Premarital Counseling for Today’s Generation

Many couples are reflecting on how 2020 went for them and wondering how 2021 will treat them. We noticed a boom of weddings in 2020 despite the pandemic. This encouraged many to get engaged and to hopefully get married in 2021. We may wonder why people are getting married, and it could be as simple a matter as singles and dating couples being tired of living alone.

The pandemic has brought many issues to the surface such as depression due to constant isolation and anxiety when alone. Autophobia is the fear of being alone and is especially difficult the older you are. Undoubtedly families and couples did better than singles while being left alone for such a long time during the pandemic.

Although some took the risk of going out during the outbreak, many had no option but to stay at home out of concern for a loved one. This woke up many men and women to consider moving forward with their partners toward marriage. This is a noble solution to the problem of being alone. Wisdom would say that although it’s great to get married, we must build solidly to have a long-lasting marriage.

As a minister, I notice that couples in our church tend to rush into marriage but many, if not all, of these couples wisely seek advice. The pandemic is causing doubts and questions for possible weddings of 2021 such as financial costs, wedding attendance, where to live, school, jobs, family distance, etc.

A blessing in disguise of the pandemic is that it is helping couples to work through these issues with others, which is helping them to count the cost of moving forward.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’Luke 14:28-30

These couples cannot afford to put up money for a big wedding, and they are wondering where to live because, if the pandemic extends, they want to know could they be safe, and what is around them in walking distance i.e., parks, beach, trails, stores, etc. With this in mind, partners are asking one another about pre-marital counseling.

Premarital counseling is a foundational precursor to a healthy marriage because we tend to invest in what’s important to us. The passage in Luke helps us to consider how we are building. Couples aren’t just “fools rush in”, there is an alternative that can support a stronger relationship that will remain resilient during challenging times.

Sadly, many couples also ended their relationship in 2020 because the pandemic tested them beyond their capabilities and forced them to tap out. Couples’ characters were exposed and with the added pressures of isolation, they had no one to turn to. These marriages had little to no support that otherwise could have been of immense help.

The question is, why didn’t these couples have support? We could chalk it up to many possibilities, but one vital reason could be that it wasn’t discussed at their premarital counseling. We all have friends, but we don’t turn to them to get input especially about sensitive material as insecurities, sexual intimacy, conflict, jealousy, deceit, secrets, etc.

If adequate support is not set up in advance this challenge can be difficult to overcome. We all need support to move forward in life. We all appreciate the heroic stories of individuals, but the most encouraging ones are the teams of heroes that show everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Avengers, Justice League, and Star Wars are all some of the biggest box office hits in the last decade. The reason for their success is that they are teams fighting off a great evil. These have become bigger revenue-generating franchises and have overtaken the individual hero’s place as top of the box office king. Why do we have less enthusiasm about being a team in our marriages? Marriage is a perfect opportunity to be a team and have others team up to helps us.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

This is an interesting passage for couples because if my partner and I are one then who is going to help our one unit? Some may suggest that spouses are the other individual to help them out, but we can challenge that position by reminding everyone of the goal that God designed in Genesis 2:24 “the two will become one.”

By that principle, a couple who follows the word of God is one unit. The secret of Christian marriage is that we get to celebrate two lives joined together in holy matrimony, yet they are not alone. In the kingdom of God, we have support and guidance to face any issue. Marriages should never be alone. As separate individuals, we can support one another and maximize the potential of our unions.

2021 is going to be a full year of many couples dating, getting engaged, then married. Families will begin and many joyous occasions will take place. During those moments there will be stress and anxiety and one way to combat those symptoms will be to get premarital counseling as soon as possible.

First, dating or engaged couples can jumpstart their long-term relationship by investing in a healthy premarital counseling series so that they can develop a great foundation to make their marriage strong. Second, they can develop a support network. If they do these two crucial things, along with reading their Bible and praying every day, then they can have confidence that will stay together for the long haul.

If for some reason their church, ministry, friends, or community cannot provide that, then therapy can be a great alternative. Marriage and Family therapists are trained in basic approaches that can help couples in their relationships hence the title “marriage” therapist. Some may say that therapy is too pricey and could take up a lot of your time. An argument can be made that investing in your relationship is priceless.

When I married Nicole, there was no price too high to pay for the ring, wedding, and honeymoon. We had a budget of course, but my attitude was that I wanted to invest in the things I thought were important to me. Where we put our money shows where we are invested.

My advice to those of you reading this article is that if you are considering getting married soon, think about possibly getting premarital counseling through a therapist who will be impartial and professional. Sometimes our friends and family can mean well when it comes to giving us premarital advice but at times that can have some biases attached with it.

A professional therapist is trained to be in the middle and not side with either partner. The licensed marriage and family therapist will work with both individuals to help bring issues to light that could be of concern and to build skills to help them navigate expectations for the future.

Having a healthy dynamic marriage is priceless. I look back to when Nicole and I got premarital counseling and I shudder to think what would be said of us right now if we had never invested in our relationship after our engagement. In truth, our marriage would be a nightmare.

I’m grateful that others supported me and helped me to learn ways to communicate effectively, how to plan out my week with my wife, prioritizing biblical values, sexual intimacy, reconciliation, daily encouragement, effective roles, letting go of past hurts, submitting to one another, listening, finances, etc. Many couples get married and do not talk about these issues.

It is no wonder that couples have so many arguments. They approach their relationship with optimism but then they hit a snag after the vows. When conflict arises, they realize that they didn’t prepare for these issues and are shocked when they have no one to turn to. They want to save face, so they keep it “in-house”. They go to church and pretend that everything is fine.

Deep down, however, they are yearning for help so that they can grow. This piece is written for those looking forward to getting married this year but honestly, anyone can get counseling at any point in their relationship. It’s an investment that will reap long-lasting rewards. One spouse can go alone, although it is highly recommended that both attend.

If the couple is healthy, and one spouse wants to process a trauma from their past, then that one spouse should get therapy and may not need to include the other. If the conflict affects both, then both should attend to get therapy. Premarital counseling will prepare the couple so that they will not be blindsided by any potential threats.

Athletes say that the worst hit they take on the field is the one they don’t see coming. With premarital counseling, not only will you be ready for those challenges, but you will also be ready to confront them. Not only will you be ready to confront them but be victorious as a wonderful team. I close out with an encouraging analogy from Jesus on how to build our spiritual homes:

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.Matthew 7:24-27

Photos:
“Rings”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love & Respect”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions Together”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Looking for Love: How to Overcome Emotional Affairs

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Looking for love in all the wrong places”? It’s a phrase we throw around to our peers when we casually talk about a hopeless romantic who may be searching for love in areas where they will not find true love, such as emotional affairs. This idea of true love is what many are searching for.

Think about the following: fame, fortune, popularity, success, power, family, and so forth. Why do we want all these things? We want them because we want to be loved. Maybe we won’t admit it but at the end of the day, we work hard because we are searching for that endless love. There are some interesting proverbs in the Bible that support this.

What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar. – Proverbs 19:22

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find? – Proverbs 20:6

Unfailing love is what we all want right? That comfort of knowing that your partner or loved one wants to prioritize you and to hold you dearly. We look forward to that warmth and affection with our partners because it makes us feel so special. I remember the first few dates I went with my wife Nicole how easily I had butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t help it.

My emotions and thoughts just overwhelmed me with this notion that I wanted to be with Nicole and no one else. Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations, holidays are all special because we cherish these moments with those we genuinely love.

The flip side to that coin also is that we want a partner who is willing to be tried and true with us. Forgiving one another, being patient, understanding, supplying encouragement and support are all aspects of when things aren’t as blissful. We prefer that our partners work with us during challenging times and not give up on us when we royally mess it up.

So good or bad, we want true love that overrides all situations. Those two proverbs aren’t there by accident. They are there to provide insight into how we think and to bring to the forefront what our mission is. Our mission isn’t to be right, or to amass wealth, or to be famous. The goal is to find the cherished love that is so evasive at times. The question is how are we searching for this love?

2021 will be a year of growth for many of us and I’d dare say that growing in our relationships is a very top priority for many of us. 2020 brought hurt and discouragement for many of us also. Addiction grew, domestic violence went up, many betrayals surfaced because the pandemic of COVID-19 exposed our true natures.

One of those exposures may have been emotional affairs. Some may have caught their partners watching pornography on the internet. Others could have wondered why their finances were disappearing and still others may have been that substance abuse was uncovered. However, emotional affairs may explain why you are reading this article.

Maybe you were the partner that was affected by a spouse who connected with someone online in an inappropriate way. Maybe your partner has a bad habit of being flirtatious with the opposite gender with certain staff at a certain establishment which pains you to see. Despite bringing it up you may get accused of overreacting.

Another possibility is that maybe you or someone who is in an emotional affair and you’re wondering if you’ve gone too far. This article interested you because you are at a crossroads in your relationship, and you may have ventured out of the boundaries in an emotional relationship and now you are contemplating on what you are going to do.

Lastly, you could be a friend of someone who is either a victim or a perpetrator and you want to help them out. I applaud you along with our readers for your noble heart to research and understand ways to help your friends potentially stay together for the long haul. Not sure where you are at in this, but you’ve come to the right place to get some extra resources that can help them lovingly and spiritually.

What’s Wrong with Emotional Affairs?

Why are emotional affairs wrong? I want to tackle this first because some may say “there’s nothing physical so what’s the issue?” Indeed, an emotional relationship may not include any physical involvement but there’s a reason it hurts our partners. When we enter a relationship, we may not show our deal-breakers upfront. So, some partners may think they can enjoy their relationship if there’s nothing physical with someone else.

It’s kind of a taboo thing but nothing that could have enough substance to become a deal-breaker. We may point out that the Bible says that the only three ways out of a marriage are death, adultery, or abandonment. As an evangelist in my church, I can agree with that. However, emotional affairs cause major disruption in your marriage.

Think about it this way, would you want someone to be with you at the altar ready to say, “I do” only to hear them state that they will only be faithful to you “99% of the time”? No one would accept that. We want our partners to genuinely love us 100% of the time. It would be insulting to have dinner with your spouse only for them to be daydreaming of some crush they have.

Emotional relationships are a matter of the heart and that’s what needs to be addressed. Jesus calls this out as “matters of the heart”:

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. Mark 7:21-23

Jesus is calling out these physical issues, but he is addressing them from the perspective of the heart. Usually, perpetrators of emotional relationships state that they were reacting to someone else flirting or making advances. The perpetrator needs to understand that those boundaries aren’t to be crossed because something that has no strong boundary needs to be questioned.

We have doors in our home, locks on our windows, alarms for our cars, codes, and passwords to our computers for what reason? It’s to protect what we cherish. We protect what we love. If the boundaries are off, then we invite danger to our most intimate places and Jesus takes the ax to the root by saying that we need to look at our heart.

Adultery doesn’t just happen, it evolves, and these scriptures point out that it started within us. It could be why in the gospel it says that the most important commandment is to love our Lord with all our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. God wants all of us. He doesn’t accept partial love.

That expectation makes sense to me because I don’t want my wife to be thinking of some guy who flirted with her at the supermarket earlier that day. If we are having dinner, I want her to be present with me. We all want that. Should that situation arise, my wife has some great women in her life with whom she can be open about that temptation. She can seek input from women who will follow up with her and pray to God for her to be victorious in that area of her life.

The same thing goes for me. If I am tempted, I can call a brother in Christ who can listen and provide me with input so that I can tackle this from the beginning instead of it running ramped in my heart. Remember that these expectations are supposed to be high because we are searching for unfailing love. Our partners deserve to have us be present with them in mind, body, and soul.

Tips for Overcoming Emotional Infidelity

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a solid approach for confronting emotional affairs. A foundational core principle of CBT is that it helps us understand the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Anyone who is either a victim or perpetrator of emotional affairs should seek professional help to confront this at once to salvage their relationship.

A trained Cognitive Behavioral Therapist can validate your struggles from the start because they want to listen to your story without judgment. Does this mean that the perpetrator can be validated as well? Absolutely. As professionals, we are not here to take sides. Our goal is to provide you with tools to discover what is going on and work together to move forward in healthier ways.

Most Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) are trained in some form or fashion to provide CBT because it is one of the most widely used approaches for therapy. One of the main reasons it is widely used and accepted is because it deals with problems from the inside and out. Adultery is physical which means in CBT language that it can be labeled as an action.

But how would you go about an emotional affair? Can people just sweep it under the rug? Not with CBT. It can be classified as an emotional issue. The therapist would not just focus on emotions but would help the client process their thoughts behind their emotions and what actions they took.

With CBT it all works together. Not one part is left out. Interestingly, the gospels say that if we are to love the Lord then we need to do it all with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no shortcutting this process.

This approach is excellent for those who have been hurt by emotional infidelity because they feel the pain of being betrayed. They can explore those feelings and realize past trauma tied into the current hurt. The process continues as to what they are thinking and possible actions they can take to empower themselves. This is one of many possible approaches but in my work with hundreds of clients, I can’t think of a better approach.

Here are some tips to overcome emotional affairs based on the CBT approach that would include Thoughts, Emotions, Actions (T.E.A.) dialogue:

Thoughts

What thoughts are we processing? This is crucial to start with because so many times we rush to the evidence (phone, internet, talks, etc.) Once an emotional affair has been discovered, we need to ask both partners what they are thinking. One may think that the relationship is over. But is that true? Many people have different emotions, and they stem from what we think.

We don’t condone the affair, but we must try to listen to what our thought process was like to get to the root, recalling Jesus’ words to focus on the heart. The injured party should also voice insecurities, betrayal, shame, embarrassment, etc. The party who was emotionally unfaithful should be a great listener and confirm their partner’s thought process as well.

Remember this rule, if you do something or feel something, you must have thought of it beforehand. Unfaithfulness of any kind is not to be dismissed as a reaction incident. The mind played a role all along.

Emotions

What are we both feeling? What goes on inside of us internally is something to be appreciated. We love romance, zeal, and passion. Those same emotions can but in two ways because someone who is charismatic could also be a big-time flirt. So, we need to address our emotions and validate them further recognizing that emotions are tools and not weapons.

Validation by all parties, the partners, support, and the therapist are crucial. There is no such thing as crazy emotions. The betrayer should allow ample time for the hurting individual to gather their emotions and join in their mourning. This can be a painstaking process but one that leads to success more times than not.

Actions

The whole story must be told. This may sound unfair to the one who is betrayed but it is paramount that both spouses share their entire story of what happened without judgment. We don’t need to be sentimental with the party who committed the infidelity, but we need to understand what is going on in their hearts.

Sharing your story will cause discomfort but it will help the healing process the more times you share it. Get help and support. You don’t need to tell the world but view it as an opportunity to empower yourself. Recommit yourselves to one another, set up boundaries, and have weekly accountable times with your support system.

In conclusion, I want to say that no flaw is fatal. People who either commit emotional affairs or are betrayed by them can still recover and do well. We can make some terrible mistakes, but the grace of Jesus helps us during those crucial times. These are hurtful times but if we seek help and support there’s no telling of what incredible progress we can make as couples.

Photos:
“Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Paola Chaaya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “God is Love”, Courtesy of Hassan Saleh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watching the Bay”, Courtesy of Charlie Foster, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Just Married”, Courtesy of Desiree Fawn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

5 Tips for Pursuing Christian Marriage Counseling

“A good marriage is where both people feel like they’re getting the better end of the deal.”Anne Lamott

It has been truly said that although marriage is a precious gift of God, it is, in the end, a union of two sinners. This sin – inherited from our First Parents and perpetuated by each one of us – brings trials and troubles into marriage that sometimes make it necessary to seek Christian marriage counseling in order to overcome.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, Tim Keller writes, “While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears; humbling defeats and exhausting victories.”

5 Tips When Pursuing Christian Marriage Counseling

Consider these five steps to as you prepare to seek Christian marriage counseling.

1. Recognize that you can’t do it alone.

When you and your spouse experience marriage problems, the first thing to recognize is that you may not be able to fix it on your own. The help of the Holy Spirit, working through a professional counselor who is focused on the Word of God, will bring about change in your relationship.

Maybe you’ve already tried it solve your problems by yourselves and have gotten nowhere, or maybe you just find that the spark has gone out of your marriage and you want to rekindle the sense of closeness and intimacy that you used to enjoy.

Recognizing that your marriage is not what it should be and that you need God’s power to fix it is the first step toward healing. God’s vision for your marriage is higher and greater than you could ever imagine.

2. Recognize that marriage problems are normal.

Your marriage problems may seem huge. Perhaps you recognize the same issues rearing their ugly head time after time and nothing ever seems to change. Maybe it feels like the two of you are just incompatible, and you begin to suspect that you tied the knot with the wrong person.

This is common. Since we live in a fallen, sinful world, there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Every marriage experiences stress or conflict of some kind for the simple reason that both spouses are sinners. Regardless of what you may be experiencing, you are not facing anything that has not been faced by married couples before.

Rather than end the marriage and begin looking elsewhere for love, however, this is an indicator that you need to turn to God in faith and let Him bring healing. In his book, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, Paul David Tripp writes, “One way God establishes beauty is by putting things that are different next to each other.”

Hiding your problems out of a sense of shame is a mistake. This is a fear-based reaction and is a common response of many Christians. They wrongly assume that church is only made up of couples who don’t wrestle with sin issues. Satan uses this assumption to keep couples in despair and isolation, preventing them from ever getting help.

Seeking help when you need it is always the best path. Of course, it will require humility and courage, and a conviction that there is something in your marriage that is worth saving.

Marriage is God’s invention, and because it is God’s intention that it be permanent, you should feel compelled to make the effort to save it. Many divorces occur because people didn’t seek help when they needed it but tried to do it solely on their own. As God’s Word says, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors, they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

If you are willing to humble yourself and ask for help, you will find it. Professional marriage counselors are available to come alongside you and help you navigate the minefield of marital issues to find healing and hope for your marriage.

Once you have decided to get help, you need to face the challenge of finding the right counselor. Though it may be an intimidating task, you will want to find a trustworthy counselor that is a good fit for you. There are a number of counselors who offer Christian marriage counseling, and it may be a tough job to sort through all of your options.

This article will present some wisdom about how to find and contact a marriage counselor.

3. Recognize the value of personal recommendations.

Though it may seem simplistic, probably the best way to identify a trusted counselor is through word of mouth. Who have others used? Who do they recommend?

Though there are no guarantees in life, recommendations from those you love and trust can be a real help. The likelihood that you will actually find and meet with a good marriage counselor is dramatically increased when someone that you know and trust has had a good experience with them before.

In an article entitled, “How Do I Find a Good Marriage Counselor?” Dr. Robert Burbee writes, “Talk to someone you know who has gone for counseling or psychotherapy. In many cases, the best suggestions about who is good in your community are from trusted friends and family who have been in the same situation themselves of trying to find a good counselor or therapist. These individuals can give firsthand observation about a professional and what to expect. And, they are giving a client’s perspective which may be the most important.”

4. Recognize the importance of knowing both yourself and your counselor.

As you consider selecting a marriage counselor near you, a good first step is for you and your spouse to reflect on yourselves. Think about what the two of you want to accomplish through counseling and what your hopes are for your marriage. It is also good to evaluate what you want out of life and what you expect from each other.

You should also consider what type of counselor would be a good fit for both of you. Thinking about these things ahead of time will help you align your goals even before you start counseling. If you are not on the same page as your spouse regarding your goals and expectations for counseling, it can reduce the effectiveness of your Christian marriage counseling.

Of course, counselors come in many shapes and sizes and the sheer number of specializations and licenses that they may hold can be dizzying. So, secondly, it is helpful to spend time talking with any potential counselor about what they specialize in and how they are trained and licensed.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy professional website, “Marriage and Family Therapists broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family. MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families.”

It is a good idea to take advantage of any free consultations over the phone prior to meeting with a counselor in order to get to know them a little bit and get a feel for whether the counseling relationship is likely to work out. This gives you the liberty to ensure that you are comfortable with this counselor before you commit to anything long-term.

This is a good time to ask any questions both of and about the counselor. You can ask about their counseling approach, values, experience, training, etc. Make a list of things to ask, especially about subjects that will increase your comfort level. Find out if they are a Christian and ask what that means to them and how it affects their counseling methods.

This is critical since you are about to commit to a counseling relationship and whether or not it is successful will depend in large measure on the kind and strength of the relationship that you develop with the counselor you select.

5. Learn to trust your instincts.

Though we are often led to think that first impressions are unimportant, they are not always wrong. “Intuition” or “gut instinct” is an important part of who we are as human beings and though we should not rush to judge a person’s character when we don’t know them, our first impressions should not be ignored.

As you interact with any given counselor via phone, email, or in person, you should give thought to how they make you feel. Do you feel like they are really listening to you? Do they seem interested in you and your problems, or do they come across as disinterested or bored? Do they appear to be concerned enough to provide help right away? Do they seem confident and hopeful about your chances for positive change through counseling?

Marriage requires a lot of hard work and can be difficult. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Every married couple will experience issues at some point in their marriage and will need help. If this is you, contact a Christian counselor. They will provide the best care and counsel possible and will help you navigate the complexities of marriage problems and help you and your spouse get back on the right track.

References:

AAMFT (2018). About Marriage and Family Therapists. Retrieved from: https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx

Burbee, R. (2014). How do you find a good marriage counselor? Retrieved from: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/your-spouse-is-not-the-enemy/how-do-you-find-a-good-marriage-counselor

Keller, T., & Keller, K. (2011). The meaning of marriage: facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Tripp, P.D. (2010). What did you expect? Redeeming the realities of marriage. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Weiner-Davis, M. (2009). How to choose a good marital therapist. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/divorce-busting/200910/how-choose-good-marital-therapist

Photos:
“Hold on”, Courtesy of Neonbrand, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Standing Firm”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walkin’ in the Rain”, Courtesy of Juulzgrand, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Loving couple”, Courtesy of Medium as muse, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License

How to Build Trust in a Relationship: 7 Important Steps

This article will provide seven steps to take that will help you learn how to build trust in a relationship. First, however, we will need to start with the basics.

The Definition of Trust

Trust is having confidence in someone and believing that he or she will love you forever and is always going to remain loyal. Trusting people is difficult because it means you need to believe that you are able to depend on them and feel comfortable with them to the point where you are okay with confiding in them and letting them see you in a vulnerable state. Trust acts as a key component for the foundation of any kind of relationship.

The Importance of Trust in your Relationships

Establishing trust within a couple’s relationship is critical because it provides a feeling of security in which each partner is allowed to be his or her authentic self. Trust is the foundation of healthy relationships. If trust exists within a couple, insecurities do not get in the way of the relationship.

Having trust in another person helps us face problems together while maintaining a sense of balance between outside relationships with other people such as friends or family and inside the relationship.

Establishing trust also means each partner is allowed to have his or her own space and time away from the other partner without causing problems in the relationship.

When a couple has faith in one another, they have confidence that their partner is trustworthy. Support systems within relationships assist couples in having the ability to challenge each other as well as themselves and take occasional risks for ambitions and personal growth.

Knowing that your significant other is there for you at all times provides a feeling of freedom. Trust makes the relationship stronger because you and your partner are supportive and know that you will always have each other’s backs.

Trust is crucial when overcoming issues in any relationship. Trust binds partners together and provides confidence that the partners can join together and overcome whatever issues they are facing.

Trust establishes faith and knowledge that you and your partner can move past any hurts and wrongdoings that have occurred. Knowing that your partner is loyal and loves you even in moments of conflict can cultivate an increase in honesty and strengthen your relationship.

Relationships cannot thrive or survive without trust. Negative consequences of a lack of trust include the dissolution of the relationship, crippling fear, and a lot of insecurity. The relationship becomes dysfunctional and at times could be classified as chaotic.

Trust is a crucial foundation for relationships because, with trust, relationships will not be destroyed when hardships arise. However, if there is no established trust in a relationship, the relationship has little chance of survival when problems, doubts, or suspicions come up.

Trust works to create a sense of safety in relationships. The sense of safety makes more room for intimacy, devotion, and love as well as allows partners to feel comfortable. If a sense of security and trust are not present in a relationship, insecurities and fear get in the way.

Advice for Gaining Trust in Your Relationship

The following list contains steps that can help partners find ways of gaining trust in their relationships. This list does not need to be followed in order but each item should be included in an ongoing pattern of communication within a relationship.

Incorporate these steps into your relationship and watch how trust will build if you and your partner both make an effort to implement these elements.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are critical to relationships, so it is important to honor your partner’s boundaries that you have agreed upon. Even if your partner’s boundaries and values are different from yours, honoring them can create excellent opportunities for you and your partner to find out more about one another’s virtues, values, and strengths.

Implementing boundaries can help partners find out how much emotional or physical space each one is comfortable with. It is important to communicate your boundaries to your partner, which includes how much time alone you need, how comfortable you feel inside your relationship, what you are comfortable letting other people know about your relationship, etc.

Learn to Communicate Effectively and Openly

A major reason that many relationships do not work out is because of insufficient communication. Constructive, open, and active communication is not easy in relationships, but it is vital if you and your partner want to have healthy patterns of communication. Implementing open communication can help build mutual agreements and shared understandings regarding how you would like to incorporate other people into your life and relationship.

Effective communication also includes active listening. It is easy to interrupt our partners when they are talking, provide advice without listening to our partners, or quickly jump to solutions. It is difficult to always actively listen to your partner instead of immediately planning out what your response is going to be.

If you are an active listener, though, your partner will see that you are respectful and caring towards what he or she is saying even if your feelings differ. Listening to your partner without judgment is an important method of building trust.

Be Honest

Of course, honesty is another crucial component of establishing trust in relationships. Transparency within the relationship can build trust because both partners will be allowed to feel comfortable and safe.

There is not a lot of opportunity for negative assumptions or thoughts about the other person’s activities if both partners openly communicate consistently. Sharing the things that you are experiencing and specific details regarding your day begins a consistent pattern that can build trust.

It is important to note that the concept of honesty doesn’t mean both partners need to share each and every detail of their lives. However, lies of omission, deception, and dishonesty can all tear apart relationships.

Honesty needs to constantly be practiced and it is typically found that when trust is growing, the partners begin to find no need to justify things or explain their behaviors because there is faith that the other partner will understand their thoughts and actions.

Be Humble

Mistakes in relationships are inevitable and going to happen. However, it is very possible to work towards repairing a damaged relationship and lead it towards healing. Both partners must be able to admit mistakes and be open to coming together to rebuild trust and work through their mistakes.

Perfect relationships do not exist and not every expectation will be met, especially early in a relationship. It is important to realize this going into the relationship so that you are not caught off guard when issues arise. Admitting wrongdoings and taking responsibility for mistakes actually works to strengthen your relationship and build more trust.

Be Reliable

Successful relationships exist when each partner follows through with set communication habits, intentional behaviors, and personal boundaries that have been established within the relationships. When promises are broken or agreements are not adhered to, trust diminishes, which can cause catastrophic consequences to relationships.

You should never agree with your partner or make promises just so that he or she will be happy because failing to keep promises or agreements is a very common way that trust is broken. That is why it is very important to be honest and continue to maintain open communication. Making sure your behaviors and promises match up can lead to the strengthening of trust and a healthier relationship.

Express your needs

Trying to read your partner’s mind can have serious consequences. Even if you know each other very well, you can never know exactly what your partner is thinking. Of course, you can come up with a prediction based on past behavior or patterns, but if you do not ask your partner his or her thoughts upfront, you cannot know what he or she is thinking. If you assume that you’re able to know what he or she did, thinks, or feels, it will not help the relationship.

A key method of avoiding mind reading or making assumptions is to simply express what your needs are. If you express your needs, you are providing your partner with specifics that he or she should consider and if he or she follows through with your request, trust can build.

If your partner is expressing his or her needs, you should try to understand his or her mindset and be empathetic in an attempt to understand the needs and gain some perspective. Not only does fulfilling a partner’s need help a couple get to know each other better, but it can also build trust.

Forgive

Forgiveness is also a crucial component of trust. If partners trust each other, they will understand that fights or disagreements are not indicative of the relationship ending. If you trust that you and your partner have your relationship and each other’s interests in mind, you will gain a sense of security even if things are difficult. Dealing with challenges and providing forgiveness is made much easier if the couple trusts that they can overcome any situation.

Can I Heal From Past Hurts?

Building trust takes intentionality and a lot of time and effort. It is never easy to establish trust and this is made even more difficult if some sort of betrayal has occurred.

It is possible for betrayal to be exhibited in different ways, such as misusing power, crossing boundaries, or committing lies and deception. Repairing a relationship after betrayal is difficult, and forgiveness is the sole way that a relationship can heal and move forward. Of course, an apology is the first step in asking for forgiveness.

In order for there to be forgiveness, both parties must acknowledge that betrayal and hurt have taken place. If you have betrayed your partner, you must take responsibility for it, which is a huge step in acknowledging your partner’s pain. After that, you must find a way to ensure your partner that the betrayal won’t happen again. It is critical to provide your partner with the promise of that you regret the behavior and will never commit it in the future.

Lastly, you also must analyze your feelings to recognize why you are dealing with this experience in the first place. You cannot deny the betrayal, but you can explore the reasons. Some questions you may have include, “What am I expecting from our relationship?,” “Have I’ve been harboring these feelings for a long time?,” or “In what ways is this issue affecting me?”

Having an awareness of your personal tendency towards doubts and insecurity is another crucial piece to rebuilding trust. You have to have a lot of patience with yourself, which will help you learn how to identify if you are hesitant to trust your partner because of a betrayal you experienced in the past. If you seem to be having doubts, it is crucial to communicate the insecurities to your partner instead of suppressing them just because you are scared to say anything.

Nobody is perfect and it takes a lot of faith to extend trust to another person because it is scary and intimidating. We all make mistakes and oftentimes our reactions are not preferable, but having patience with yourself can be of great assistance while you learn about yourself and develop the ability to trust over time.

Seeking Help

It is usually very hard to move past previous betrayals and hurts in relationships, and it is easy to begin feeling “stuck.” If this is happening to you and you don’t feel you can trust yourself and your own judgment right now, a counselor can assist you in exploring and addressing these issues. We would love to take the journey of healing with you while you work towards building stronger relationships that include an ample amount of trust.

Photos:
“Couple’s PDA,” courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Holding Hands,” courtesy of Phuoc Le, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Humble Yourself,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Distrust”, Courtesy of Joshua Rawson Harris, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Having an Affair? Here’s How and Why You Should Stop

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks about ruining their marriage. So why is it that people have affairs? The underlying cause of infidelity often stems from the defensive structures people create as a reaction to trauma experienced in childhood.

To really understand what this means, picture a little girl whose father is not around most of the time, is authoritarian, doesn’t show any interest in her recitals, and whose mother is there but is always preoccupied with her own personal issues.

Although the father constantly tells her he loves her, deep down inside the girl has never believed him and though she knows that her mother loves her, it has never felt like enough.

As the girl reached her 20’s, she dated, fell in love, and got married to a man who had a similar personality to her father’s, and whenever he says he loves her, something inside her says it’s not real.

Several years go by and she is introduced to a man at work whose musical interests are the same as hers. She is even more tempted because she chooses not to tell her husband about it. Since the man doesn’t know her that well, his interest in her gets around the defensive I’m-not-lovable-structure, then she begins to crave his attention like an addiction. The affair has already started.

Sex by this point almost an afterthought. The attention of this not-loved-one comforts her hidden, desperate, ruined younger parts. Unfortunately, leaving her husband for this man means he will become a loved one and she will more likely have a relationship with another person again, and the cycle will go on.

This situation is just an example of the many defensive structures and narratives we all have.

The Power of Love

We are designed to bond with one another. When we experience attraction for someone, our bodies automatically respond as if there’s a possibility we might mate with them. Our pupils dilate, capillaries expand to increase blood flow, and our pulse moves quickly. It can make one breathless.

The reptilian brain is always trying to procreate. In Freudian terms, the id says, “I want that!” and the ego says, “I know how to get that!” The superego, on the other hand, says, “You can’t have that, because (insert moral reason here).”

If we live with an emotional lack such as in the above example, we can easily confuse lust for love. Actual love is a deeper connection formed by years of growing together with another person.

Erotic love plays a wonderful role in a marriage but erotic love by itself always makes a person even more lonely in every relationship. Once you jump from one intimate relationship to another, you won’t be able to receive true love from another, so you will automatically end up with what’s not real.

The Anatomy of Having an Affair

When motive fuels desire and opportunity leads to action, infidelity starts to happen. Just like any other sinful acts, people wouldn’t be interested in becoming unfaithful if they’re not getting anything in return.

To satisfy oneself sexually is not the only obvious payoff. Having an affair also tends to heal the wounded part of the self that encourages the behavior more than anything else. Another payoff is the thrill that comes with indulging in the forbidden actually building up the erotic energy in the relationship.

Sin is the opposite of good, and infidelity is the same. Similar to an addiction, for most people it only works for a while. As soon as it fails, the consequences come in the form of deep shame and guilt, hurting marriages, hurting children, and often the loss of jobs or homes.

Having an affair is a sin that can wreck whatever trust and happiness there is in a marriage. This is why it’s necessary to acknowledge infidelity before it spreads and causes any more harm.

Where Does Infidelity Start?

Flirting with someone else when you’re married is never harmless. More likely your sexuality is integrated into your personality making it safe for you to say, “It’s just how I am.” That doesn’t make it harmless.

Everything starts when you’re in a really difficult situation, emotionally vulnerable, feeling alone, and someone who looks attractive enters your life and makes you feel good, and you begin walking down the path. The best way to prevent infidelity is to stop it as soon as you start to realize that it’s happening.

Here’s another classic example of infidelity waiting to happen. A man works for an environmental company and has to drive for four hours to get to work and to meet up with his team. He’s already having trouble with his relationship with his wife and as if destiny tries to test him, there is a beautiful single woman on the team.

One afternoon, as they are having a great conversation, laughing at each other’s jokes, they look into each other’s eyes longer than usual. The man realizes that he’s attracted to the woman and he can tell she feels the same way.

That night the woman shows up at his hotel room door and asks the man to come to join her for a drink downstairs. At that moment he realizes he has to say NO right there and then, not when he’s already in the bar with her. There would be only one reason for that man to accept her invitation and that would be to dabble with adultery in the private hope of actually making it happen.

The man made up an excuse to avoid her and no longer communicated with her outside of work. Though the man thinks he will never be unfaithful, the chance of him engaging in adultery would have been exponentially higher had he gone with her. We are not just wired for bonding, we are also wired to want that bonding as much and as possible.

Our intelligence makes it possible for us to sidestep that wiring and avoid looking for something or someone beyond our marriage in order to meet our needs. Some suffer silently for many years while their relationship slowly declines and grows cold. Others cannot control themselves and end up finding comfort in other people’s arms.

Both of these results are terrible and God wants something much better for us. The traditional marriage vows that say “to have and to hold, to love, honor and cherish, forsaking all others.” is already a great reminder for us to keep. If you or your spouse doesn’t feel loved, honored, or cherished, it’s best to take action right away, probably through the help of a counselor.

How Do You Come Back After Having an Affair?

Infidelity is devastating to a marriage. If a spouse is not hurt by the infidelity then something is not right within the relationship and it could make a person think the marriage didn’t even matter in the first place. Since trust is a primary foundation of marriage, it’s extremely hard to restore once it has been broken by betrayal.

If the two of you chose to stay together after infidelity, a counselor is the best person to run to for help to find your way back together. Anger is a common and long-lasting emotion and while trust no longer seems possible, most of the time it will return, though it may take years.

There is no excuse for betrayal but understanding the emotional factors behind the action of the cheating spouse will help a lot – not in any way to cover up what was broken, but to be able to forgive an imperfect human being at the end of the day.

If you’re the spouse who cheated, it’s normal and proper for you to feel an overwhelming guilt for some time especially if you’re known to be a person whose values is big on faith. It’s going to be a painful recovery process and there is no way you can rush it.

It is unrealistic to expect your spouse to exhibit a desire for you, or to feel comfortable in your presence or to enjoy your company before they’re ready; there are some boundaries that you must not violate. They must decide when to restore you to fellowship.

This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you have no right to make choices or you don’t have a voice or can’t put in place your own healthy boundaries. It’s wrong to assume that it’s okay for us to be treated like a doormat and put up with whatever abuse our spouse inflicts on us. They have every right to display anger but not to become abusive.

As you navigate the process of recovery the following rules of engagement will probably benefit you:

  • Hold up a hand if either of you needs to pause the conversation.
  • Conversations that have been paused conversations must be rescheduled and pick up at the pause.
  • Counseling sessions are the best time to have most of your relationship conversations.
  • Each of us must be responsible for our own feelings.
  • It’s best to ask permission before talking using such questions as “Is this a good time to talk about _____?” “I wonder what would happen if _____?” “I’m detecting that you are (angry, distant, etc) and am wondering what that’s about,” or “Would you let me tell you my impression of it?”

It takes hard work to recover from infidelity but if both partners work at showing a great deal of compassion towards one another, learning to forgive, and holding on to each other to face a common enemy (rather than attacking each other), it can result in a much richer, deeper relationship than before.

How To Protect Your Marriage Against Infidelity

The truth is that no one is immune from committing a sin; we are flawed human beings. That being said, motives and opportunities can transform in many different ways thus, infidelity can happen in a marriage. However, there are a few steps you can take to strengthen your relationship and fight infidelity:

Keep God the Center of Your Marriage

Being married, whether you did it in a church or not, means you made a promise before God. He cares deeply about your relationship. Allow him to be in it. Ask for His help to love right, to be more forgiving, to fight your own selfishness, put up good boundaries, and be responsible for your own emotional struggles.

Take Infidelity Seriously

Pay attention to what your body does. If you stare at or talk to an attractive co-worker, or the spouse of your friend, or a single friend and notice your body is having a certain reaction to it (fluttering in the stomach, a catch in your voice, a desire to look more deeply into their eyes, or confide in them for connection), recognize that and admit it to yourself.

There’s nothing wrong in saying, “I think I’m really attracted to this person”; you don’t have to hide it from yourself. You can admit your attraction without feeling guilty. Remember, we are designed to be attracted to people and once you realize this, you will be able to respond by saying, “but I will not do anything about it.” Then correct your flirtatious behavior.

Have the Willingness to Set Boundaries

Setting up boundaries can be embarrassing but sometimes they’re a must. A professor once shared how a woman approached him after a presentation, gave him a hug, and pressed her whole body to his. He moved away from her and said: ”My wife is the only person who can hug me that way.” Now that may sound a little too forward for some, but it’s a great example of setting boundaries. It also inspires us to be more confident in defending the sanctity of our marriage.

Work On Your Emotions

Finding a therapist who can help you find an unprocessed emotional trauma in your past, identifying them, and finding out what you did to survive it is something you may want to consider doing. The more you understand your own emotional grid, the easier it is for you to change it, put up healthy boundaries, and build up firm, reciprocal bonds with the people you love.

Do The Work of Loving Your Spouse

One of the many great things about marriage is the sense of comfort we can get from the companionship of someone familiar. However, it becomes dangerous once familiarity transforms into complacency.

There was once a man who said that on his wedding day, he told his wife, “I love you. I’ll let you know if that ever changes.” Although what he said was meant to be a joke, it did, however, make a point. We find it easier to forget to do the little things that strengthen our love for the other person.

Recall the things that you both loved doing together and find out if it’s possible for you to do them again. Send cards, give flowers, and keep birthdays and anniversaries in mind just like the good ‘ol romantic days you both once had. Be thankful for the ones you love and remember the reasons why you feel in love with them. Rehearse the things that made you love them and rekindle them as best you can.

Learn to look at yourself and your spouse as an amazing, special reflection of God’s image here on earth. Value each other and the miracle of your relationship as well as keep each other while walking towards a future of growth and health.

Photos:
“Lonely”, Courtesy of Luis Galvez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Affair”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Drink After Work”, Courtesy of Sasint, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Fireworks”, Courtesy of Jared Sluyter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

8 Reasons Why Having an Affair is a Terrible Idea

People don’t have affairs because cheating is a miserable experience. They commit adultery because it’s temporarily exciting and pleasurable. Maybe their marriage seems stale, or there are a lot of conflicts.

Perhaps they feel like their spouse doesn’t really know or love them. An affair offers the illusion of feeling desired, alive, and escaping from the mundane reality of everyday life.

The problem is that affairs don’t happen in a vacuum. There are considerable risks involved for disgrace and devastation. And in the end, the affair is almost always exposed somehow. This private disaster becomes public, and countless people are affected.

8 Reasons Why Having an Affair is a Terrible Idea

Often people find themselves entangled in an emotional affair that’s on the verge of becoming physical. You can still stop before you take it to that next step. If you’re already involved in an affair, the sooner you end it, the better. Here are eight things to think about before you let an affair wreak havoc in your life.

#1 – You Will Cause Enormous Pain

People who have been cheated on often say things like, “I feel like someone ripped out my heart and stomped on it.” There’s a reason for these colorful metaphors. Being betrayed by the one you love and thought you would spend the rest of your life with causes agonizing emotional pain.

People who have been betrayed by their spouse experience tormenting heartbreak. The emotional pain can be unfathomable. Causing someone that kind of pain shows true hardness of heart. It doesn’t matter if you blame it on alcohol or say that it didn’t mean anything. Thoughtlessness is just as cruel as deliberate malice.

Although you may be able to save your marriage, it will never be the same again. No matter how strongly you feel about this illicit connection, acting on those feelings demonstrates a brutal disregard for your vows and the person you promised to honor and cherish until death.

#2 – Your Children Will Suffer

An affair plants seeds in a family – seeds of anger, distrust, grief, and jealousy. Those seeds will grow and take a lot of work to root up.

Even if your children don’t know what’s happening, they’ll sense the shaky foundation of your marriage. Your marriage should be the solid rock on which you can build your family. An affair cracks the foundation of the family, no matter what excuse you make for it.

Your children may one day have difficulty trusting their own spouses. Or they might think adultery is justified in some situations. After all, children tend to normalize their parents’ behavior.

You might think that no one will know – that if you keep it a secret, no one will have to reap these consequences. But the bonds we have with our loved ones run deep. When you violate your marriage, you poison your soul because deep down inside, you think you deserve the affair. This poison will inevitably express itself in disdain, guilt, and words that even if they seem subtle to you, your children will be affected by it.

#3 – Your Extended Family Will Be Affected

When family members get divorced because of irreconcilable differences, it causes pain, but people do understand that some marriages are full of conflict and difficulty and don’t work out. Often, spouses can achieve a relatively amicable divorce that doesn’t cause huge rifts in the extended families.

But when adultery is involved, emotions run high and many relationships can be destroyed. If you value your relationship with your in-laws or even just their good opinion, know that you will probably be destroying both once your affair comes out.

#4 – Your Friendships Will Suffer

Friends often choose sides when adultery is involved, including mutual friends, coworkers, and church friends. Most will tend to gravitate toward the spouse who was betrayed, not the offender. Your social relationships and support system can be irrevocably damaged.

During the excitement of an affair, you’ll probably disregard this, but months and years down the line, isolation and rejection can have devastating effects on your mental and emotional well-being.

Anyone who finds out about your affair will probably wonder if they can trust you, and rightly so. If you demonstrate that you disregard your most sacred vow, how can anyone else trust you? People may understandably view your character as inherently flawed. You may lose friendships, ministry opportunities, and even opportunities at work if your boss knows what happened and has high moral standards.

#5 – Your Church Relationships Will Suffer

People at church will also tend to be polarized by your illicit relationship. If you are a ministry leader or participant, you may be asked to step down as you deal with the fallout of your decision to commit adultery. Most people will likely side with your spouse, not you.

Your reputation will be severely impacted, probably permanently. You’ll lose the trust and respect of people you value. Even people who love you unconditionally will be hurt by your behavior. Churches have also been known to split when a leader becomes involved in an affair.

#6 – Your Self-Respect Will Be Damaged

Before having an affair, you probably talked yourself into it using a series of excuses as to why it was okay. Maybe you thought, “If no one knows, it won’t hurt anyone,” or “I deserve to feel good about myself for a change.” Maybe you were bitter towards your spouse for things they’d done (or hadn’t done), so you considered your affair to be justified.

Underneath all the excuse-making, though, you know that adultery is wrong. If you’re a believer in Christ, you also know that it’s a very serious sin. You know you’ve broken your vows and devastated the one person on earth you vowed to honor and cherish.

No matter how you attempt to write the narrative, you are the antagonist in the story. Trying to justify your actions mentally will only create cognitive dissonance. Believing a lie can eventually lead to more delusional thinking, which damages your psyche over time.

#7 – Your Relationship with God Will Suffer

If you’re a believer, the Holy Spirit will convict you of the sin of your affair. Adultery is one of the sins most clearly condemned by Scripture. God hates sin because it goes against his holy nature.

When you choose to have an affair, you’re rejecting God’s commands in favor of your own selfish desires. Continuing down that road will provide you with fleeting pleasures, yes, but also with soul-crushing, long-term heartache. If you love the Lord and want to follow his plan for your life, why would you choose such a devastating path?

#8 – You Made a Covenant

It’s likely that your marriage took place in a church with witnesses present, such as your family and friends. You made a vow to love, honor, and cherish your spouse and forsake all others until death parts you. There’s a reason marriage vows are made in front of God and witnesses. They are profoundly significant and the most important promises we will ever make.

Breaking your marriage vows is violating the public, sacred covenant you made with your spouse. That’s why divorce has to take place through the court system. It’s not a trivial matter to betray your spouse. Your vows are meant to be guarded. There’s no such thing as a harmless affair.

The Reality of Adultery

No one just wakes up one morning and arbitrarily decides, “I’m going to have an affair.” Most of us have internal inhibitions against cheating. What happens is that we take one seemingly harmless step at a time, and before we know it, we’re entangled in adultery.

You start talking with an attractive coworker every day in the break room. You find out you have things in common. You begin to make extended eye contact and share your feelings and hopes and dreams. You find yourself thinking about them throughout the day, and hoping you’ll bump into them again. It becomes a growing attraction, and you can either cultivate it or shut it down.

Having struggled in your marriage is no excuse for cultivating an attraction to someone else. It may increase your temptation, but it doesn’t make it okay. No one can cause you to have an affair. It’s your own moral decision, no matter how unloving, unkind, or disengaged your spouse may be. There are other decisions you can make to handle problems in your marriage rather than committing adultery.

Even once you’re in the middle of a tempting situation, you can always make a decision to run away from it before the point of no return. Affairs are not accidental. Leading up to the temptation, you’re either cultivating loyalty to your spouse, or you’re stoking the fires of illicit desire.

If you have strong feelings for someone other than your spouse, now is the time to act. Don’t try to sweep it under the rug, think that’s it’s not a big deal, or that you can handle it on your own. Talk to a counselor, talk to your spouse if you need to, and most of all, stop the growing attraction by bringing it from darkness into light.

If you’ve already crossed the line and started an affair, confess it to your spouse and begin the arduous process of recovery. Bringing this sin into the light will be one of the most challenging things you’ve ever done but living a life of integrity and openness is far better than living one of secrecy and deceit.

Your spouse will be angry and devastated. This is normal. Don’t be defensive. Apologize, but know that that won’t be enough either. If your marriage can be saved, counseling will be absolutely crucial to the process.

If you believe that your marriage is over and you want to be with your affair partner instead of your spouse, at least have the decency and respect to put your affair on hold until you can end your marriage officially. You can’t keep your spouse and an affair partner happy while you secretly try to juggle both “relationships.”

Acknowledge your selfishness and sin and the pain that your choices have caused. Actions have consequences. Infidelity needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Acknowledge your personal feelings, and then consider the impact your actions are having on yourself and those around you. Find a therapist who can help you take the first step toward restoration.

Photos:
“Secrets,” courtesy of Ivan, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Dad’s Day Out,” courtesy of Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright, Flickr Creative Commons; “Pray,” courtesy of pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “The Waiting Game”, Courtesy of Louis Blythe, Unsplash.com; CC0 License

Why You Should (and Shouldn’t) Try Christian Marriage Counseling

Marriage is a wonderful blessing from God. Sharing life with your spouse can bring incredible joy and fulfillment. But anyone who is married will tell you that it is not always easy. Communication breakdown, resentment, or even infidelity – all too often, marriages can go very wrong.

One of the most effective ways of dealing with problems in your marriage is to see a marriage counselor. This is, of course, easier said than done. Indeed, those who are going through a difficult period in their marriage may be reluctant to start opening up to a stranger about it! Plus, many believe that “it just won’t work.”

Does Christian Marriage Counseling Work?

In most cases, Christian marriage counseling has proven to be extremely effective. It provides the opportunity for both parties to communicate their particular feelings and concerns and is all facilitated within a neutral and safe environment. With that being said, there are arguments for and against marriage counseling, so let’s take a look at a few.

Arguments for Christian Marriage Counseling

1. A Mediator is Helpful

Often, by the time you decide to seek out help for your marriage, communication has completely broken down. You may find that any discussion on the serious issues in your marriage ends up turning into an argument.

In these instances, a mediator may be extremely helpful, as they can act as a referee and a sounding board. A mediator will keep the conversation on the right path and will ensure that the discussion remains constructive. When working on a marriage in crisis, it is of the highest importance that the two people are able to hold a good and fair discussion on the issues that have divided them.

2. You’ll Gain Fresh Perspective

When a marriage hits a rough patch, it is often a result of a breakdown in communication. You may find yourself stuck in a pattern of unhealthy behavior toward your spouse, with no idea of how to change it for the good.

Seeing a Christian marriage counselor can help you both gain a fresh perspective and can assist you in dismantling some of the emotional walls that have been erected as a result of the poor health of the marriage.

3. It Encourages Hope

When you find yourselves stuck in a difficult marital situation, it can become very disheartening. After years of struggle, emotional turmoil and pain, it is easy to begin to feel hopeless about the situation. Making a marriage counseling appointment is an important step for you to take as a couple. You are, in effect, declaring that there is hope and a future for your marriage, and you are taking the joint decision to work on things together.

4. Overcoming Hardship Together Often Improves Bonding

When you make a conscious choice to seek help as a married couple, it signals a pivotal moment in your relationship. Though counseling will never be easy, it is the commitment to a better marriage that is the most crucial aspect of seeking additional assistance.

Plus, as you start to sort through the issues that have been holding you both back, you will develop a stronger bond. As you begin to see your marriage improve, you will be thankful for each other’s devotion to the process.

5. The Harder Path is Often the Better One

Of course, we all want to take the easy route sometimes. Unfortunately, when it comes to marriage, it is often the hardest path that yields the most fruitful results. The same applies to marriage counseling. It is not easy, but it can help you transform your marriage into a loving and stable relationship.

It can be tempting to keep going through the motions of marriage even though you are in a terrible place, but this is dangerous. Get honest, own the issues, and get plugged in to some counseling.

6. There’s A Lot at Stake

Marriage is a God-given gift. It is a sacred commitment between two people and the most stable environment in which to raise a family, so when a marriage fails, the fallout can be huge. It goes without saying that the emotional damage to kids can be enormous when their parents split up. Extended family bonds may also become strained.

It is critical to keep your marriage at the top of your list of life’s priorities and to seek out help when it is required. If you choose to go your own way, you will regret the immense damage it causes to your spouse, your family and those closest to you.

Arguments Against Christian Marriage Counseling

While engaging in Christian marriage counseling is very rarely a poor choice for a struggling marriage, it can sometimes be the wrong choice for a couple. The right emotional state, the willingness of both parties and a large dose of patience is required. If these are not present, it might not be the right time to embark on a counseling journey.

Here are a few things that might give you cause to reconsider whether or not it is the right time for you to engage in Christian marriage counseling.

1. Both Spouses Have to Be (or Become) Committed

In the beginning, it is not uncommon for one or both spouses to feel reluctant to engage. Like ripping off a band-aid to expose the state of what lies beneath, it can be difficult and painful! This usually improves once the couple starts to see and experience the benefits that counseling is having on their marriage.

However, if one spouse has pressured the other into attending, and if they have absolutely no desire to be there, it can do more harm than good.

If a spouse is completely resistant to making any changes, Christian marriage counseling can become ineffective and incredibly frustrating for the willing party. Both individuals need to be keen for it to work.

2. Sometimes it’s Too Late

Unfortunately, sometimes things are just too far gone for counseling to have any positive effect on the relationship. When communication has deteriorated to the point of insults and bitterness, it may be impossible to recover through counseling, unless the two spouses desire change.

If neither person can recognize any potential good in the relationship, and if they have zero vision for the future, it might not be helpful to hash it out any further in counseling. Having said this, we believe (and have seen!) that God can do mighty and miraculous works, even beyond what we could have imagined. Better to give it a try than to doubt what God is capable of doing.

3. Spouses Must be Willing to Change

If one spouse is involved an extramarital affair and wants to come to counseling, but is reluctant to give up the illicit relationship, no progress will be made. The same applies to any sort of addictive behavior that is having an adverse effect on the marriage.

Of course, we are all fallible human beings who mess up on a daily basis, but the individual must be willing to change – that is the most important thing. If they have no intention of changing their ways, counseling is likely to be a waste of time.

4. Individual Issues Must Sometimes Take Precedence

If one of the individuals involved in the marriage is dealing with serious emotional trauma from before or during the marriage, their well-being must be prioritized. They may be going through something that requires individual therapeutic work.

In this case, jumping into couples counseling could be detrimental to the marriage. The couple may decide to attend joint therapy once the person is in an appropriate emotional state to do so.

5. Know Your Own Limitations

There may be certain personal struggles that are preventing you from attending counseling. Perhaps you suffer from crippling anxiety at the thought of sitting down with a stranger and revealing your deepest secrets. But in the right setting and with the right therapist, a comfortable environment can be created. Some people are simply averse to receiving help and advice – but that always comes down to personal choice.

6. Find the Right Marriage Counselor

It is incredibly important to find the right “fit” when it comes to your counselor. You must be wise when seeking out someone to help you deal with the deepest issues in your marriage. It must be someone who you feel comfortable with, who has the required experience, and who you can be completely honest with.

Chrisitan marriage counseling can be an incredibly effective form of therapy for couples who are on the brink of splitting up. With the right attitude, and with the help of a well-matched therapist, marriages can be restored and renewed. If both individuals are committed to the healing of their marriage, we believe it can be done!

Photos”Trouble”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Golden hour,” courtesy of photo fiddler, Flickr Creative Commons, 2.0 License; “Conversation,” courtesy of mrhayata, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License; “Window pain,” courtesy of unsplash.com, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License

Have You Asked These Premarital Counseling Questions Yet?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably engaged to be married soon. This is such an exciting time, knowing that you’ve committed to spending the rest of your life together. No matter how long you’ve known your future spouse, there are still important issues to discuss before the big day.

Throughout your relationship, you’ve both gotten to know each other, including interests, passions, likes and dislikes, and personality traits (and quirks!). At this stage of your relationship, you’re probably filled with happiness and anticipation about starting your married life.

But it’s also possible that you may have some mixed feelings. Maybe you’re concerned about some things in your relationship and wonder how they’ll affect your future. It’s okay to be nervous or have reservations about making such a huge commitment.

Whether you’re wholeheartedly ready and longing for your wedding day, or you’re feeling happy but a bit hesitant, it’s important to ask some questions before you take the step of getting married.

This is where premarital counseling comes in. It provides the opportunity and guided structure to discuss the major life values and decisions that will affect your relationship. Some couples even choose to get pre-engagement counseling so they can be fully prepared before the public engagement announcement.

Premarital Counseling Questions You Should Ask

One of the best things about pre-engagement or premarital counseling is that it requires an intentional focus on the relationship. This is definitely a recipe for success! So no matter how happy or hesitant you’re feeling right now, these who-what-where-when-why premarital counseling questions can benefit you as you contemplate your future marriage.

Who am I marrying?

This isn’t a surface-level question; it’s an opportunity to make sure you intentionally get to know your partner as well as you can. Do you know what’s most important to them? Can you identify what you most like (and dislike) about them? For the things you dislike, what are they, and are you expecting or hoping those traits will change?

Exploring this question can reveal a lot of layers; most prominently, securities and insecurities. In other words, what things about your partner make you feel secure? What qualities come to mind when someone asks, “Why do you love him/her?”

The things you love about your partner can range from their personality traits to skills or knowledge they have, or maybe their past or the way they were raised. How are the two of you similar in a way that benefits your relationship? And how are you different in ways that create a healthy balance?

It’s also good, although a little scarier, to discuss the insecurities you have related to who your partner is. Are there any red flags (even small ones)? These are the insecurities. What are the issues you desire to discuss but maybe feel uncomfortable bringing up?

Sexual history is one example of this, especially if you haven’t discussed past relationships or have only briefly mentioned them. An imbalance in the number of previous sexual partners can lead to conflict in the future if this isn’t worked through before marriage. This is particularly true if one partner has a sexual history and the other doesn’t.

This area isn’t limited to intercourse; it applies to any intimate actions. Addressing these issues in premarital counseling doesn’t mean you have to describe them in excruciating detail. A healthy approach would be to provide basic information so that there are no surprises in the future, and for each partner to listen to the other’s feelings in this area. It’s important that both of you feel you have a complete picture because things will probably come out someday either way.

Often, couples simply assume that they are on the same page in matters of faith, but fail to have explicit conversations about their beliefs. These assumptions can be misguided, which may lead to big problems in the future.

Once you’ve considered these questions about your partner, reflect them back to yourself. Do you have a healthy self-awareness? Whether you do or not, taking time to consider your values, identity, and how well your partner knows you can really benefit your relationship and your personal growth.

What does marriage mean to me?

After considering questions of identity, ask yourself what the institution of marriage means to you. Sometimes we assume that other people view marriage the same way we do. Do you view marriage as permanent no matter what? If you believe that divorce is justified in some cases, what specifically would warrant divorce in your mind?

Sometimes we sidestep these questions before marriage because they’re not enjoyable to consider. Beyond the big questions, think about the details such as dividing holidays between extended families, or dividing household chores between the two of you. What will those things look like if and when children come into the picture?

Also, think about your mental vision of marriage. What do you picture it being like? How will you balance living together and prioritizing your relationship with daily routines and managing a household?

While you’re considering what marriage means to you, think about the different components including spiritual, physical, emotional, and practical. Are you aware of any obstacles that would prevent your marriage from being what you want it to be? If so, now is the time to discuss those issues.

Talk together about what those obstacles are and how you can work on overcoming them now. Your partner may have a different perspective or be willing to offer solutions for the difficulties you’ve identified.

Where do I see us in 5, 10, 50 years?

Once you’ve thought about your view of marriage, consider your specific future together. Where do you see your life and marriage in 5, 10, 50 years? Do you want to have children? If so, how many?

Will adoption or travel be a part of your future? What are your educational and vocational aspirations? What are your partner’s? Do you want to stay in your current geographical area indefinitely?

Marriage counselors often hear the phrase “we grew apart” from struggling couples. To avoid growing apart, it’s so important to talk about your future before you start it! You’ll grow as people over time and the things you want will change, but at least you’ll both be on the same page at the beginning of your journey. This can help prevent so much misunderstanding and conflict later on.

Some other questions to ask: what are the goals you’d like to achieve as a couple? What activities do you enjoy doing together? How will you prioritize your marriage practically over the long haul, especially when juggling the responsibilities of parenthood and careers?

As you’re thinking about your individual and marriage goals, again consider any obstacles. Is your partner on the same page? Are they willing to help you reach your own goals? What areas will require compromise or sacrifice?

When you know your goals for the future, it helps you make wise decisions in the here and now. This way, you can grow together as a couple rather than growing apart.

When are we getting married?

Of course, before you actually get to the future, there’s the detail of getting married itself! If you’ll be getting pre-engagement counseling, it’s helpful to have a sense of the timeframe for your future. We all think about what season of the year we’d like our wedding to be in, but more importantly, what is the season of life you’re getting married in?

Are there any individual goals either of you would like to accomplish before the big day, like finishing a degree or a specific goal at work? Discuss these issues and decide together what you’d like to accomplish pre-marriage and what the time frame will be.

Maybe financial issues are presenting a barrier to getting married as soon as you’d like. How long will this be an issue? Are there ways you can cut back on wedding or other expenses in order to avoid having an extended engagement, which can lead to tension in your relationship?

Again, make sure you raise these issues with your partner, especially concerning your individual values about the engagement timeline. What is your goal for the engagement period? Do you feel that you still need to get to know each other and build your relationship? Or is it simply a matter of practicality to allow you to plan the wedding?

These questions aren’t meant to discover a right or wrong answer, but simply to foster open communication in your relationship. The goal is to have an agreed-upon timeframe that will not make either partner feel overly rushed but will also not draw out the engagement far beyond what is desired.

Why are we getting married?

Finally, ask yourself this: why are we getting married? Also, why am I getting married? Look at the relationships in your life that you see. You probably have examples of good and bad ones, and you probably are pursuing the former. Take inventory of what is working for them and talk to them about how married life has been.

And finally, although it might seem superfluous, ask yourself why you’re getting married. What are your reasons, both individually and as a couple, for making this lifelong commitment? Think about married couples in your life and ask what has contributed to (or detracted from) the well-being of their relationships.

Ask yourself, “What am I really looking for? What do I want? And will I find it in a marriage to this person?”

There are many possible reasons that people get married. In our culture, we often ask that question to such an extent that we simply decide marriage isn’t worth it. Since you’re considering or planning on getting married, what has made it worth it for you? Why now?

What role does religion play in your desire to be married? What about your family and friends? Are there social or cultural pressures that make you feel that you should get married sooner or later?

Marriage isn’t just merging two lives; it’s merging two extended families. Whatever skeletons you have in your family closet, those will become your partner’s, and the opposite is true as well. Are you prepared to relate to your extended families as a team?

It might seem like these questions are digging for dirt or trying to stir up trouble, but there are no wrong answers. Rather, the goal is to thoroughly explore these topics in order to build security and trust in your relationship and future.

Even if some of these questions make you feel doubtful, that’s okay! If you can ask yourself these questions and work through your doubts now, you’ll feel more confident in the future, and you can learn to love your partner better.

Knowing why you love your partner and what has led you to desire to marry them will help give you a sense of security even in the midst of future conflict. And it’s okay to not have all the answers now, either.

A huge aspect of premarital counseling is turning covert issues into overt ones, making sure things aren’t being left unsaid. This allows you to identify potential problems and deal with them proactively while you’re in a calm and structured setting.

Who, what, where, when, why – now what?

Once you’ve worked through these questions and you still want to marry this person, you’re more than prepared to enter the premarital counseling process with a professional Christian counselor or perhaps a pastor or counselor at your church. This will allow you to fully discuss the answers to these questions as a couple.

Thinking through things on your own allows you to have more helpful discussions as a couple. You can clearly identify your similarities and differences, and then consider how they will benefit each other or possibly cause issues.

Pre-engagement and premarital counseling can be an enjoyable way to grow closer together and prepare for marriage. It will allow you to feel confident in your communication and build healthy habits that can have lifelong benefits for your future marriage.

Photos
“Fingers”, Courtesy of Snapwire, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Sunset Cliffs,” courtesy of Taylor L. Spurgeon, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lover’s Sunset,” courtesy of Alex Rebosa, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License

Codependency Treatment for Partners: You Have Options

The term “codependency” describes a condition that was first identified in the context of alcoholism and chemical dependency. The family dynamics of alcoholics were actually playing a role in preventing them from becoming or staying sober.

Researchers began to study the spouses or intimate partners and members of the alcoholics’ families and identified a distinct disorder that exists alongside of addiction and makes it worse.

This disorder was labeled codependency. Discovering and defining codependency has led to the creation of treatment programs that work alongside addiction treatment. Professionals assess and treat family dynamics as well as the person struggling with addiction. Mental Health America defines codependency this way:

“Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as ‘relationship addiction’ because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.”

A codependent person has an unusually high desire for emotional intimacy. To fulfill this desire, they play the part of caregiver or rescuer. They often find themselves in relationships with unreliable or abusive partners.

When a person is repeatedly attracted to unstable partners, this is a red flag for codependency. People who struggle with alcoholism or other forms of addiction are in dire need of help and rescuing. From an unhealthy perspective, they need a partner who will enable their addiction.

The addiction model describes the process of gratification followed by a withdrawal that addicts experience. The concept of codependency explains how codependents are also trapped in this cycle. They want to be passionately engaged with their partners, and if their partner creates distance, the codependent can go through withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and desperation.

What causes the alcoholic to create distance? It’s when their cycle reaches the binge phase of self-indulgence in their chosen substance. Once they’ve achieved their fix or high, they inevitably face the consequences. At this point, the codependent can seek his or her own “fix,” achieving a sense of intimacy and being needed by “helping” the alcoholic and saving them from the consequences.

Outside of the cycle description, this dynamic has also been compared to a dance between the addict and the codependent. The codependent accepts a one-way relationship, but it doesn’t only hurt them. It also hurts the addict and contributes to the addiction taking a stronger hold in their life.

Not all experts agree that codependency should be called an addiction. Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel Heller, M.A., in their book Attached, describe it this way:

“While the teachings of the codependency movement remain immensely helpful in dealing with family members who suffer from substance abuse (as was the initial intention), they can be misleading and even damaging when applied indiscriminately to all relationships.”

According to Levine and Heller, a seemingly excessive attachment need can be rooted in evolutionary biology. Their book describes codependency as a social construct based on a cultural norm of independence and self-reliance.

Research no longer supports the idea that healthy parent-child bonding requires complete self-reliance on the part of the child. Levine and Heller claim that codependency concepts, applied indiscriminately to non-addictive relationships, make even healthy dependency patterns seem questionable.

Attached posits a theory called “New Science of Adult Attachment,” suggesting that dependency is based on our DNA, not on addiction.

Christians may relate the theory of healthy dependency to the book of Genesis, which says, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Levine and Heller claim that we actually do receive happiness from our partners, not just from within ourselves:

“Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities.

The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact: it is not a choice or a preference.”

In Attached, the concept of “mutual reactivity” is described as an example of normal dependency. Partners become upset on each other’s behalf and respond to each other’s emotions and experiences like they are their own. But this description of mutual reactivity is viewed as a lack of boundaries or emotional enmeshment by codependency experts and the mental health community.

Attached does acknowledge the possibility of over-attachment, which the authors call an “activated attachment system.”

“Remember, an activated attachment system is not passionate love. Next time you date someone and find yourself feeling anxious, insecure, and obsessive – only to feel elated every once in a while – tell yourself this is most likely an activated attachment system and not love! True love, in the evolutionary sense, means peace of mind. ‘Still waters run deep’ is a good way of characterizing it.”

Attached proposes a more balanced approach than the common mental health emphasis on differentiation and emotional independence. Instead, the authors say we should acknowledge that we have an inherent need for attachment and dependence on our partners, and when this need is met, we will feel secure.

“Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs. When their emotional needs are met, and the earlier the better, they usually turn their attention outward. This is sometimes referred to in attachment literature as the ‘dependency paradox’: the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become.”

This newer approach suggests that we simply recognize that looking to others to fulfill our needs is natural human behavior. Meanwhile, the concept of codependency sounds the warning that our attachment needs could be based on harmful patterns learned in childhood and that they may become addictive.

In both theories, the solution is similar: seek out the right partner, one that is emotionally available and willing to meet your needs.

Levine and Heller describe a needy person differently than an addiction expert might. In addiction circles, the needy party will be called a codependent or an addict. But those who speak in terms of attachment, such as Levine and Heller, would instead use words like anxious or avoidant.

Either way, the dance between the needy person and their partner looks the same. The person who says, “Love me, please!” and the person who says, “Go away” are often attracted to one another and end up in relationships.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, has written an article called “Overcoming Codependency: Reclaiming Yourself in Relationships.” She says:

“Many people stay in self-defeating relationships too long because they are fearful of being alone or feel responsible for their partner’s happiness. They may say they want out – but they end up staying. Others may leave but repeat the same or a similar self-destructive pattern in a new relationship.

The adrenaline rush that they experience when they feel passionate toward someone can be addictive. For many people, the reason behind excessive emotional reliance on a partner is codependency – a tendency to put others’ needs before their own.”

The authors of Attached say that this neediness is rooted in biology, but that doesn’t mean recognizing its legitimacy will solve all our problems:

“The question is what happens when the person we rely on most–and in fact depend on emotionally and physically–doesn’t fulfill his or her attachment role?

After all, our brain assigns our partner the task of being our secure base, the person we use as an emotional anchor and a safe haven, the one we turn to in time of need. We are programmed to seek their emotional availability. But what if they aren’t consistently available?”

Gaspard lists several obstacles to finding true love, including self-defeating thoughts, self-sabotage, fear of rejection, self-judgments, and a lack of support. Levine and Heller offer explanations of different attachment styles to help people navigate competing needs in their relationships.

They devote several chapters to explaining the nuances of the different styles and how you can identify which one describes you and which describes your partner. They also give examples of how different types of attachment look in real life, along with solutions for improving your relationship and resolving conflict.

So what are the attachment styles Levine and Heller have identified? There are three: anxious, secure, and avoidant. (You may recognize that these are similar to the addiction model of codependent, interdependent, and detached.)

If you have an anxious attachment style…

You will place a high value on being close and intimate with your partner. You will fear to lose your partner. You will be attuned to the subtleties in your partner’s nonverbal communication, and you may take everything personally. This style can be overly sensitive, prone to getting upset and saying things they’ll regret.

If you have a secure attachment style…

You’ll be a loving partner who feels comfortable and secure in your relationship, balancing your sense of freedom with a healthy level of intimacy. You will also be good at communicating what you need and reading your partner’s emotional cues.

If you have an avoidant attachment style…

You will place a high value on your autonomy and independence. This doesn’t mean you won’t desire intimacy, but too much might make you feel uncomfortable. Your partner might often complain that you seem detached or don’t open up enough.

Levine and Heller suggest that the concept of codependency is more useful in relationships characterized by substance abuse, while their theory of attachment styles is better for non-addictive relationships.

Considering both theories can offer us a helpful balance and suggest relationship patterns to avoid, such as those described by Gaspard. Can you identify any of these patterns in your relationship?

  • Poor boundaries. Do you have trouble saying “no” to requests? Do you let others take advantage of you?
  • Ignoring red flags. Are you unwilling to confront major problems such as dishonesty, jealousy, or destructive habits?
  • People-pleasing. Do you overachieve just to make other people happy or win their approval? Are you afraid to bring up problems because you don’t want your partner to reject you?
  • Staying in a destructive relationship. Have you been abused or neglected in your relationship and felt like you couldn’t leave?
  • Giving too much. Are you in a one-sided relationship? Do you neglect self-care? Do you think that taking time for yourself is inherently selfish?
  • Defining your self-worth by what others think of you. Are you so focused on other people’s opinions that you don’t value your own opinion of yourself?

The theories in Attached are helpful ways to describe problematic relationship patterns in otherwise healthy couples. This avoids the stigma surrounding codependency and concepts that are intended to address issues related to substance abuse.

If you are not yet in a relationship, you can benefit from reading Attached and understanding how to find a partner who is willing to meet your emotional needs. If you are already married, Attached can help you identify the attachment styles in your relationship and how to overcome problems to have a more fulfilling connection.

Where family dynamics are extremely toxic or affected by substance abuse, the concept of codependency offers a road to freedom from destructive relationship patterns that affect both children and adults.

If you feel that there are attachment or codependency issues in your relationship, it may be helpful to make use of tools to assess any addiction problems in your family, such as:

  • The alcoholism/drug addiction self-test at the National Center for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
  • The sexual addiction screening or other tests at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals

Once the presence of addiction has been ruled out, Attached can be a helpful resource for understanding and growth of relationships.

Photos

“Face-off”, Courtesy of Silvia and Frank, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Hold My Hand,” courtesy of Ezra Jeffery, magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Lean on me,” courtesy of Rosie Ann, peels.com, CC0 License; “Green spaces,” courtesy of jean_mingmo, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License