The 6 Types of Relationship-Strengthening Conversations Intentional Couples Have

THE 6 TYPES OF RELATIONSHIP-STRENGTHENING CONVERSATIONS INTENTIONAL COUPLES HAVE

Kyle Benson

“Few dating couples would get married if they had as little focused conversation as most married couples do.” – Dr. Bill Doughty, The Intentional Family

How couples talk to one another and what they discuss determines the way partners stay emotionally connected within their relationship.

For example, dual-income couples with kids, as observed by researchers, focused on mostly talking about household chores, daycare, and groceries.

I don’t know about you, but talking about picking up celery at the grocery store doesn’t make me feel loved.

The key to intentionally creating an intimate relationship is having a variety of conversations, almost like adding different spices to the meals you cook. Each spice offers a new flavor of deliciousness.

Some spices are rather dull but necessary to build baseline substance; some are bitter and are an acquired taste; and others create an indulgent sensation of pleasure.

Type 1: Routine Conversations

Routine conversations include discussions about chores, who’s taking the kids to what, what’s for dinner, and scheduling events, including date night.

These conversations are essential to accomplish practical things and to prevent items from falling through the cracks.

However, most often these conversations do not create a felt sense of emotional connection and intimacy. When Stacy asks Dave to vacuum, it’s unlikely Dave will gaze into her eyes and in a loving voice say, “I am going to vacuum this entire house!”

When couples end up unintentionally devoting the majority of their time and energy to routine conversations, their emotional intimacy will begin to fade, since they end up having nothing left over to energize their relationship.

It’s important to remember to be mindful of your tone of voice and to be conversational, rather than demanding or critical when having these types of conversations. Sometimes the routine conversation about plans can quickly lead to an escalated conflict based on how partners say things.

If household management is a conflict in your relationship, read: 4 Common Solvable Problems in Romantic Relationships

Type 2: Friendship-Strengthening Conversations

Couples often fall in love by getting to know each other. And then they often fall out of love because they forget to continue to get to know each other over the years. They stop asking questions and stop learning about each other and themselves.

“When we are no longer open to getting to know our partners, we are no longer open to a relationship and love.” -Kyle Benson, The Human Heart Was Made To be Known And Loved

Being known by and knowing your partner is what builds a strong friendship in your relationship. In secure, happy, and long-lasting relationships, partners are each other’s best friends.1

They share funny stories about the kids or work and listen to each other. Each one knows their partner’s frustrations, as well as their joys, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams.

Couples heading for trouble allow conflicts to consume friendship conversations—so much so that they stop asking intimate questions.

The good news is the research on relationship workshops 2 indicate that couples cherish the idea of becoming close friends and can do so instantly. Being a friend is less about learning skills and more about shifting your attitude.

Friendship talk is the number one way to make sure that you and your partner remain connected and in-tune with one another. The goal of friendship conversations is to have uninterrupted time to just be together and continue to learn about each other.

Tips for Continuing to Build a Strong Friendship:

  1. Consistently ask open-ended questions that get to the heart of who your partner is in this moment (Hint: The 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge is a great starting point).
  2. Check in with your partner about upcoming events in your life as individuals and as a family.
  3. Share good news and celebrate, even in small ways, such as giving a high five or big kiss. Or bigger ways, such as with dinner, drinks, and/or dessert.
  4. Share important memories from your childhood when they come to mind.
  5. Talk about personal or life goals and dreams.
  6. Share personal projects you’re working on or interested in. Ask your partner what they love or find pleasurable and meaningful about the project they are working on.
  7. Schedule a playdate with each other and do something exhilarating together.

“A friend is someone who is glad to see you and doesn’t have any immediate plans for your improvement” – Bill Coffin of the U.S. Navy 3

Articles to help you:

If you don’t prioritize having friendship talk, and you eventually stop having them completely, both partners will forget why they fell in love with one another (or even why they like each other) in the first place.

“Enhancing friendship in your marriage is an investment that will pay off over time in happiness and relationship satisfaction.” – Fighting For Your Marriage

Type 3: Support Conversations: “I Have Your Back”

When your partner is hurting what do you do? How do you offer support that your partner needs?

“When you’re hurting, the world stops, and I listen.” – Dr. John Gottman

Research has shown that emotional and physical support from a lover enhances personal well-being, especially under stress. 4 Researchers also discovered that feeling confident you can get the support you need and want from your partner is just as important as receiving that support.

“Although there is some mystery about whom we fall in love with, there is less mystery in what makes for a successful, rewarding relationship…Two of the key elements…are a safe haven and a secure base.” – Wyndol Furman

Dr. Furman 5 advises dating partners not to commit to a relationship unless they have been through a difficult time and each found their partner was supportive in a way that was helpful.

Essentially, relationship security is having faith that your partner will be there for you when you need them. This is the essence of a secure attachment bond.

In attachment world, we evaluate how well partners offer each other a safe haven—a place of emotional and physical refuge—when one of them is hurt, and a secure base from which they can go explore the world with curiosity knowing that they have a person who is cheering them on and will be there if needed.

Making time to give and ask for support is a key way in which you can show your partner that you care for them, understand what they’re going through, and have their back. How we provide that support and what we say is crucial. As much as it might be second nature to offer advice to your partner during their trials, support talk involves listening, validating, and just being there for your partner.

Not only does this help them feel secure in the relationship, but also helps put negative assumptions (“she doesn’t care about me”) at ease, so that feelings of not feeling cared for during small events aren’t triggered during more serious events.

Types of support:

  1. Being there physically (in-person, on the phone, via text, etc.).
  2. Doing things you may not normally do that make life easier for your partner when they are going through a stressful time.
  3. Offering encouragement if your partner is going through something stressful, such as a job interview or something scary to them.
  4. Listening to your partner vent. Don’t try to solve problems for your partner, just listen. A great way to practice this is to have a stress-reducing conversation. “Scheduling formal griping sessions can prevent the spillover of everyday stress into your marriage” – Dr. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
  5. Offer emotional support when your partner is going through a difficult time.
  6. Support goals and dreams. “In a successful relationship, your partner encourages you to develop your interest and talents…[Y]our partner is your number-one fan” – Wyndol Furman
  7. Offer physical touch and support, such as a long hug, cuddling, and hand-holding. This offers your partner a felt sense that you are there for them even without saying a word.

It’s important that partners not only offer support but also talk openly about the types of support they need and how they offer support.

Like love languages, some forms of support are more meaningful to your partner, even ones that you may not find meaningful. Learning to offer support in the way that is most meaningful for your partner can drastically improve how supported your partner feels and vice versa.

Type 4: Conversations Centered on Affection and Appreciation

To build a strong relationship, it’s vital to create a culture of love, respect, and care. You can do this in small ways that can create lasting changes over time.

“Small things often.” – Dr. Gottman’s motto

Make an intentional effort to think relationship-enhancing thoughts and to verbalize or make loving gestures towards your partner.

Saying things even as simple as,

  • “I appreciate that you took the garbage out today. I love how I can count on you to help out around the house.”
  • “I love how you listen to what’s going on in my life. It makes me feel important and I appreciate that I can share that with you.”
  • “I cherish how much you care for our kids. It’s amazing to watch you parent and I truly admire how great of a person you are.”

Can you imagine what your relationship would be like if you and your partner regularly made statements and gestures like this to each other?

Take time to ask your partner what makes them feel most loved:

  • What makes you feel most loved by me?
  • What forms of affection, physical or verbal, help you feel important and loved?

Just as there are two experiences in every relationship, there are at least two different ways of feeling loved. Understanding and loving each other in the way each unique partner feels loved keeps the relationship strong.

Type 5: Relationship Enhancement Conversations (Conflict)

As much as we may hate conflict talk, it is necessary to make sure challenges, disagreements, and conflicts are dealt with constructively.

All relationships have conflict, but how lovers talk to each other about challenges determines how well the couple manages the problems to create win-win solutions.

“Within your conflicts, lies the greatest opportunity for intimacy.” – Dr. John Gottman

For couples, I recommend scheduling a weekly State of the Union meeting because the most effective intervention is prevention.

Here is the State of the Union meeting structure:

  • Set aside 30 minutes to an hour and find a place where both partners can be fully present and engaged. This means no distractions. Finally, check in with yourself to make sure you are ready to talk emotionally and are open to your partner’s experience and perspective.
  • Share five things you love, cherish, and/or appreciate about your partner. This reminds you that you love each other and are allies.
  • Pick a speaker and listener. As the listener, ask the speaker the following: “What went well in our relationship this week?” Listen, summarize what you heard, and validate your partner’s experience. Then switch.
  • Once you both feel like you’ve shared all the positives, then have the listener ask, “What occurred this week that we can improve on?” The goal is just to make a list (if necessary), not to actually start discussing the events or issue. Then switch roles.
  • After you have your improvement items, pick one key topic and choose a speaker and a listener. Switch roles throughout the conversation and focus only on understanding each other completely.
  • After both of you can say, “I feel completely understood,” then work together to find an agreeable win-win solution. Even if it is just something temporary you are trying out for the next week. Sometimes you won’t even need this. Just discussing it may be enough because feeling heard and validated is all partners need.
  • Finish by acknowledging each other for staying engaged and by saying one thing you love about each other. Then ask, “What is one thing I can do to help you feel more loved this week?”

Imagine how much your relationship would improve if you were proactive about what went well and what areas need some adjusting in the relationship?

For those conflict avoiders, doing this actually leads to less “out of nowhere” conflict in the relationship. I know you hate that kind of conflict. Not to mention you might learn a thing or two about what you do well and what your partner cherishes about you.

Do you also notice all the positivity embedded in the conflict conversation?

There is a magic ratio of positive to negative interactions even during the conflict that helps keep the conversation constructive and beneficial.

Remember to speak soften and do your best to listen non-defensively. The articles below will help you with this.

“Whether you are the listener or the speaker, you have equal responsibility for the success of the conversation.” – Patt Hollinger Pickett, PhD

Mindset:

Speaker:

Listener:

Examples:

intimate-relationship-conversations

Type 6: Sensuality & Sexuality Conversations

As I shared in a previous article, Couples That Talk About Sex Have Better Sex. This includes not only sexual acts but also forms of foreplay and romance.

Trying to guess what turns your partner on by the sounds they make in the bedroom is kind of like pinning the tail on the donkey blindfolded. You’re guessing. This is why openly talking about it can be helpful. 6

Furthermore, research has estimated that 85% of sexual challenges can be resolved by giving partners permission to explore their sexuality and having accurate information about desire, arousal, and sex. 7

In long-term relationships, the tendency is to skip the sensual aspects of lovemaking and get to the mechanics of the peak act.

The lack of time and energy spent playfully and curiously exploring each other’s bodies and minds can lead to partners feeling like they are growing apart or that they are used as an object, rather than being relished in as a sexual being.

“There needs to be a place for romance and for sexual talking and touching your relationship – both in and outside the context of making love.” – Fighting for Your Marriage.

Helpful Tips:

  • Create a body map of your partner and while touching all parts of their body they are comfortable with you touching, make a mental note of the areas they find sensitive and pleasurable.
  • Passionately kiss your partner at random times without getting intimate.
  • Take your time exploring each other’s genitals and exploring your own. They’re all beautiful. (Hint: Read Come As You Are to learn more about your body)
  • Try novel places, positions, and ways of touching or being intimate with each other.
  • Ask each other questions to learn about each other’s turn-ons and -offs. (Hint: The Gottman Card App has questions about sex).
  • Make sure your relationship is strong, too. Often it is not having a strong friendship, lacking commitment, feelings of insecurity, or nasty conflict that cause sexual desire to die in a relationship.
  • Read some books and watch videos from certified sex educators, who embody sex positivity, to learn more about yourself and your partner.

Helpful articles:

Reflection

How many of these types of conversations do you have in your relationship? What types of conversations would you like to have more of?

  1. It is my belief that lovers should be each other’s best friends. Research from Gottman, Prep, and other approaches. I think this can also be taken too far if romantic partners expect and sometimes demand their partners to be everything for them. Esther Perel talks more about this in her Ted Talk
  2. (a)Babcock, J. C., Gottman, J. M., Kimberly, D. R., & Gottman, J. S. (2013). A component analysis of a brief psycho-educational couples’ workshop: one-year follow-up results. Journal of Family Therapy35, 252–280. doi: 10.1111/1467-6427.12017. (b)Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2008). Does marriage and relationship education work? A meta-analytic study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 723–734. 
  3. This quotation comes from the book Fighting for Your Marriage by Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg, pages 228–229. 
  4. (a)Bodenmann, G., & Shantinath, S.D. (2004). The Couples Coping Enhancement Training (CCET): A new approach to prevention of marital distress based upon stress and coping. Family Relations, 53, 477–484 (b)Johnson S.M., Moser M.B., Beckes L., Smith A., Dalgleish T., et al. (2014) Correction: Soothing the Threatened Brain: Leveraging Contact Comfort with Emotionally Focused Therapy. PLOS ONE9(8): 1054-1089. 
  5. Furmen, W. (2001). What should fools find in love? In J. R. Levine & H. J. Markman (Eds.), Why do fools fall in love? San Francisco: Jossey Bass. 67-71 
  6. This can be difficult depending on family, religious, and cultural messaging. If you are open, I would challenge exploring this so you can have a more positive relationship with your sexuality. 
  7. This comes from research on the PLISSIT model of sexual education and therapy. For example, John was sexually frustrated with Jane because she never initiated sex. John’s sex-ed courses never taught him that men, typically, tend to have more spontaneous sexual desire than women. And women typically have a more responsive sexual desire that is context-dependent. By strengthening the romantic relationship and creating an environment for responsive desire in the relationship the sexual frustration was no longer an issue. 

Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder Is Now Officially Recognized

COMPULSIVE SEXUAL BEHAVIOR DISORDER IS NOW OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED

Brad Hambrick

Sexual addiction is becoming an official mental health diagnosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) met in May of this year and adopted the new ICD-11, which includes the diagnosis of Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder (CSBD).

Covenant Eyes users might think, “What does this mean for my struggle with porn? How should we approach this diagnosis?” These are important questions that I want to help you think thoroughly about.

What Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder?

If you care to read the official definition for CSBD, here it is. These types of definitions can be technical, but they’re important to understand:

“Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense repetitive sexual impulses or urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behavior over an extended period (e.g., six months or more) that causes marked distress or impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

What are the implications of this that we can clearly affirm?

  • There are good expressions of sexual behavior and bad expressions of sexual behavior. The ICD would say healthy and unhealthy. Christians would add holy and unholy. Healthiness and holiness are not competing concepts, and both should be considered important in this conversation.
  • Sexual behavior has the propensity to be ensnaring and can disrupt many areas of life. This is aligned with the Christian view that sin has a predatory intent to destroy people’s lives.
  • For a habit to become enslaving, an extended period of repetition is required. This is common sense.
  • Pornography is not a victimless activity; many people are negatively affected. This counters one of the most common lies in our culture about the innocence of viewing pornography.
  • There is hope for change. The entire point of placing diagnoses in the ICD is that these diagnoses represent experiences for which some degree of freedom or relief is possible.

Why Was CSBD Included as a Diagnosis?

While it may get a little nerdy, to evaluate the inclusion of CSBD in this diagnostic structure we also need to consider why this diagnosis was added.

“Although this category resembles that of substance dependence, it is included in the ICD‐11 impulse control disorders section in recognition of the lack of definitive information on whether the processes involved in the development and maintenance of the disorder are equivalent to those observed in substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. Its inclusion in the ICD‐11 will help to address unmet needs of treatment seeking patients, as well as possibly reducing the shame and guilt that distressed individuals associate with seeking help.”

So to summarize:

  • Researchers are unsure if CSBD has the same physiological features as substance dependence. Uncertainty on this point is why they don’t use the more common label of sexual addiction to describe this experience.
  • A large number of people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. Diagnoses are included in the ICD when it becomes common enough that clinicians see an increase in prevalence for an experience.
  • The official diagnosis makes it easier for these individuals to be reimbursed for counseling. Insurance companies require a diagnostic code to reimburse for services, which made it difficult for individuals to receive counseling. Adding a diagnosis to the ICD is as much about third party reimbursement as it about discovering something new.
  • It allows for better research on compulsive sexual behavior. Research helps us to differentiate speculation from empirically verifiable approaches to working with a given life struggle. This kind of research should enrich both professional and lay-based care strategies.

Does This New Recognition Present Any Concerns?

Sexual behavioral can get out of control. When it does, lots of people are affected, and WHO wants insurance companies to reimburse for counseling. If we want people to be free from destructive sexual behavior, this all seems fine. But are there any reasons to be cautious with this new label?

When a pattern of behavior receives a diagnostic label, it often creates an external locus of control. Diagnostic labels lead us to think something is happening to us rather than being done by us. There is some concern that this label could reinforce a sense of passivity towards change and a lack of ownership for one’s choices.

The moral nature of the activity can be lost with a label. Too often we fail to realize that something can be both unhealthy and immoral. We treat it as an either-or instead of a both-and. There is some concern that this diagnostic label could distract from the role of repentance in change.

Also, we often assume the remedy for a diagnosis will be medicinal. Again, this doesn’t need to be either-or. The remedy for diabetes involves both insulin and exercise. If there is a medicine that can help with impulse control, we should be happy. But regardless, the fruit of the Spirit known as “self-control” will be required in both taking the medicine as prescribed and other behavioral choices towards righteous living.

How Should We Approach This New Diagnosis?

The answer to this question will vary from person to person. Diagnostic labels are a tool. Any tool can be used for good purposes. In contrast, any tool can also be used for destructive purposes. The problem with tools is usually not with the tool, but with how a given individual utilizes that tool.

If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, affirm the following:

  • Your friend is not alone in their struggle. This can help alleviate some of the stigma associated with sexual sin.
  • Sexual activity has an enslaving tendency. If someone fights a bear and loses, we don’t call them weak. It’s the nature of the bear to be stronger. When someone engages sexual sin and becomes enslaved, it doesn’t mean they’re uniquely weak. It means it’s the nature of this activity to be enslaving.
  • Even secular health experts (meaning, those without the bias of Christian morals) want individuals enslaved to sexual activity to have access to help in the pursuit of freedom. Appealing to secular experts helps reveal the frustration point, “I only need to change because I’m a Christian and God’s hung up about sex,”which is not true.

If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, caution the following:

  • Your choices matter. A label can explain why change is hard; it is not a reason to quit trying.
  • Abstinence and repentance are not the same thing. A secular counselor would just want you to stop engaging in self-destructive behavior (abstinence). God invites you to a restored relationship with Him (repentance).
  • No amount of science will make change easy. But the work is worth it. If there is anything we can learn from science to make our efforts at change more effective, we will. But just like science has taught us a great deal about dieting, those advances in science haven’t made losing weight easy. Peer support and wise choices are still the central elements to change. So, let’s keep going together.

If you are interested in history of diagnostics, I would recommend Allen Frances’ book Saving Normal. Dr. Frances is a psychiatrist who loves his profession but is concerned about overmedicating normal physical struggles. Here is a brief excerpt from his book and few reflections to whet your appetite to read more.

How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War

HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT VIOLENCE, CRIME, AND WAR

Caroline Knoor

Exposure to graphic images, distressing information, and horrific headlines can affect kids’ overall well-being.

Mass shootings. Nuclear weapons. A robbery at your local corner store. Where do you start when you have to explain this stuff to your kids? Today, issues involving violence, crime, and war — whether they’re in popular shows, video games, books, or news coverage — reach even the youngest kids. And with wall-to-wall TV coverage, constant social media updates, streaming services that broadcast age-inappropriate content any time of day, plus the internet itself, you have to have a plan for discussing even the worst of the worst in a way that’s age-appropriate, that helps kids understand, and that doesn’t cause more harm.

We know that heavy exposure to media violence, such as first-person-shooter games and cinematic explosions, can negatively affect kids. We also know that kids report feeling afraid, angry, or depressed about the news. But in recent years — prompted by increased terrorist attacks around the world — researchers are exploring the effects of “remote exposure” to real violent events. Remote exposure is when kids understand that something traumatic has occurred but haven’t experienced it directly. Unsurprisingly, its lingering effects include feelings of grief, trauma, fear, and other mental health concerns. Kids can be deeply affected by images of war-torn countries, bloodied refugee children, and mass graves and need additional help processing them. 

These tips and conversation starters can help you talk to kids of different ages about the toughest topics. Get more advice about explaining distressing newsdifficult subjects, and sexual harassment.

Tips for talking to kids about violence, crime, and war

Age 2–6

Avoid discussion of or exposure to really horrific news. As much as possible, wait until after young kids are in bed to watch the news, and save conversations about heinous subjects, such as Charles Manson or the latest Dateline murder mystery, for child-free moments.

Don’t bring it up — unless you think they know something. There’s no reason to bring up school shootings, terrorist attacks, threats of war, or the like with young kids. If you suspect they do know something — for example, you hear them talking about it during their play — you can ask them about it and see if it’s something that needs further discussion.

Affirm that your family’s safe. In the case of scary news, such as wilderness fires — even if you’re a little rattled — it’s important for young children to know they’re safe, their family is OK, and someone is taking care of the problem. Hugs and snuggles do wonders, too.

Simplify complex ideas — and move on. Abstract ideas can complicate matters and may even scare young kids. Use concrete terms and familiar references your kid will understand, and try not to overexplain. About a mass shooting, say, “A man who was very, very confused and angry took a gun and shot people. The police are working to make sure people are safe.”

Distinguish between “real” and “pretend.” Young kids have rich fantasy lives and mix up make-believe and reality. They may ask you if a scary story is really true. Be honest, but don’t belabor a point.

Age 7–12

Wait and see. Unless they ask, you know they were exposed, or you think they know something, don’t feel you have to discuss horrific news or explain heinous crimes such as rape, beheadings, dismemberment, and drug-fueled rampages (especially to kids in the younger end of this age range or who are sensitive). If kids show signs of distress by acting anxious, regressing, or exhibiting some other tip-off that something’s amiss — for example, they’re reluctant to go to school after the latest school shooting — approach them and invite them to talk.

Talk … and listen. Older tweens hear about issues related to violence, crime, and war on social media, YouTube, TV, and movies — not always reliable sources for facts. Try to get a sense of what your kids know before launching into an explanation, since you don’t want to distress them further or open up a whole new can of worms. Feel them out by asking, “What did you hear?,” “Where did you hear that?,” “What do you know about it?,” and “What do you think about it?”

Be honest and direct. Tweens can find out what they want to know from different sources, and you want the truth to come from you. It’s not necessary to go into extreme detail. About a family who held their kids hostage, you can say, “The kids suffered many different kinds of abuse. But they were rescued, and their parents were arrested. Often in cases of child abuse, the parents are very sick with mental illness or other issues.”

Discuss sensationalism in news and media. Talk to kids about how media outlets — including news agencies, TV shows, movie companies, and game developers — use extreme subjects to get attention, whether it’s in the form of clicks, viewership, or ticket sales. Share the old newsroom adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and talk about why we may be drawn to outrageous human behavior. This helps kids think critically about the relative importance of issues, the words and images used to attract an audience, and their own media choices.

Explain context and offer perspective. With your life experience, knowledge, and wisdom, you can explain the various circumstances around certain issues. This is the process that gives things meaning and clarity — and it’s important for kids to be able to make sense of negative and unpleasant things, too. To work through the powerful emotions that images of beatings, blood, and human suffering can bring up, kids have to learn to distance themselves from horrific events, understand the underlying causes, and perhaps get involved in meaningful ways to make things better, such as diplomacy and education.

Teens

Assume they know — but don’t assume their knowledge is complete. Teens get a lot of their information from online sources such as social media or YouTube, which can be misleading or flawed. Still, it’s important to respect their knowledge and ability to learn things independently because that’s a process you want to foster. You’ll still need to fill in the blanks, offer some history, and share what you know.

Get them talking. High school years can be tough, as teens start rejecting their parents’ ideas, becoming concerned with what friends think, and developing their own voice. This separation can be especially difficult when traumatic events occur or when you know they’re interacting with mature media. To continue the kinds of conversations you had when they were younger — and stay connected and relevant — resist the urge to lecture and instead ask their opinions about things. Encourage them to support their ideas with legitimate news sources, not just repeat what others have said. Say, “We may not always agree, but I’m curious to hear what you have to say.”

Accept their sources, but expand their horizons. Trending topics capture the headlines, but teens are just as likely to run across provocative subjects, stories, and characters on TV and in movies — such as the meth-making chemistry teacher of Breaking Bad — that get users clicking, viewing, and sharing. Give teens the tools to view information critically, whether they’re scrolling through Snapchat, Netflix or a free-speech site for extremists such as 4chan and 8chan. Teach them to question what they see by asking themselves, “Who made this?,” “Why did they make it?,” “What’s its point of view?,” “What information isn’t included?,” and “What would my friends think of this?” These media-literacy questions help teens evaluate information, think beyond the clickbait headline or funny meme, and look more deeply into a topic.

Offer hope. Mood swings are the hallmark of the teen years. But exposure to sad and depressing news, as well as to issues like violence, crime, and war, through social media, video games, and movies can make teens world-weary. Don’t be a Pollyanna (teens will see through that), but talk about meaningful ways to contribute something to the world — anything that benefits the greater good. The idea that you can make a positive impact restores the soul and boosts the resilience they’ll need their whole lives.

Managing Fear After Mass Violence

MANAGING FEAR AFTER MASS VIOLENCE

Jessica Grose

My older daughter was less than a week old when the Sandy Hook school shooting happened. I remember clutching her body to my chest and watching cable news, horrified by the world I had brought her into. For days after, I worried about taking her outside our home and into crowded places. I had a pungent, spiky fear that felt very real in the moment. If someone could gun down a bunch of 6-year-olds, I thought at the time, the notion of safety was ephemeral.

There have been more than 200 school shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook, and upward of 2,000 mass shootings, including the recent string of violence at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, at an El Paso Walmart and in Dayton, Ohio. While anyone’s anxiety could spike over so much death occurring in just a week in places that have a patina of wholesomeness, like a store or a food festival, parental anxiety may be particularly painful. Hearing about brave victims like Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who died in El Paso shielding their baby son, Paul, from gunfire, is harrowing.

Parenting is an ongoing process of learning to tolerate the idea “that you cannot entirely keep your children safe,” said Dr. Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist based in New York City, who called this struggle the “existential paradox” of parenthood.

I spoke to two psychiatrists and two pediatricians about how parents — and their children — can deal with increased anxiety and fear in the aftermath of these shootings.

Understand that a few days of increased anxiety is normal. “It’s an appropriate response to a really traumatic event,” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine. If you need more downtime at home in the few days after such upsetting violence, you should feel empowered to take that space, Dr. Lakshmin said. And acknowledging your feelings is key — avoiding or pushing them down won’t make them go away.

Reach out to parent friends. Connecting with your community to talk through fears can help, Dr. Lakshmin said. That’s particularly true for parents of color or those from religious minorities, who may feel especially acute anxiety in this moment because of the white extremist ideology of many recent mass shooters.

Try to stick to your routine. “Every time a shooting happens, our sense of reality falls apart,” Dr. Lakshmin said. “The world you thought you were living in is not the world you’re actually in.” So trying to maintain your routine keeps you tethered to your day-to-day life. Overcoming your fears by taking your kids to the park, to the store or to camp as planned can help to keep the anxiety from overwhelming you.

Channel anxiety into action. Finding a way to contribute in the aftermath of a tragedy, whether by volunteering with organizations that work to prevent mass shootings or by helping a community affected, can help redirect your fears, Dr. Sacks said. The El Paso Times published recommendations for its community, as did the Dayton Daily News.

Step away from the news. If you find that reading or viewing the details of violent events is triggering your anxiety, try to edit your media diet, Dr. Sacks said. “I do hear from parents that they can be drawn to catastrophic things that happen with children in the news,” she said. “It’s incredibly painful to them, but they feel a pull toward these stories in their empathy and identification.”

It’s helpful to minimize kids’ exposure to news as well, said Dr. Jackie Douge, M.D., a pediatrician based in Maryland and a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Don’t dodge the hard conversations. If you suspect your kids know about an incidence of mass violence, you should ask them what they have heard, said Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “You don’t want to give so much information that you’re introducing trauma yourself,” Dr. Heard-Garris said. But “you also want them to trust you,” that you’re not hiding difficult things from them. If you start with what they know, you “can try to address any misconceptions, or rumors, any anxieties right then and there,” she said.

While “it’s affecting all children” negatively to hear about particular communities singled out for violence, Dr. Heard-Garris said, parents of kids who hear about their religious or racial communities being targeted can send them the following message: “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, but it’s my job as a parent to try to keep you safe.”

Destiny Chavez, 26, brought her two sons Ares, 6, and Arian Aguayo, 2, to pay their respects at the victims’ memorial on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.Calla Kessler/The New York Times

Know when to get help. If you find that you’re anxious for more than a week, or if your sleep, eating or other routines are disrupted, it may be time to talk to a therapist. “If you’re finding these intrusive thoughts are not controllable and they become so loud that you’re taking a circuitous route to get to work, or not letting your kids go to soccer practice, that’s when I would say it’s time to see a therapist and have a more structured space to unpack these fears,” Dr. Lakshmin said.

The same goes for your kids — a little additional fear or anxiety is normal after traumatic events, but if their anxiety is affecting their relationships, sleep or their behavior at school, talk to your primary care provider, Dr. Douge said.

Your child’s fears may be triggered again by school lockdown drills, which millions of children experience each year, and which may leave kids traumatized. All you can do with the recurrence of fear is to reassure kids that these tragic events are still rare, overall, and that their home is a safe place for them to unpack their worries. Tell them: “Your teachers, your doctor, your pastor or rabbi, we love and care about you,” Dr. Heard-Garris said, and that home is “where they have this refuge from this crazy world.”

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?

Behind Every Woman’s Body Is a Woman

BEHIND EVERY WOMAN’S BODY IS A WOMAN

Noah Filipiak

When you look at pornography, what you end up seeing is a long line of naked bodies. When you look at pornography for years, you end up seeing years and years’ worth of long lines of naked bodies.

I do a lot of work with guys who, in their past, looked at porn for years. They don’t look at porn anymore, but they have a very hard time controlling where their eyes go when real-life women approach them. While it seems natural that we should be able to control the physical movements of our eyes, the connection between exposure to pornography and how it conditions us should not be such a surprise. It is, in fact, one of the greatest tragedies caused by porn.

Porn teaches men that women are bodies. I’m using a broad definition of the word “porn” here. I’m referring to any seductive display of a woman’s naked body, whether that’s a pornographic video, a Playboy image, or a scene from Game of Thrones. I’d even throw in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the gateway to porn for scores of men, as its seductive photos have created the same conditioned response: women are bodies.

We know this message isn’t true, and we’ve seen its tragic consequences in our culture, yet it continues every time a pornographic image is consumed.

A Hyperbolic Example

Let’s look at a hyperbolic example. A baby boy is born on an island separated from the human population. All he sees his entire life are videos and images of nude women either having sex, desiring sex, or posing seductively.

Then, at age 25, he is placed into the general human population. How is he going to view the women that he meets and interacts with every day?

That’s a scary thought, but it shouldn’t be surprising. He’s going to see women as two-dimensional sets of body parts whose only purpose for existing is his own sexual gratification. This has nothing to do with how a woman is dressed, for this will happen regardless of the style or fashion. Throughout his entire life his eyes have darted straight to her body parts, so that’s what they will continue to do, because he thinks that’s what a woman is.

I say some of this because I’m still shocked at how secular culture can embrace pornography in all its forms, yet somehow not see the connection between it and the sexual objectification and abuse of women in the real world.

But I also say it to set the table for the real men who are now caught in the trap they have built for themselves over years of being conditioned by porn. Most of us are at a point where we aren’t condemning the man who is looking at porn, or who has looked at it in his past, but are extending a hand of grace and help. But now this man’s physiological responses to women have been trained to see them as sexual objects and to subconsciously glance at their body parts as a now-instinctive act of consumption and gratification.

Can this conditioned response be stopped?

The good news is, it can be. But not without some intentionality and hard work. For most men it will take more than a sermon or a lecture to get their eyes to do what their mind and heart want.

The Problem with the Porn Mindset

The foundation of this rewiring process begins with our approach to how and why we are avoiding pornography in the first place. If you’ve been told to not look at pornography because it’s bad and sinful to do it, you might be able to cut out porn from your life, but your porn mindset is likely to remain. Porn did something to your mind, something that has to be undone. More than just training yourself to avoid pornography, you have to rewire your mind from the porn mindset.

The problem with the porn mindset is it doesn’t see all of a woman (or man), it only sees their body parts. We all know we are more than body parts. We all know our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than body parts. We know that we are all complex beings. We know that what makes relationships both rewarding and challenging is that we are complex beings. Every woman, just like every man, has strengths, weaknesses, stressors, anxieties, pain, joy, personality, values, and a long list of other attributes that separate humans from the animals.

Yet porn has trained men that women are just bodies. You can consume them and move on.

God’s design for sex doesn’t allow for this. His design for sex is that all of someone is embraced in a lifetime commitment. When you deal with all of someone, conflict is sure to come! But the bond of commitment is there to sustain it. All requires selflessness, which is the definition of love. Sex and body parts are only one ingredient inside of this recipe, not something that was designed to be indulged in on their own.

When tempted to lust, the only way to get beyond the body-part-mindset is to understand that behind every woman’s body is a full, whole, complex woman. She is a soul. There is a depth and sacredness to this that I can’t put into words.

If you’re married, you know what I’m saying is true because you see it every day in your own wife. There may have been a day when you first met that you only saw her physical attributes, but you now know she is a much more complex equation than that (praise God). The same is true for every woman on the planet.

Let the Rewiring Begin

Porn has taught you to see: BODY. You have to be rewired to see: WOMAN. And to apply what this means. You look into her eyes because that’s where she is. She is a she, not a thatShe’s not an object to be consumed.

Body parts separated from the person are only things. God didn’t call you to consume people, taking life away from them, he called you to bring life to people. This is the foundational calling of all Christians.

We live on a planet full of human beings. Full, whole, complex human beings. Porn has taught us that women aren’t fully human and we’ve been conditioned into believing that lie whenever we consume them for our selfish gratification.

The path of rewiring means taking the truths of Scripture and letting them renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) away from the lies porn has taught us.

  • Every woman is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), full of his dignity, honor, and complexity.
  • Every woman is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God himself (Psalm 139:13-16).
  • Every woman has a soul.
  • Every woman is God’s.

Repeat these truths to yourself daily when you spend time praying and reading your Bible. Repeat them in prayer all throughout your day.

The next time your eyes want to go toward a woman’s body, remind yourself of the truth that she is a whole person and all that means. Look her in the eyes and see her that way.

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?

The Lies of Lust: Promises That Never Deliver

THE LIES OF LUST: PROMISES THAT NEVER DELIVER

Noah Filipiak

The “Lust Trap” can reel you in anytime, anywhere. Its strong pull brings you in like a sci-fi tractor beam. The graphic imagery of Proverbs 7 describes it like an ox going to slaughter, a deer walking into a noose, or a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.

Most of us can relate to these metaphors. One moment you are minding your own business, the next you are caught up in an insidious trap, too late to be able to do anything about it.

The Lust Trap is a web of lies. Lies that we believe. Lies that make promises that never deliver.

Lie: This man or woman will make me feel whole and valuable.

The biggest lie that men and women fall into with the Lust Trap is thinking they will find wholeness and a lasting feeling of value from their lust. We typically think of full-blown affairs as the end result of chasing this lie. You think this person will make you feel whole and valuable, so you leave everything else and make your dream a reality.

But upon closer inspection, the dream, the pornography, lustful gazes, and mental fantasies all spring from the same breeding ground.

Try to zoom out from yourself for a moment. Picture the last situation you were in when you got sucked in by lust and observe yourself from an out-of-body sort of perspective. What is going on in your soul? What is going on in your deepest desires?

Some will argue that there are no deeper desires. They just desire the body parts and the physical feeling that lust brings. But I can almost guarantee that your lust, whether it was pornography or just a mental thought, was related to seduction. He or she had a seductive look, a suggestive pose or manner about them. Or, that’s what you were wishing for or picturing when you gazed upon this person.

If body parts are the engine of lust, then seduction and suggestion are the gas and oil.

The driving desire behind almost all fantasies is the desire to be desired—the want to be wanted.

We have a gaping hole in our soul that spews out feelings of inadequacy, failure, rejection, and so on. This hole was put there by our dads, our moms, the guys and girls we liked who rejected us, abusers, ex-husbands or wives, and any litany of harsh words and messages throughout life.

Some of this hole is there as the automatic byproduct of living in a culture that constantly exposes us to the top .01% of “beautiful” people in advertisements, movies, music, and television, and then tells us that we are failures if we don’t look exactly like them (and of course, if you buy the product they’re advertising, you will become just like them).

The hole in every person’s soul is unique from the next, but we all have it. And we all seek to fill it up. There are many ways to try to fill up this hole that are not sexual, but they all share a common characteristic: we need to prove our value.

Money, your job, your reputation, your popularity, your accomplishments, your family, your possessions, your physiological feeling of comfort, and your latest three posts on Facebook all make excellent attempts to fill the value-void we carry around.

I am valuable!

I am important!

I matter!

None of it is ever enough.

Life becomes a constant sprint on the hamster wheel of trying to prove these things.

While drugs give a high feeling that numbs the pain, sex gives a high feeling that includes human embrace and acceptance, something no drug can offer. It’s no wonder we chase sex with such abandon. But we all know the harsh reality: the brief feeling of value and acceptance that sex gives us quickly fades away, just like the high from a drug.

There are two options at this point. You can either do more and stronger drugs, or you can reject the lie and embrace the truth. I beg you to choose the latter.

Truth: I am whole and valuable as God’s beloved son or daughter.

When you feel the Lust Trap pulling you in, identify what it is you are really after. It’s not the temporary hit of endorphins, it’s the deeper state of wholeness, acceptance, approval, value, comfort, etc. (add your own words that fit you best).

Saying “no” to lust isn’t enough; we have to say “yes” to something else. We can’t just stop the tractor beam. We have to turn and run into the arms of someone else.

That someone else is Jesus. And I don’t mean the Sunday school, pixie dust Jesus, or even the Jesus that merely gets you into heaven. Not that’s a small thing, but it really only scratches the surface of all we have in Jesus and the healing he longs to bring to our day-to-day aching, lonely, distracted souls.

If you have put your faith in Jesus, Romans 8:15-17 tells you that you are a child, a son or daughter, of God.  It also tells you that you are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ. What Jesus gets from the Father, you get. Romans 8:4 and Colossians 1:22 tell you that when God sees you, he sees perfection, because of what Jesus accomplished on your behalf.

He doesn’t say, “You don’t measure up.” He says, “I love you so much, and I am so pleased with you.” The Father spoke to Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17 and said, “This is my son, whom I love, whom I am so pleased with.”

Because Jesus paid for your sins on the cross, making you a new creation, you are now a co-heir with Jesus. You get these same words from our same Father. You are my son. You are my daughter. Who I love. Who I am so pleased with.

This is what the Father thinks of you. Any other voices you hear are lies.

This is our healing truth. This is the embrace we run to when the Lust Trap comes knocking. This is real, compared to what the Lust Trap can only cheaply imitate.

Your healing wholeness is found in knowing these truths and reminding yourself of them over and over again. Write them down over and over again. Pray them over and over again. Read them in Scripture over and over again. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak them into your heart over and over again.

This wholeness is also found in being in community with others who affirm this truth about who you are.  People who accept you and love you as a beloved son or daughter, the way the Father sees you. Not as someone mired by shame who doesn’t measure up. God designed the Church to be his hands and feet, his very body on earth (1 Corinthians 12).

I’m not going to tell you that church small groups are perfect, but they are a starting point. Look at the brothers and sisters in Christ that God has put into your life and pray and ask God which ones you can go deeper with. Then take the risk and go deeper.

The Lust Trap is a never-ending spigot of lies, and thankfully our God is a never-ending fountain of truth. Reorient your whole life around running toward him and his truth.

His love never fails.

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.

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