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Sexual Addiction: NOT just for MEN ONLY!!

SOURCE:  Marnie Ferree

Women and Sexual Addiction

While most people tend to assume that sexual addiction is a problem only for men, the evidence suggests the contrary. Addictions, all addictions, are pretty much equal opportunity diseases. And sexual addiction is no exception.

Marnie Ferree is a pioneer in the treatment of female sex and relationship addicts. This article is material taken from a workshop she gave recently in Seattle. Sex is the fastest growing addiction in this country. And it is, I believe, the addiction of choice among Christians. Because of the immediacy, availability and affordability of the Internet, more and more Christians find themselves struggling with sexual addiction. A third of the participants who come to the workshops we do for male sexual addicts are involved in some kind of church ministry. Men who would not be caught dead going into a liquor store, or gambling or using any kind of illegal drugs, can—within the privacy of their own home—be sexually involved with people on the Internet. It is an incredible problem.

I don’t know if you have a picture in your mind of what a sexual addict looks like. I would be even more surprised if you had a picture of what a female sexual addict looks like.

There are, however, many of us. And all of us must deal with the enormous shame connected with sexual addiction. Today, if someone said in a social setting—even in a Christian social setting—”I’m a recovering alcoholic,” I think many people might respond with: “Good for you. You’ve admitted you have a problem. You’re doing something about it. You’re getting help.” We have an element of respect for someone who admits to being a recovering alcoholic. But if you say, “I’m a recovering sex addict,” you will still experience enormous amounts of shame and very little understanding.

There was a time when alcoholism was thought to be only a male problem. Surely women didn’t struggle like this. But we know today, of course, that females have about the same incidence of alcoholism as do males. It is probably about the same in the area of sexual addiction. If the shame associated with sexual addiction is great, the shame associated with being a female sex addict is even greater.

Sexual addiction is not, of course, a new problem. I’m not going to suggest that the Apostle Paul was a sex addict. But he certainly understood powerlessness and unmanageability. When you read what he says in Romans 7 about the struggle between the flesh and the desire to do good—this is a man who knew what it was like to feel powerless, a man who kept doing what he did not want to do. That is the essence of all addictions.

Sin or Disease?

I’m asked often, “Is sexual addiction a sin, or is it a disease?” The answer is yes. It is both. Undeniably the kinds of behaviors we are going to be talking about are sinful. The affairs that I was involved in, the great promiscuity that I was involved in before my marriage, these are unquestionably sin. And they are also part of a disease called addiction.

Sometimes people come to a Christian pastor or counselor looking for help with sexual addiction and they get an answer like this: “Pray more, go to church more, read your Bible more. Be more committed. Be more [whatever].” I don’t want to be misunderstood. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in reading the Bible. I believe in being connected with other Christians and going to church. And I believe in surrendering to Christ. So I’m not minimizing the importance of these things. But these things in and of themselves will not help with the disease of addiction. Believe me, people who struggle with sexual addictions have prayed. They have tried to surrender their will to God. They have tried to get connected at church. And it has not helped. Putting a kind of spiritual Band-Aid on this problem is not going to be helpful. It is going to be harmful, because it will contribute to the hopelessness that people feel. Suppose you tell someone to “just pray more,” and they take your advice and pray more, and it doesn’t help. Then what? It will add to their despair. And few things are more powerful fuel for addictions than despair.

So what is the solution?

Sexual addiction is a multifaceted disease, and it requires a multifaceted solution. There is a physiological aspect to the problem. We know that there is a neurochemical component to sex addiction. The neurochemical changes that happen in your brain when you engage in sexual activity are closely related to the changes that take place in your brain when you take crack cocaine. So there is a physiological, biological base to this addiction. There is also an emotional component to this addiction. The shame that the addicted person feels is overwhelming. There is a mental component. There is a relationship component. And there is a spiritual component. All these components need to be addressed if the addicted person is to experience healing.

Characteristics of Addiction

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of sexual addiction.  There are four components that make any addiction an addiction.

First, there has to be a compulsion. I can’t stop. I keep doing what I don’t want to do. I’m powerless to stop. You will always hear addicts say, “I know what I’m doing is wrong; I want to stop, but I can’t.” That was certainly true for me. I was raised in a pastor’s home. I went to church all my life. I knew that the affairs I was involved in were wrong. I felt incredible shame about the affairs. I wanted to stop. I had chosen to stop many times. But I could not.

A second key component of any addiction is obsession. It’s all I can think about. It’s like a blanket that covers me. I’m spending so much time being sexual, recovering from being sexual, figuring out how to hide the fact that I’ve been sexual, planning my next sexual or relationship encounter. It’s like a little bird sitting on your shoulder; it’s always, always, always with you. Either as guilt and shame or the planning or the preparation. Some part is always with you.

The third main hallmark of an addiction is continuing in spite of negative consequences.

Because of my promiscuity and sexual behaviors I was diagnosed with cervical cancer caused by a sexually transmitted disease. I had three major surgeries within a year. I literally almost died because of massive hemorrhaging resulting from the first surgery. But even that was not enough; I still could not stop. I lost one marriage because of my sexual acting out. I married very young for all kinds of unhealthy reasons. I was unfaithful in that marriage. The truth is that he was happy to get rid of me. And I was happy to get rid of him because he was determined to fix me and I was angry about that. But I still could not stop. I married a second time and had a fairly long period of sobriety—or rather at least a fairly long period of the absence of acting out. But I was not in recovery. When the stresses of life hit again, I returned to acting out. I knew intellectually, This is going to mess up my life. I had been there once before. I’d had one divorce because of this behavior. I can tell that things aren’t going well here. They are not going well in our marriage. They are not going well for our children. We had two very young children who were already very angry and impaired by being part of an addicted family. And then the health consequences began to hit. I knew this was not working for me. And yet I could not stop. When we continue in spite of adverse consequences, that is a clear sign of addiction.

The last main characteristic of addiction is tolerance.

The idea of tolerance is borrowed from our understanding of chemical dependency. We understand that, for a person who does not usually drink, a glass of wine will make you feel however it makes you feel. Tomorrow a glass of wine will make you feel about the same. And the next day maybe the same. But it won’t take very long before that one glass of wine will no longer give you the same kind of feeling that it once did. It might take two glasses, or three. That same phenomenon happens around our sexual activity. There is a tolerance component to the process. Part of the tolerance effect is a purely neurochemical, physiological change in the brain. We are up against our own brain chemistry. That’s one aspect of the problem. But we addicts are also often adrenaline junkies. We are in this for the high. So if the high of one kind of behavior isn’t enough, then either it will take more and more of that same kind of behavior or it will take going on to other, higher risk behaviors to get the same effect. The disease progresses either to more and more of the same behavior or to higher risk behaviors.

There are other characteristics to all addictions. All addictions lead to an unmanageable life. It is a progressive or degenerative process. Addictions are used to escape feelings. What an addiction does is alter our moods.

Addictions are often fueled by a sense of entitlement. I think about a pastor who is overworked and underpaid. There are so many demands on his life, he’s fighting with the deacon board, nobody understands him, and he is not appreciated the way he should be. Eventually he asks himself, Who is meeting my needs? I deserve something. That is a typical way for addicts to think. No one is meeting my needs. I’ll just have to do it myself. That’s what I mean by entitlement. I deserve this.

Addictions are also often used by addicts as a reward. Sexual addicts experience sex as the answer to everything. If I feel overworked or lonely or sad, sex can make me feel better. If I feel happy and things are wonderful, what’s the best way to celebrate? Sex. It’s the answer to everything. It can medicate the kind of entitlement, anger and loneliness that we experience or it can serve as a reward.

Finally, addictions, and certainly sexual addiction, can create a feeling of power. This is particularly true for women who are sexually addicted. There is an incredible feeling of power involved. In our culture we learn that a woman’s core worth in the world is her sexuality. We use sex to sell everything from cars to dishwashing liquid to carpets. Everything you can imagine. Those cultural messages are very powerful. So particularly for women who are sex addicts there is a big power component at work.

The Link Between Abuse and Addiction

The roots of sexual addiction are often found in childhood abuse—physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual. One out of three women and one out of six men will experience some kind of overt sexual abuse before the age of eighteen.

My susceptibility to sexual addiction is deeply rooted in my experience of childhood abuse and neglect. My mother died when I was three. My father was a pastor whose duties kept him absent from our home a great deal of the time. He spoke somewhere seven nights out of seven for the entirety of my childhood. And I felt very lonely. When I was five a twenty-year-old man, a deacon in the church, came into my life as a substitute father figure. He took me roller-skating every Saturday morning for years. He encouraged my writing. He would read to me and spend an enormous amount of time with me. From the age of five to the age of twenty, when I left my father’s home to be married, he abused me sexually. I never thought of it as sexual abuse. He never hurt me physically. He never coerced me physically. He loved me—I thought. I loved him—I knew. We had a relationship.

The level of sexual activity did not escalate to intercourse until I was fifteen years old. Well, by fifteen—remember I was a good preacher’s daughter—I knew that was wrong. In my limited understanding I had consented to this relationship with a man who at that time would have been over thirty. The only way I could explain those experiences was, I must be a whore. I know this is wrong. I know I’m not supposed to do it. From the age of five he began to sexualize me, training me to respond to him sexually. But my experience was that it was all my fault. It was only many years later when I was in counseling that I began to see that, of course, it was sexual abuse. Even the nongenital behaviors starting at age five were clearly sexual abuse.

The wounds of sexual abuse are profound. It is my conviction that until we face clearly the wounds of childhood abuse we will not be helpful to sexual addicts whose struggles are rooted in abuse. We know that eighty-one percent of sexual addicts, both men and women, are adult sexual trauma survivors—untreated trauma survivors. It is critical to understand this link between sexually abusive experiences and sexual addiction.

It is also important to emphasize that the experience of abandonment in childhood can be as problematic as the experience of abuse. I have worked with some sex addicts who are not sexual trauma survivors, but I have never worked with a sex addict who is not a survivor of childhood abandonment. After my mother died my father buried his grief in his work addiction. It was this abandonment that set me up for the sexual abuse. Physical abandonment—through death, as in my case, or through the work addiction of a parent, or through divorce—is only one kind of abandonment. Sexual abandonment—the lack of appropriate information and appropriate modeling of sexual closeness—can also cause problems. If parents display no appropriate affection around their children, there is a neglect. I have had many women tell me of the shock of their first menstruation. No one had bothered to tell them basic information about their sexuality. That’s sexual abandonment. Spiritual abandonment can also be a factor. We seem to model rules-based spirituality. But many people have never had grace-based spirituality modeled for them in their family. That’s a kind of spiritual abandonment. These kinds of experiences give us some very unhealthy core beliefs that, in turn, prepare us for the addictive process.

Let me say something briefly abut the core beliefs of addicts and how they are connected to neglect, abandonment and abuse.

The first core belief of sexual addicts is, I am a horrible, terrible person. When we are abandoned or abused, that is what we conclude. I thought, If I had been a better little girl, my mom would not have died. Or, for sure, If I had been a better little girl my dad would have wanted to spend some time with me. If you add on top of this the sexual abuse I experienced, what can a child conclude other than, I am a horrible person.

The second core belief shared by all sexual addicts is, No one will meet my needs.

Is it any surprise that a child who experiences abandonment comes to this conclusion? The people that I should be able to trust and depend on are not there for me. The third core belief is this: Sex is my most important need. Again, the connection between sexual abuse and sexual addiction is profound. When we are sexualized at an early age and experience all the confusion around that abuse, we inappropriately sexualize love, touch, nurture and affection. Everything really important in life becomes sexualized. We come to believe that love or relationship is our most important need.

Finally, sex addicts believe this: If you really knew me, you would leave me. There is this front that I present to the world, and maybe it looks really good on the outside, but it’s not what is on my inside. If you knew me, you would leave. These core beliefs, often impacting us on an unconscious level, set us up for addictions of all kinds.

Healing from Sex Addiction

There are a number of key ingredients that make recovery possible. I’ll discuss just a few.

Fellowship.Fellowship is the antidote to trauma and the key to long-term recovery. We cannot recover in isolation. God made us for fellowship. We were wounded in relationships, and we have to heal in relationships. Fellowship is also the antidote to lust. Healthy fellowship is what will help us become free from lust.

Accountability. It’s not enough to just have fellowship. We can have fellowship that does not involve accountability, and that’s not going to solve the problem. We need people who know our story and who will hold us accountable for the rituals as well as for the acting out. In my opinion, Twelve Step programs are the best place to find the right mix of fellowship and accountability. When I walk into a Twelve Step group and say, “Hi, my name is Marnie, and I’m a grateful, recovering sexaholic,” I am home. I know these people understand. They have been there themselves. And I know that we can provide for each other the fellowship and accountability we need. I won’t preach the whole sermon, but I believe that Christ intended churches to operate a whole lot more like Twelve Step groups. They need to be places where it’s okay to be real, okay to have problems. Places where you don’t have to have all your problems fixed before you feel at home.

Counseling. The Twelve Steps lead us through a methodical process that focuses on our addictive behaviors and on the defects of character that underlie our addictive behaviors. But the Twelve Steps, as wonderful and useful as they are, will not adequately address all the problems of abuse and abandonment that are at the root of sexual addiction. That’s not their goal. The goal of Twelve Step programs is sobriety. And sobriety gives us an opportunity to work on the other problems that have led to our addictions or that accompany our addictions.

For example, sexual addicts, in addition to being addicted to sex, are also often depressed. And that’s a problem for which counseling and medications can be very helpful. In the Christian community we do not hesitate to treat most medical problems. It bothers me that in the Christian community we so often experience resistance to the treatments and medication that have been shown to be helpful for depression. We don’t tell an insulin-dependent diabetic, “Just pray more and you’ll feel better. You don’t need the insulin.” But people who are depressed do hear people say things just like that. Depression is a medical illness. It often requires medication in addition to counseling in order to be helpful. Counseling and medication can play an important part in the recovery process. Sometimes intensive workshops or inpatient programs can also be helpful. For some people an intensive treatment program is essential for recovery, and almost all sex addicts can be helped by having an intensive jump-start to the recovery process.

Courage. Recovery requires courage. It is a difficult journey—and one that is not undertaken lightly or easily. In the Twelve Step community we say that recovery is simple but it is not easy. It will cost a lot. For many of us giving up an addiction feels like death. It is our addiction that has helped us cope with the wounds of abuse and abandonment. When we have no other, healthier coping skills, becoming abstinent from our addictions can be an absolutely terrifying, incredibly painful process. That’s another reason why the fellowship and accountability is so important. Without support we will inevitably retreat into “safer” territory.

Grace. The experience of grace is central to the recovery process. I know clearly when I first felt grace. It was when I was in the middle of getting a divorce from my first husband. I was a full-blown sex addict. My life was totally out of control. And it was the first time in my life that I felt suicidal. Some people that I worked with—people that I didn’t know well at all—saw my distress. It wasn’t really because of the divorce. The real pain and despair I was experiencing came from the shame I experienced from the religious community of my father, the pastor. I was disowned. And shamed. I had sweet church people coming to my home at ten o’clock at night and at seven o’clock in the morning to tell me I was going to hell for divorcing my husband. I was distraught about that as much as I was about anything else. These friends put me in their car and took me to a Christian counselor. I assume that they had arranged this ahead of time, since he was available to see me. They walked me in and introduced me to this man, and then they left. I was not comfortable in that office. I did not want to be there. He said something like, “What can I do for you?” And I unleashed on him a long speech complete with some pretty salty adjectives about what I thought about Christians and what I thought about pastors. I let him have it. I said I didn’t care anything about his blankety-blank whatever. But, I said, if you can stop me from killing myself I’ll give you ten minutes.

You know what he said? “Okay.” Just “Okay.” No moralizing. No lectures on right and wrong. Right then I felt grace for the first time in my life. I let this man know just a little about who I really was. At that moment I was a really, really angry person. But he accepted me without judgment. I only met with him a few times; I wasn’t ready yet to do the hard work I needed to do. So my life continued in the pattern of acting out for another twelve years after that. But I think he saved my life that day. With a single word he showed me more of the grace of God than I had experienced before. That helped me to believe twelve years later that it just might be possible for a counselor to help me. It helped me to return to that kind of resource when I was ready and able to do so.

When we experience grace, instead of the preoccupation and fantasy that drives the addictive process, we develop a vision for a different kind of life. Part of recovery is recovering a graced vision for our lives. We need a vision of a life of sobriety, a life in recovery. We need to be able to envision a life truly connected to God in a deep spirituality. And to envision ourselves and our families living a healthy life. Instead of the unhealthy rituals that lead to acting out, we need a vision of healthy rituals and disciplines in our lives. Prayer, meditation and Bible study are healthy disciplines. To be a part of a community of faith or a support group is a healthy discipline. These kinds of healthy disciplines can support healthy choices. Instead of despair, we need a vision of joy. That’s what recovery is about.

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Marnie Ferree offers individual and couples counseling through the Woodmont Hills Counseling Center in Nashville, Tennessee (www.woodmont.org).

Q&A: Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: Can you give suggestions as to what to look for regarding “success” in couples counseling? I am in a marriage that is destructive. For months I went to individual counseling, and really was on a trajectory toward separation/divorce.

Surprisingly my husband agreed to couples counseling. He almost immediately took responsibility for abusive behaviors toward me (which for 16 years he’s denied) and his angry rants ended simultaneously to beginning counseling. I am grateful for the changes, though leery–how is it so easy now that there is a “watchful eye”.

I feel that in an effort to validate my husband, too many issues are normalized—and my husband walks away believing that our troubles are part of common every day married life. I feel as if couples counseling is a threat to the work I have done as an individual to be honest about how poorly I was treated and gain the fortitude to no longer accept it.

Answer: It is very interesting how much self-control someone can have once the abuse is disclosed and he is in an accountability relationship. However, that does not mean that the underlying entitlement thinking or other problems that caused the blindness and denial to go on for 16 years have been adequately confronted, talked through, or healed.

From what you said, once you decided to leave the marriage he said he would do marital counseling. But he’s never done his own work to explore what was behind his abusive behaviors and destructive attitudes, even though he has stopped his rages. It’s like an alcoholic who stops drinking but never does the work to understand why he was drinking in the first place or the damage he or she has caused to others. Yes, the drinking is over – and that’s a good thing, but some of the same problems are still there and still unresolved.

Now that you are in marital counseling with him, the counselor is exploring things that were problems in your marriage. The counselor is trying to get your husband to express some of the things he was unhappy with. However, without first adequately addressing his abusive behaviors and attitudes and the damage that’s caused you and your marriage, things can start to get very fuzzy. It can start to feel like you are being held responsible for his unhappiness and the problems in the marriage that triggered him to abuse in the first place.

In addition, marital counselors attempt to stay neutral and not take sides, but when they do this where there is a history of abuse, without realizing it, the counselor is taking sides. By not first validating the pain your husband has caused you, and speaking about how unacceptable his behaviors were, both you and your husband are left with the impression that the marriage counselor doesn’t think what happened was all that serious or did not damage the relationship all that much.

I believe that any couple attempting to reconcile their marriage after abuse will at some point, need to have some joint marital counseling but not until they have each processed their own issues and they are also able to safely and sanely talk about what happened in the past with the abuser taking full responsibility for abusive behaviors. That does not mean that the non-abusive spouse doesn’t have problems that have contributed to the marital unhappiness, but that those problems were not a cause for abusive behavior and attitudes.

Here are Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse.

1. The past is the past. It has been talked about, grieved, repented of, forgiven, and owned. The past is not currently happening in the present.

2. Both people in the marriage can freely bring up hot topics or difficult feelings in their marriage relationship with safety. No shaming, no retaliating, no minimizing or blaming.

3. Both people would be open, and willing to learn how to be a better spouse and build a healthier relationship. They would feel free to disagree with one another and there would be a teachable attitude on both of their parts.

4. Time outs as well as other boundaries would be honored and respected. If one or the other was having a hard time communicating effectively, they would wait until things cooled down or they could get back in to see the counselor.

5. Both partners would now take responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the relationship and other family responsibilities.

6. Power and responsibility would be shared. There would not be a double standard where the rules that applied to one person in the marriage didn’t apply to the other.

7. Trust is being rebuilt in the here and now. It is seen as precious and safeguarded.

8. If there is a slip, or a repeat of past history or other serious sin, or even a reminder of it, the person responsible would acknowledge it and take corrective action, whether that means apologize and make amends, or get back into counseling in order to stop a further downward spiral of the marital progress.

9. A person’s feelings would inform him or her, not control him or her. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control and self-correction would be part of their daily habits.

10. They have invited several close friends or family into their lives to help them grow and keep them accountable.

Q&A: Is It Controlling To Check My Spouse’s Emails and Texts?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Leslie Vernick

QUESTION:  One of the chapters in your new book on The Emotionally Destructive Marriage addresses control regarding looking at emails and texts. I never did this before until I had caught my husband in a lie about his whereabouts. He was acting differently for several months and was protective over his phone.

When I looked at his phone without his knowledge, I saw texts with co-workers and customers that were flirtatious. Then I looked at emails and also found emails that made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable as a wife. He said he could see why I thought that way and would take a look at his actions. I hadn’t looked in a long time, but several texts would appear when I was near him that I saw again were the same flirtatious exchanges.

We are in counseling, and he did admit to being deceptive regarding his whereabouts. I hadn’t looked in a while, but started looking again at his texts because I felt he was again not being truthful and maybe he never was, and that the only way I could find out the truth is if I looked.

Is this wrong and controlling as you mentioned in your book? Or is it different when you have reason to look because I hadn’t looked up until that point? Again, I love this book and can’t put it down. He is attentive to me when we are together.

If I didn’t look, I might not have realized what was going on. He is meeting with a counselor regarding his inability to express emotions (dad died when he was 6 yrs old). My counselor feels he is being emotionally promiscuous. He feels he is in control and not doing anything wrong. Recently, I saw 3 texts in over a year from a co-worker that he said were not meant for him. One said “listening to this song thinking of you” and another said, “Me too Babe, it’s been a long time.”

He said she texted back and mentioned it was not intended for him. I want to believe him, but it’s getting harder and harder. If I didn’t look, on the surface things appear normal.

ANSWER:  I’m sorry you’ve discovered that your husband has a secret life. That is painful to you and harmful to your marriage. Apparently, he is also confusing you. On the one hand, he’s agreeing that his behavior might make you feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Yet, he is also minimizing the damage when he states he’s in control of his emotional promiscuity and not doing anything wrong. If he’s not doing anything wrong, why is he hiding his behavior? With the way you worded your sentence though, I wasn’t sure if it was your husband or his counselor who felt your husband was in control of his emotional promiscuity and not doing anything wrong. If it’s the counselor, he would do well to find another counselor.

That said, the question you’re asking is are your behaviors controlling when you keep checking your husband’s cell phone and e-mails to see if he is lying or sneaking around?

Let me ask you a question. Why are you still checking? It’s not to find out if he’s lying to you. You already know the answer to that. So what’s your purpose? To find out if he’s still lying to you? You already know that answer, too. So what do you want to do with the information you already have? That is what you need to focus on right now.

You indicate that overall you have a good marriage and you would have no idea this was going on if you didn’t check. From that, I assume that you want your marriage to stay in-tact, minus the emotional promiscuity. What does your husband want? If he wants the same thing, then what will he need to change in order for him to stop his secret life?

First, he might commit himself to counseling to figure out what he’s trying to get out of his flirtatious behaviors. Next, he would initiate accountability for himself so that he will be less likely to fall into those same behaviors, you will feel safe, and you both can rebuild trust.

That means he will invite and allow you and/or other people, such as a good male accountability partner, to monitor his e-mails, phone messages or texts whenever you want to. You will not need to sneak to check. You will have full access to his passwords and be able to verify that he is doing what he says anytime you feel anxious. This is not to control him, as he must learn to control himself. This is for you to rebuild the trust that he is doing what he says he wants to do–stay married to you and stop flirting with other women.

However, that doesn’t mean that if your husband wants to, he still can’t find a way to flirt and lie about it. You cannot control him or his behaviors. The best you can do is to decide what you are willing to live with and what you are not willing to live with and then let him know what the consequences will be to your marriage if he continues to lie and flirt.

So many women obsessively try to change their husband’s sinful behaviors by playing detective and drive themselves crazy in the process. If your husband wants to be a liar and a cheat, you are absolutely powerless to stop him. All you can do is work on yourself and decide if you are willing to put up with that behavior or not. If not, then what do you need to do instead of continuously monitoring him?

5 Steps to Recover from a Failure

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

You’ve failed.

It was huge…at least to the people impacted by the mistake. Perhaps you did it on purpose. Maybe it was an accident. You may have stumbled into gradually over time. Bottom line: It was wrong. You did it. No denying it now.

What next?

Here are 5 steps to recover from a failure:

Admit – Be honest…with yourself and others who need to know. Quit hiding from the truth. Stop making excuses. Own up to what you did and take responsibility for your actions. It’s a sign of maturity and few make it past this point. You my have consequences to deal with. don’t run from them.

Repent – Ask God for forgiveness. If you are a believer, He’s already paid your penalty on the cross, but you need to acknowledge your sin to keep the relationship pure. Ask any injured parties for forgiveness. You’re not responsible for their granting of grace, only for your attempt to live at peace with them.

Plan – Create a new path. Consider the right way to do things next time…so you won’t make the same mistake again. Do you need new friends? A new environment? Should you step away from a position for a time? How can you ensure those around you, whose trust

Commit – Commit to your plan. Commit to new accountability. Commit to the people you love. Commit to yourself. Commit to walking a new path and writing a new story.

Grow – Learn from every failure. You do not have to be defined by this season of your life. Move forward, looking back not to feel bad about yourself, but only enough to remind you to never go there again.

You can do it!

Improve Your Marriage by Being Worse Parents

SOURCE:  Jim Keller/Family Life

Parents often put their marriage relationship on the back burner. These four principles will help you balance working on your marriage while attempting to raise children.

There was no question about it: The situation was serious. Greg, a 17-year-old junior in high school was found by his mother passed out on his bed after overdosing on his father’s pain medication. He was rushed to the hospital, stabilized, and then admitted to the psychiatric unit for observation. After two days of psychological assessment and prescribed medications, Greg was released with the recommendation that he receive counseling to help deal with his emotional and relational health.

When I met with Greg, he seemed like a normal, emotionally engaged young man who had simply been going through some academic and relational difficulties. We talked through the struggles he was dealing with at present and came up with a treatment plan that I felt would address these issues and hopefully make him more resilient to deal with any problems that might arise. It was a good first session and my prognosis was that Greg simply needed some space to talk about some of his internal stress and develop some new coping strategies.

Then I met with the parents …

Greg’s mother and father were appropriately concerned following the revelation that Greg had been abusing drugs, particularly after his overdose. The more I talked to them, however, the more I became concerned about them. They weren’t just worried about Greg’s emotional health; they were worried about his GPA, his sports performance, his “questionable” relationships, his Christian testimony, his reputation, and his ability to be accepted to the college of his choice. And secretly worried, I think, about how their reputation as parents would be sullied if word got out that Greg had a “drug problem.” While these concerns were legitimate, they didn’t get to the real heart of the issue.

During the next session, I asked Greg about his parents’ marriage. He described it as “fine,” but when asked to elaborate he revealed some important dynamics.

“Are you closer to your mother or father?” I asked. Without hesitation he answered he was closer to his mother.

“Who aggravates you more?” I followed up.

“She does.”

“Do you feel close to your father?”

“No, not really,” he said.

Greg also talked about his general experience at home. “I feel as if I’m under a microscope and that if I don’t perform up to expectations, the whole family will fall apart.”

“Are they good parents?” I asked.

I’ll never forget his answer: “They’re too good! I feel as if it all hinges on me—how the family is doing, what the mood is at the house, and whether we’re going to have a good time or not.”paren

In Greg’s family, the husband and wife were too devoted to their parenting and not focused enough on their own relationship. Greg’s parents had every right to be concerned.  But the key issue besides stabilizing Greg’s behavior had nothing to do directly with him. It had to do with his parents. Our culture is kid-centric. It is hyper-focused on raising great kids. Not average kids, not “C” students, but above-average, excelling children who will somehow validate the family and make every parental sacrifice worthwhile.

The problem with this focus however, is the fact that many times marriages and the relationships between the parents themselves are put on the back burner in the name of being more effective and loving parents. This is usually not a conscious decision, but one that takes place over years of family growth and child development.

Here are four principles that can help balance working on your marriage while attempting to raise children:

Principle #1: The marriage comes first—spousal love covers a multitude of parental sins. Many of my clients, both adult and children, have experienced tremendous anguish because of marital conflict in their past or present home. One of my most distressing times as a therapist was working with a 9-year-old first-born child, who was experiencing debilitating headaches that consumed his life. In tears he would tell me of the emotional pain that his parents’ fighting would cause him; he couldn’t escape the anguish that the conflict between his parents created in him. When I tried to intervene in this boy’s parents’ marriage, his mother and father told me that the subject was moot because the marriage was ending in divorce. Needless to say the headaches continued.

Principle #2: Parenting is a team effort. Children know instinctively how to divide and conquer. And if there is disagreement as to how a child should be directed or disciplined, the family is set up for potential chaos and the marriage is weakened. Marital discord creates a chaos where children will be in charge. A divided marriage not only brings discord to the house, but many times the husband and wife will seek to curry the favor of their children instead of their spouse, validating their feelings through their children rather than their spouse.

This principle is violated with such frequency that I sometimes shake my head in amazement. A few years ago I counseled a couple that was working through some extremely difficult issues. They had two pre-adolescent children and were at loggerheads over what type of parenting style was appropriate. The wife claimed her husband was a severe and unreasonable disciplinarian; the husband claimed his wife spoiled the children to a “ridiculous degree.”  As the marriage disintegrated, the husband shied away from his draconian parenting style and began relating with his boys in a way that he had never done—he spent one-on-one time with them, and began to listen more closely to not just what they were doing but how they were doing. Instead of the wife being pleased, she became more and more agitated, convinced her husband was turning the children against her.  The conclusion is obvious: If the marriage is suffering, parenting will also suffer or at best be extremely challenging.

Principle #3: Let your children make mistakes. A couple came to see me to deal with a variety of issues both marital and familial, but their central focus causing the most consternation was their teenage daughter’s interest in a boy who was, in their eyes, less than stellar. They told her she could not date this boy any longer because she was making a “serious mistake.”

Kristi feigned agreement, but secretly kept seeing her boyfriend until her disobedience was discovered. This continued back and forth for another two months and then ensued what I call the “take-away game.” Kristi’s privileges were stripped one by one, until she basically went to school, came home, had dinner, and went to her room. Her computer was gone, her phone was confiscated, and she was isolated from any item that would cause her the smallest bit of pleasure in her home.

“How’s this working out for you?” I asked Kristi’s parents with a smile. The smile was not returned. I tried a different approach, “How is this affecting your marriage?” This question caught them a bit off guard, but they both admitted that their relationship was strained at best. Their daughter was a huge distraction and they had found themselves bickering about what direction to go and what disciplinary steps to take next. The time and energy that they were concentrating on their daughter was seriously interfering with their marriage. They asked me what direction they should take.

“First, give her everything back,” I said.

“Won’t that validate her behavior?” the mother asked.

“No, it will just let her know that you recognize that what you’re doing is not effective and that you are rescinding the punishment. Then,” I said, “sit her down, express your desires, and review the boundaries that you have set for her. After that, pause, look her in the eye, and say, ‘We have taught and hopefully modeled for you what good decision-making looks like. But we cannot control your life and we cannot keep you from making what we think are serious mistakes. So we’ll continue to set family boundaries which we expect you to honor, but we will not micro-manage your life any longer.'”

The mother looked on in horror as I suggested this. “Do you know the bad decisions she could make?”

“I do, and I hope she doesn’t. But the price that you’re paying as a couple and as a family is too great. You cannot let your daughter dictate the environment of your family.”

Kristi didn’t get better right away, and she did make some mistakes, but she no longer controlled the family by her behavior. I am certainly not encouraging negligent parenting and I’m also not saying that parents shouldn’t intervene when their children are making life-threatening decisions, but mistakes are potentially life’s instructors—we all learn the hard way! Kristi’s parents’ marriage was strengthened, and that produced a healing effect not only in their relationship but in their family as well.

Principle #4: Let your children reap their own consequences. One of Jesus’ most fascinating parables is the story of the prodigal son. That one story is so loaded with lessons that you could spend a decade studying it and still not plumb its depths.  As we know, the son goes off, squanders his inheritance, and returns home destitute and humbled. One of the great lessons of this story is the fact that the father allowed his son to reap the consequences of his own decisions. He did not intervene or bail his son out of trouble or out of debt. He only prayed, awaiting his son’s return.

Of all the responsibilities that come with parenting, I believe allowing children to reap their own consequences is by far the most difficult. Any loving parent doesn’t want his or her child to suffer the results of poor decision-making.

I am regularly asked to counsel adolescents who are described by the parents as “under-achievers,” which I’ve finally determined is a fancy word for lazy. “John just isn’t getting the grades he’s capable of,” said one mother who recently came into my office.

John was in a prep school and was pulling in B’s and C’s. As I talked with John it was evident that he himself knew he wasn’t performing up to the level to which he was capable.

“What’s the deal with school?” I asked.

“Oh, I just don’t care that much and don’t want to do all the work they want me to do to get A’s. B’s and C’s are okay.”

I talked with the mother at the end of the session and told her that I thought John was a fine young man and that he was doing well.

“But what about his grades?” his mother asked, “He won’t be able to get in to the colleges that he wants to with grades like that.”

“Have you told him this?” I responded, but I confess that I already knew the answer.

“From the time he was in middle school—he knows what he needs to do.”

“Then let him reap what he has sown,” I said.

John knew that his behavior had consequences, but he hadn’t quite reaped them yet. His parents needed to allow that to transpire, even if his path was not totally to their liking. John got into a middle-tier college and went on to do quite well in his early adulthood. I had a conversation with him five years later and he said to me, “You know, I know I could have gone to a better college if I had worked harder in high school. I realize what my parents were trying to get me to understand.”

“Could they have done anything different to change your behavior?” I asked.

“No, I just had to learn for myself,” was his sage reply.

Parenting, the great distracter

Parenting is a great responsibility and a great joy, but it can also be a great distracter. Our lives are so inextricably linked with our children that it sometimes can be overwhelming emotionally. My most emotional moments and the majority of my tears were engendered by my kids. But my children eventually left home—can you imagine?! And my wife and I were the ones that remained. And the really interesting thing to me is that our relationship is still the backbone of our now-extended family. Don’t focus so much on your parenting that you forget that the most important relationship in your family is your marriage to your spouse.

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Adapted from The Upside Down Marriage ©2012 by James Mark Keller.

Is Your Spouse’s Depression Hurting You?

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Leslie Vernick

What to do when his depression is hurting you

Question:  My husband and I have been married for 27 years. I have been reading your books and articles and they have been a blessing to me. Without going into great detail, my husband suffers from major depression.

 He controls the finances, disregards my feelings and desires, lies constantly and can be emotionally and verbally abusive. There is–or was–a kind and honorable man in there, but I don’t see him much anymore, and living with the ” other guy” is wearing me down to nothing.

  After facing financial ruin 5 years ago and managing to get out of debt by the grace of God and start over, he went behind my back to fund his “projects” and we are right back where we started. I have been an enabler who vacillates between keeping the peace and occasionally breaking down and yelling/ crying, but I am trying to change.

 I just need to know…can I hold a depressed person accountable for these actions? His view of reality is skewed and I’ve tried so hard to be kind and supportive but I am so drained. I am afraid if he is forced to confront his behaviors he will be suicidal, but the stress of living this way is too much.

 Also, how do I set boundaries on the spending? We have agreed on budgets, etc., but he ignores them. He promised me he would not put us in debt again, but he broke that promise in a big way, some of it behind my back, some of it while I begged him not to. What can I do to protect me and my son? He is not speaking to me today because I confronted him about some lies I just discovered regarding finances. I am scared of what he will do if I try to take this away from him, and don’t know that I can anyway.

Answer:  You are struggling with several issues at once so I think it might be helpful to separate them a bit for greater clarity. The first is your husband’s depression. How long has he been depressed and is he getting any treatment for it? Does he have a doctor or counselor that he’s working with? If not why not? Depression is a treatable problem. Does he have any family history of bi-polar depression? His spending issues may indicate some mania. If so, be sure to mention this to his treatment provider.

Male depression typically manifests differently than female depression. A depressed woman tends to internalize her pain and blames herself. A depressed male usually externalizes his pain and blames others and circumstances. His externalized pain results in lashing out toward loved ones, sometimes leading to abusive incidents (either verbal and/or physical).

Although depression does rob an individual of his or her ability to think clearly, it does not rob them of all sense of reality or truth, nor does being depressed give him an excuse to sin or act in ways that injure those he says he loves, whether financially, relationally, physically or emotionally.

Sometimes it’s our compassion, sometimes it’s our fears, but It sounds like you’ve been giving your husband a get out jail free card when he sins against you or your family because you’re trying to be sensitive to his depression. The problem I see is that it’s not helping. Shielding your husband from the reality and consequences of his behavior is not helping him get better. It’s not helping him stop his abusive/deceitful behaviors, and it’s taking you to the edge of your own cliff where you are feeling like you can’t take much more. Therefore, let me suggest a different approach and it starts with asking God for wisdom because it’s scary to set boundaries and implement consequences when you’re not sure of what will happen next.

First, I want you to accept the very painful reality that the only person you can take full responsibility for is you (unless you have an infant in the home). Therefore, you need to get your own help to handle yourself in this situation. You acknowledged you are an enabler. Until you address why you keep enabling behavior that becomes destructive to you, to him and to your future, you will probably keep repeating it or will be too afraid to change it.

One thing you mentioned is your fear of him committing suicide. Yet you also indicated in your question that you just recently confronted his lying about finances and he didn’t threaten suicide, he just stopped speaking to you. Suicide is a real possibility with someone who is not only depressed, but has lost hope. But threatening suicide can also be used to manipulate others into doing what they want.

I hear you loud and clear that you are nearly at the end of your rope. Living with a depressed person definitely takes its toll on the rest of the family. That’s why it’s so crucial that you get your own support and help right now, not only to stop enabling his behaviors, but to stay healthy and strong yourself.

I’m going to give you a few things to think about – hopefully you will have the courage and strength to implement them. They will be crucial to your long term sanity as well as safety.

Tell someone what’s going on. Secrets are lethal and you need some support. You can share what’s happening without throwing your husband under the bus. Be wise who you share this with, but you need someone who can pray for you and perhaps be an advocate with you in talking with your husband. That might be another family member such as an adult child or one of his siblings, a good friend, or your pastor.

You must also start to exercise some stewardship over your life. You do not have power over your husband’s life although you do have considerable influence. Therefore, I want you to tell your husband that his depression is now affecting you and your marriage. You can say it lovingly like, “I need for you to get help now. You may be able to live with your depression but I can’t. You’re not behaving like the man you once were.”

You said in your question that somewhere inside of him there is a kind and honorable man but his negative emotions rule him and cloud his thinking and judgment. That can happen to all of us and sometimes it’s helpful when we have a grace-filled truth teller come along side of us to remind us who we are. Read the story in the Bible where Abigail had a heart-to-heart conversation with David after her husband refused to feed David and his men. David was humiliated and outraged. He vowed to kill every male in Nabal’s household. Boldly yet humbly, Abigail went to meet David with supplies of food. In their conversation, she reminded him who he was (the Lord’s anointed and the future king of Israel). This helped him to press pause on his destructive emotions of rage long enough to rethink his decision to kill all of Nabal’s men. (Read 1 Samuel 25: 29-35) for the story.)

In a similar way, I’d like you to try to have that kind of conversation with your husband. Humbly remind him who he is (a child of God, an honorable man, whatever good characteristics you know of him) and encourage him not to allow his depressed feelings to rule his heart or his decisions. Ask him to be willing to receive help to manage these depressed emotions so that he can be the person God wants him to be.

He may have all kinds of objections to getting outside help. Here is where you must stay strong and firm. His depression is not only causing him distress, it’s causing you distress. He is making poor decisions and these decisions affect you and your child. Affirm that you love him and want to see him get well and your marriage to thrive. If he agrees to see a doctor, or if he has one already, insist on going with him and report to the doctor the changes in him that you observe. For example, he doesn’t’ sleep well, he’s spending recklessly, he’s angry all the time, he is impulsive, etc. If he goes alone, he may minimize his symptoms or not recognize some of the things he does that are upsetting to you.

You don’t share whether or not you are employed, but at this time I would separate your finances and open a separate checking account with just your name on it exercising good stewardship over your finances. Since he has been irresponsible and deceitful with the finances, the consequences are that you are going to be in charge of family finances until he gets better. That may motivate him to get the help he needs as well as set some limits on his access to family money. Do not sign for loans or credit cards or home equity loans. This is not helpful to him or to you. This is where your enabling may need to be addressed so you don’t fall victim again.

It’s important that you realize that you are not only doing this for your protection, you are doing it for his. When you know someone is not making good decisions, you don’t give them unlimited access to things that could harm them or others. For example, if you had guns in the house you would remove them or make sure they were locked up. If you had a lot of prescription pills in the house, you would lock them up. Taking charge of the finances is not just for your protection, it’s for his. The shame that he feels for lying and failing again to appropriately manage money contributes to his feelings of worthlessness and feeds the cycle of depression and may lead to hopelessness – thinking he’ll never get better.

There is an excellent book I’d recommend you check out of your library called, How You can Survive When They’re Depressed:  Living and Coping with Depression Fallout by Anne Sheffield. It will help you be a good steward of your own life as well as wisely set appropriate boundaries with your spouse.

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (Part 1)

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As biblical counselors our goal is to help marriages stay together but we must be careful to not be like the priests in Jeremiahs’ day who healed God’s people superficially by saying peace, peace, when there was no peace.

When working with couples in destructive and abusive marriages, I think it’s important that we understand what it takes to put their marriage back together in a godly way.  And, if one of them won’t do the work required, then what?  Do we encourage them to stay legally together even if they’re relationally separated or divorced?

God gives us a means for healing damaged relationships, but his blueprint is not unilateral.  Healing a destructive marriage can never be the sole responsibility of one person in the relationship.   It always takes two people willing to work to achieve godly change.  There needs to be forgiveness sought, and forgiveness granted.  There needs to be amends made and a willingness to rebuild trust.  There needs to be constructive feedback given and willingly received.  When one person refuses to participate or take responsibility for his or her part, healing or restoration of the relationship cannot fully take place.

As biblical counselors, working with individuals and couples in destructive marriages, I want to give you a few mile markers that will help you identify where you are on the healing journey or whether or not you’re even on the right path toward getting there. [I’m] going to talk about the importance of safety.

Safety

Safety in an intimate relationship such as marriage must never be underestimated. You cannot put a marriage together in a healthy way if one person in the marriage feels afraid of the other. Without question, whenever there has been any kind of physical abuse, destruction of property, and/or threats against one’s self or others there is no safety.

Shirley e-mailed me.  She wrote, “My biblical counselor says that I must allow my husband back into the home if we want our marriage to heal. He said, ‘How can we work on our marriage when we’re not living together?’

“What are your concerns about him moving back home?”  I asked.

“We’ve been separated for over a year after he gave me a black eye. It wasn’t the first time he hit me, but it was the worst. I never pressed charges or called the police, but I told him he’d have to move out. Honestly, I haven’t seen any real change in him. My counselor says that Ray is changing.  He hasn’t hit me for a long time. I agreed, but his underlying attitudes of entitlement are still there.”

“Give me a few examples,” I said.

“He badgers me to give in to him when I disagree. When he visits with the kids at the house and I tell him I’m tired and I want him to leave, he says I’m selfish and only thinking about myself. He thinks it’s okay if he walks into our house without knocking even though I’ve asked him not to.  If he won’t respect my requests when we’re separated, how will he do it if he moves back home? “

“He won’t. ” I said. “Either he’s not willing to respect you or he’s not capable of doing it but either way you are not safe until he learns to do this.  Please, stick up for yourself with your counselor.  Before you can work on the marriage, your husband need to value the importance of your safety and demonstrate that he can control himself and honor your feelings and boundaries without badgering or retaliation.  If he won’t do this much, you cannot go any further to repair your relationship. ”

There are other issues of safety that also must be resolved to some degree if a marriage is going to be wisely restored. For example, Kathy still loves her husband despite his sins against her. She longs for Jeff to be the man she knows he could be. Yet she must not throw caution to the side and be fully reconciled with Jeff without the proper safety measures in place.  She knows Jeff has a problem with sexual addiction.  He has a long history of pornography, affairs, prostitutes and one night stands.

Does God ask Kathy to ignore these dangers to her health and safety in order to reconcile her marriage?  Or, is it both in her and Jeff’s best interest that she stay firm and not resume sexual intimacy with Jeff until he gets a clean bill of health as well as demonstrates a change of heart and some progress in his change of habits?

In a different situation, Gina’s husband, Matthew, feels entitled to keep his income in a separate bank account with only his name on it.  He gives Gina an allowance each week for household expenses but requires her to give him give a detailed account of everything she spends.  Gina is an RN, but she and Matthew agreed it was best for her to stay home with their four children.  Gina does not feel safe financially or emotionally.  She feels like a child when she has to give an account, yet Matthew refuses to let Gina know what he’s spending.  He says it’s his money.  Gina feels vulnerable and scared whenever Matthew travels, especially overseas.  What if something happened to him and she ran out of cash?  When she’s expressed her concerns to Matthew, he tells her not to worry, nothing will happen to him.

Legally Gina is an adult and considered an equal partner in their financial responsibilities, yet she has no voice, no power, and no idea what is happening with their assets. Should she submit to Matthew when he says she’s not allowed to have a credit card even though she’s never been irresponsible with money?   Gina’s observed Matthew being deceitful at times in his business expenses. What if Matthew has been deceitful in other ways?  What if he has underreported their income tax?  Gina would be held equally responsible even if she didn’t know.   What if he is not paying their mortgage or their home equity loan faithfully?   The financial consequences of his irresponsibility would fall equally on her shoulders. Gina and Matthew will never have a healthy marriage if these issues aren’t discussed with the underlying imbalance of power and control changed.

I’m dismayed by the number of people helpers, pastors, lay counselors, marriage mentors and professional counselors who don’t understand safety issues must come first. There can be no constructive conversation about other marital issues nor can there be any joint marital counseling  if one person has no say or isn’t safe to tell the truth or disagree without fear of physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual retaliation.

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