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Marriage Matters

In her book Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey shares how one poll found that almost half of all millennials have given up the hope and perhaps even the desire for a monogamous relationship. Pearcey writes, “The hookup culture is unraveling the social fabric. It produces isolated, alienated adults who come together temporarily for physiological release. By repeatedly breaking up or never connecting in the first place, many people fail to learn how to form the strong, resilient bonds needed to create happy, fulfilling, long term marriages and families.” Nancy Pearcey’s words remind us that the church and family must work together to communicate God’s good and gracious plan for marriage, sex, and sexuality. The future of marriage and marriages hangs in the balance.

Have you ever taken the time to ask your kids what they think about marriage? Chances are, they think about it quite a bit differently than you did when you were their age. Today’s young people are getting married later, and getting divorced more frequently. With cohabitation increasing at breakneck speed, a growing number of young people are opting out of marriage. Because of cultural negativity about marriage, bad examples, and experiencing the brokenness of their parents’ marriage, marriage is something many kids never consider. The boundaries regarding who can marry are changing as well, with conversations, debates, and legislation all addressing the growing reality of same-sex marriages. All in all, biblical marriage – as an institution – is in decline.

Perhaps the negative old marriage clichés have stuck enough to serve as a deterrent. You remember these clichés don’t you? “Marriage is a great institution! But who wants to spend the rest of their life in an institution!?!” Or how about this one: “Marriage is a three ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.”

It’s time that we send our kids a different message about the meaning of marriage. No, there aren’t any perfect marriages. The coming together of one broken person with another broken person can be pretty difficult at times. All of us married folks know that far too well. That’s certainly a realistic marriage message that we need to communicate to our kids. And while we’re together, it will at times be hard. It will be so hard, in fact, that there will be times when we feel like giving up. And, we will wonder about the decision we made to even get married in the first place. To make marriage work it takes work. Love is a commitment.

But even more important is our task to define just what marriage is. While God does indeed call and gift some to the single life, He also said that it is not good for us to be alone. God made marriage and gave it to us as a gift. It’s a good thing! God also defined the parameters for His gift of marriage. It’s to be a life-long, covenantal, monogamous, exclusive heterosexual union between one man and one woman. Our kids need us to continually engage in show and tell when it comes to marriage. We need to tell them that marriage is not some kind of human invention. Instead, God made it for us and gave it to us.

Whether you are a youth worker or parent who’s married, or single by choice or circumstance, you can and must talk to your kids about the goodness of God’s design for marriage. Our culture never stops talking to our kids about marriage. Neither should you.

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Friday Fodder… Marriage Matters For Teens

I’m not sure he’d get away with it in today’s cultural climate, but Flip Wilson had a generation of us middle school kids laughing awfully doggone hard back when he was transforming himself into his in-your-face female character,  Geraldine, on his Flip Wilson Show. 

Regardless of what you think of Wilson’s Geraldine, there was something “she” was known to say back then that’s been normalized into our thinking about love, sex, and marriage today: “Love is a feeling you feel when you’re about to feel a feeling you never felt before! Whooooo!” Back then, it made my childish self laugh. Today, those words make me shudder.

In an age that celebrates the self and encourages us to idolize and pursue the satisfaction of any and every personal desire, feelings have become something that we act on, rather than something that we should manage and even distrust. And when feelings become the foundation on which we make decisions about love, sex, and marriage. . . well. . . nothing is permanent.

Geraldine was reflecting what’s become a cultural narrative that is diametrically opposed to the biblical narrative. Yes, God has given us the gift of emotions. And, as such, we need to manage that gift to His glory in ways that corral our emotions within the boundaries of His authority, rather than vice-versa.

This week I read these powerful words from Tim Keller in his daily devotional on Proverbs, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: “Traditional vows don’t mention feelings at all. In marriage vows we do not merely express present love – we promise future love. We promise not to always feel loving but rather to be loving, faithful, tender, and compassionate no matter how we feel at the time. Marriage is a covenant; it requires lifelong endurance, strengthened by our vows.”

Youth workers and parents. . . we can’t speak and example this truth enough. Remember, Geraldine’s words are being preached to our kids 24/7 through the cultural script. They’ve got to be seeing and hearing something different. Geraldine used to tell us, “Don’t fight the feeling!” Well, perhaps there are times when we should.

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Pornography and Kids

One of the most difficult and humbling things I get to do is talk to kids about the cultural scourge of pornography. That’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow morning with a group of 300 kids at a camp in Massachusetts. For several days now I’ve been asking the Lord to give me knowledge, words, wisdom, and courage. It doesn’t matter that I’ve done this numerous times before. It’s always something that verges on overwhelming. It’s difficult and humbling for the simple fact that the accuser comes at me hard, whispering things like “Why would they listen to you. . . an older guy?”. . . and “What qualifies you to talk about this?”

My goal is not to impress, but rather to faithfully and obediently communicate the truth of joyfully living as sexual beings in the context of God’s story for our sexuality, as opposed to choosing to destroy our sexual flourishing by living out our sexuality according to the cultural narrative. Sadly, the cultural narrative is so pervasive and compelling that our task as parents, youth workers, and yes. . . children’s ministry workers. . . is to map out God’s liberating story for our sexuality to even the youngest of the young.

Evidence of the power of the cultural narrative can be seen in how our kids conduct and portray themselves on social media. In her book American Girls: Social Media and Secret Lives of Teenagers, Nancy Jo Sales shares what she’s learned about today’s teenagers by embedding herself (with knowledge and permission) into the lives of 13 to 19- year-old girls. One of her most alarming observations about kids is what serves to educate them about sex and sexuality. Sadly, boys and girls are defining themselves and their understanding of sexuality by what they see depicted in pornography. Our boys learn that their value lies in physicality, while for our girls value lies in sexuality. Our boys need to develop and act out a hypermasculinity, while for our girls it is a hypersexuality. Boys learn that they are to dominate, while girls learn to willingly submit. And finally, our boys learn that it is expected that they issue sexual demands, while our girls see themselves as providing a kind of sexual supply to those demands. Sadly, nothing could be farther from God’s glorious truth for the gift of sex and sexuality.

Parents, youth workers, and children’s ministry folks. . . our calling is clear. We must be diligent about teaching our kids God’s borders and boundaries for his gift of sex and sexuality.

How can we do this? Begin by assuming that all of your students, thanks to the internet and smartphones, either have or will see pornography. Assume as well that because of where they are at developmentally, many or even most will be drawn to what they see over and over again. Youth workers, push back by beginning with parents. Hold a parents’ meeting to give an overview of the changing nature of pornography and how it functions in the lives of kids. Then, take the initiative to work with parents to redefine sexuality according to God’s Word. Then all of us together must walk kids through the creation account so that they will see sexuality as a good gift from God with a purpose and a place. Continue, by helping kids see that pornography defiles not only sexuality, but individuals and families.

And finally, if you would, pray for me and all others who will be broaching this topic with kids over the coming days.

To learn more about pornography and its effects on kids, download this free resource from CPYU. And, be sure to tap into all the resources that are available for free at CPYU’s Sexual Integrity Initiative.

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Friday Fodder… How Men View Women, Etc

Here’s something to think about and talk about with each other and with your kids. It comes from Tim Keller and his devotional book, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs. If you spend any time at all paying attention to and deconstructing today’s culture, Keller’s words are provocative, insightful, and appropriate.

Keller offers commentary on Proverbs 11:22. . . “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Keller writes, Men especially tend to evaluate women on their looks, hence this verse’s metaphor. Today we consider how this harms everyone. It damages relationships between the genders. Women see clearly how men react to beauty and it rightly lowers their respect for men. Also, it distorts women’s self-images and lives. It is difficult for them not to overvalue thinness and shapeliness, high cheekbones and great skin. It’s a huge temptation for women to say, ‘Why should I care about my character when everyone else – men and women – is evaluating me on my looks?’

Addiction to beauty fuels the pornography industry, which confirms men in their delusion that only young and beautiful women are sexually alluring. Pornography also gives men a way to get quick sexual pleasure with out the messy, frightening work or building a real relationship with someone. Finally, many men fail to see wonderful prospective spouses – women who would be absolutely terrific partners – right under their noses. They are ‘screened out’ for not being as good-looking as the pictures in porn. The idolatry of beauty is ruining us individually and as a society.

Can you think of any other ways that our culture’s overvaluing of physical attractiveness is harmful?

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Stop Trying To Get People To Like You

“They don’t want to be my friends.”

 

My 7-year-old daughter had just come home from her time at summer camp, and we were processing a situation that came up involving a couple girls that just didn’t want to be her friend. She had tried talking to them, complimenting them, sitting with them, and involving them in what she was doing.

But every attempt was failing. They would move away, ask her to mind her own business, and blatantly ignore her throughout the day.

“I know!! Maybe I’ll make them friendship bracelets, so that they’ll like me. I am just determined to make them my friend!”

Her persistence gives you a look into the type of girl she is – she doesn’t quit and she doesn’t give up easily. But in this case, it was time to give up. My best advice to my sweet daughter was, “child…it’s time to let go. People like this are not worth your time.”

It was interesting processing this situation with her, because as a parent – I saw the situation so clearly. She was giving, investing, trying…and getting nothing in return. She was trying so hard to make this relationship work, because she wanted to succeed! She wanted to be liked!

But in the end, she was investing so much energy into a relationship that would eventually get nowhere. A one-way relationship, where she would be doing all the work, and getting little to nothing in return.

Sometimes, I need that lesson myself.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Because it’s a problem that we all face at different points in our lives with the many relationships we engage in.

Getting Over The Need To Be Liked

 

We want to be liked so badly, that sometimes we allow ourselves to be in relationships where we’re doing all the work.

We value being liked by others over loving and respecting ourselves.

And that’s exactly where it has to start. In order for us to move away from these type of relationships, we’ve got to begin by recognizing our value and worth standing alone.


We’re not valued because of the people who like us, we’re valued by the One who created us.


 

And that truth, when it’s finally sunk deep, deep down, has completely revolutionized my life. Over the past decade, I’ve been learning this lesson in many ways, shapes, and forms. From friendships where I had to set major boundaries, to dealing with misunderstanding without feeling the need to defend myself.

One crash course in particular came with my becoming a writer and teacher in the public domain. On an almost daily basis, I had to deal with some kind of critique, disagreement, negative comment, scathing hate mail, or hateful review.

One of those hateful reviews actually came from a “friend” in ministry, who in an anonymous review (well, she thought it was anonymous – but it really wasn’t, yikes!) publicly wrote that I had nothing of value to add to this conversation and add to that – my personal love story was so ridiculous that it made her nauseous. Gee, thanks, “friend”.

Welcome to the reality that no matter who you are or what you do, you can’t get everyone to like you…and to the more important reality that you SHOULDN’T EVEN TRY. STOP TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO LIKE YOU.

Part of becoming a healthy person is learning to recognize early on which relationships are worth investing in, and which aren’t. I get that every now and again someone will be so good at pretending that they’re a good friend, that you won’t recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing right away. But to be honest, those times are more rare than not. Usually the signs are there, we just aren’t willing to look for them, or when we see them, we’re not ready to let the relationship go until we end up hurt, drained, and betrayed.

Overcoming The Need to Be Liked

 

I feel like I’m finally at a place where I have gotten over my need to be liked. Part of this has come in realizing that I only have so much emotional margin. I only have so much room to invest in relationships, and so I want to (no, NEED TO) save my emotional energy for friendships and relationships in which I am valued, loved, and respected. Relationships in which I’m giving as much as I’m taking. Relationships in which I am not doing all the work.

If you listened to the most recent episode of my new Love + Relationships Podcast (if you haven’t listened, go give this episode a listen right now!!), you heard me tell our caller who was struggling in one-sided relationships:


“You attract the type of relationship you think you deserve.” – (Tweet it!)


I said that to my daughter a few days ago, I say it to myself on a regular basis, and I say it to you today.

It’s time to get over your need to be liked, believe in what you deserve, and free yourself from relationships that are holding you back. Because oftentimes, by closing your heart to the wrong relationships, you open your heart to the right ones.

There’s so much more to this conversation! If you’ve ever struggled with the need to be liked, click below to listen to the correlating Episode of my Love + Relationships Podcast: One-Sided Relationships


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on August 1st, 2018. Used by permission.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Mewhere she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships, and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Porn and Relationships: When Are Sexual Struggles a Deal Breaker?

“I just found out that my boyfriend struggles with regular porn use”

“My girlfriend shared with me she’s struggling with compulsive masturbation”

What do I do?

The amount of questions I’ve received lately regarding the topic of sexual struggles and sexual integrity has been on the rise. Partly, because of how mainstream the pornography industry has become. Where a person had to sneak around with a Playboy magazine, now porn can be accessed anywhere, anytime, using a device that we carry around in our back pockets.

But, I also believe that the questions have also increased because of our changing culture, and the freedom to talk about things we never felt able to discuss out loud before. Sexual struggles have existed since the beginning of time, but now, I’d like to believe we have more awareness of the damage that unbridled sexual energy can do. More and more research is coming to the surface to reveal the damage that porn use has on a relationship. It’s important that we acknowledge that, and then take next steps to get ourselves to a better place.

So, what do you do if you find out that your boyfriend or girlfriend is struggling with sexual integrity in his or her life? What if you find yourself in that position right now? When are sexual struggles a deal-breaker when it comes to dating and relationships? How do you know if you should break up with someone, or see them through the struggle? While I don’t believe there is ever a one-size-fits-all approach to navigating these types of relationship issues, here are some questions I believe are important to ask with regard to contemplating next steps:

Is there openness and honesty or deceit and concealing?

I think the most important indicator of whether or not someone is on the path toward healing in this area of their life is their openness and honesty about their journey with sexual integrity.

Are you in a relationship with someone who has patterns of lying and covering their sexual struggles, or someone who is honest about where they are and how they’re desiring to get to a better place? If you’re with someone who is lying, covering up their struggle, or not taking it seriously – that’s a sign that they’re not on the journey of healing. Because even more dangerous than being stuck on pornography, is lying about it.

Healthy relationships involve two people consistently moving in the direction of healing in their life. If this doesn’t sound like your dating relationship, than maybe it’s time to pursue your healing alone. – (tweet this)

Are they seeking external accountability and putting boundaries in place as they move toward healing?

One thing I always tell people who are looking to change something in their life is that you’ve got to change the outside while you’re working to change the inside.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve got to fill your fridge with healthy foods and get rid of the junk in your pantry. The same thing applies to sexual integrity. What steps have you put in place on the “outside” (your house, your devices, your accountability) while you get the “inside” (your heart) in the right place? A couple things I recommend for this:

Find an accountability partner (of the same sex as you). Meet with someone who has victory over this specific are of their life, and talk through your struggles on a regular basis. A regular time of confession can bring so much healing and give you so much power as you’re moving toward healing.

Be proactive on the web. Download a program like Covenant Eyes to help keep you in check when you might have a tendency to struggle.

Take inventory of the not-so-obvious (yet still harmful) areas that might be fueling your sex drive and shaping your sexual palette such as your Netflix account, your social media, and your entertainment – and cut out the junk. Less junk in = less junk to deal with. (For more on the importance of shaping you sexual palette, check out Chapter 8 of Choosing Marriage).

If you’re in a relationship with someone who says they want freedom yet aren’t willing to put in the effort, that’s a major red flag.

Is this a struggle or a stronghold?

Most people are battling the struggle of sexual integrity in some way, shape or form. I think the battle itself is a normal part of life. If it’s not battling porn use or masturbation, it’s battling thought life or sexual interactions.

We’re all facing a struggle of some sort, but struggles don’t have to own us. There is a difference between a struggle and a STRONGHOLD.

A struggle is an area in our life in which we are moving toward healing day by day.

A stronghold is when give in to that struggle and decide we’d rather not even fight it.

With a struggle, you continue moving forward, but with a stronghold, you find yourself moving backwards.With a struggle, you have victory more times than not. With a stronghold, you give in more times than not. If you or someone you are dating someone is caught in a stronghold rather than a struggle – I believe it’s important to recognize this, and then take a few steps back in the relationship to make room for a focused time of healing.

Because when you get yourself healthier, your relationships become healthier as well.

Having victory from sexual struggles is not only possible, it’s completely and entirely probable for anyone who is willing to put in the work. I’ve met with countless men and women who have consistent victory over this area of their lives, and I really believe it’s a necessary part of having a healthy relationship — which in turn, leads to a healthy marriage.

*If you are caught in a sexual “stronghold” and your sexual struggle is starting to negatively impact your social life and relationships, your job, or even negatively impacting you more days than not, I suggest you take the time to meet with a professional counselor to help you discern if you’re battling a sexual addiction, and equip you with practical steps toward healing.

Looking for some more encouragement? Check out my talk about Sex and The Single Life.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on June 27, 2018. Used by permission.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships, and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Marry Someone Who Is: All Grown Up

Marry someone who is all grown up. Maybe this sounds like a no-brainer to you. I mean, when you think of marriage you automatically associate it with adulthood.

But the reality is that so many people are getting into marriage even though they haven’t yet grown up.

I’m not necessarily talking about age here, because there’s no magic number that can determine your emotional intelligence, social skills, and level of responsibility. I’ve met 60-year-olds who are still living life like they’re 16.

In fact, our current generation seems to be one of the most reluctant to actually “grow up”. It’s almost as though there is a fear of becoming an adult. Look around and you’ll find a generation of men and women who have little to no direction in life, afraid to take any “permanent” steps or make any final decisions over their life. It’s some sort of commitment phobia, that impacts their career, their goals, and even their relationships.

Generations ago, the average twenty-something was half-way through living their lives. They were typically married, with jobs in tact, providing for or taking care of their family. They knew what it meant to take responsibility and grow up.

Today, life looks a little different. Twenty-somethings are taking much longer to finish school, pay off debts, get on their feet financially, leave their parent’s home and start a family.

I’m not saying that getting married and having kids is the recipe for responsibility, because it’s absolutely not. But what I am saying is that today, life looks a little different. It’s often hard to know what it means to “grow up”.

To me, the idea of being all grown up has less to do with getting your career in line, or having a padded bank account, but instead, having direction and moving toward something in life. I’ve met so many young adults totally paralyzed, afraid to move forward.

Maybe it’s a fear of failure, fear of making the wrong choice, or maybe even a fear of commitment….But one thing I know is that so many people are driven more by fear than they are by faith.

Because marriage is the most important decision you will ever make in life, it’s important to go into it with someone who is all grown up. Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life taking care of someone, rather than sharing life with someone.

The only way you will know that someone is ready to take responsibility for your heart, is to see that they have taken responsibility for themselves, making the most of their life and situation.

A person who is all grown up has goals and dreams, and is taking the necessary steps to move in that direction.

A person who is all grown up has learned the importance of managing their money and being good stewards of what God has given them.

A person who is all grown up practices and understands the importance of healthy communication. 

A person who is all grown up has learned how to both take responsibility, as well as control their emotions, their behaviors, and their interactions.

A person who is all grown up is responsible and self-sufficient.

A person who is all grown up is investing in themselves; growing mentally, physically, and spiritually in order to become the best version of themselves.

A person who is all grown up isn’t just focused on themselves, but has a heart for serving and giving to others.

A person who is all grown up understands their limitations, and relies on God to accomplish what they cannot.

A person who is all grown up is not paralyzed by fear, but moves forward in faith.

Life is a journey. Don’t marry someone who you have to drag through life, but instead, marry someone who can walk alongside you every step of the way. Marry someone who is all grown up.

Comment below: What does it mean to you to marry someone who is all grown up?

Love what you’re reading? Good news! Debra’s new book, Choosing Marriage, is NOW available! Order your COPY!


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on May 17, 2018. Used by permission.

 

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships, and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Top 10 Relationship Killers That Will Destroy Your Marriage

“We’re getting a divorce”, she explained, with a look of disappointment on her face.

Her tone of voice changed, as she tried to look on the bright side. “But it’s for the best. Things haven’t been working out for the past few years. We’re just too different.”

“For the best…Too different….” Her words echoed in my mind for hours after our conversation ended. I thought about the list of differences my husband and I possess. We are SO different in so many ways. Could it really be possible that a couple can be “too different” to have a thriving marriage? The thought didn’t sit well with me.

As a Professional Counselor, I see couples who come into therapy with their marriage on life-support. But their struggles often have nothing to do with the trauma of affairs, addictions, or abuse. Instead, they are dying a rather slow and painful death.

Phrases like, “We’re too different” or “We’ve grown apart” or “Life has just gotten the best of us….” phrases that sound so innocent- yet are extremely lethal.

There are so many factors that can get in the way of a good marriage, but often, they are the small, unnoticed things that make their way in. In order to make sure our marriages survive and thrive, here are some relationship killers every couple should be on the lookout for:

1. Family:

The number one relationship stress for most couples has little to do with their relationship and much to do with the relationships they are surrounded by. The role of your parents, in-laws, siblings, and friends all shift the moment you say “I do”, because when you join together as one, you’ve chosen to put your spouse above all others. Too many marriages are struggling simply due to a lack of priorities- finding themselves pulled by everyone else in every which way, except toward each other. Healthy marriages learn to choose one another above all others.

2. Lack of Communication:

It’s true that the average couple invests in quality conversation only a few minutes a day. It’s easy to let life get busy and stop connecting with the one you love. But there’s no such thing as living in neutral, because drifting happens the moment we stop moving forward. Take the time to connect and communicate with your spouse often.

3. Stress:

It’s so easy to take our stress out on our spouse. We can get into the habit of holding things in until we’re in the safety and comfort of our marriage-  and then we explode. From financial problems, to illness, job-loss, and grief, healthy couples allow their stress to pull them together, by relying on each other, sharing it with one another, and carrying the load together.

4. Technology:

I read a blog post about a guy getting a divorce…except this guy chose to divorce his phone. But it makes sense, because so many of us carry this dangerous relationship killer right in our back pocket. In the world of technology crazed, iPhone carrying, Facebook posting mania- it’s no joke that we find our time slipping away into the inanimate- instead of investing it into the intimate. Unplug, disconnect, shut down- and invest in your spouse. (11 signs you need a break from social media!)

5. Selfishness:

Marriage is one huge, ongoing, life lesson in “unselfishness”. And we’ll either allow the experience to make us better- or we’ll grow bitter. Putting someone first is an incredibly hard task because our flesh is wired to choose self.

Each time we say yes to ourselves, we’re saying no to our marriage, because marriage is not about Him vs. Her, it’s about We vs. Me.

6. Unforgiveness:

Forgiving and forgetting are not one in the same. When we fail to realize that, we will hold on to our hurts for a very long time. And eventually those hurts begin wreaking havoc on our lives from the inside out. But forgiveness is not about excusing the other person,  it’s about freeing ourselves to receive healing from the God who forgives us time and time and time again.

7. Loose Boundaries:

We tend to think about offensive play in marriage, forgetting that defensive strategy is just as important. We can be doing all the right things, while still failing to keep out the things that are harmful. Draw a circle around your marriage, and protect it by guarding your emotions, your interactions, and the way you spend your time.

8. The Past:

The most paralyzing thing we can do for our relationship, is to define our spouse by their past, rather than by who they are in the present. The past may impact our lives, but it will only control our present if we allow it to. It’s important to be real with one another about our pasts, but more important, to respect one other’s pasts by seeing what God is doing in the life of our spouse HERE and NOW. Deal with what is behind…so that you can move toward what is ahead.

9. Dishonesty:

Why is a small lie just as dangerous as a big lie? Because they both have the same impact on intimacy. Honesty in marriage is like the chain that holds you together. Removing one link, or ten links does the same thing- it causes separation. If you’ve made mistakes in your relationship or have been hiding things from your spouse, now is the time to seek truth and confession; because a relationship riddled with dishonesty, is no relationship at all.

10. Pride:

“I am my biggest marriage problem” is the theme of Paul Tripp’s work in the field of relationships. To be able to look in, then, is the greatest step toward nourishing a relationship. To be aware enough to recognize and restore your flaws and shortcomings, before fixating on those of your spouse. But the sting of pride can make that really hard to do. It’s so much easier to point the finger and to shift the blame. But the moment you let go of your responsibility, you’ve let go of your relationship- because no matter what the issue at hand: it always takes two.

It’s time to consider where you’ve let your guard down before these sly intruders make their way in. May God continue to give you the wisdom to recognize these patterns and to lookout for the “small stuff” by protecting, nourishing, and prioritizing your marriage.

Learn more about healthy conflict, communication, confession, sex, boundaries and so much more by getting a uniquely candid look into marriage in Debra’s new book: Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me.

Choosing Marriage Image Gold Glitter


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on April 11th, 2018. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in May 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Love, Love

Why is it that we love love? This isn’t necessarily a new trend to romanticize the idea of falling in love nor is it a cultural phenomenon.

We’ve always been infatuated with love throughout history. The passion. The scandal. The warmth. 

For example…  

As a child, I was introduced to the transformational power of love in Beauty and the Beast. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated from the English Monarch in order to marry the woman of his dreams. In 1813, the world was introduced to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s tug-and-pull of a relationship in the novel Pride and Prejudice. In the early 12th Century, Lancelot betrayed his dear friend, King Arthur, to pursue a passionate romance with his wife, Guinevere, in Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart. And even farther than that, in the Bible, we have numerous of love stories such as Ruth and Boaz, Jacob and Rachel, the bride and groom from the Song of Songs, and, probably the most memorable, Adam and Eve. 

Love has always been loved, not simply by the dominant culture, but by humanity as a whole. 

Understanding that love is a timeless force that currents through all human beings will teach us about the character of God. Or, maybe more adeptly put, learning about the character of God will teach us more about love, Himself. 

John, one of Jesus’s closest friends and disciple, writes, “God is love.” [1]  

Wait, what? God is love. 

This is not mere theological poetry, but a transformative truth meant to remind humanity of its image. 

If we trust the book of Genesis, we immediately learn humanity was made in the image of God. The Imago Dei. We were created as his children. Sons and Daughters of the King, the Mighty Lover. And, with this intent in Creation, we are honored with the responsibility to care for the earth and cultivate community in intimacy. Our image is the very imprint of love because of the source of love. We were created to love. 

Love is embedded into the fabric of our DNA. 

Yet, when we think about love, do notions of God occupy our mind? Often times love is accompanied by illusive bytes of flirtation, concertos of heart-fluttering butterflies, and passionate fogged up windows. Don’t get me wrong, I have no qualms about romance or healthy sexual expression. One of the first commands God gives humanity is to have sex. And God doesn’t make mistakes, therefore the pleasure that comes from sex is, both, natural and good. It’s a gift. But let us not confuse the gift with the Gift-Giver. 

God is love. Love is not God. [2] – tweet this. 

As the Church, our job is not to worship an emotion and to elevate deed over deity. Romance will not comfort us when we lose a loved one to a fatal disease. Romance will not grow holiness from a sinful carcass. Romance will not personify itself to ransom a captive prisoner. What I really want to say is, our pursuit of romance may seem gloriously vain because it is short of our pursuit of Jesus. 

Jesus is love. 

But he is not love in the sense that we most commonly use the term. Often times when we converse with our community, we use this term love in ambiguous modes. The popular examples are: 

  1. I love pizza 

  2. I love my wife/husband. 

  3. I love quality time 

  4. I love the outdoors.

It becomes pretty clear that this term love, most commonly carrying a romantic sentiment, has been the mediator for any and all relationships we may describe.

Romantic love is not the destination in which our souls will find their satisfaction, for it is just one side of a multi-faceted diamond, Love himself. – (tweet this)

Love is the tethering Spirit that binds relationship. Love is carrying the burden of a dear friend. You can hear love in the laughter of community and in the tears of mourning. Love is available in the loneliness of singleness and in the everyday of marriage. 

Maybe love has been obscured by a negative experience. Maybe love and delight seem like antonyms with a tragic backstory. Maybe you are like me, wondering if you are considered to be worthy of love, insecure of your value and purpose, all the while love has only been issued to the privileged. Forgive me if this is all seems too theoretical or abstract, but, I believe, love is available to you right now. You were not created to be starved of intimacy.  

Maybe our pursuit of love has been wooing us to true intimacy. 

Here is my prayer for you:  

I pray you find Jesus in your definition of love. I pray that your relationships are not solely intent on building romance as much as they should be to cultivate community. I pray you find yourself worthy of love despite any harm you’ve experienced. I pray your delight and passion are found in Jesus. 

[1] 1 John 4:8[2] C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity


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Nathaniel Arroyo is a poet, photographer, and coffee aficionado located in Spokane, Washington. Being from Chicago, IL, he has a passion for the Church’s engagement with culture through mediums of art, community, and rich theology. He attended Moody Bible Institute – Spokane and studied Biblical Exposition.

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Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness

Did you ever think someone could show you love through a bologna sandwich?

I didn’t think so either.

Until I found out that my then-boyfriend-now-husband (a poor, broke, medical school student at the time) spent close to two months eating bologna sandwiches everyday, in order to cut down his grocery budget to $10/week – just so he could save up enough money to buy me an engagement ring.

The truth is this: marriage will cost you.

When you think of the cost of marriage, what comes to mind?

According to recent statistics, the average couple today spends $26,444 on a wedding. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to the REAL cost of marriage. Because like it or not, marriage will cost you MORE. It will cost you something great. It will cost you a price much larger than the money you spend on a ring or a wedding or a honeymoon: it will cost you yourself.

I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy…” and it made my stomach turn. 

What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing that their main goal in life is THEIR OWN personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live.

If you’re getting married with that as your main goal, to make yourself happy, you will be disappointed in a severe way.

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about LOVE – which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving, and then doing it all over again.

No wonder we choose divorce over commitment…because most of the time, we’re choosing “personal happiness” over real commitment….over real love.

They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. I have definitely found that phrase to be true in my relationship with my husband. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small. That’s what marriage will cost you.

It’s about offering forgiveness when you’ve been hurt.

It’s about giving your time though it’s not always convenient.

It’s about sharing your heart when you’d rather hold back.

It’s about cleaning the kitchen after a long weekend, even if it’s your least favorite job.

It’s about choosing to respond with love when you’d rather respond in anger.

It’s about offering a listening ear, when you’d rather tune out or go to bed. 

It’s about putting someone else’s needs and desires before your own.

It’s about giving up that last bite of cake, just so your spouse can enjoy it.

It’s about laying down your rights, to make way for the rights of another.

The list could go on and on, but it always ends with the same formula:

WE > ME

That’s what marriage will cost you. 

We live in a world that DESPISES the sacrificial side of marriage…and tries to wish it away. They teach to strive for power, control, and the upper hand in a relationship. They tell us to do what feels right, and not to tolerate anything less. They fool us to thinking that love is about doing what makes us happy.

And the second we feel less than happy, they encourage us to bail….to abandon ship…and to stop investing.

But they’ve got it all wrong.

Because the more we give, the better we become.

Real love is not self-seeking…and it will ALWAYS cost you. More, and more, and more. It will cost your heart, your time, and your money. It will cost your comfort, your rights, and your pride. It will cost you to “lay down your life” for thelife of another. And only those who learn to die to themselves are the ones who get to experience the resurrection power that comes with it.

Resurrection into real love, into real life, and into meaningful relationships.

There is so much hope and so much healing available for marriages: but it starts with talking about the hard stuff. Because the more we know about marriage, the better we’ll do. That’s why I’m so excited about this new book, the seeds of which started from this little article! Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married – you don’t have to be just another divorce statistic. Because the choices you make today, have a huge impact on the marriage you build for tomorrow.

Order Choosing Marriage TODAY. 

Choosing Marriage Image Gold Glitter


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on April 2nd, 2018. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

Ev5W1aJG

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in May 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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How To Be “Friends With Benefits” (The Right Way)

Q: In your book, True Love Dates, you recommended a “season of friendship” before dating. If I am interested in a woman who I normally have very limited opportunity to interact with, how do I pursue her as a just a friend when it is quite obvious I am interested in more given how far out of my way I am going to spend time with her?

A: First of all, to you who asked this question: dude, you score some major brownie points for referencing my book!You would be the kind of guy that sits in the very front row of one of my seminars or lectures….so I already like you for that! And let me just take a moment here as an opportunity to shamelessly plug my book, True Love Dates, because to be honest, it was what got me blogging about relationships in the first place!! We owe this entire blog to that little book, because in it are all the foundational concepts that I believe give you the outline you need to engage in a killer dating relationship and in turn, an incredible marriage.

And people, you may not know this but due to the publishing contract I have with Zondervan, I am not allowed to publish more than 8% of the contents of my book on this blog. That means even those of you who have read EVERY SINGLE article on this blog are missing my most PROFOUND (ahem, yes, I said “profound”  – especially the seasons of a relationship concepts!) principles about dating!! So don’t be cheap and go purchase a copy for yourself….right now…seriously. It’s like one long dating therapy session. And who doesn’t need that?

Secondly, I love this question because it shows a guy with a genuine desire to do dating well. I love that. For those of you out there (especially the ladies I hear from) who email me whining and complaining that there are no more good men out there, let me just tell you right here and right now – that’s so NOT true. They are everywhere. I meet many of them right here on this blog. And maybe you will too. hint hint

Thirdly, apparently I’m in rambling mode this morning, so let’s go ahead and dig into this important question: how on earth can you be just friends with someone you’re totally interested in? I’ll be the first to admit that every relationship looks a little different, but for this question, I’m going to site my relationship with John, my hubby.

When John and I met back in 2005, we met at a conference up in Boston. I was living in Virginia at the time, so clearly, there had to be some sort of “interest” shown for us to even continue our friendship after that conference. So to make a long story short, he asked for my number to keep in touch, and then we actually kept in touch. The next 5 months of our “long-distance friendship” consisted of phone calls, visits, texts and emails.

If you keep up with my writing, you know full well that I’m a HUGE advocate of being friends first.

There are SO many benefits to the stage of friendship before dating.

 

And for those of you who are confused about the title of this article, I don’t mean the benefits of hooking up, making out, or getting physical. On the contrary, the BENEFITS of being friends first are that you get to know each other in a truly meaningful way before you commit to dating – with no strings attached. There are SO many things you can learn about a person during the time of friendship. (If you want to learn more about all that, check out this in-depth article from the TLD premium content library.)

We were both interested in each other, but we never actually discussed dating until we had known each other for a while, namely, like I mentioned, 5 months. So how did we grow our friendship during that time without crossing over into dating?

Here’s what we did:

We took advantage of community: Looking back, John and I spent around 75% of our time together in a group setting, with our friends and family. We had a lot of friends and family in common, so yes, that definitely made it a little easier – but even where we didn’t have friends in common, it gave us an opportunity to meet one another’s community.

That meant inviting him to my cousin’s huge “fantasy football” weekend, (even though for him that meant catching a flight – remember, we were long distance). That meant me going up to Boston to stay with a girl friend of mine and all of us spending the week doing group activities (which, of course, included him). That meant him visiting a friend in the area where I was living, and swinging by to grab dinner with my friends and I. All that to say, we spent a lot of time with a lot of people. And it really gave us a good glimpse into one another’s respective worlds. You can learn a lot about a person that way.

Friends with Benefits Don’t Get Physical:

 

When people think friends with benefits, the physical aspect is what usually comes to mind. But the greatest benefits actually come when you keep your physical interactions in check throughout the stage of friendship. If I’m totally honest, I remember a couple of times during our friendship stage, especially as my interest in him began to grow, where I genuinely wanted to grab his hand, or lean over and give him a big kiss. And now I know he felt the same way about me. So it’s not like the desires weren’t there, it’s just that we didn’t follow through on those desires. We each chose to control our desires and in doing so, we forged something deep – a genuine and authentic friendship. We didn’t want the temporary pleasure of physical connection to mess with us, because we still weren’t totally sure where our friendship was headed.

Friends With Benefits Are Careful with Conversation:

 

I have to give credit to John for this one. Most of the guys I interacted with in the past were extremely flirtatious with their words (ironically, their actions never followed suit). But our friendship stayed a genuine friendship partially because we kept our words in check and had emotional boundaries. We didn’t talk about the future, we didn’t use flirtatious lingo, we didn’t have any kind of romantic conversations, and we didn’t “define the relationship” right away (there’s a time and place for that conversation, but don’t rush it). We kept our conversations just as we would with any other friend: we asked questions, we got to know each other, we told funny stories, and we used our words to learn about one another. Words are powerful, so in any relationship, you have to use them wisely.

So at the end of the day, it’s absolutely possible to show be friends with benefits the right way – even with someone you are interested in. It just takes being deliberate and practicing self-control. Which is a GREAT quality to have upon entering a dating relationship…and even into marriage. At least, that’s what happened for us!


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on February 22, 2018. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

Ev5W1aJG

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Some Thoughts For Those Single, Engaged, or Married

I feel like I should start this post with a slight apology.

You see, when I was single I absolutely hated getting advice on being single from married people. It was just the worst –as a happy married person they had no right giving me, an embittered single person, advice. Most of this hate was channeled into unpublished blog posts, because after reading them I realized they could never see the light of day. Thank god.

So yes, this post is a little advice for single people, but it’s also for people engaged or married (and me being married for five months means I can mostly provide advice on how not to write wedding gift thank-you notes, and that is to actually write all of them and not stop when there are ten left because your brain cannot handle anymore wedding-related activities).In fact, I wouldn’t even say this is advice. Rather, it’s some observations that I offer to you, whatever life stage you are in.

And to the married people I resented before for trying to tell me how to live my life, my bad. You were only trying to help because you were once there too, and it turns out that just because you’re married you don’t know everything either (which you also probably know).

So here are some thoughts, observations, and advice for those single, engaged, or married:

Marriage will not fix your problems. Instead, marriage will do two things: you will simply find yourself now with different, married-people problems, and hopefully your problems, both old and new, will feel a little more bearable because someone has your back forever.

Just because you are a Christian and this really nice person you are dating is a Christian doesn’t mean you have to get married to them. Seriously. This is a confusing one, I know.

Breaking up is not a sign of spiritual immaturity. In fact, it might be just the opposite.

Please stop feeling this pressure to get married immediately after becoming engaged. Being engaged is different than dating, and it’s different than being married. It’s unique, special, and refining. And it can (and should) reveal the realities of what you’re getting into with marriage – good and bad. Sit with those realities before marriage, together.

I fully reject the lie that sex is inevitable if you wait a long time to get married. You’d be surprised how resilient people are.

You are allowed to feel numerous ways about one thing, or person, or relationship.

Confidence is attractive and will probably get you a date or relationship, but if you’re in it for the long haul this person is eventually going to see all of your really ugly, unconfident bits.

It’s okay to be selective about who you take dating or marriage advice from. Everyone single person has had a different experience than you, somehow.

It’s also okay to be selective about which books you read about singleness or marriage. Or, stop reading them altogether. Sometimes all that advice can be really overwhelming.

Some reasons I’ve broken up with people, for reference:

He couldn’t support my boundaries.

He couldn’t communicate with me about faith or Jesus or spirituality.

He had trouble understanding me.

His presence made me feel like a different, untrue version of myself.

He didn’t pursue me – he made me pursue him.

He couldn’t figure out how he felt about me.

He made me feel like I made no difference in his life.

He wasn’t kind.

He made me believe me being with him was the answer to his problems.

And some reasons I started dating my husband, for reference:

He was steady.

He made me feel special, important, and cared for.

He actually took me on dates, and made it clear they were dates.

I wasn’t the answer to his problems.

He was kind.

He was really funny.

He was gentle to me in touch, respect, and speech.

He was super cute.

He was honest with me about really, really hard things.

He took initiative to learn things, learn me, and better himself.

He wanted a relationship with God more than he wanted a relationship with me.

I loved being around him.

He was super fun.

He wanted to wait for sex.

He didn’t make me feel like I needed to earn his love or attention, which I’m still baffled by to this day that someone can love me like this, especially when I have a dramatic mid-life crisis about once a month.

I don’t really know if God tells us to marry a certain person, but I do know that there is no such thing as one destined, perfect person for us all.

Even for us married people, it will never not be obnoxious when people excessively post sappy things about their spouse.

The first few months of marriage have only been hard when one of us has been selfish. Period. Other than that, marriage is pretty spectacular and I think we need to stop telling people that the first year of marriage is always so scary and tough.

If you’re single and need to unfollow people on social media whose lives appear to throw your singleness into sharp, painful perspective, unfollow them. Do it. Do it now. Take care of your heart.

It’s funny, because in the end advice or thoughts or observations from others only resonate so much in our own lives. I have found that one of the most incredible and frustrating things about love is that no matter how much you “know” it will probably not be enough, and you will have to learn for yourself and through your own actions and choices how to do all this well (or at least try your best).

But I think that’s what’s going on with this blog when it all comes down to it – it’s all just offerings. Offerings for both myself and for you. I really like that.

– XO


Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.

 

  • Photography by Kat Skye Photography
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Sex Trafficking, Sexual Integrity, and the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl,  the single greatest reason to spend just over $80 on food that probably will only leave you with heartburn. This might be especially true of whichever fan base sees their team lose on Sunday.

But did you know the Super Bowl is often sighted as the single largest sex trafficking incident in the United States?

As more people become aware of this reality over recent years, many individuals and organizations have stepped up to raise awareness and stop this travesty from continuing to occur.

Groups like Fight the New Drug, A21, and Saving Innocence are organizations dedicated to ending sex trafficking (among other issues) through education and program initiatives. These are powerful change-makers made up of people who are united for a similar cause.

But even still, I ask what more can I do as one individual.

When I first began speaking on issues surrounding sex, sexuality and relationship, I never thought I would also be talking as much as I do about pornography, sex trafficking and dating violence. While these issues have always been a reality, they remained (and still often do) on the peripheral of most people’s consciousness.

Today these issues are part of every conversation I have on sexual integrity.

To not speak about pornography, sex trafficking and dating violence is to commit an injustice and disservice. Individuals and communities are in desperate need of education regarding these issues because in order to live with sexual integrity we must make a choice to look beyond ourselves. Our decisions, sexual or otherwise, impact others.

And this might be the hardest part.

The stain of sex trafficking that we see at the Super Bowl is on each of us when we fail to speak up or take action on a personal level about this situation. Yes, living with sexual integrity benefits our individual lives, but it also impacts the wellbeing of others and sets a precedent of moral integrity we demonstrate to an often immoral world.

For me this has meant looking deep within myself and admitting I am sexually broken. There have been times in my life I have not lived with sexual integrity, and this includes viewing pornography. As difficult as it is to admit, I too have contributed to the demand for sex trafficking that porngraphy fuels.

But that is not where the story needs to end.

Here are three things I’ve worked to do in my life that I believe contribute to a better society and less demand for this horrible reality.

Realize pornography aids in the creation and demand for sex trafficking.

The link between porn and sex trafficking is well documented. However, many people are still blind or unconvinced of this reality, believing instead that pornography is not harmful and sex trafficking is a separate issue.

Not so. Countless women have been kidnapped, abused, drugged, threatened and coerced into doing porn. This is sex trafficking. And it’s happening in the very cities we call home.  

Stop looking at pornography!

The impact pornography has on an individual, their brain, their relationships, and the community where they live is also well documented. Pornography is linked to higher rates of divorce, abuse in relationships, unrealistic sexual expectations,decreased energy, and the objectification of other people.  Pornography offers nothing healthy or helpful for our relationships.

The first step to breaking free from the grip of porn is to repent and confess this reality. The only way I ever stopped looking at porn was to understand its impact and abhor its influence. It was only then that I was eager to apologize and make amends. This requires a deeper look at yourself and how this sin impacts not only you.

Finally, I needed to have a clear plan of action for how this was going to stop. Those with the highest success rates of defeating a pornography habit have a clear plan on how they are going to do it. Find a friend or  trusted adult and begin laying out a plan for how porn will no longer have an impact on your life.

Encourage better dialogue around sex and sexuality

Pornography is not the only way sex trafficking is fueled. We can’t forget the demand goes beyond the computer screen. As we inch closer to kickoff at this year’s Super Bowl we need to remember there are individuals who will be trafficked around the city of Minneapolis.

The only way this part of the demand will change is through proactive dialogue that ultimately compels people to make better decisions regarding their own sexual wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.  We live in a time where our sexual appetites have almost no bounds.

Whether we need to change our own lives or change the way the world thinks about sex, this change begins within ourselves. Our actions and dialogue regarding these topics will ultimately lead to a shift not only in our perspective but the perspective of others, working to combat the ways a twisted idea of sex plays out in out culture.


 

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Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds. He is an internationally recognized seminar and conference speaker and published writer on issues surrounding sexuality and youth culture. He can be heard on the CPYU podcast “Youth Culture Matters”

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A Theology Of Masturbation: Tackling One Of The Tough Questions

Yes, we want our kids to ask questions about God’s good gift of sex, gender, and sexuality. We might not be well-prepared to answer their questions, but as many parents have said to me, “It’s easier for my kids to bring up the questions rather than me!” But there’s one question that always seems to generate a period of hemming and hawing that can go on and on and on. That’s the question of masturbation.

Let’s be honest here. . . my informal surveys of an entire older generation of boys reveals they either a) indulged in auto-eroticism without borders or boundaries (“Ninety-five percent of all teenage boys say they masturbate. . . and the other five percent are liars!” . . . remember that?), b) never discussed the issue with their parents beyond hearing a one-sided “Don’t do it!”, or c) lived their lives in fear and trembling believing that they were going to go blind by the age of 19.

In today’s hyper-sexualized culture, the questions are rarely even being asked. And when a young person (or an old person) seeking to develop a healthy God-honoring approach to His good gift of sex and sexuality starts to ask questions about masturbation, most adults either go blank or have no idea how to answer. I’m fully aware that in the world of theology, and specifically youth ministry, there are a variety of perspectives on how to best answer the question.

Like all questions about sex, sexuality, and gender, this is a question that can only be answered in the context of the story in which we choose to live. If we choose to live in the cultural narrative, it’s not even a question. But for those who have been called into the biblical narrative, we need to listen diligently to that story as we faithfully ponder what God’s answer is. . . even if we don’t feel like His answer is the easiest one to accept and enlist.

Yesterday, I spotted a post on “Solo Sex and the Christian” from my friend David White at Harvest USA. I’ve spent years trying to think through the best way to hear the Scriptures speak and how to communicate those answers to the kids (and adults) I encounter who ask. David’s article is, without a doubt, the most thoughtful practical theology of masturbation I’ve ever seen. It is worth a few minutes of your time. . . and perhaps you will find it as helpful as I do.

We are all sexual strugglers at some level. . . all of us. Here’s what David writes about the struggle with masturbation. . .

One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.

God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.

As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say. . . (to keep reading, click here).

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Research Says These Four Factors Contribute To a Lasting Marriage

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a formula to predicting marriage longevity?

You meet someone great, you date for a while, and then you start to think about getting married. So you whip out your checklist and see if everything adds up. Yes, you conclude, we can take the plunge because there’s no risk in us getting divorced. Weddings bells, ring out!

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to predict whether or not a marriage will last.

In her book The Good News About Marriage (2014), author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn not only displaces cultural myths about the divorce rate (which is closer to 31% than 50% for all marriages) but describes the factors, both emotional and social, that impact the risk of a couple’s divorce.

And in her years of research, Shaunti found that among those factors there are four main lifestyle and demographic choices that can impact your marriage’s longevity (even lowering a couple’s risk of divorce to 5 to 10 percent!):

1. Age of first marriage

Couples who choose to marry in their mid-twenties or later have a higher chance of making it to their 20th anniversary than couples who marry in their late teens or early twenties.

Marrying young has often been cited as a contributing factor for marriage dissolution, as those who marry before their late twenties or early thirties can sometimes lack the personal insight, financial stability, and understanding of the commitment of marriage simply based on limited life experience.

2. Both individuals have a college education

Feldhahn cites the work of marriage researcher Andrew Cherlin who found that college education alone drops the divorce rate to one in six marriages for the first decade after the wedding, and The National Center for Health Statistics found that women who earned a bachelor’s degree had a 78% chance of their marriage lasting at least 20 years, compared to women who have a high school education or less (40% chance).

While there appears to be no concrete reason as to why this occurs, most researchers agree college-educated couples are more likely to marry later in life and be more financially secure than their less educated counterparts, thereby setting themselves up for a more stable marriage.

3. Choosing not to live together before getting married

Well-known sociologist Dr. Scott Stanley has spent years through the University of Denver researching the impact of cohabitation prior to marriage. He calls this the Sliding vs. Deciding phenomenon. Cohabitating couples are more likely to slide into long-term commitments, including marriage, unlike non-cohabitating couples who are better suited to make a decision to marry free of lifestyle restraints. Cohabitating couples often find themselves sliding from one relationship stage to the next because they are linked through a living situation and possibly finances, even if they would not have necessarily made the decision to marry their partner if they were not living together.

 

You can read more about Sliding vs. Deciding on Dr. Stanley’s website by clicking here.

4. Regularly attending religious services together

Possibly one of the most intriguing areas of study Feldhahn cites is the impact church attendance has on the chances of a couple remaining married.

In a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, three sociologists studied three thousand first marriages over a period of five years and found that marriages in which both spouses share the same faith and regularly attend services together have 35 to 50 percent lower odds of divorcing than even same-faith couples who do not regularly attend services together.

In fact, those who attend church lower their chance of divorce by 25 to 50 percent compared to those who do not identify as religious or attend services. All that to say, regular church attendance alone has a huge impact on the health of a couple’s relationship. Feldhahn also found that activities like praying together or being part of a faith-based community results in increased levels of marital happiness. Isn’t that amazing?

Now, don’t panic if you are married (or not) and don’t fall into one or more of these categories (for example, my parents married at 20 and 21, didn’t go to college, and have been happily married for 38 years!). There is no one factor that contributes to whether or not a couple will divorce. However, when it comes to certain lifestyle choices you have control over, these four factors have been proven to contribute to a long-lasting, happy union.

 

What do you think? Do you agree with this research?


Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com. 

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Does The Bible Really Prohibit Sex Before Marriage?

God loves sex. The first two commands recorded in the Bible are “have dominion over creation,” and then “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28). In other words, rule the world and have lots of sex. Not a bad day at the office.

Whoever said God was some cosmic killjoy? God created sex and declared it to be “good.”

Within Christian circles, it’s assumed God only wants us to have sex if we’re married. Sex outside of marriage is one of the clearest, unquestionable prohibitions in Christianity. But where does the Bible teach this? Can you name a verse?

Many will race to the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). But adultery means having sex with someone else’s spouse; it doesn’t refer to an unmarried couple sleeping together. Likewise, when Jesus condemns lust in Matthew 5, He does so in the context of adultery. In other words, we should not sexually desire another person’s spouse as our own.

God loves sex. But He’s designed us to have sex within the boundaries of a marriage covenant.

Others might turn to Leviticus 18. This “sex chapter” lists all sorts of sexual prohibitions including incest, bestiality, adultery and other sexual sins. It’s fascinating, though, that nowhere in Leviticus 18 is sex before marriage condemned.

Some might argue that when the Bible condemns “fornication” or “sexual immorality” this includes sex before marriage. And maybe it does. But this needs to be shown and not just assumed. Again, the Old Testament’s most detailed list of sexually immoral acts (Leviticus 18) does not include sex before marriage.

So Does the Bible Really Say It’s Wrong?

Before you book a hotel room and call up your girlfriend with the good news, please keep reading! Yes, the Bible does say that all forms of sex outside of marriage are wrong. Here’s how.

The early chapters of Genesis give a basic blueprint for marriage, and even though it never says “Thou shall not have sex before marriage,” it certainly suggests that sex outside of marriage flows against God’s design. God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1) is joyfully heeded by Adam and Eve after they are joined in marriage (Genesis 2:24-25; 4:1, 25). The same goes for their descendants. Noah, Shem, Abram and others all have sex and therefore have children within the confines of a marriage covenant.

When they turn to other women, such as Abraham’s sexual relations with Hagar (Genesis 16), the act was not considered an affair. Hagar was more like a modern day surrogate mother who bears a child in the place of an infertile wife. Nevertheless, these acts don’t appear to be sanctioned by God, even though they were widely accepted in Israel’s culture.

Throughout the Old Testament, it’s assumed that God designed sex for marriage. Deuteronomy condemns a soon to be wife who has had sex before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19), and the love poetry contained in the Song of Songs delights in the joys of sex but reserves it for a husband and wife. Extra-marital sex is never looked upon with divine approval in the Old Testament, no matter how bright the love-flame burns.

The Role of Tradition

The Jewish tradition that flows from the Old Testament and cradles the New Testament was even more explicit in condemning pre-marital sex. For instance, it was believed that Joseph (Jacob’s favorite son) was adamant that he and his future wife, Asenath, remain pure until their wedding day. There’s nothing in the Old Testament that validates such concern; Joseph’s marriage to Asenath is only mentioned in passing (Genesis 41:45, 50-52). But the later retelling of Joseph and Asenath reflects a widespread Jewish view: Sex before marriage is sin.

And this is the ethical world that Jesus and His followers were raised in. Jews and Christians had many disagreements about what constitutes right and wrong (food laws, circumcision, strict Sabbath keeping, etc.). But when it came to sexual immorality, they found much in common. Sex before marriage was clearly condemned in Judaism, and the same goes for Christianity.

For instance, Paul—a Jew—argued that the only proper outlet for sexual desire is within marriage: “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Again, if unmarried people can’t control their sexual desires, Paul doesn’t tell them to head to the brothel, or to their boyfriend, or their betrothed loved one. Rather, “they should marry” since “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). In other words, we should not satisfy our sexual passion with someone other than a spouse.

Not Just Adultery

Paul says in another passage: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

Paul’s words here can’t be limited to adultery. They clearly include all forms of sex outside of marriage. We know this because the Gentiles of the Roman world Paul refers to actually abhorred adultery and considered it a crime. However, sexual activity outside of marriage was perfectly fine—as long as it wasn’t with another man’s wife. So when Paul tells Christians to not engage in “the passion of lust like the Gentiles,” this can’t be limited to adultery. What separates Christians from other Romans was that Christians, like their Jewish brothers, believed that sex outside of marriage was sin.

Many other passages in the New Testament confirm what we see in the letters of Paul. Revelation 14:4 assumes that unmarried Christian men who desire to be faithful are not having sex. Matthew 1:18-19 celebrates the chastity of Joseph and Mary. And Hebrews 13:4 considers sex outside of marriage to be immoral: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” This verse can’t just be limited to adultery, since both “sexually immoral” and “adulterous” are listed.

God loves sex. But He’s designed us to have sex within the boundaries of a marriage covenant. To violate God’s design in an effort to lay hold of creation’s pleasure is not just foolish, but actually rejects the delights God wants us to enjoy. Sex outside of marriage mocks the Creator’s will and elevates human desire over God’s wisdom.

Christians can mess up and receive God’s free pardon. God’s scandalous grace covers all of our wrongdoings, and He dishes out such grace liberally. But it’s one thing to struggle and fail, and quite another to call sin good and wrongdoing righteousness. Christians—genuine Christians—must strive to live in line with the Creator’s intentions and celebrate the good gifts He gives to His people.

I originally published this blog as an article for Relevant Magazine 


A version of this post originally appeared on Preston’s Blog on September 15, 2016. Used by permission.

Preston

Dr. Preston Sprinkle has authored several books, including the New York Times bestselling Erasing Hell (with Francis Chan; 2011), Fight; A Christian Case for Nonviolence (David C. Cook, 2013), Paul and Judaism Revisited (IVP, 2013),  Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (David C. Cook, 2014), and the recently released People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan, 2015), and the newest Grace//Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality & Gender (2017). Dr. Sprinkle also hosts a daily radio program titled: “Theology in the Raw?” and frequently speaks at various venues including college chapels, churches, music festivals, youth camps, family camps, and anywhere else where people desire to hear relevant Bible teaching. Preston has been married to Chrissy for 15 years and together they have 4 children.

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Sex And The iWorld

Sex and the iWorld by Dale Kuehne is one of our favorites here at the Sexual Integrity Initiative, and when author Preston Sprinkle wrote an insightful summary on his blog, we thought we’d share it with you!

 

I just finished Dale Kuehne’s book Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships Beyond an Age of Individualism and it was a fantastic and compelling read. Dr. Kuhne (Ph.D. Georgetown University) is a professor of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at St. Anselm college and has been a pastor for the Evangelical Covenant Church of America. I’ve known about Kuehne’s work for about a year now and recently enjoyed a very friendly conversation with him over Skype. I learned so many things about culture, ethics, and sexuality from Kuehne’s book—too many things to reveal in this blog. I want to keep this review to a single post, so let me jump right in and summarize the book and highlight a few key take aways.

 

Summary

 

Kuehne (pronounced “Keen”) examines three different types of societies, which he labels the tWorld (t = traditional), iWorld (i = individual), and rWorld (r = relational). Specifically, he looks at how these three different worlds understand sexuality, along with related topics like anthropology, identity, relationships, and morality as a whole. In short:

 

  • The tWorld views sexual morality in traditional terms. Its primary founders were Plato, Aristotle, and the early church fathers. Sex belongs within the context of marriage between a man and women for the purpose of procreation and strengthening the marital bond between two partners. Most relations in the tWorld are given not selected—you are born into a relational matrix of family, community, and even though marriage is a choice, it becomes a relationship of obligation once you commit to it. “Hence in the tWorld the key to relational fulfillment was not to find the people with whom we most wished to relate, but to love and engage with those we had been given” (p. 37).

 

  • The iWorld represents the world we now live in (esp. in the West). Friedrich Nitzsche and the influence of the sexual revolution are the primary founders. “The iWorld makes individual freedom its non-negotiable value” (p. 67). “Freedom of individual choice…is the highest ideal of the iWorld” (p. 72). The iWorld “is predicated on the foundational belief that the expansion of individual rights will leader to increased happiness and fulfillment (p. 67). The only guidelines—Kuehne calls them “taboos”—are: (1) “One may not criticize someone else’s life choices or behaviors,” (2) “One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others,” and (3) “one may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent” (p. 71 and throughout).

 

  • The rWorld is shaped by a Christian worldview and believes that intimacy and love are found in relationships—both relationships of choice and in relationships of obligation—regardless of whether these relationships are sexual. “The abundant life is a product of having an intimate love relationship with God and others, and sex has very little to do with it” (p. 161). In the rWorld, sex is a significant component of a marriage relationship, but a marriage relationship isn’t essential for human flourishing. The rWorld believes that “the sexual revolution” and the iWorld has “become so focused on finding happiness in sexuality and sensual or sensory experience that” it has missed “the love and intimacy for which our soul craves” (p. 163). “Unfettered sexual freedom can inhibit our ability to cultivate and enjoy love and intimacy” (p. 163). “In the rWorld, life is not spent searching for people to make us happy but is instead spent cultivating the relationships we already have” (p. 180).

 

Kuehne makes clear that the tWorld is not the same as the rWorld, even though there is some overlap. While the tWorld has many good things about it, it also devalued women, cultivated patriarchal marriages, and fostered societal systems of inequality. While Kuehne is very critical of the iWorld, he does admit some progress it has brought to society including equality among people and healthy tolerance for diverse cultures to exist together.

 

However, the rWorld is the best path for human flourishing and yet it stands diametrically opposed to theiWorld. “The aims of the two worlds are mutually exclusive” (p. 203). You cannot turn individual humans loose and expect this to produce a society where humans will mutually flourish.

 

Highlights

 

There were so many thoughtful points made throughout the book—way too many to highlight. Here are two of the most salient ones that gave my highlighter a run for its money.

 

Sex and Human Flourishing

 

As stated above, even though the ethics of the iWorld assumes that sex and sexual fulfillment is essential to human flourishing, Kuehne argues that this is simply untrue. We’ve been conditioned to think and feel this way; the propaganda of our hypersexualized age is overwhelming and it would be the pinnacle of ignorance to think that human desires are unaffected by our cultural narrative. Like a fish that doesn’t know what “wet” feels like, we swim through a sea of sexual propaganda unaware of how profoundly our cultural narrative shapes our desires. (This, of course, was a major point in Jonathan Grant’s book Divine Sex.) The iWorld is telling us that a person who’s not having sex is not a fulfilled person.

 

As this reasoning goes, if sex is an essential aspect of human fulfillment, then if Christians, or anyone else, are missing out on sex, and if God wishes us to have the most fulfilling life possible, then that which stands in the way of this fulfillment—divorce, remarriage, or cohabitation—must not be wrong after all. (p. 160).

 

We’ve actually lost sight of ancient wisdom. “The notion that sex was an essential part of human happiness was not in the consciousness of people in that time and place. Sex was considered to be a drive, an appetite, and a necessary means of procreation” (p. 162). But sex wasn’t seen as essential to intimate relationships or human flourishing. Sex is an important aspect of marriage. It “will sometimes produce children” and “provide a bond for the marriage that is useful in holding a married couple together. But sex in itself will not be the catalyst for happiness or fulfillment because that is not its innate purpose” (p. 162). Therefore, the hypersexualizing of our culture actually prevents us from finding and experiencing true, lasting, love and intimacy.

Unfortunately, the evangelical church has bought into the cultural narrative unknowingly. “Contrary to some contemporary popular evangelical theology, the two great commandments are not to get married and have sex” (p. 162). The idolatry of marriage (and therefore sex) in evangelicalism is actually hindering human flourishing, especially for those who are made to feel like unfulfilled second class citizens in God’s kingdom because they aren’t married.

 

Discovering our True Identity

 

The second salient point of Kuehne’s book is scattered throughout but comes to fruition in the final chapter. It has to do with discovering our true identity. Kuehne argues that the iWorld has wrongly searched for human identity by looking within ourselves rather than outside ourselves. Instead of asking the question, “Who are we” the iWorld asks the question “Who am I” and gives the individual the keys to discovering who they are by looking within. “Self-discovery and authenticity, not birth and nature, become the new source of human identity” (p. 209). Instead of seeing human identity as “something we derive from a common nature”—we are humans created in God’s image and designed to live according to His will—we view it as “an individual’s quest for self-understanding” where “people are encouraged to look within to find their true self and live lives that authentically reflect who they discover themselves to be” (p. 209).

 

This is where the iWorld and rWorld fundamentally disagree.

 

The iWorld sees the formation of self-understanding as primarily an individualistic enterprise…The rWorld, however, believes that we come to know who we are only by first coming to know our true human nature through relating with god and other persons. Then we can make sense of our individual characteristics (p. 212).

 

After the individual comes to discover who they are by looking within, morality is dictated by living out who they really are. But this confuses the “is” and the “ought.” Even if you can discover who you are by looking within, this doesn’t in itself sanction the morality of living according to who you are, as David Hume used to say “You cannot derive an ought from an is!” (p. 160). Even if we rely on science to tell us who we are—common in the sexuality and gender debates—“Science can tell us what is, but it cannot tell us how we ought to act” (p. 52).

Conclusion

 

One of the most helpful points made in the book is that we are still living in a transition between the tWorld and iWorld (p. 45, cf. 207, 213-14). That is, even from a purely, secular perspective, no one knows whether the iWorld’s promises of human flourishing are empirically true. Does sexual freedom lead to societal flourishing? Does letting individuals discover and determine their own identity and morality lead to human flourishing? Do biblical guidelines about sexuality and gender hinder human flourishing or promote it? Does the iWorld’s expanded definition of marriage lead to greater societal flourishing or does it lead to more long-term harmful effects on families, children, and society as a whole? Should sex be separated from marriage and procreation? Does consensual divorce enhance human happiness?

 

Empirically, we cannot answer any of these questions yet, because we haven’t lived in the iWorld’s way of doing things long enough. All the iWorld offer at this point is some individuals who say “it works for me” or “I’m happy” or “I’m flourishing.” But it cannot say we are flourishing. And since the iWorld doesn’t possess a moral code outside the individual, it has no way to measure whether its way of living is actually good for the human community. Not yet, at least. We have to wait several generations to see if the iWorld’s way of doing things will lead to greater, lasting happiness among humans.

 

So far, the trajectory is not looking so good. If you look at where things are going—depression and suicide rates, loneliness and anxiety, addictions, sexual dysfunctions, children born out of wedlock, lack of sexual and relational fulfillment, the global destruction of pornography—things aren’t faring too well for the iWorld’s ability to deliver what it’s promised, even by its own standards.

 

Perhaps the Christian vision for human flourishing might be on to something.

 


A version of this post originally appeared on Preston’s Blog on December 16, 2016. Used by permission.

Preston

Dr. Preston Sprinkle has authored several books, including the New York Times bestselling Erasing Hell (with Francis Chan; 2011), Fight; A Christian Case for Nonviolence (David C. Cook, 2013), Paul and Judaism Revisited (IVP, 2013),  Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (David C. Cook, 2014), and the recently released People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan, 2015), and the newest Grace//Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality & Gender (2017). Dr. Sprinkle also hosts a daily radio program titled: “Theology in the Raw?” and frequently speaks at various venues including college chapels, churches, music festivals, youth camps, family camps, and anywhere else where people desire to hear relevant Bible teaching. Preston has been married to Chrissy for 15 years and together they have 4 children.

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There’s No Such Thing As Finding The “Perfect Person”

Far too many singles are out there trying to find their perfect match.

Because let’s be honest…it’s far more romantic to dream of finding that person who will complete your life, rather than to imagine a relationship that involves time, energy, and investment. But good relationships will always require work.

No one wants to hear that marriage takes work.

In fact, there have been numerous articles trending encouraging us to STOP SAYING that relationships take work. Because it’s discouraging. And scary. And defeating to hear.

But to stop saying that a good marriage takes work, would be to live in a delusion. That’s like saying becoming a doctor, or a teacher, or an Olympian doesn’t require any work. Anything of value takes time, energy, and investment. It requires work. I believe that the goal of this type of conversation isn’t to SCARE people away from marriage, but to PREPARE them for what it entails.

A good marriage isn’t about finding the perfect person, it’s about working to create the best relationship you possibly can.

And the process of creating something beautiful, will always take work. Ask any artist. Ask any writer. Ask any musician.

That’s why, when, in a Hollywood culture that tends to portray relationships as over-the-top romantic gestures and passionate one night stands, it was refreshing to see this article floating around by US Magazine where Dax Shepard confessed that marriage takes work. Here’s what he told US Weekly:

“We don’t believe in The One. We don’t believe in the fairytale. We don’t believe that you can meet someone and you have a perfectly matching personalities. We are opposites and it has taken a tremendous amount of work and therapy for us to coexist.”

I’m thankful for this much-needed reality check about relationships, from a couple that’s adored by so many young fans. Because a good marriage takes work. And anyone who tells you otherwise is living a lie.

I’m not saying that marriage is always hard. And I’m not even saying that the work is always hard.

Because so many times, the work of marriage – communication, connection, intimacy – is delightful. But to discount the fact that there is also hard work involved, would be to present a one-sided picture.

To say that marriage doesn’t take work is like saying running a marathon is easy. Who on earth would ever be naive enough to say that? To run a marathon well, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to train, to sweat, and to run with discipline – whether you feel like it or not. There might be days when the practice is easy on a beautiful sunny day with a perfect breeze. But there are going to be other days when you don’t feel like running, or training, or practicing. And that’s when the work of running a marathon has to really kick in. That’s when you decide how bad you want this thing, and choose to do the work to get to the goal.

You can only get to the win by doing the work.

Marriage is much the same. To do marriage well, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to communicate, connect, give, forgive, and sacrifice with discipline – whether you feel like it or not. There will be easy days, when the practice is easy and your love is shining bright. But there will also be other days, when you don’t feel like loving, connecting, and forgiving – or even feel like you’ve got nothing left to give. But that’s when the work of marriage really kicks in. That’s when you decide how bad you want this thing, and choose to do the work to get to the goal.

You can only get to the win by doing the work.

And much to people’s surprise, just because you are a Christian, doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be good at marriage. You have to work at it just like anyone else. “Happily Ever After” is a path you have to forge, not a road you accidentally stumble upon.

As Dax later went on to say, “[Relationships] are labor intensive. If you want them to last they are labor intensive.”

So many times marriage is good work.

And often, marriage is hard work.

But if you’re expecting anything less than work, than you might not be ready for marriage. And I won’t apologize saying that.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on December 19, 2017. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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The Not-So-Obvious Reason People Hate Sexual Restraint

I think I’ve figured out why people hate the idea of sexual restraint.

There’s of course the obvious reason: it’s real difficult to practice sexual restraint. It doesn’t sound fun, easy, or like anything that’s going to make you a member of the cool kid’s club.

But I think there’s a deeper reason our culture hates the idea of sexual restraint: We reject anything that appears to curb our personal freedom and by extension our self-fulfillment.

In 2017, we now live in a time where the height of self-actualization is dependent on our ability to live into our personal freedoms. This could be the freedom to pack up and be a nomad, freedom to practice any religion, freedom from a 9 to 5 job, the freedom to have sex with whomever we want and even the freedom to choose our own gender.

It’s the same foundational reason people reject Christianity; Christianity, with its instructions not to live into any and every whim and impulse, appears to be a religion clinging to a God who is both angrily conservative and a killjoy, one who wants to slowly eliminate the parts of ourselves that offend him; namely, the personal freedoms people believe they have a right to.

Sex is a point of special contention in the quest for fulfillment through absolute freedom.

One doesn’t need to look far to be inundated with the cultural belief that having sex whenever, however and with whomever is an act one is entitled to, a fundamental right that represents personal fulfillment through sexual identity and practice. Sex, and how we practice it and with whom, has become a facet of who we assert ourselves to be in our western culture. To ask someone to not have sex is not only perceived as unfair but as a violation of one’s very identity.

It does seem unfair sometimes, I know. But people perceive sexual restraint as unjust only when they do not understand how sexual restraint was divinely designed to impact our life.

I come from a generation that grew up in the nineties and were formed through messages about “purity” and kissing dating goodbye. The message of waiting my peers and I grew up with was one of straight-laced behavior modification and deeply conservative messages about modesty, sex, intimacy and dating, rather than an understanding of God’s big picture for sex.

As a result, we rebelled. Chastity was a prison – sex on our terms represented liberation.

What my generation now fails to see is that the restraint God commands of us, both in regards to sex and other areas of our life, is actually designed to give us freedom. If God is asking us to deny ourselves sex outside of a marriage relationship, it is because he has a grander design for our freedom: emotional freedom, spiritual freedom and freedom from the things that ultimately work against us and others.

God gives us boundaries in order to give us freedom.

For example, the ten commandments aren’t a list of rules simply for the sake of being rules – they represent certain boundaries to place on our lives because these boundaries keep us whole, healthy and free from sometimes disastrous consequences.

Think about it: ultimate freedom can actually have hugely detrimental effects on us, especially when it comes to sex.

If my conviction regarding sex is that freedom is my right, it won’t be long before I see just how detrimental absolute freedom can be. Freedom to sleep with whoever I want, whenever I want, can lead to emotional baggage, lowered self-esteem, emotional confusion, hurt feelings, etc. (and hey, maybe it won’t lead to these things – but it certainly opens the door to them).

It can also lead to physical baggage like STD’s or STI’s, which in turn lead to even more emotional hardship. There’s a lot there. Complete sexual freedom puts us at a higher risk of not only hurting ourselves, but hurting others as well. Sexual freedom impacts our self-identity and both our current and future relationships.

But the freedom God seeks to give us in sex are relationships and self-identities that are not defined by sex and everything that can come with it. By choosing to practice sexual restraint, we invite into our lives a whole host of freedoms:

The freedom to cultivate a relationship that is truly based on knowing one another and not clouded by sexual intimacy.

The freedom from shame.

The freedom to not worry about STD’s, STI’s or pregnancy.

The freedom in marriage from comparison (if both partners have practiced waiting).

The spiritual freedom that is cultivated in our minds and hearts when our actions are aligned with God’s desire for us.

God’s boundaries for us do not limit our self-identity – rather, they allow us to find our true identity (and freedom) in Christ.

Freedom is the divine purpose behind sexual self-restraint.

Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.

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The Best Age To Get Married

I once heard about a wedding that was performed for a man and woman in their 90’s.  With a combined age of 193, they had been dating — uh sorry, “courting”– for 18 years before deciding to tie the knot. That’s a seriously long time to plan a wedding!

On the other hand of the spectrum, a couple years ago when Duck Dynasty’s John Luke announced his engagement just around his 19th birthday, it caused a ripple effect of opinions all across the internet. 

When it comes to getting married and taking that life-long step of commitment before God, what’s the right age?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the best age to get married.  We can all admit that there are obvious extremes like the situations above. But on a less extreme note there are a lot of articles going around with thoughts and ideas on what age you should or shouldn’t be before you decide to say “I do”.  While some are adamant that getting married young is the way to go, others make the case for getting married when you’re older and wiser.

From taming sexual desires, to establishing financial stability, to simply just needing to “grow up”, the reasons presented for when a person should get married are causing a lot of discussion and even some controversy in this hot button topic.

I’ve  been asked by numerous publications to address my personal opinion on topic of the “best age to get married”. But so far-I have kinda kept my thoughts to myself.  I think part of the problem with this entire discussion is that most of us speak based on our own experiences, assuming that what worked for us will work for others.  But life’s just not that cut and dry all the time–is it?

So, I’ve put some thought into this, and I want to add to this conversation by saying that the perfect age to get married:

Has nothing to do with the years you’ve lived, and everything to do with how you’ve lived them. Call me crazy, but I don’t think you can quantify a person’s preparedness for marriage simply based on how many years they’ve been alive.

As a professional counselor, I have worked with thousands of individuals and couples, and one pattern that has emerged is simply this: life can look a whole lot different from one person to the next.  I’ve seen 18 year olds with the maturity and wisdom of 50 year olds, and I’ve met 40 year olds who are still stuck in the emotional IQ of a the teen years.  Granted, our health and maturity in life may be given more time to develop the older we get–but I think it’s less about age and more about what we do with the time we’ve been given.

Being ready for love means that we’ve taken the time to look inward– focusing on where we come from, who we are, and where we’re going, even while standing alone.  Here’s a detailed post I wrote about what it means to get yourself ready for love (and then take the free “Are You Ready for Love” quiz that goes along with it!)

Secondly, the perfect age to get married has little to do with your plans, and so much more to do with God’s plans.  Try presenting the “case to get married young” to a 48 year old who has never had the opportunity to say ‘I do’.  Life isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, the plans we have for our life are shattered into a billion pieces as days, months, and years move us away from our personal time frames, goals and agendas.

Life happens, and while we may WANT to get married young, or even not get married at all, sometimes, our personal plans don’t line up with God’s plans.  

If you’re truly seeking God and living out His story for your life, I would venture to say that the perfect age to get married is exactly the age that you are when you get married.  I look back at all the times in my life when God’s plans trumped mine and I am so thankful that they did.  He knew better than me about so many things. And had I known what He knew…I would have totally agreed with Him.

As Christians, I think we need to be really careful with the formulas and anecdotes that we offer people in the pursuit of the marriage because the truth is, God has never been One to conform to our cookie-cutter answers.  He tends to crush the norms, and shatter all our expectations, and I’m so glad He does–because our worlds can be so small when left to ourselves.  At the end of the day, God’s word calls us to one thing and one thing alone: to love others, and to love ourselves, and to love Him above all else.

The most successful marriages I’ve seen have so little to do with age and so much to do with the evidence of God’s incredible power at work in their lives.  And thankfully, that’s something you can never put a number on.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on September 12, 2017. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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