Dreaming of a life together

Post by guest author Joanne Eksteen.

Every so often it happens that I meet someone whose presence lingers in my thought processes for a while. The time afforded to them depends on the impact that they had on my mind and emotions to start off with. When they inspire me they usually stay for some time.

One such an individual in particular has stood her ground. She inspires me as someone that is able to deeply connect with others on all levels but also practices supreme boundaries and ambition. I imagine her as a competitive corporate giant and a most attentive and loving wife and mother. On paper she is brilliant and in life her personality brings out the best in those around her. She is successful on multiple levels. She inspires me. She is my pedestal person (well at least one of them).

A little while ago I mentioned to her that I would be travelling abroad. She was excited and explained (obviously having seen the entire world herself!) that the people of the country I would be visiting and their manner of being, still lingers in her mind to this day. She talked further of contentment and how very different her own life experience has been. Her experience in life articulated that regardless of what one does, one should be able to do it better. Her mind was still reaching, contentment a foreigner in another country.

I felt many things in that moment, mostly confused, a deep sense of sadness and then relief. How could she not see herself?? My pedestal person was a human being much like myself.

My mind wandered to hers. I wondered about her thoughts, emotions and behaviour. If she had felt that she had never been good enough, why continually strive? Why not give up? If what we assess is not up to standard, how then can we still move on successfully? Or maybe that is exactly what has always driven her?

Yet there in that moment my pedestal person had revealed a tender and vulnerable part of herself that overflowed with honesty and insight. Her revelation, although shockingly new to me, was not new to her. Her identity was right there in the midst of our conversation and she was quite aware of it.

It led me to consider sonship, the term we often hear in church but one I wonder whether we fully understand. It means that we will as sons of God, understand in oneness with Our Father, who we are and where we are going. To me, understanding who we are with all of our good parts, bad parts and in spirit opens up the doors to enlighten us to the paths He created for us.

As married couples we are one. We have spent four weeks looking at what God says our marriages should be and do, barriers to intimacy and finally we started to vulnerably explore our identities as individuals and how it impacts on what our marriages are at present. Not only did this process create an opportunity for greater intimacy with our spouses but it should also mean that in exploring our identities we can have hope. Hope that we are going somewhere. Hope in our purpose as an individual and as a couple. Surety that we are not married to wear a bling ring, have a housemate, be a Mrs or expect a plate of cooked food every evening, but surety that our marriages are meant to mean something to this broken world. Surety that there hope to reach contentment and joy in finding our purpose as a married couple.

My pedestal person is not free from struggles. She is a person just like me and she knows this. Her understanding of herself allows her to move onto the path created for her, her life is evidence of this and I realised in that moment, this is why she does not lose hope and continues on.

With the idea in mind that we want to pursue our purpose and destiny as a couple in order to honour God, continue to explore the identity of each individual in the group. Look at shame, selfishness, fear, self-esteem, self-doubt and in general, identity. May we all become pedestal couples!

Reflection question: how does selfishness, shame, poor self-esteem, or fear affect your marriage and you as an individual?

Post and reflection questions by Joanne Eksteen.  Joanne is wife, a mother and a clinical psychologist with a passion to help people grow in healthy identity and relationships.

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Expecting the miracle in your marriage – hope for tomorrow

What do you do when your relationship is lifeless, communication is strained, interaction is difficult? Your partner feels like an estranged friend, someone you once shared life with, but now there is nothing left to share. There has been too many disappointments, too much pain.  Hearts have become hardened and the passion is long gone.  In fact, the affections are directed elsewhere. The marriage is on the rocks. All the signs are there: there is no coming back from this; it is THE END.  You are beyond hope.

Really?

What is hope? And why bother? 

Hope, simply put, is the anticipation of good. Hope, or vision, or a dream, is something desirable that you believe to be possible for you – those “plans to prosper… a good future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  It is best captured by the imagination, illustrated in a picture, or envisioned in a story.  It is an end-state that draws your affections and invites you to dream with.  We have seen the power of phrases such as “offspring as many as the stars above you and sand below you” and “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Genesis 15:1; Exodus 33:3).  Hope is powerful.

Hope is the attitude that looks up and dares to believe that this journey I am on is leading to something beautiful, something desirable, something worthwhile. That the best is yet to come!

Hope is like the architects drawing of the beautiful house in which you will have your kids and the two of you can grow old together, sitting on the veranda as the sun sets peacefully.  Although the house is not built yet, these lines on the paper is the catalyst of desire which will make you build the house.  But more, this picture (hope) is also the reason and clear direction for every inch of effort that will go into making that drawing into your dream home. (Refer to Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, hope is very powerful.

Why is hope powerful?

Hope makes hard times bearable, because as you hold onto the belief in a good future you understand these troubles are temporal, and the hope you long for gives meaning to the things you suffer on the way there.  A lack of confidence of a good future (or hope) is the cause for companies to close their doors, marathon athletes exit the race and couples end up in divorce court. We give up when we loose hope.  Conversely, hope gives athletes strength to endure pain in order to gain the reward, what makes the soldier survive his wounds to see his wife again, and what causes the mother with cancer to keep on fighting and see her children grow up.  Hope, the confident expectation of a beautiful future together, is the reason to endure hard times and helps to see meaning in the daily grind. (See Romans 8:28).

Secondly this hope (a clear vision of a good future) helps us to navigate life’s challenges because it sets priorities in our activities and the direction of our efforts – in both good times and in bad.  We know that the Christian hope of eternal life builds resistance to temptation, is the standard for our relational growth and gives strength to push through endure hard times. Similarly the marital hope of our beautiful and meaningful life together keeps us faithful, helps us grow closer and helps us overcome obstacles together.

Why can I have hope?

If everything in your relationship point to failure and hopelessness, why could you trust that all will be well soon? How could you be persuaded of a joyful, meaningful future together?  Indeed a fair question.  If one has tried everything to keep the relationship alive and nothing seemed to work, you have come to the end of yourself, allowing a sense of hopelessness to set in.

But for the Christian, the end of oneself is not the end of a matter. With God there is always hope: our success or failure does not depend on our efforts alone, but we hope in God (or “trust in God”) as the Psalmists frequently sing (eg Psalm 39:7; 62:5; see Ephesians 2:13-14). When nothing seems to help we are confident of a good outcome because of God’s character, his love for us and his ability. To say “I hope in God” means to trust that God is indeed merciful, trustworthy and powerful enough to help me, and that he is certain to hear my pleas and help me from this seemingly hopeless situation.  We further hope in God because of the hope intrinsic in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, showing that no situation is every truly hopeless to God who brings even the dead to lifer. No situation is ever too late, too hopeless, because “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27)

How does hope work in practice?

Hope works best in pictures and stories – something you can look at or recall in your imagination. Something that best illustrates the good future you desire.

So find or draw a picture like the stars above Abraham and the sand beneath his feet which reminded him daily of God’s promise that “so will your offspring be.”  What he saw reassured him that his will have offspring – and many.  These visual depictions of God’s promise motivated him to be intimate with his wife, reminded him daily that God was at work in his daily actions, and comforted them both every month Sarah discovered she was not pregnant. It also intended to prevent them from giving up altogether from the hope of a child together by finding other women to provide offspring.   You need a picture like this – it can even be a picture of your wedding day or honeymoon when you were happy together.

Stories are also powerful sources of hope – the Bible is filled with those for a reason!  If you marriage is in a tough spot, then consider finding the story of a couple who were about to give up and God turned it all around beautifully.  Stories are very potent because you can identify with their suffering, and wish to share in their success.  Look for these people, talk or write to them.  Read their blogs and buy their books.  Go to their seminars and workshops where you can listen to their stories, cry about their pain, celebrate their restoration and gain hope!  Ask them to encourage you and pray for you.  Because what God has done for the he will do for you. These stories are filled with hope because these people live the dreams you have – these people embody the hope you need.

These images and stories stir our imagination, and our God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). So, like Abraham was invited to picture his offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky and the dessert sand between his sandals – so image your marriage in it’s prime. Imagine the greatest marital bliss, joy filled home, carefree moments of intimate pleasure, sweet companionship and potent partnership.  Imagine what God can make of your marriage – with all his wisdom and all his might – what could God do in and through the two of you.  What type of marital relationship between you and your spouse would bring God glory, would showcase his loving goodness to the world? Picture that!

I encourage you to “write out the vision and make it clear” as God told Habakkuk (2:2). Talk to your spouse about it, pray about it.  Tell your friends what you dream about. The challenge is to allow the hope (confidence of your good future) to overpower your anxieties (fearful expectation of failure and pain).  Deliberately dwell on the good of your spouse and what you have in your marriage, while you also pray about what makes you anxious or sad, “casting your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you” (Philippians 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:7).

If you really cannot see a future because you are so aware of the challenges and pain, do what Elisha did when his servant was only aware of the Syrian army surrounding them. ’Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ’Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:14-17). Then the servant was not intimidated by the challenge they faced, because he was aware of The Lord of Heavens Armies who was right there with them.

You are never walk alone – God is right here with you in your marital crisis. And he is in the business of saving!

Let this be a reminder today that although your relational journey might be laden with disappointments, miscommunication and frustration that left you both hurt and hopeless, with God there is always hope. Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17)! He is close to all who call on him, and look – picture it – he makes all things new! (Revelation 21:5)

So what is the most ideal picture of your marriage? What could your story be? What is your hope?

 

 

 

 

 

 

When intimacy hurts

Recent studies show an alarming increase in “sexless marriages” – in fact, The Times reported that more than 21’000 people search help on this monthly via Google, outnumbering searches such as “unhappy marriage” and “loveless marriage”. The phrase “sexless marriage” refers to couples having sex less than once a month.

But who cares?  A survey by psychotherapist Abby Rodman says 75% of those couples do! They had healthy sexual relationships, but claim that having children(!), stress and fatigue, health reasons or simply time had dried up all the romantic passion.  In fact, this matter so much that half the respondents stated they would not have married their spouses had they known their married life would be sexless. (Although 75% said that they would not end the marriage because of the lack of sexual intimacy).

(Not making) love hurts

Why do they feel so strong?  Because constant sexual rejection in a marriage hurts. A lot.  Reading through articles, blogs, and recalling phrases I have listened to during counselling sessions, the following statements best capture the pain of spouses in sexless marriages.

  • I feel unloved, unwanted.
  • I feel unattractive, ugly.
  • I feel hurt. I sometimes hide in the bathroom and cry.
  • I feel so ashamed – what about me is so despicable?
  • I feel angry and cheated because I explained my desires, yet he/she ignores my pleas.
  • I feel ignored, my needs and desires are simply not important to my spouse.
  • I feel so worthless because he/she has time and energy for everything else but not me.
  • I feel so alone. I lie next to him/her in bed and yet feel so far away.

Sexual rejection by a spouse hurts much because it denies the means and expression of intimacy reserved exclusively for each other.  Especially in relationships where there was at some point much sexual arousal, the onset of habitual sexual rejection communicates not just “I don’t want sex” but rather “I don’t want you.”  Simply put, long-term sexual denial feels like rejection of the person.

Something’s gotta give

Marriage by definition is companionship, a means to obtain intimacy.  When sexual relations within marriage is rejected over a long period it not only impedes the relationship but also has devastating effects on the identity and emotional health of the rejected partner.  The following statements give good insight into the effects of such long-term sexual rejection.

  • I feel so disconnected from with my spouse. We live like house-mates, nothing more.
  • I find myself to be very irritable; small things make me act out in anger.
  • I have lost confidence – not just at home. I am not the strong man/ woman I used to be.
  • I feel resentful; my heart is really hard towards my spouse.
  • I feel attracted to the attention of others; the rejection has made me vulnerable to emotional and physical affairs.
  • I have grown tired of being rejected so I have stopped making efforts for the relationship.
  • I am very suspicious – I hate admitting this but I think my spouse is interested or in relationship with someone else. 
  • I am so depressed; the one person that I love does not want me.
  • I have suppressed every sexual desire, because not feeling anything is less painful than being rejected.
  • I am addicted to porn and masturbation. I know it is wrong but I can’t stop it (and I honestly don’t care anymore).
  • I don’t have hope for our marriage anymore. Things will always be this cold between us.

These phrases capture much pain. Looking at the two lists of statements above I feel so much sympathy for anyone in a sexless marriage. And I understand why Paul would write so strongly about not denying your spouse sexually intimacy (1 Corinthians 7:3-7).  Yet every marriage goes through ups and downs, and therefore the challenge of married life is to continue “cleaving to your [spouse]” to remain “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Never stop pursuing intimacy with your spouse!

couple-not-talking

Helpful, hurting and hopeful

Over the years I have noticed three general responses of people suffering from long-term sexual rejection.  The first group harbors anger, visible in hostility and frustration – typically accusation.  It is as though these people subconsciously want to hurt their spouses to share in their pain of rejection.  This is not helpful.  Yet anger and hostility hinders any form of intimacy, which requires safe space to open up.  So this response pushes the couple further apart.

The second group has become passive, apathetic.  Escaping the torment of perpetual rejection, they have given up on any hope for intimacy and suffocated their own desires for intimacy.  Marriage has become a cold, platonic friendship.  This is indeed a very lonely place – especially within marriage. This is not necessary: there is hope!

The third group has embraced vulnerability to allow for intimacy, enduring the hurtful rejection towards the other’s heart. It simply means to forgive the other in order not to close one’s heart.  They strive for connection beyond fear. These spouses talk about their hurts – but with open hearts – and intentionally create an environment of affection, warmth and encouragement.  They never lose hope that they will regain the romance and intimacy which they once enjoyed.  And they see the fruit.  Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

To the rejecting spouse I don’t think I need to write any further advice, except to ask your partner whether he or she feels the same as the statements recorded above, and strive to understand his/her needs for intimacy.  Then share your feelings to identify the barriers to intimacy, whatever they may be, and seek help as a couple. Do it today!

My counsel to you, the rejected spouse, is take courage, and embrace vulnerability to graciously and patiently explain your feelings to your spouse, but do so in gentleness and love, not angry, and not nagging.  Express your love and attraction for him/her.  Affirm your affections and approval of him/her.  And with of without your spouse, seek help – your journey need not be so lonely.  But never lose hope!

You might not be able to fix this, but nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37) Ask him to make a garden in your wilderness! (Isaiah 51:3)

couple-talking-in-bed

Connection Beyond Fear

Post by guest writer Joanne Eksteen.

I was recently reminded of someone that had lost a child and a parent in a short time. I was deeply struck by it and carefully wondered how something so tragic is processed by the psyche. Perhaps I could unpack it somehow. Instead I ended up asking God “why?’. That age old question. Why are we able to deeply connect with people if that connection can be lost so easily? It hurts and can be devastating. What’s the point? Why bother? The prospect of connection suddenly scared me. I have often seen how that fear prevents people from connecting vulnerably with others. How even in marriage, individuals are hurt and withdraw into simple friendships with their spouses.

A couple of days later I came across this photo on Facebook.

brother_holding_sister

I felt God saying: “This is why…” I heard in my heart that without human connection, without relationship, life would be a fearful endeavour harder than what we would be able to imagine. It is a gift not only to enjoy but also to comfort us. It can be seen as an extension of God’s relationship with us and in many ways His hand at times. The process of connecting is so enriching, rewarding and supportive that it also creates in us, I believe, resilience. The ability to ‘bounce back’ after a challenge or hard time as an individual and as a couple. As a married person this is what one should hope for.

Because connecting with another human being puts us at risk of being hurt, pain from previous relationships in the form of loss, rejection, death, divorce or really anything else, can often stand in the way of deeply connecting with your spouse. It can stand in the way of trust and being able to give of yourself fully. Unresolved anger towards an ‘ex-partner’ or even parent or colleague may make you defensive and unable to be vulnerable with your spouse. Unforgiveness may have made your heart hard and therefore unable to connect. Shame may make you feel like you are unworthy and you may withdraw into a friendship with your spouse (a place where you may feel safe but where you miss out on the resilience, support and reward described above).

Often the answer is simple: forgiveness. In fact in most cases it is forgiveness. It is understanding that human beings including yourself are fallible but that God can heal and restore anything. Christ’s blood was shed for that very purpose. It is putting our faith in Him and not in her. It is a decision and then a process. You can learn to trust again. It may take time. It starts with an open discussion about that which you may have buried. It will probably be hard and uncomfortable but it WILL BE WORTH IT!

For reflection 

To help you grow in deeper connection with your spouse, discuss the following questions 

  1. Discuss the win your groups how previous relationships may be hindering the process of connecting with your spouse.
  2. Have you ‘shut’ anyone one out in your life promising yourself to never let that person or anyone else hurt you again? What do you feel towards that person? Have you forgiven them? Can you forgive them?
  3. Do you see yourself as worthy enough for your partner? Are you ashamed of anything?
  4. What do you think about self-forgiveness?  Is there anything you struggle to forgive yourself for?

*Bold words are themes to be discussed in this session (you don’t have to ask these exact questions)

Post and reflection questions by Joanne Eksteen.  Joanne is wife, a mother and a clinical psychologist with a passion to help people grow in healthy identity and relationships.

Barriers to Intimacy: Questionnaire

Maintaining an intimate relationship is often more difficult than we’d hope for.  Preserving vibrant connectedness in a world filled with responsibilities and distractions requires disciplined effort and gentle responsiveness. We must be aware of the things that alienate affections and counteract closeness, and eradicate these relational threats.

Today’s post contains a short questionnaire aimed at identifying the big stumbling blocks that frequently hinder intimacy in marital relationships. The goal is to first look in the mirror before you look across the room. I hope this reflective exercise helps in increasing intimacy within your home!

A. To what degree do each of the following areas affect sexual intimacy with your spouse?

1.     Stress at work Much Some None
2.    Stress at home Much Some None
3.     Overworked and tired Much Some None
4.     Preoccupation with TV / phone / computer Much Some None
5.      Preoccupation with kids / hobbies / etc Much Some None
6.      Frequent conflict Much Some None
7.      Not feeling valued Much Some None
8.      Not feeling attractive / attracted Much Some None
9.     Lack of affection in home Much Some None
10.   Lack of initiative to engage Much Some None
11.   Lack of responsiveness to spouse Much Some None
12.   Lack of sexual desire (ie lowered libido) Much Some None
13.   Fear of inadequacy in bed Much Some None
14.   Fear of being laughed at/ mocked Much Some None
15.   Unforgiveness or anger in relationship Much Some None
16.   Past hurt in intimate / sexual relationship Much Some None
17.   Sexual intimacy not pleasurable Much Some None
18.   Porn tainted the intimate relationship Much Some None
19.   Physiological / medical reasons Much Some None
20.   Guilt of past prevents intimate enjoyment Much Some None

B. Use your answers above as prompting to discuss your feelings with your spouse, a counselor or within a safe group therapy environment. Seek to discover why you feel this way.

C. Confess your part in the problem. Is there something that you could do to remedy the problem? What could change the situation for the good?

D. Ask God to forgive you for your wrongs, to heal your relationship and restore joy again.

Are there other barriers to intimacy that you are aware of, and that i have not included here?

 

Growing in Spiritual Intimacy

“Some say they have been married for 20 years, but truthfully they have been married twenty times the same year.” This statement by pastoral psychologist Jannie Botha has been ringing in my head ever since I have heard him say it few years ago.  It’s true: just because we have been together for long does not mean we have grown together strong.  Growth requires deliberate discipline (1 Timothy 4:7).

From the offset of our relationship my wife and I had a good spiritual partnership.  We went to church together, did Bible School together, served in a student ministry together and even planted a church together before we got married.  But although we shared some amazing times of worship together over the years, and although we pray together daily, we have not found a model for frequent devotional time together that worked well for the two of us. She has her way of spending time with God and I have mine.

Yes, we occasionally share what we read in the Bible and what God says to us, but we have always desired to grow spiritually together through a structured couples devotional time.  Especially now that we have kids we longed some format of a family devotional time that they may grow into more and more as they grow older.  And after more than a decade’s marriage I think we found something which works for us!

A Devotional Model for Couples

In his series Creating and Intimate Marriage Jim Burns shares that he and his wife Cathy also have their own devotional time, but that once a week they would come together and have a devotional time where share on spiritually with each other and spend time in prayer together, especially regarding their marriage and family.

They would begin their devotional time together by sharing from their Bibles and journals the most significant thing(s) that that God revealed to them personally, and discuss this with each other.  They would share what they have read, why it touched them and what it made them think and feel, and possibly how it would impact their current or future attitudes and actions.  This is a time of spiritual discussion and reflection.

Thereafter they share their greatest joy, greatest struggle, and greatest desire of the past week.  This can be a simple as “my greatest desire of the week is a weekend away from everything” or as deep and honest as “my greatest struggle of this week was you, Jim!”

This is followed by a time of affirmation – where they would encourage one another by stating how they positively perceived one another during the week.  Because they are committed to create an atmosphere of A.W.E. (affection, warmth and encouragement) in their home, they schedule these times of affirmation. This would lead to a time of accountability for physical goals they set for one another, and I think any form of accountability is healthy in such a session.  And eventually these sharing with one another would lead to a time of prayer for one another, their relationship and their family.

growing_spirtually

Overcoming spiritual barriers to intimacy

It is important to note that the biggest barriers to intimacy include a lack of priority to meet together in such deliberate and disciplined ways – which these devotional times in themselves will overcome.  But furthermore relational issues such as unforgiveness, anger, and guilt, are all spiritual conditions which these times of sharing and praying should address.  These are the things that couples need to pray about together, asking God for love and grace to grow beyond.

The aim of this devotional time is to deliberately and systematically grow together spiritually as “draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) and so doing to  grow in deeper intimacy.

This couples devotional method works for me – perhaps you and your spouse can try this and see if it works for you?

 

Growing intimately

By Joanne Eksteen.

Intimacy is a gift from God to be enjoyed and to connect two people that have entered into the covenant of marriage. What does it mean then to connect intimately and why do so many of us miss this incredible gift?

To connect means to be completely vulnerable and open in the giving of oneself physically, emotionally and spiritually. For most this is difficult.  Often, when I put this thought to people, they report uncertainty regarding whether they can trust the other person to receive what they give in an accepting and graceful manner.

While this is important, it is really not about the other person. It is about that thing you think you need to trust the other person with. Do you accept that thing you think you need acceptance of? Do you believe that although you are not perfect, that God thinks of you as worthy? Whether you can trust the other person is really irrelevant. If what you give is not received in trust and acceptance – will you still be whole?

When you get to a place where you accept yourself and see yourself as God sees you, you are able to release the fear of being rejected. You no longer need to trust someone else. You can trust yourself. Shame is no longer an issue.

Only once we can give freely and without reservation, that which we consider worthy, are we open to receive. In turn your sense of self-worth will most likely be reinforced as you are able to receive and accept love in return. From this vantage point the view is spectacular!

Perhaps I can simplify this further? We all have a ‘sense of self’- the summation of an image we hold of ourselves. It is what we think of ourselves consciously and unconsciously. I was ‘top’ of my Maths class in High School. After a particularly hard test (or at least that was my perception), I walked out of the class huffing and puffing. My teacher asked me how it went and I replied: “terrible”.

She reflected: “…it is because you always focus on that which you think you got wrong and not on the 99 others that you got right…”. In life I have often struggled with this. Why is it that we are so afraid to let others see that 1 percent that is ‘wrong’, not perfect or bad?

I later realised that I needed to control everything to be ‘perfect’ in order to not let others see my shadowy or negative parts.  The reality is that we all have shady parts. The Bible tells us that we’re born in sin.

We also all have good parts I believe. In a real intimate relationship we need to be honest and vulnerable to the extent that you allow your partner into those shadowy parts. Only when we can give freely can we freely receive (the love and acceptance that should be returned). As partners we should be sensitive to our spouses’ vulnerability and never use it to hurt them. We should carefully choose the words we use to receive their vulnerability and care for them in that moment. And then…it’s your turn!

One of the largest barriers to intimacy is what I have described here i.e. poor self-acceptance, low self-esteem or shame. It feeds many of the other barriers that we often hear about. Take pornography for example. I believe porn to be an addiction and habit once it starts (an entire different story for another day) but how does it start? Porn starts when one tries to sooth the longing for intimacy but one is fearful of engaging in real intimacy as it would mean entering and sharing the shadowy waters of yourself. Instead porn in easily accessed and controlled (at least the first couple of times) and doesn’t ask any questions. It is not hard, takes little emotional effort, can’t reject you and you don’t need to fear it or trust it. You also don’t have to return the favour. Despite this, it doesn’t fulfill one’s real need and forces one to return time and time again.

Consider the barriers you experience to intimacy. Can you relate it to anything I have said above?

intimacy_collage2

Joanne Eskteen is wife, a mother and a clinical psychologist with a passion for identity and relational therapy.  

On a Journey of Intimacy

Craving intimacy

Humans crave connectedness. We are creatures characterized by a desire for companionship, with a yearning to be known, a longing to be loved.  This is a primal need; even in paradise “it [was] not for man good to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  Indeed much of our conscious and subconscious decisions are driven by this aching to “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In paradise, our ancestors were “naked and not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), being fully satisfied in intimacy.  But now we no longer live in paradise, making connectedness and companionship so much more complex.  Although the desire for intimacy still burns fervently inside of us mankind’s fall has stained our spirits with shame – the knowledge of our imperfection, the nagging voice that there is something wrong with us.  The awareness of our flaws deceives us into believing we are unlovable, so like our parents in the Garden (Genesis 3:7-8) we try to “cover our nakedness” with futile fig leaves or hide to avoid closeness with others altogether in the shadows of our loneliness.  Thus, shame – this sense of unworthiness – brings a deep fear of rejection and closes one up, making intimacy impossible.

Therefore, to have and maintain intimate relationships one has to firstly believe that you are worthy to be loved and secondly embrace vulnerability, knowing that closeness with others will expose the true you in all your glory and imperfections.

An atmosphere of AWE

So one of the easiest ways of cultivating intimacy is to create a safe relational atmosphere that affirms worth and encouragement.  In Creating and Intimate Marriage Jim Burns writes about creating an atmosphere of A.W.E. (Affection, Warmth and Encouragement):

  • Affection says “You are loved!”  It speaks to the basic need to feel loved through a gentle touch,  a hug a kiss and the loving tone in words of endearment affirms the worth of the other and strengthens the relational bond.
  • Warmth says “You are valued!”  by creating a friendly, welcoming and positive atmosphere within the home or relationship.  It is communicated by the attention we listen with, the attitude we respond with, and the air we speak with. It is strengthened through a culture of honour and celebration, creating an environment to which people would want to return.
  • Encouragement says “You are doing great!” It refers to a healthy habit of affirmation, praising both the worth and accomplishments of the other, and constantly recognizing the efforts and contributions of the other with giving thanks.  Encouragement aims to build the other up.

This Atmosphere of AWE affirms the worth of the other and creates a safe milieu conducive for vulnerability, allowing hearts to gently grow closer together. Even during difficult relationships seasons, creating a positive atmosphere through affection, warms and encouragement will result in increased joy and intimacy – even if just one in the couple keep to it.

Greater capacity for intimacy

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Our pursuit of intimacy proves difficult at times, but these moments of loving closeness brings delightful joy!

Over the next seven weeks we will embark on a journey of intimacy, specifically designed to help you grow in your personal capacity to be intimate within marriage.

  • Firstly we will consider our view of intimacy, including spiritual, emotional and physical (sexual) intimacy.  While we evaluate our view of intimacy we will also consider the nature of shame at work in our relationships and see how we can recognize and limit this destructive dynamic in our interactions.
  • Secondly we will recognize other barriers to intimacy, considering general stress as well as relational tension caused by unresolved conflict leading to anger, unforgivess and bitterness. Other major barriers to intimacy include self-centeredness, laziness, pornography, and physiological issues.
  • Thirdly we will consider how to enhance our capacity for intimacy by growing in courage for vulnerability, a stronger sense of worth and identity, as well as embracing the attitude of a servant lover.  We will also focus on the importance of consistently securing a safe space (through our actions and communications) within our relationships in which both we and the others can entrust themselves.
  • Lastly we will devote time in which we will deal with sexual intimacy, considering the the different ways with which men and women generally approach lovemaking, and how to prioritize physical intimacy in our busy lives and homes.

We all can grow in our capacity to love and feel loved.  Come join us on this journey of intimacy!

What man would I give my daughter to?

We’ve been blessed with two beautiful children: a boy and a girl.  So whenever I conduct a wedding I intently observe the father walk his daughters down the aisle knowing I will one day fulfill that role.  I try to put myself in his shoes: so many memories, so much emotion, such loving concern.  She’ll always be “Daddy’s little girl” but now she’s about to become someone’s bride.  In those moments I wonder: whom will I give my daughter to one day?  What type of man will I entrust her to?

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I’ll entrust my daughter to a follower of Jesus. I don’t mean convert to Christianity in the broad sense; I mean deliberate disciple – one who lives to emulate Jesus, obey his teachings; one who lives in relationship with him. Such a man, although young and imperfect, will continue to grow in grace – the Lord Himself forever shaping and helping that man.  That young man is never alone as the Lord is always at hand.  With him my daughter is safe!

I’ll entrust my daughter to a faithful friend.  I don’t necessarily mean her friend although it would be nice.  But there will be enough time to grow deep friendship after their wedding as marriage is per definition a promise of companionship, friendship.  But I will easily entrust my daughter to a man who has a track record of good, lasting friendships.  Yes, I’ll look at his friends and consider his level of commitment, but in principle if this young man could show himself faithful in friendship to others for more than five years, he has proven his character to be devoted to my daughter. He has love for people that overflows in real relationships, and people respond and stick with him. God says if he was faithful with his friends he will be faithful with her. These solid friendships not only provide safety to their friend, but also to their spouse – there is accountability and support in those relationships.  In such a relationship my daughter is not vulnerable and alone; these friendships will provide security and support and will keep them on track.

I’ll entrust my daughter to a courageous, humble person.  I’ll gladly give my daughter to a man who lives not to please himself, but who considers and esteems others more than himself. A man who stands up for others even when it hurts himself.  But humility is more than servitude; humility also implies being teachable.  I’d entrust my daughter to someone who has this intellectually humility – someone who can acknowledge his wrong, who asks for help and takes the counsel of other people. God says he gives grace to the humble, and with such a man my daughter’s future will be secure.

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I’ll entrust my daughter to someone kind.  A kind person gives generously and forgives easily.  A kind man responds to the needs of those around him by helping and blessing without obligation.  This man is selfless and generous, and with such a man my wife will always feel loved, always feel cherished.  With such a man her heart is safe.  And God says that a kind, generous man will receive kindness and generosity from him.

I’ll entrust my daughter to a gentle man.  Yes, it would be great if she marries a gentleman: a well-rounded, good-mannered person.  But I mean gentle as in self-controlled, or meek as in older English, someone who has learned to remain calm and resist outbursts and retaliation. A meek man is patient, has the ability to control himself when provoked, can also resists temptations, and can take a step back to make room for others to grow.  This gentle person is driven by principle and not by emotion; God promises to bless such a man with authority and entrustment.  So such a person I can entrust my daughter knowing that his strength will provide safety and bring no harm.

Although I desire the best for my little girl, these qualities are what I pray her husband should be.  A young man who fears and follows Jesus with his friendships.  A man who has a gentle, kind and humble heart. Such a man is blessed by God and will be good to my girl.  If she chooses such a man I’ll gladly hand her over at the end of the aisle.

But not yet… not for the next 20 years…

 

What is love?

“I love you”. Three simple words that – as the saying goes – makes the world go around.  And quite literally so!  This year the US Economy received a boost of $18.9 Billion with Valentines Day sales, less than 2014’s Christmas sales but more than 2014’s Mothers Day sales.

And the record industry literally turns year after year with songs singing these three words.  From the time when Huey and the News felt The power of love”, when Whitney promised her Bodyguard “I will always love you”, Elvis pleaded “Love me tender” or the Righteous brother lamented “You’ve lost that loving feeling” – the great songs written by people in love makes the record companies very rich.  But I wish more people spent some time to wonder with Foreigner when he sang “I want to know what love is.”

Love does makes the world go around, and no-where is it on greater display than at a wedding, where two people make vows of love to each other.  The essence of the familiar marriage vow is a promise “to love and to cherish, to have and to hold from this day forward, until death do us part”.  The wedding vow is a promise of companionship in love.   So frequently while conducting wedding ceremonies I have two questions I silently wonder do you know what you are letting yourself into?” and do you know what you are promising – do you know what love is?”  Because marriage, as in every other relationship, only flourishes when love true.

Building blocks of love

The word love occurs in various forms in some 290 times in the New Testament, and is thus a major Biblical theme – for obvious reasons.  We read that “God is love” and that he “so loved the world that he gave his Son” and we should emulate him so that we “walk in love”, meaning “love one another” and “love your enemies” – ultimately Christians should be known by our love.  Yet many times our definition of love is informed by contemporary culture, powerfully influenced through music, movies and novels, and the power of love is missing from our lives.

This was also true in days of the early church, heavily influenced by the booming Roman culture (from where we get our word romantic), so the New Testament writers had to define what they meant with “love”.  We get definitions in most of the New Testament letters (Paul’s definitions of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:22-23, as well as Peter’s definition in 2 Peter 1:5-7 come to mind).  But one of the most helpful definitions of love if found in Colossians 3:12-14:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

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Love begins with compassion in the heart

Paul teaches that love begins with compassion – a deep feeling of identification with the person and his or her circumstance.  This is the place where real love starts, as you consider the other person, and value him or her enough to stop to think and identify with the his or her circumstance.  Love starts with giving attention and time to someone, and that moves our hearts to act for the benefit of the one whom we love.

Looking at our example of love, we see Jesus being motivated by compassion.  In fact, often before Jesus acted in kindness the Gospel writers would mention Jesus’ compassion as the motive for his benevolence.  For example, Jesus was moved with compassion, therefore he taught those who gathered (Mark 6:34), healed the crowds (Matthew 14:14) and fed the multitudes (Matthew 15:32).  The pleas of the two blind men (Matthew 20:34), the leper (Mark 1:41) and the demon-possessed boy’s father (Mark 9:22-23) filled Jesus’ heart with compassion before he healed them all.  When he saw the mourning mother at Nain (Luke 7:13) and Lazarus’ sisters weeping (John 11:33) his heart was moved with compassion so that he resurrected the dead.  As he looked at the crowds, the gospel writers recorded that Jesus was filled with compassion and was moved to pray for them (Luke 13:34), and at another time to time send out his disciples to heal the sick, cast out demons and preach the good news of God’s reign in the surrounding villages and towns (Matthew 9:36).

Some of Jesus best-known parables are also about compassion: the parable of the Forgiving Master (Matthew 18:22-35) tells us that the Master forgives debt because he has compassion, and we should do likewise.  The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) teaches us that love for our neighbor starts with compassion for someone in need, regardless of political or racial preferences.  The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) teaches us that the Father sees his returning son and has compassion, and forgives and restores him with great joy.

Love starts with compassion.  Compassion is activated as you stop and look or reflect intently at the person and his or her circumstance, as Jesus taught Simon the judgmental Pharisee who was offended when Jesus allowed the immoral woman to touch him, wash his feet with her tears and pour fragrant perfume on his feet.  Looking at the woman, Jesus taught him “Simon, do you SEE this woman…”  (Luke 7:44).  This is Jesus’ ultimate lesson on compassion: it’s easy to judge “sinners” because of their wrong, to stereotype “lazy beggars” because of their circumstance or be indifferent to the needs of strangers.  But Jesus demonstrates here that love starts as we look and see the person, to reflect on this person’s pain and suffering and to see the human being whom God loves enough to send his Son to die for.  And that is when God starts to stir his love in our hearts, when we identify with the image of God in this person.

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“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

The incarnation of Christ is the ultimate demonstration of the compassionate love of God.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14).  God, the righteous Lawgiver and Judge left the holy heavens to walk with mankind and identify with the temptations and suffering of humanity, even experiencing the death and agony of separation with God his Father. In a sense Jesus answered the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90 “Lord… you are from everlasting… we are like grass that withers… come down Oh Lord, have compassion on your servants!” (vv2, 5, 13).  And because Christ came to share in our humanity, we have a High Priest that can “sympathize with us in our weaknesses” so we can be confident of his forgiveness and help. (Hebrews 4:15-16).  God took time to identify with us and has compassion with us – therefore he is merciful towards us.  His love starts with compassion.

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This example of God’s identification with us in our weakness is the model of our love: love starts as you take time to walk in another’s footsteps, feel their pain and suffer with them.  Like Christ, love overlooks the wrongs done and first considers the one in need.  Like Christ, love values the person before dismissing the sinner.

This is not only a model for working with the poor, the addict and the offender.  This is the model of love for your conflicting spouse and difficult child, your rude coworker and racist service official.    Lover starts with compassion gained through time, attention and reflection until you can identify with this person whom God has made in his image, and who joins suffers with you in this sin-infested, loveless world, and is also in need of God’s desperate need of loving grace – like yourself.  Everyone needs compassion.

This short animation by Dr Brené Brown on empathy helps a lot to give practical guidelines to grow in compassion.

Before love is visible in acts of kindness, it starts in the heart and moves you to not do good deeds from a position of superiority but to do good because you identify with the suffering, the want, the pain of this person you love.

Compassion enables us to embrace even our enemies because we identify with their common humanity. Image credit: Hien Nguyen/Flickr
Compassion enables us to embrace even our enemies because we identify with their common humanity.
Image credit: Hien Nguyen/Flickr