One of the hallmarks of marriage and family counseling is the idea that everything is connected. When a family is in a stressful situation, the stress might rear its head as a child acting out, as a relationship in turmoil, siblings fighting, or it can emerge in any other sort of relationship or individual. Further, when something is affecting the couple or marriage, it will likely affect any children or individuals from the family of origin.
This sort of interconnectedness is often called “systems” thinking or theory. Troubles go up and down, left and right in the hierarchy of the family, and it only follows then that coming around to support the family in therapy should include a multi-pronged approach.
When I work with couples and families, often they come in trying to say who the problem is, rather than what the problem is. In most instances, anything somebody has done can be boiled down to a symptom of a larger issue within the system.
A lack of affection from one individual might stem from a lack of trust in the relationship on both parts. Someone constantly blaming someone can be the symptom of neither partner listening. Rather than the “problem” residing in one person or the other, I like to frame it as the relationship that needs mending.
Let’s begin with a simple definition. An emotional affair is any relationship where we go outside our marriage to have our emotional needs met. This is by necessity an egregiously broad definition. The difficulty comes from the fact that we are created for relationship. It is our position in the relationship that determines whether it is an affair or not.
Examples of Emotional Affairs
Consider for a moment a wife who loves listening to live music, and a husband who doesn’t. He doesn’t engage with her and she feels lonely. She finds a friend who also loves live music and they begin going out on weekends. In the absence of her husband’s attention, she becomes attached to this friend, begins preferring her over her husband and choosing her needs over his.
Or a husband who works on a Bible Study with a single theology student who goes to his church. She is lively and interested and genuinely appreciates his mind. Things are okay at home, but this woman makes him feel alive in ways he hasn’t felt in years, or maybe ever. He begins to find reasons to text her and meet with her, and his interest in spending time with his wife begins to wane.
Or a pastor begins counseling a single woman, who is attractive and genuinely interested in him as a person, or damaged ...
Imagine that you are sitting in a sailboat. Looking out at the water, you envision where you want to go. You set the rudder, lift the anchor, put up the sails and away you go. If the wind is strong, you can move quickly to your destination. Perhaps the wind picks up and up and you're suddenly feeling less like a sailor and more like a pilot. The wind is carrying you faster and faster and this has become an incredibly fun thrill ride! You look down at the water and enjoy watching the waves go by as you speedily fly atop the waves, nothing holding you back. However, the wind eventually dies down. After some time, it crawls to a stop and you are stuck.
With no wind in your sails, you float in the ocean all alone. You feel isolated. You look at your boat and realize that that high speed thrill ride you were on a short while ago left your hull damaged, chunks of wood flown off, and you neglected basic maintenance for some time. Perhaps you try blowing into the sails, but nothing can get your boat going again.
Eventually, the winds pick up and once again you're flying. But soon they die and again you're stuck. This process goes on and on for some time. It wears on you, and you never get where you wanted to go in the first place. Ultimately, you are at the whims of the wi...
This article references the book, Mending a Shattered Heart, edited by Stefanie Carnes
Finding out your partner has been unfaithful is devastating. If the behavior proves to be the result of a sexual addiction, there can be even more overwhelming feelings of shame, confusion, loss, and pain; sometimes there are symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), such as hypervigilance and intrusive thinking.
Sex Addiction Criteria
Following are ten key criteria for sex addiction. If someone meets three or more of these ten criteria, he or she would be considered a sex addict. These criteria need to be present over a prolonged period of time (e.g., six months) and not be part of a major mood swing, such as in bipolar disorder.
1. Recurrent failure to resist sexual impulses in order to engage in specific sexual behaviors
2. Frequently engaging in those behaviors to a great extent or over a longer period of time than intended
3. Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop, reduce, or control those behaviors
4. Inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experiences
5. Preoccupation with sexual behavior or preparatory activities
6. Frequent engaging in the behavior when expected to f...
I am walking through the woods on a peaceful day and I suddenly see a huge grizzly bear standing on its hind legs looking at me. I am paralyzed with fear. My heart rate accelerates, my mouth feels dry, my muscles tighten, my mind goes blank, my skin gets clammy, and I feel like I just drank 10 Red Bull Energy drinks.
These are all very adaptive fight or flight responses my body produces to protect me from the huge animal. Under this stress response, I will move faster, bleed less if hurt, be fueled by energy hormones, and will be less distracted by irrelevant details going through my mind. The Fight or Flight response is rooted in my instincts as an automatic response to help me survive when my wellbeing is threatened.
What if this survival response got triggered every time I had perform a new social interaction? My body and mind respond to a social interaction with another person as if I am about to be devoured by a grizzly bear. Having the survival response trigger when it is not needed can be exhausting and bring a person’s quality of life to a standstill.
Social anxiety disorder is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to social avoidance as means of coping. Fear of embarrassment or being in situations where you could be scrutin...
This is the final article of a brief series of articles posted earlier addressing the notion described by Dr. David Ferguson as "Blending Four Ingredients for Marital Closeness." As we briefly explore this specific ingredient of "Grateful Giving," it is very important that the foundational work of the previous three ingredients be understood and experienced. I hope you will consider reading them.
More importantly, I hope you will join me in slowing down your life and allowing God to interrupt you with these simple relational principles. The intentionally repetitive work that is necessary for learning and living out compassionate care, trust, and joint accomplishment in marriages and relationships are the cornerstone from which authentic and grateful giving come.
To superficially and/or pretentiously attempt behavior that is incongruent with what you are internally experiencing will lead to frustration, emotional distance, greater conflict, and feelings of futility.
Additionally, it is imperative that you understand that this is not a formula or action steps for conflict-free relationships. In fact, the opposite is true. These ingredients make room in our minds, emotions, and attitudes for experiencing healthy conflict and greater intimacy in your marriage.
When I was a kid, I read a comic book about a criminal foursome exposed to cosmic rays who ended up with super powers. As you may have guessed, the story was part of the Fantastic Four series. One scene in particular stands out; there was a woman whose ability was to convert herself into any gas she chose. Near the end, as their powers are overwhelming and destroying them, her husband is suffocating because his repulse ability is pushing all the oxygen away from him. In a desperate attempt to save him, she converts herself to oxygen, but his power disperses her on the wind like so much vapor. At its worst, this is what a codependent relationship is like.
What is Codependency?
Clinically, codependency is a relationship dynamic where one person subverts himself or herself in service to another, at the expense of their own well-being. A spouse to a substance user who goes out and buys the substance for him or her is codependent. Spouses who make it their job to keep everyone happy in the marriage (or the family) are codependent. Battered spouses who stay in the relationship are codependent, dispersed on the wind like the woman in the story.
There is such a thing as a harmless, or mostly harmless, codependent relationship, but the impact can be insidious long-term. At t...