to your happily ever after

With that said, I’m not writing as a warning. I’m writing more as an opportunity—merely think of me as your sponsor – because you’re definitely a hopeless romantic. 

Your dreams of a man riding in on a white horse, or a knight in shining armor, are figments of an animated imagination and I just want to take some time to talk to you about what’s real.

I want to let you in on a secret, if you will. A moment in time, to give you a gift, the gift of a second chance. 

You are still so young, at only 22 years old. And here you already have a small beautiful child, own your home, and you have a wonderful man who hasn’t quite discovered how great either of you are just yet. You should feel proud and accomplished. I know when I look back I’m definitely proud of you. 

Nevertheless, I specifically want to talk about fear. You see, although you survived a lot of abuse and neglect, you’re traumatized. Your traumas have caused significant damage and created a space for constant anxieties to thrive. Anxieties like your fear of being a victim, a fear of someone thinking they can take you away, and other fears, like your fear of intimacy, of getting in trouble or making mistakes, of not knowing enough information or being looked at as incompetent. And mainly, your fear of simply not being good enough to be loved.

I know you. Probably better than anyone really knows you. I know how hard you try to be perfect. I know how hard you work to be accepted. How much you feel you don’t and can’t possibly fit in anywhere, with anyone. And I know you think that if you achieve genuine happiness it means that you have reached the end of your life. But you don’t have to be afraid. I’ve begun to discover that you can be accepted and you are more than lovable. 

As I write this, I realize now that you are just starting out on the first path of many that will lead you on a journey into a life that brims with love and hardship, joy and sadness, peace and war, as well as abundance and strife. Your life will be wrought with moments of destitution and incredible successes. And I wouldn’t have you change any of it (except please buy Amazon stock and change your Sam’s Club membership to Costco, trust me, Sam’s Club will fail us). You will learn so much from the experiences that living this life will teach you. 

I would also encourage you, as your sponsor, to ditch your unhealthy addictions earlier.  You should see life through the eyes of someone who chooses to actually live. Find life in every breath. Leave behind the acts of fear that cause you to bury yourself and hide away all that is great in you. 

Now, about the young man you have chosen. He is going to be amazing. You were right to be attracted to his high levels of intelligence, and his cautious, careful approach to tasks. And that great sense of humor. You will laugh every day of your life. He will hold you close when you feel lost and afraid. He will trust your guidance and seek your counsel. He will treasure you. 

But it will take some time. You will both have to learn to grow up and embrace the art of communication. You will find an amazing woman, Julie Gottman, who will introduce you to techniques that will enable you to overcome so many marital obstacles. You’ll learn principles about communicating and methods for dealing with conflict that you’ll even align with your body of work. Trust me, these tools will prove invaluable. 

Your marriage will become a beacon of hope for couples around the world. But it will take time. Time that can be shortened if you heed many words and remember this letter, starting today, your wedding day. You can be so much more if you start by shedding the heavy, unsightly cloak of fear. 

Your story needs to be heard through the ears of faith and not through fear. Fear prematurely ends stories. It changes the narrative and demands surrender. It turns heroes into cowards and strength into weakness. It both clouds and casts judgment. It slowly takes away the essence of who you really are. It highlights scarcity and inflates the balloon of false pride. You are not what you’ve been through. Your truth and destiny lie in the places you will go and the people whose lives you will touch. So continue to go far and shine bright. Dream often. And fear not.

In this letter, I want you to recognize that you are going to have a beautiful family, a legacy of serving others, and a connection to your husband that’s absolutely unbreakable. But your life will really begin when you can begin to see yourself as a whole. Know that life is not just about what you know or have learned, it’s about how well you learn how to live. Do it fearlessly, for there is life in every breath.

So with that said, here are a few things I’ve learned about love and life over the last 23 years of marriage. 

Never stop dreaming together
Talk openly about your goals for the future, and always support your husband’s dreams. Be curious, creative, and explore your entrepreneurial spirit. 

Take better care of your health
Eat better and get into a fitness program or routine. Stop complaining and taking your amazing body for granted. Spend less time worrying about how you wish you looked and spend more time loving yourself. 

Spend less time yelling
You can be heard the loudest in moments of silence.

Enjoy spending time with yourself
I didn’t discover this until I was in my forties. I missed all that time just enjoying who I was and dreaming about who I’d be.

Keep your childlike twinkle in your eye
It will serve you well and keep you and others laughing. You are funny—stay that way. 

Spend more time in the moment with your children
They really do grow up fast. Parenting isn’t a race, it’s a journey. It doesn’t end when they’re 18. It will challenge you in different ways, but you’ll never get their little inquisitive minds back, so enjoy it while you can. 

Always spend time talking to your husband
It gives you both so much life. Have patience for teachable moments and keep laughing, it really is medicine for the heart.

Keep making space for passion and intimacy
Keep being intriguing and spontaneous. These moments keep you both connected.

Challenge yourself often
Don’t sit in the same place, be different, choose different. Regular is your enemy. 

Trust the process
Everything good and bad happens for a reason, even when you don’t understand why. Keep believing and trusting in the process. There’s always another side and a way to go through. 

Please take these words with you, always. And, I love you. 

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