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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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?

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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!