As I continue this series of articles on healthy relationships, I once again express my gratitude and deep respect to Dr. David Ferguson, his book, Intimate Encounters, and The Great Commandment Ministries team in Cedar Park, Texas.
Myths & Lies About Healthy Relationships
Healthy relationships require specific ingredients that include intentionality and clear purpose. It is a sad commentary on Christian and non-Christian married life that few couples have a common vision for their lives. One doesn’t have to look very far to find another fractured and collapsed family.
Sadly, very few individuals have ever stopped long enough to consider what a Godly vision (direction with passion and wisdom) is for their lives. Consequently, married life suffers relationally. In fact, God’s Word says, “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild” (Proverbs 29:18).
If we don’t have clear direction for our marriages, we are blind to the absolute necessity for relational ingredients that can insure a successful marriage. This leads to the question, “What is stopping us from experiencing ‘Joint Accomplishment?’”
I suggest we explore a few myths and lies about healthy relationships that cripple relationships and permit toxic relational ingredients to thrive.
Common myths about married life
“Married life either works or it doesn’t. You either click, or you do not. If you don’t have those feelings, you call it quits and find someone else for whom you do.”
“Intimacy just happens – it’s a matter of chemistry.”
“If someone has trouble being intimate, there is nothing they can do about it.”
“Intimacy is just for women – men don’t (or shouldn’t) need closeness.”
Questions for Reflection: Have you ever known someone who has fallen to the power of these myths? Have you ever been under the spell of these myths yourself?
Joint accomplishment or unity in our marriages will be interrupted by faulty thinking and lies we have learned to tell ourselves and others. Lies in any relationship lead us back to experiencing aloneness, void of giving and receiving compassionate care, and certainly evokes further emotional distrust, which is damaging to healthy relationships.
Chris Thurman, in his book, Lies We Believe, wrote about several lies we can all find ourselves thinking. He says typical marriage lies include thinking:
“It’s all your fault.”
“If it takes hard work, we must not be right for each other.”
“You can and should meet all my needs.”
“You owe me.”
“I shouldn’t have to change.”
“You should be like me, think like me, see things the way I do.”
Questions for Reflection: Are there lies you believe and are emotionally tied to? Are there lies you experienced and practiced to survive in relationships only to backfire? Are there lies you learned to believe in your family of origin?
Why so much discussion about hindrances to relational intimacy in marriage? If we don’t pause and self-examine what we believe and experience in our deep emotional minds, we won’t be able to see ourselves or others accurately.
One thing I have learned as a very amateur furniture home improvement guy, it is a good idea to measure well before cutting expensive wood. Exponentially more significant is the notion of allowing oneself to be interrupted with quiet contemplation and consider what we believe and experience emotionally about our married life before we speak or behave wrongly.
Hindrances to Joint Accomplishment
Here are three toxic hindrances followed by three definitive ideas about the marriage ingredient of Joint Accomplishment.
1. Self Reliance
The primary hindrance to Joint Accomplishment is self-sufficiency or self-reliance (you may choose refer to my article from December 16, 2016). Self-sufficiency says to our spouse, “I don’t believe I have relational needs. I have wants but I don’t have needs.”
Self-sufficiency also says, “Even if I did have needs, I would take care of them myself.” This belief and emotional lifestyle sends the message that my spouse is not needed. I believe even more disastrous is that it sends the message, “You don’t need me, and if you did, don’t believe or feel like you can confidently ask.” A person’s blindness to the need for relational care silently conveys to the spouse, “I am blind to your needs and don’t count on me to meet them.”
For those who believe that compassionate care, vulnerability, and joint accomplishment (refer to articles from March 7, 2017 & April 6, 2017) sounds like pop psychology or just for those who are weak in their faith and emotions, I recommend you refer to one of the most autonomous, mentally and physically rugged men in history: the Apostle Paul.
Through the years, I have heard it quoted and taught that, “I don’t need man, I don’t need counselors, all I need is God.” This is backed up by the misquoted and misused Scripture found in Philippians 4:19, “and my God will supply all my needs.” The truth is that Paul just finished commending the Philippians for giving care to him and others. The promise was then stated, “and God will supply all your needs.”
2. Perceived Truth
The second hindrance to “Joint Accomplishment” in your marriage is what you think to be true. As I stated earlier, this could be based on family of origin or learning through circumstances and significant relationships in life.
To think simply means to believe. A definition of the word “believe” is “the way we direct our mind toward someone; to have an opinion.” In other words, to speak “your truth” or to have an idea about someone. The word “believe” includes the idea of brooding; to overthink, worry, stew, agonize, distress, or experience agitation or tension.
If your unhealthy thinking and beliefs live deep in your heart, you will defer to disengagement from relational care. You will naturally avoid joint accomplishment with your journey mate. The fruit of relational aloneness will be evident.
Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The heart is the center of what we value, love, desire, and are loyal to. The mouth confesses what the heart trusts. If you believe relational joint accomplishment is a sign of weakness, you are deceiving yourself, and self-deception is not conducive to healthy relationships.
The third hindrance to “Joint Accomplishment” is self-deception. Many people are suspicious of others’ intentions, live in chronic distrust, and believe the great deceiver is out to get them. My experience through decades of counseling marriages is that we are our greatest deceivers. Of course, this is very connected to how we think.
In order to challenge this deception, we need to understand who the truth teller is and experience the transformation of our minds. It’s imperative to seek His truth about our beliefs, and it is just as imperative to not do it alone. Changing how we think requires fundamental steps of trusting the Truth and thinking on the Truth as a lifestyle.
It takes time for transformation, but if we will “fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable … Think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy. Keep putting into practice all you have learned and received from me, everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
I believe that clinically, spiritually, relationally, and physically, people long to be connected. The depth of relational care in our married life is no different. But how do we accomplish this huge lifestyle endeavor?
First, it must be approached as a huge lifestyle endeavor. But what does Joint Accomplishment really mean? It simply means that due to compassionate care and deep vulnerable trust, we become one spiritually, one in our soul (mind, emotions, will), and one physically.
If we attempt Joint Accomplishment without the foundational work of care and trust, we will experience self-centeredness and division as opposed to unity.
Following are three ideas to experience Joint Accomplishment (once again, predicated on a lifestyle of well-defined relational care and the development of trust).
Joint Accomplishment Requires Common Spiritual Goals
It is no secret that marital closeness is founded upon two individuals experiencing a lifestyle of individual intimacy with God. The old saying is true, “people who pray individually and pray together stay together.”
Additionally, experiencing a lifestyle of authentic same gender care and accountability is vital to our growth. As much as we counsel on how to care for one another in marriage, it is impossible for a husband and wife to cover all relational needs.
Along with care and accountability through same gender individuals and groups, we need to experience gathering together in fellowship. This may be a church building, a home church, or a consistent gathering by a river with God as the guest of honor.
Common goals may be reading Scripture to one another, or reading faith building articles or books to one another. My wife, Paulette, and I model and recommend a “6-minute prayer” as a jumpstart along with some examination of reorganizing one’s spiritual lifestyle.
This includes one person at a time praying three areas for their spouse: one minute of thankfulness, one minute of forgiveness (recent smaller offenses, not a bomb), and one minute of blessing. We model this by holding hands, facing one another, and praying with eyes open which invites a deeper intimacy and care for one another.
Joint Accomplishment Requires Marriage Goal Setting
As I referred to earlier, “Without vision, my people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). A marriage team needs a sense of common direction and destiny, a “guiding framework around which we can make decisions and distinct objectives toward which we can stretch” (Dr. Ferguson). Paulette and I have experienced tremendous relational intimacy from this type of endeavor.
Dr. Ferguson goes on to suggest several exploratory questions in order to discuss each item and begin to identify specific goals you’d like to see accomplished, to be done with respect and gentleness, without a private agenda:
- In what two key ways would you like to see me grow personally in the next year?
- How would you most like me to pray for you in the next few months?
- What is a recurring concern you may have about each of our children?
- What is an important item you’d like to see emphasized in our romance?
- What do you see as two of the most important challenges we may face this year?
- What improvements or changes would you most like to see around our home?
Joint Accomplishment Requires Physical Closeness
Physical love giving is not all in your head, but a great deal of it is! My hope for you is that nonsexual, affectionate words and touch become a lifestyle that fosters your imagination for one another.
I will conclude this article with three ideas around touch leading to physical love giving.
Practice faithfully the 6-minute prayer as recommended above. Few people pray or discuss with maturity about their love giving life. Gently give affection the way your spouse defines it. Then give the affection freely, regularly, without expectation.
Learn to listen to one another. Enter your spouse’s world without thinking about your own thoughts. Learn to reflect what is being said by using language like, “So you are saying …” (infer, don’t be a parrot), or “As Paulette, I …” ( basically you are literally putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes and speaking their heart. Give room for self correcting). If you are having difficulty learning how to walk through conflict in a healthy manner, there are counselors that are skilled in this lifestyle training.
Respectfully and gently clarify to one another what your likes and dislikes are. We call sex “love giving” for a reason. Listening to desires and discussing differences is an honoring process. Learning to physically give love in a Godly way will always include a heart of generosity, gentleness, and thinking more of your spouse than yourself.
Marital Counseling for Healthy Relationships
If you’re looking for a Christian marriage counselor to help you strengthen your relationship and help you enjoy your married life even more, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the counselors in our online counselor directory.
Dr. David Ferguson, Intimate Encounters (Relationship Press, Great Commandment Ministries)
Myths from Intimate Encounters Training, Dr. D. Ferguson. Relationship Press. Pgs. 1.4; 5.3.
“Sunset Romance,” courtesy of rabiem22, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Bound Together,” courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Beach time,” courtesy of Toa Heftiba, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Devotions,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License