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.

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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.

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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

intimacy_collage1
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!