HOW DO YOU RESPOND WHEN YOUR PARTNER QUESTIONS YOUR INTENTIONS?
Do you get angry? Defensive?
One of the big reasons we struggle with
relationship conflict is due to the misunderstanding caused by the intention
vs. impact battle.
In Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab, the research team
asked couples, “What were your intentions when you said…”
Sometimes a partner would say something nice
and the intention was clear.
Other times a partner would criticize their
partner’s character for doing something they didn’t like. Even under those
poorly constructed statements, the intention was their partner would hear it,
take the advice, and make positive changes.
“The intention [of the partner] was always
positive, even when the impact [on their partner] was negative.” – Dr. Gottman
on The Armchair Expert
Recently, my partner and I got into a conflict
about her claiming that I was fibbing to her. I told her I skimmed a group
texting conversation and when I summarized, she felt I was B.S.ing her.
This pissed me off because I knew I skimmed
the text and gathered the jist about the conversation.
The reality is, like you, I know myself by
every thought and experience I have. My partner (and everyone else) knows me
only through my actions, words, and behavior.
So when she mentioned I fibbed, I reacted
defensively. I argued with her over my intent.
The problem is, she was arguing with me about
the negative impact I had on her by what she heard me say.
She started as the speaker and me as the
listener. I had to put my intentions battle to the side, and validate the
impact using non-defensive listening skills. Then we switched roles and I
explained my experience and intent. As the listener, she validated this.
At this point, it became clear that some of
the word choices we used when communicating with each other confused the other
person. The reality was, we were on different pages. Our two brains were in
different frames of mind trying to communicate with each other.
And, like a no brainer, we struggled.
When it comes to conflicts in relationships,
remember two things:
The speaker and listener have an equal responsibility to keep
the conversation constructive and positive, even when expressing difficult
feelings. She could have assumed positive intent and I could have responded to
the longing in her initial statement. This would have prevented the minorconflict from escalating.
When you feel misunderstood remember that you have to do or say
something for others to know how you feel. They can’t read your mind (even if you want them to).
This is why slowing down and using the speaker-listener technique saves so many
couples from the brink of a disastrous conflict. When it’s done well, it gets
the relationship back on track.
P.S. Healthy relationships include two partners who value each other’s well-being and may unintentionally negatively impact each other from time-to-time. This is why healthy conflict resolution skills are vital to creating a secure-functioning relationship.
temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he
will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,
he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”1
Nelson Searcy tells of a study that was conducted about the best tasting ice
cream. Members of the control group were blindfolded and given all kinds of
vanilla ice cream to taste—quality brand ice cream, gourmet ice cream, homemade
ice cream, cheap ice cream and everything in between.
It didn’t matter if it was gourmet, brand name, or homemade ice cream,
“The number one determining factor was the percentage of fat in the ice
cream. In other words, the more fat that was in the ice cream, the more
people liked it.”
As Searcy stated, “Now, isn’t that one of the ironies of life? Why can’t
fried chicken, which happens to be my favorite food, be as good for you as an
apple? I have never heard a doctor say—’A fried chicken leg a day will
keep the doctor away.’ The reason they say that is because if you had
fried chicken every morning for breakfast, it would probably keep the doctor
nearby because your cholesterol would shoot up. I guess I’ll have to
settle for apples.”2
And who doesn’t like a good fatty ice cream? As a kid we even used to pour pure
cream over our ice cream. Yum! Yum! We had no idea how unhealthy that was.
Temptation, too, can have an overpowering attraction and appeal. It can look
fabulous and at first taste very inviting—but in the long run its effects are
deadly. It reminds me of an extremely beautiful fish that is found on the Great
Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s only very small but its sting is incredibly
painful. It needs to be avoided at all cost. Same with sin. Regardless how
attractive it appears, its end result is deadly so it needs to be avoided at
all costs. As Searcy said, “When we give in to temptation, we always
regret it because in the long run we always give up something greater for
instant gratification right now.”3
Suggested Prayer: “Dear God, please help me to remember that while sin’s
temptation can be very appealing, it always pays self-destructive dividends.
Through Your Spirit please give me the strength to resist the lures of the evil
one—and the good sense to always depend on You and not try to fight it in my
own strength. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in
Jesus’s name, amen.”
“Her children arise and call her blessed; her
husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs
She was the Vice President of Household Affairs for her entire
adult life. She had a husband, four daughters, and one son whom she managed.
Her calling was not to the workplace; it was to the home. It was a calling that
she fulfilled well. She often went beyond her job description to fulfill menial
tasks like sewing clothes for her twin girls, playing dolls, and even playing
catch with the only boy in the clan.
Things were going along well until midway in life a telephone call
came that changed everything. The caller informed her that the love of her life
had been killed in an airplane crash. She was in her early 40’s, still
beautiful, with five kids to raise on her own in spite of the fact that she
hadn’t worked in the business place for nearly 20 years.
The death of her husband removed their steady upper middle-class
income, and she was now faced with the greatest test of her life. At her lowest
moment, wondering how she was going to make it, she cried out to God. God
answered, “Trust Me, Lillian.” Those audible words became the
strength that she needed to care for her family for the next 40 years.
From that moment on, she came to know her Savior personally and
shared Him with her family. Her children came to know Him as well.
Grandchildren became the recipients of her prayers, and they came to know Him
too. She was building an inheritance in Heaven, one prayer at a time, one soul
at a time. She never remarried; Christ became her Husband.
Whatever wisdom and encouragement has come to you through these
devotionals, it is only as a result of one who answered the call to the
greatest and most important workplace there is: the home.
You can thank my mom, Lillian Hillman, for whatever grace you have
gained from these messages throughout the year, because she remained faithful
to the call to invest in those she was called to love and serve. “Her
children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises
5 SIMPLE (BUT ESSENTIAL) REASONS TO STOP WATCHING PORN TODAY
He sat there, broken and exposed
like never before.
“I didn’t think it would end like
this. I didn’t think it would go so far.” He whispered the words through tears
and gritted teeth.
I had worked with people
suffering from pornography addiction very closely for the past three years, but
I hadn’t seen this level of loss. A marriage destroyed. A family severed. A
high level career in shambles. A man at the brink of giving up on life.
I broke the silence. “What? What
wouldn’t go so far?”
“Pornography.” He looked me
square in the eyes. “Porn just grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. It
consumed my life.”
This man’s story is like many
men’s stories. Porn has a way of sinking its talons deep into our lives and not
letting go. Many people don’t think that porn will have a negative effect on
their life. They don’t know the full ramifications or the incredibly adverse
effects that continued exposure to pornography can have. That is, until it goes
So, whether you are just getting
started or find yourself stuck in the quick sand of pornography, let me give
you five straightforward but essential reasons to quit today.
1. Better Relationships
Did you know that there is a 300%
increase in divorce for homes where one or more people in the relationship
regularly look at pornography?¹
In Scripture, Jesus says, “Everyone
who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with
her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
There is a connection with those
we ‘lust after’ that will get in the way of our relationship
every time. Our eyes and attention are called to be in one direction, but porn
has a way of diverting our attention in many different directions.
Giving up porn will remove the
massive barrier standing in front of our relationships and focus our attention
2. Free Space in
Porn happens to be fantastic at
forming new, long-lasting pathways in the brain. Over time, these images or
videos become burned into the brain, taking up space. These memories can turn
into objectification of the people you see every day, repeating these images in
your mind over and over again.
As these images or videos
increase, so does the space that is stored up in our minds. There is an acronym
often used to describe the effect that these images have on our mind and our
daily interactions. It’s FOE. It stand for “fantasy,” “objectification,” and
Porn will increase the amount of
FOEs that we face each day.
Quitting porn, however, will free
up space in your mind that can be used for good, not objectification.
3. Better Sex
Some of you are wondering why I
didn’t start with this one!
Did you know that porn can cause erectile dysfunction in men?
That’s right, no more erections! In fact, psychiatry professor Norman Doidge
reported in his book The Brain That Changes Itself that
removal of internet pornography use reversed impotence and sexual arousal
problems in his patients.
I am reminded of the words of
Jesus when he said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came
that they may have life and life abundantly” (John 10:10).
Isn’t it just like the devil to
entice us to see all the sexually explicit things that we want, and then have
the ability to enjoy sexual activity with another stripped away? You deserve to
have great sex and that starts with taking the pornography out of your life.
4. Less Stress
Watching porn has a natural way
of increasing stress and releasing cortisol (a steroid hormone) into your
system. However, think about the stress you feel every time someone is on your
computer, looking at your Netflix queue, or asking to borrow your phone. That
stress would be completely lifted off by quitting porn. There will no longer be
that fear or shame of “being caught.”
I heard a saying the other day
that went like this: “The best gift you can give yourself is the gift of a
How true this is! I have been on
both sides of the coin. I have had that fear and stress controlling me, and
I’ve also been on the side of a clean conscience. There is no question as to
where I’d rather be. I’m grateful for less stress.
5. Living in Integrity
Integrity has been described as
“living with the lights on” or “acting the same in front of people as you do
when no one is watching.” Some would describe this as living with
authenticity—being true to YOU. By quitting porn, many begin to live in truth and
I have never found someone who
said, “Watching porn is helping me become my best self!” In fact, the reaction
from everyone I’ve talked to has been quite the opposite. Pornography has
caused them to live outside of their values, keeping secrets and lying to those
they love the most. When you live in integrity, you are able to be the same
person no matter where you find yourself.
One of my favorite conversations
can be found in the book Alice in Wonderland, written by Lewis
Carroll. There is a scene where Alice is lost. She is trying to figure out
where to go, but there are all of these signs pointing in different directions.
As she is trying to make the right choice, the Cheshire Cat shows up.
Their conversation goes like
Alice: “Would you tell me,
please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a
good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it
doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
Alice: “… So long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you’re
sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
For some reading this article,
you’ve walked long enough. This is your moment. Change is sitting right in
front of you, but you will have to take that first step. You will have to make
the decision of where you “want to get to.” Is it a life free from porn? Is it
a place of honesty and integrity? Is it living authentically?
Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?
Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.
Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.
The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.
I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.
When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.
Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.
Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.
He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.
After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna” returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”
To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.
At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.
At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.
When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.
In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.
One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.
It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.
Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.
However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?
In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.
I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?
Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.
The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.
The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”
Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.
Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.
I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM BETRAYAL (NOT JUST LOVE BETRAYAL, BUT BETRAYAL OF ALL KINDS)
Betrayal is incredibly painful. It’s hard to heal
and move on. If you’re searching for how to recover from betrayal – in a
realistic way – read on.
endured a huge betrayal from an unlikely place – a younger woman whom
I was close friends with and mentored for many years. When we first met, she
was trying to write and sell a book – to no avail.
I gave her an idea for a book – then helped her to write the
proposal – asking for no upfront money – just a small 10% back
end commission – should the book sell. She enthusiastically
agreed – thanking me profusely for not charging her upfront for my time. She
had a lawyer draw up papers – which we each signed.
shock, soon after I got her the highly successful book deal
she’d always dreamed about, she turned into an “All About Eve” kind of character –
displaying low-character behavior – in a variety of fibbing,
royalty-hiding and contract-breaking ways.
point, I’ll stop sharing specific details of the story – because my
purpose for this essay is not to complain! Quite the
opposite! I want to share my path to recovery. I
want to help others who are also suffering from a betrayal – either from a
friend, a relative, a spouse, a love partner, a colleague, a boss, a neighbor.
betrayal can destroy so many varied kinds of relationships – and turn
one’s view of the world topsy turvy.
of my main upside-down effects after this woman’s betrayal:
myself less eager to socialize. In particular, I felt nervous to open
my heart to new friendships – and thereby to new pain. I felt hesitant to help
others with books and projects. I worried they too might take advantage.
Plus I did not want to go any place I might see this betrayer: events, cafes,
gyms, yoga studios, social clubs. All my usual haunts now felt haunted by
a potential sighting of her.
initial solution to recover from betrayal:
myself I needed to take some time alone to heal and gain insight. So
I chose to stay in my home more, socialize less. It was easy to do. I’d
just become pregnant. Then I became a mom. In fact, at the time I thought
I was going into a healthful “cocoon” – a less social, nesting period.
it turned out, I was entering a “cave.”
COCOON is a quiet, comfortable place you go to evolve into a
more beautiful you. It’s a safe haven to experiment with new, uplifting
thought patterns. When you emerge, you feel in your full, majestic
power – flying higher and further than before.
A CAVE is a quiet, uncomfortable place you go
to think and brood – to hibernate. Instead of spending time thinking
grand thoughts, you growl. You view the world as cold and unsafe.
How did I finally realize I was in a cave not a cocoon?
thought about leaving my home to socialize, I found myself feeling heavy in the
fact, if you ever want to know if you’re in a cocoon or a cave – check in to
feel the weight of your heart when you think about leaving your home.
feel light in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Butterfly Stories” about the
world – viewing life as a beautiful, safe haven to spread your wings.
telling myself “Bear Stories.” I was even doing “Bear Math.”
person = 1 untrustworthy person
person = infinite untrustworthy people
Psychologists have a term for this “Bear Lens On The World.” They call
it “Permanent and Pervasive Thinking.” It’s when you tell yourself stories
which make you feel like one negative incident has permanent, pervasive,
lifelong negative effects.
my case, these were some of my permanent and pervasive stories:
can’t trust anyone.”
an idiot for being suckered!”
shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”
1 bad thing means I need to keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof
I’m not proud of these thoughts. They are grizzly “Bear
Thoughts.” And they were keeping my life limited, dark, dank – and making
me feel batty – all signs I was in a cave – not a cocoon!
a cave is a place you go to shrink your life – a prison for the soul.
cocoon is where you go to grow your life – an ashram for the soul.
me a while to look around and realize I was in a cave. I just knew my heart
felt heavier when I thought about going outside to play with others. So I
decided to journal about my heavy heart. That’s when I realized I was telling
myself painful permanent/pervasive stories – triggered by this friend’s
you can’t change your past, you can control the story you tell about it –
and thereby change the effects your past has upon your future.
decided the time had come to rewrite my story so it was a happier one.
In my journal, I began by writing
down all my permanent/pervasive thoughts. Next to each, I wrote how
non-permanent/non-pervasive the situation truly was!
should simply be making me anti-jerks. I realized I
should even look upon this betrayal with a bit of gratitude – because
it was a powerful reminder to honor my intuition
more -and stop being color blind to red flags
– no matter if they show up as smaller red hankees.
be told, looking back, there were times I felt this woman’s energy to be pushy
in an uncomfortable, aggressive way.)
event was not meant to stop me from trusting. It was meant to stop me from
ignoring my gut – and thereby keep me safe from falling for even
bigger business betrayals down the road.
some people do suck. But not ALL people! Plus, I should never allow someone who
sucks to suck all the joy out of my day – and my life!
it’s bad when someone’s a jerk. But things could be worst. I could be the
person who’s doing sucky, low-character things.
am truly proud of NOT being someone who could behave so badly. Indeed I feel
compassion for my betrayer. She is stuck living with herself – while I get
to move on and away.
could I move on and away, when I was still
holding onto resentment? After all, anybody who angers me is actually
controlling me – which means they are still an active (and negative) presence
in my life. If I wanted to be happy, I needed “To Pull An Elsa” –
and “Let it go”!
“I’m an idiot for being suckered!”
re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I realized I was displaying the
classic case of “blaming the victim.”
that I enjoyed using the word “victim.” In fact, I’ll be writing more
about the word “victim” at the bottom of this essay!)
calling myself “an idiot” is showing anger and shame at myself – rather than
focusing the anger and shame where it more rightfully belongs – on my betrayer!
re-wrote my word choice from “I am an idiot” to “I am a wronged person.”
reason I was wronged did not truly have to do with intelligence.
simply didn’t see the betrayal coming, because I never would have done such a
thing. My heart is awake, good, active. My heart values loyalty, strong
character and sticking to commitments. Not just for legal reasons – but moral
remembered a quote I’d heard: “Fools take a knife and stab people
in the back. The wise take a knife, cut the cord and free themselves from the
decided that since I very much value the trait of being a non-idiot –
that I should do this wise choice – cut the emotional cord – and set
myself free as a butterfly leaving a cocoon! The best way to cut the
cord? Forgiveness. Yes, even if the betrayer was not sorry, forgiveness was
could I forgive? I needed to keep reminding myself: Forgiveness doesn’t excuse my betrayer’s behavior. Forgiveness
simply stops her behavior from destroying my heart!
it helped to keep in mind a great Wayne Dyer quote: “How people treat you
is their karma. How you react is yours.”
1 bad thing means I need to permanently keep my heart safely stored in a
betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”
first re-read this particular pervasive/permanent story, I chuckled. I
wondered: “Why should I punish myself for the crime this
woman committed? Isn’t that misplaced punishment?” And
this new choice (to avoid letting love into my life) was very much a
all, love is good stuff! I love love!
whenever I push friends and/or potential-new-friends away, it’s as if I’m
punishing these people for the sins of my betrayer!
again I was reminded of the lessons I should be
learning: “Pay attention to the energy I feel around
people. Listen to my gut!”
be told, it wasn’t my trust in other people that was being shaken up by this
betrayal. It was my trust in myself
needed to re-gain my trust in my abilities to see people clearly! So I gave
myself another writing assignment: Jot down all the times I’ve trusted my
life choices – and I was correct. Write about all the awesome, trust-worthy,
loving friends I’ve chosen to be in my life – so I’m reminded that I
have a “good internal picker” and that love is indeed good stuff.
“I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”
re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I also saw it as a form of self-punishment
– because I love helping people! I shouldn’t become less of me because
this woman showed low character values.
should become even more aware of how important strong character values are to
me – and embrace them even more fully.
gave myself another writing assignment: Write down a list of people
I’ve helped with creative projects – and stay reminded how most people
do NOT take advantage, fib and break contracts.
wrote about how good it always feels to help and support people – a win/win –
for both the giver and receiver!
If you’re presently recovering from a betrayal, I encourage
you to watch out for thinking painful, permanent and pervasive thoughts.
refuse to become a member of that club called “People Suck.” Please refuse
to distribute any of that club’s untrue literature.
I invite you to join me in a club called “You Live. You Learn. Life Gets
Better. Yes, You Can And Will Trust Again.”
we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response.
choose the role of victim – focusing on blame, anger, regret and resentment.
can choose the role of victor – seeking support, healing our wounds, retrieving
our power, and moving forward stronger and wiser than before.
I GOT MARRIED IN JEANS BUT OUR MARRIAGE GOT SERIOUS
Luke Dani Blue
Editor’s Note: We’ve
been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so
much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real
Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to
the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman
Institute. Submit your Real Relationship story here.
Last February, my
sister-in-law asked my partner, Migueltzinta, “Do you and Luke ever think of
getting married?” At the time, Tzinta and I had been married for four years.
It’s not so surprising
that she would have forgotten. Tzinta and I got married as we do all things: on
our own, impulsive terms and with a (dignified) F-you to social expectations.
In this case, at a courthouse under a papier-mache Valentine’s Day heart, with
a diner breakfast as a celebratory chaser. Migueltzinta wore a tie. I’m pretty
sure I was wearing jeans.
We’d been together for
three and a half years, and already agreed we wanted to be together for life,
when we ordered our fateful seafood molcajete on the balcony of a touristy
restaurant in southern Guadalajara. Octopus tentacles sizzled in the lava rock,
the green salsa bubbled, and the tortillas were soft as worn-in denim. Food
that good merited a dramatic gesture.
“Should we get married?”
I asked. “Okay,” he said. We exchanged a look—I dare you. No, I dare
you—and grinned at each other. Hetero couples and families strolled in the
courtyard below the balcony. We were invisible up there in the dark, savoring
the dish too large and messy for most people to bother ordering, suddenly
engaged. Although we were the only people to whom any of this was a shock, we
loved the feeling of our own outrageousness. How dare we betray expectations by
doing the one thing most expected of any couple, and yet with so little
apparent regard for what it was supposed to mean?
The thing was, we both
said “married” and “wedding” with fingers crooked into quotes. It’s not exactly
that we were too cool for marriage. We were too skeptical. We were trans people
who had spent our childhoods deconstructing girlhood and our adulthoods questioning
and violating the rules of manhood. Tzinta regularly posted nude pictures on
the internet, hashtagging them #ManPussy. I cringed involuntarily when anyone
referred to me with either male or female pronouns, but was going through a
long hair and skirts phase. Because of the vagaries of identification laws, my
revised birth certificate had an ‘M’ on it and butch Tzinta’s had an ‘F’,
meaning that legally, we were straight. This, especially, titillated us.
Marriage was a fancy house we hadn’t been invited into and we wanted to dance
on the sofa in muddy shoes.
We had no plans to be
monogamous, wear rings, change our names, or label either of ourselves husband
or wife or some cutesy genderqueered alternative (wifeband? Hufe?). We
also weren’t going to pretend that stamping our relationship with a “MARRIED”
sticker changed its fundamental makeup, gave it a fresh beginning, or made it
safer. Break-ups still happened to married people, as did jealousy, betrayal,
and loneliness. All marriage meant, really, was that we could visit each other
in the hospital and that no cop or court or interfering parent could split us
up. That felt like one big gay freedom.
This past November,
Tzinta fell in love with a trans guy who lives far away. Swiftly, the rest of
our relationship seemed to collapse too: trust, plans for the future, our
ability to laugh audaciously at the same jokes.
I binged on therapy
podcasts, stayed up all night doing online quizzes about attachment trauma, and
checked out piles of relationship books from the library. Even the best of them
(the ones by Harriet Lerner, the Gottmans, and Esther Perel) tended to describe
predictable behavior dynamics between a male and female partner. The men, it
seemed, were supposed to evade intimacy and seek independence. The women in the
case studies tended to get clingy, dread abandonment, and over-accommodate.
Hungry for any help at
all, I tried my best to apply the examples to our relationship. Which of us is
the man? I found myself wondering. Also, which of us is the woman? Tzinta is,
without question, very manly. He loves western wear, has a well-oiled beard and
when lost in thought, which is often, frowns with crossed arms, gazing into the
middle distance. Like the men in the books, Tzinta kept telling me he wanted
more space and more silence. He wanted to do a solo three-month road trip and
camp the whole way. He wanted lots of sex, with other guys. He wanted to run.
It seemed like lately all he wanted to do was run. Man, man, man.
All I wanted
lately was his approval and attention. I wanted him to walk in the door excited
to see me. I wanted to be enough for him. This qualified me for the woman role.
Maybe. Except that earlier in our relationship, I’d fallen for someone else too
and all I’d wanted then was to push Tzinta away. I’d fantasized about moving
into a studio apartment and single-mindedly pursuing my career with a few
lovers on the side for entertainment. Man?
The fact was, Tzinta fit
the “woman” role better than I did. Besides the stereotypical stuff—he loves
clothes, especially glittery or tight ones; he cries a lot; he’s extremely
empathetic—the reasons he was mad at me were “woman” reasons: I didn’t make him
feel pretty, I didn’t support him, I wasn’t a good listener, I shut down in the
face of his feelings, he was tired of sacrificing his personal desires for
Defeated, I pushed aside
the pile of books and closed the computer. It was late. Exhaustion beat hotly
against the insides of my eyelids. Tzinta was asleep downstairs but he felt a
million miles away. Any other time in our relationship, I could have savored
this joke, knowing I’d share it with him in the morning. “I realized,” I would
say, “that you just have more gender than I do.” It would have been hilarious
to think that Tzinta was both more of a man and more of a
woman than I was, if I hadn’t been terrified that I was about to lose him.
Tzinta was going away for
a long weekend. Our goodbye was chilly. He pushed me away, then cried and
wanted me to come close again. It was the same hot-cold stuff that had been
going on for months. I felt like a spaceship leaving earth’s orbit, Tzinta’s pain
and frustration winking far below before being swept into blackness. I thought,
how much more of this can I take? Tzinta kissed me and the dog, got in the car,
and drove away.
As soon as he was gone,
the blackness of outer space turned out to be a hurt larger than comprehension.
It kept sneaking up and pouncing. I’d thrash on the floor until the mauling
stopped, then get up and continue whatever I’d been doing. It took five hours
to do laundry.
We didn’t talk or text
that weekend. Instead, we contemplated life without one another. It turned out,
as it always seems to, that my life would go on without him. I didn’t like it,
but it was imaginable.
Do fights ever end or do
they just go to sleep? Does love? Maybe, I thought, getting older is knowing
that there is no exit. I could lose Tzinta or not but I would still be wedded
to myself. Still circling my own fears and wounds with whoever else was on
On Monday, Tzinta came
back. I let him in. We talked. For the first time in a long, long while, we
The darkest period in our
eight-year relationship has, I hope, passed. For reasons of their own, Tzinta
and his lover broke up. It didn’t make our problems go away. It didn’t make the
things I’ve done over the years that hurt Tzinta magically erase themselves and
it didn’t make the ways he’s hurt me this year not matter.
Recently, I’ve found
myself thinking about our courthouse wedding. Particularly, about this thing
that happened while we were responding to the courthouse-provided vows. “I do,”
said Tzinta, tears rolling down his cheeks. My hands stiffened in his. I felt
pure fear. Not over the commitment—I had committed to him in my heart months
before—but because of his tears. I had thought getting married didn’t mean
anything other than a beautiful dare, a crazy joyride through heteronormative
convention. But when Tzinta cried, it dawned on me that I missed something.
Some complexity, some reason it could make him weep.
At the time, I thought I
was just embarrassed about my jeans and lack of tears—the general discomfort of
not matching Tzinta’s intensity. Now, though, I wonder if I was, simply, sad.
After all, I had missed the opportunity to make the symbol of marriage my own.
I still don’t believe
that marriage is inherently meaningful or that the four years Tzinta and I have
been married can really be distinguished from the four years we weren’t. In my
mind, the clock of us begins on my birthday in 2011, when we were two near-strangers
shyly grinding in a sweaty queer bar in Mexico City. Each year since then has
added a layer of complexity.
Now, in this pit of
difficulty, love, and effort, is the most married we have ever been. By which I
mean, I think, we’ve done the most growing into and through our emotional bond.
That would be just as true without a piece of paper from Alameda County.
But I wish we had some
vows to fall back on, rather than a list of negatives, like “not monogamous,”
“not embracing false security,” and “not becoming our parents.” In the dark,
it’s good to have a light to circle back to. Something to remind you who the
two of you are together. Even a rule or two would be nice, so long as they were
good ones, like “remember to give compliments” or “go on dates.”
Recently, I said to
Tzinta, “Maybe we should have a real wedding.” He considered that but said it
would feel like we were trying to start over. He didn’t want to start over, he
said. It had been enough work to get to where we were. Hearing that, I again
felt the sadness of a missed opportunity. A weight began to resettle on my
“Let’s do a huge party
for our tenth anniversary instead,” he suggested. And because he is still him,
and I am still me, I said, impulsively, willingly, full of a sense of brightness,
“Okay.” And then, “What food are we going to serve?”
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.
I’ve heard it said that the Bible doesn’t mention premarital sex
as a sin. There are major implications to this on two levels. One, there is the
simple and important question of knowing what is a sin and what isn’t. Two, and
more importantly, if it is a sin (and why) has huge ramifications on God’s
overall design for sex and how men are to view women and vice versa.
If you type “premarital sex” or “sex before marriage” into your
English Bible concordance, nothing is going to come up. If you search for
“adultery,” a married person having sex with someone who is not their spouse,
you’ll get all kinds of occurrences. So I suppose this is where some get the
idea that maybe sex is okay up until you get married, then you’re locked into
that one person from thereafter.
If you’re used to reading the King James Version, you’ll note
that it often uses the word fornication, which means sex-before-marriage. The
NIV and other translations swap this out for the term sexual immorality, which
is quite vague and does not give the surface indication that
sex-before-marriage is a sin.
The Greek word used in the original New Testament text for
fornication or sexual immorality is porneia (Matthew
5:32, 15:19, 19:9; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25; 1
Corinthians 5:1, 6:13, 6:18, 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19;
Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Revelation 2:21; 9:21;
14:8; 17:2; 17:4; 18:3; 19:2). Porneia is
a separate Greek word from adultery, so we know it doesn’t mean the exact same
thing. Hence, it makes some sense why the KJV translators would use the word
We also know that porneia brings
about children outside of wedlock (John 8:41), so it is sex. Porneia is also
the word used to describe the acts of the great prostitute in Revelation 17,
and is the root for the word prostitute itself (1 Corinthians 6:15). These uses
are a pretty open-and-shut case that porneia means
But porneia can also be done
by a married person (Matthew 5:32; 19:19). A man sleeping with his mother or
step-mother is considered a type of porneia (1 Corinthians 5:1).
So from these two examples, we see that porneia doesn’t
exclusively mean sex-before-marriage. It’s safe to say that adultery is the sin
of when a married person has sex with someone who is not their spouse. And
that porneia (KJV: fornication, NIV: sexual immorality) is the sin
of any type of sex outside of marriage, which would obviously include
sex-before-marriage, as well as prostitution and adultery.
More Than A Rulebook
anything that goes against God’s design for sex. And it’s crucial that we get
back to the point about God’s design. While there is value in analyzing the
text to determine what is a sin and what isn’t, it has the feeling of etching
out a rule book for the sake of a rule book. Like telling a teenager not to
have sex before marriage, “because it’s bad,” without giving any further
explanation. To approach any of God’s commands in this way doesn’t do justice
to why a loving God would give them to us in the first place, nor do they
provide much intrinsic motivation to follow them. We must always go back to the
design, which thankfully Scripture does with crystal clarity on the matter of
God’s design for sex is laid out in the
creation blueprint of Genesis 2:24: That is why a man leaves his father and
mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Some will say that this verse is only
referring to marriage—that when a man and woman become married, they become one
flesh. The apostle Paul disagrees. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul says that anyone
who has sex with a prostitute has become one flesh with her. You become one
flesh with someone when you have sex with them.
This is why premarital sex is a sin. It’s also
why so many find their hearts so broken and battered.
What “one flesh” means is that a whole person
accepts all that makes someone else a human. It’s like taking a yellow piece of
Play-Doh and mixing it together with a piece of blue Play-Doh. What happens?
You get green Play-Doh, never able to distinguish or remove the yellow from the
blue again. One flesh is not just about body parts, it’s about one’s entire
being. It’s why we say the vows we say at a wedding…for better or worse…for
richer or poorer…in sickness and in health. No matter what comes our way, I
have accepted you and will protect you and be here for you. All of you. Not
just the good parts. But also the annoying parts. The things I’d like to
change. The weaknesses. The quirks. All of that becoming one with all of that
in me, for a lifetime. That’s the environment God designed sex to create
between two people. It coincidentally is also the perfect environment for
Sex was designed by God to be a part of the
greatest self-sacrificing relationship possible. The byproduct of
one-flesh-marital-sex was to be a strong society where children are loved and
married adults are accepted and protected by their spouses. Sin has turned sex
into an act of selfishness. The consequences on our society couldn’t be any
clearer. This of course doesn’t end with premarital sex. Once sex becomes
selfish, people are simply objects to be consumed. This objectification
provides the booming demand for pornography, a sex-addicted Hollywood, and
If you do the math, you can’t have multiple
one fleshes with people. That’s why premarital sex does such damage to our
souls, and to our society. You are sharing intimacy that can’t hold its own
weight. You are doing a trust fall with no one to catch you. Sin and our
culture have taught us sex is about us and getting our desires met. God’s word
tells us sex is about a lifelong commitment of accepting and supporting all of
someone else. No matter how unpopular it gets, God’s word will remain our guide
for finding true life and true freedom in understanding how we are to view sex,
ourselves, and the men and women we share this world with.
No sex in heaven? Many might ask what the other options are at this point!
One of the reasons this news shocks us is because we view sex and heaven selfishly. Culturally, sex has become a selfish act of consumption. And our view of heaven is typically a place of self-centered utopia. We picture beaches and paradise and all the pleasure for ourselves that we can dream of, often not with much thought about God being around at all. This me-centered paradise is a great match for lots of sex for all of eternity. In fact, several of the main world religions promise this (maybe a clue that those religions were made up by a man? But I digress…)
But thank goodness that’s not what heaven, or sex, is meant to be according to the Bible.
Sex is a one-flesh relationship that bonds a man and a woman together in every way possible. It’s why this one-flesh relationship can only function healthily within marriage. The one-flesh bond includes full acceptance and commitment to all a person is, not simply their body parts (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:15-16). You are one flesh, at all times, in all ways, which can’t be undone.
This sounds pretty amazing, and deep, and night-and-day different from what our culture calls “sex” today. But there’s more. This sex and this one flesh don’t exist for their own end. They aren’t the destination, they are simply another sign post. A sign post pointing to where?
What Sex Really Points To
After giving a treatise on marriage and sex, Ephesians 5 concludes with the following:
“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Heyo! The whole time Paul was talking about husbands and wives and marriage and sex in Ephesians 5, it says here he was actually talking about Jesus and us! Marriage and sex are metaphors for the relationship we have with Jesus.
What is a metaphor? It is a sign post. It points to the real thing. It’s something tangible we can look at in order to understand something else. It’s a symbol we can learn from in order to understand and experience the real thing.
The real thing is the one-flesh relationship Jesus desires to have with each of us. It’s the relationship he has with those who call themselves Christians. It’s a relationship of intimate love and acceptance and support and trust, where Jesus is the groom and we are the bride. Earthly marriage and sex are symbols that can help point us toward the real thing.
This is why there is no sex in heaven. You don’t need sign posts when you’ve arrived at the destination!
It’d be like driving to Disney World and parking the car at the green highway sign with the white text of “DISNEY WORLD” and the white arrow pointing to the off ramp. Imagine parking your car there, taking a selfie with the family, and then driving home, telling everyone you’d been to Disney World!
The destination is always better than the sign post.
Heaven Is Not a Perpetual Fast
Some might disagree! But the reason for the disagreement is because we’ve been worshiping the sign post for far too long and we simply don’t have the full experience of the real thing yet. In talking of the perspective that heaven would be a “perpetual fast” from sex in the minds of some, C.S. Lewis had this to say:
“…or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer no, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it.
We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.”
A boy can’t understand if you try to tell him sex is the highest bodily pleasure, because he is convinced chocolate is and isn’t ready to understand sex. We can’t understand that pure intimacy with God in his direct presence is what makes heaven, Heaven, not that it’s some me-centered place where we eat Bons Bons on the beach, while watching Netflix, and of course, having sex. Nor can we fully grasp that intimacy with God is better than sex, both now and for all eternity. But the truth remains, which we are exhorted to believe and live by.
This is fantastic news. We worship sex on earth, but it’s also our place of deepest longing and brokenness. A single person feels unloved because they don’t have a sexual partner. A married person goes to pornography, an affair, or fantasy, because the sexual partner they do have isn’t satisfying them.
The Answer to Our Longing for Sex
The answer to our longing for sex is not sex! It’s intimacy with Jesus. We get to experience this intimacy on earth. This unconditional love where God adopts us as his sons and daughters and is well-pleased with us and we are fully accepted into his arms because of what Jesus did on the cross for us. But imagine this experience in a fully direct, physical way. Wow! That is heaven.
This gives us reason to not worship sex and it also reminds us we don’t need sex. Whether we experience the sign post or not is somewhat irrelevant. What is relevant is that we take God at his word that the destination will be much better, attuning all of our navigational tools toward that destination, not any metaphor, imitation, or sign post along the way.