​Going somewhere?

This post by guest author Joanne Eksteen

In the last couple of weeks we have looked at couple intimacy. After hearing yet another story from a couple that felt that their intimate life is in shambles I wondered about what they really wanted? I got the sense she wanted him to say that he loves and wants her desperately and that he wanted her to say that he is everything that she has ever wanted and more. Instead there they sat saying: “he said/she said”. 
I must be honest in situations like this my own heart often aches for the couple but I also find myself wanting to scream: “what do you want?” It is therefore this question I pose to you as we reach the end of our journey of intimacy. 

If you were miraculously touched by an angel in the middle of the night and didn’t realise that a miracle had happened (i.e. you marriage/intimate life was ‘perfect’) the next morning when you woke, what would be different? How would it be? What would others notice in your behaviour that would tell them something had happened? What would your children see? What would the fly on the wall in your bedroom see? How would you speak to each other? What would your non-verbal communication be like? How would you love each other? How would you romance one another? How and how often would you have sex? Please be specific in the detail in answering these questions. 

Many of us are stuck in problem-focussed arenas. We simply fight to survive. The truth is we are not slaves and should be dreaming of more than survival. The questions posed above are not rhetorical. Please ask/answer everyone in detail. Facilitators please pay careful attention to the body language and non-verbal communication of each member while answering these questions. In most you will see emotion as they are forced to break negative brain schemas and thinking patterns. Please comment on the emotion. As people move towards more solution-focussed thinking they often begin to smile and become more relaxed. You can comment on this and ask them why they are smiling. Please reinforce this. The exercise is frustrating for most and they will continue to drift towards problem-talk using words like but/won’t/can’t. Kindly stop them and ask the question again. They must answer strictly to the point. Remember a miracle has happened and there are no limits with miracles. 

You may want to break into small groups for this. Please choose the groups wisely.  Please explore romance in more depth if possible (to continue next week). 

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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.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.