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What The Church Gets Wrong About Singleness and Marriage

This article was originally posted at Relevant

Church can be a tough place for single people. Most Christians don’t realize it, unless they’re single, but if you step back and look at our Christian culture, you’ll see that we elevate marriage. In some cases, we idolize it. We see a beautiful girl and we say, “What a catch!” We see a handsome man and say, “He’ll sure make a wonderful spouse someday.”

If they’re still not married by the age of 30, we think something’s wrong, or perhaps they’re too picky. “Why aren’t they married yet?” This is code for: Something must be wrong with you. If you were living out your full potential and making all the right choices, you’d be married by now.

Parents especially can put undue (and unbiblical) pressure on their kids if they don’t get married and have kids. You have to wonder whether parents are actually thinking about what’s best for their kids, or just wanting what’s best for themselves—i.e. grandkids.

Singleness is rarely viewed in positive light in American Christianity, even though it’s extolled in the New Testament.

Singleness in the Bible

In the Old Testament, most people got married, had kids and passed on their inheritance to their children, who in turn passed it on to their children. Laws were even set up to ensure that one’s family name was passed on through a male heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Ruth 4:7). It was assumed that people would get married and start a family. It wasn’t a sin not to. But it was sort of expected.

Things changed in the New Testament, however. Jesus reconfigured the Old Testament’s emphasis on family when he recognized all Christians as brothers and sisters: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus asked. “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33, 35; Matthew 12:48-50). After Peter praises himself for leaving everything, Jesus responds:

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and bothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands. (Mark 10:29-30)

Discipleship might cost you your family. Yet becoming a disciple means you gain a new family of believers who are your brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in Christ.

Jesus considers all believers—not just married folk—to be family. We’re not kind of like a family. We are family.

The apostle Paul almost downplays marriage in light of the beautiful prospect of singleness. “If you do marry, you have not sinned … Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (1 Corinthians 7:28). Marriage isn’t wrong, but Paul clearly preferred the single life. “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

And, of course, John the Baptist and Jesus were unmarried men of marital age—a shocking sight to a first-century Jewish world. Perhaps they were just picky. If they could just pray a little harder, God would bless them with a fine woman.

Singleness in the American Evangelical Church

I wonder if the American evangelical church has it all backward. Instead of viewing singleness as a pitiful stage to get through on your way to married life, we should elevate and honor the single people in our midst as those who, in Paul’s words, “will do even better.”

Much of this anti-singleness message saturates the air of our churches, sometimes with words, other times with actions. The message is usually it is subtle and unintended. But single people hear it loud and clear: You’re incomplete until you get married and have at least two kids. (But if you have more than four, then people think you’re weird again.)

Just ask any post-college single person at your church how they feel. Ask them if they feel like they are valued, honored, respected, loved and invited into the lives and homes of other families of the church. Ask them if they are ever made to feel incomplete by off-handed comments (“Why aren’t you married yet?”) or sermon illustrations that always draw from parenting. Ask them how they felt on the weekend that the church was away at Family Camp.

The fact is, marriage is a small blip in our existence. We’re all born single and called to steward our singleness for the first 20-30 years of our life. Many people will be called out of singleness and into marriage and then called to steward their marriage to the glory of God. But us married folks will be single again, in this life, whether through divorce or death of our spouse. And then we’ll spend eternity with God as single persons once again.

But we won’t actually be single. We’ll be one with our Creator; married, if you will, to God.

Some Christians have bought into the cultural narrative that you can’t really thrive unless you’re married and having lots and lots of sex. But Christianity doesn’t teach this. Christians can live without sex, but we can’t live without love and intimacy. And there’s a difference. Human flourishing doesn’t depend on marriage and it certainly doesn’t depend on sex.

Marriage brings with it its own temptations and trials, frustration and other problems that married people don’t often admit. To think that marriage will end your loneliness and take care of your sexual frustrations is a myth. Many married people wish they weren’t and the “majority of people struggling with sexual addictions and compulsive online habits are married men.”

The fact is that we are relationally and sexually messed up. And only Jesus, not marriage, can fix that. Jesus—the one who was single and the embodiment of human flourishing and joy.


A version of this post originally appeared on the Center For Faith, Sexuality, and Gender blog on October 24, 2018. 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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Why Christians Need to Think about Polyamory

I often get asked, “what’s the next discussion that Christians need to have about sexuality and gender?” My immediate answer is: “polyamory,” though the morality of sex with robotsis a close second.

Polyamory is often confused with polygamy, but they are actually quite different. For one, polygamy is a type of marriagewhile polyamory is not necessarily marital. Also, Polygamy almost always entails a man taking more than one wife, while polyamory is much more egalitarian. “Polyamory is open to any mixture of numbers and genders so it is just as common for a man to be in a relationship with several women as it is for a woman to be in lovewith several men,” writes Mike Hatcher.

Polyamory is also different from swinging or open relationships, though these do overlap. Open relationships are polyamorous, but not every polyamorous relationship is an open relationship. Sex and relationship therapist Renee Divine says: “An open relationship is one where one or both partners have a desire for sexualrelationships outside of each other, and polyamory is about having intimate, lovingrelationships with multiple people.” And that’s the key. Polyamory is not just about sex. It includes love, romance, and emotional commitment between more than 2 people.

For some Christians, polyamory seems so extreme and rare that there’s no need to talk about it. It’s wrong. It’s ridiculous. No need to defend why it’s wrong or think through pro-poly arguments. Just quote Genesis 2 and move on. But hopefully we’ve learned the hard way from our rather “late-to-the-discussion” approach with LGBTQ questions that it’s better to get ahead of the game and constructa view rather than just fall back into frantic reactive mode when the issue is in full bloom.

For other Christians, polyamory is only considered when being used in a “slippery slope” argument against same-sex relations—if we allow gay relationships, why not poly relationships? While I agree that the ethical logic used to defend same-sex relations cannot exclude poly relationships, merely using polyamory as a slippery slope argument is inadequate. We actually need to think through plural love, as it’s sometimes called, and do so in a gracious, thoughtful, and biblical manner.

Polyamory is much more common than some people think. According to one estimate“as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in relationships involving consensual nonmonogamy” which is about the same as those who identify as LGBTQ. Another recent study, published in a peer reviewed journal, found that 1 in 5 Americans have been in a consensual non-monogamous relationship at least some point in their life. Another survey showed that nearly 70% of non-religious Americans between the ages of 24-35 believe that consensual polyamory is okay—even if it’s not theircup of tea. What about church going folks of the same age? Roughly 24% said they were fine (Regnerus, Cheap Sex, 186).

Why would anyone engage in polyamory? Doesn’t it foster jealousy? Can these relationships really last? Aren’t children who grow up in poly families bound to face relational harm? These are all valid questions, ones which have been addressedby advocates of polyamory. At least one argument says that people pursue polyamorous relationships because it’s their sexual orientation. They really have no other valid option, they say. They’re not monogamously oriented. They’re poly.

I’ll never forget watching Dan Savage, a well-known sex columnist, swat the hornet’s nest when he made the audacious claim that “poly is not an orientation.” Savage is no bastion for conservative ideals, and he himself admitsto having 9 different extra-marital affairs with his husband’s consent. This is why it was fascinating to see him get chastised for making such an outlandish statement—that polyamory is not a sexual orientation.

Is there any merit to the claim that polyamory is a sexual orientation? It all depends on our understanding of sexual orientation. How do you define it? Measure it? Prove it? Disprove it? What exactly issexual orientation? (Stay tuned for a later blog on this.) It’s not as if we take a blood sample to determine whether somebody is gay, straight, or poly. Sexual orientation is much, much messier than most people realize.

Celebrities, of course, have suggested that polyamory is an orientation when they talk about monogamy being “unnatural,” or that some people are just wired for more love than one partner can provide. Pop culture isn’t the only advocate, though. Scholars are also starting to argue that polyamory should be considered a sexual orientation. As early as 2011, Ann Tweedy, Assistant Professor at Hamline University School of Law, wrote a lengthy 50-page articlein a peer reviewed journal where she argued that polyamory should be considered a sexual orientation. Tweedy writes: “polyamory shares some of the important attributes of sexual orientation as traditionally understood, so it makes conceptual sense for polyamory to be viewed as part of sexual orientation” (“Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation,” 1514).

The logic is familiar: Those who pursue polyamorous relationships can’t help it. It’s who they are. It’s how God has created them. And it would be wrong to pursue a relationship, like a monogamous one, that goes against their orientation.No, I’m not retorting to the age-old slippery slope argument (e.g. this is where gay relationships will lead). I’m simply summarizing a growing opinion expressed in both pop culture and academia.

Polyamory might be, as a Newsweek article suggested 10 years ago, “The Next Sexual Revolution.”And several of my pastor friends tell me that it’s becoming more common to have people who identify as poly asking about the church’s view on the matter and if they will be accepted and affirmed. These are not abstract questions, and yet the discussion is still young enough so that Christian pastors and leaders have some time to construct a robust, compassionate, thoughtful response to the question—“what’s your church’s stance on people who are poly?” Put more positively, we have time to construct a truly Christian vision for monogamy, if indeed that is the only truly Christian vision.

My purpose of this blog is to put this topic on your radar, not to answer all the questions that you might have. With that in view, here are a few more questions that Christian leaders should wrestle with:

What are the relevant biblical passages and themes that mandate monogamy for those who are called to marriage?

How would you respond to someone who says that Genesis 2, Matthew 19, Ephesians 5 and others are just a few “clobber passages” that are used to beat down poly people?

How do you know that “one man, one woman” statements in the Bible apply to contemporary poly relationships? Perhaps they only prohibit abusive, misogynistic polygamous relationships.

If God’s love for us is plural, and our love for (a Triune) God is plural, then why can’t human love for each other be plural?

Is polyamory a sexual orientation? Why, or why not?

And what is sexual orientation, and should it play a role in determining (or at least shaping) our sexual ethic?

Is it helpful to talk about poly people or should we talk about poly relationships? (And can you pinpoint the important difference?)

Since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn plural marriages that are polygamous (or does it?), could we say that monogamy is the ideal while still allowing for polyamorous relationships as less than ideal but still accepted in the church? Why, or why not?

If sexual expression is only permitted if it is faithful, consensual, and marital (which is what most Christians would say), then why can’t it be plural? That is, what is the moral logic that drives your view that monogamy is the only way? Is it just “God says so? Or is there some rationale why plural love is immoral?


A version of this post originally appeared on the Center For Faith, Sexuality, and Gender blog on June 7, 2018. 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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Love, Love: The Intimacy Found In Singleness

This is Part Two in Nathaniel Arroyo’s blog series, “Love, Love.” Read part one here.

When God created man, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and every non-married single person in the Church resounded with, “Have you forgotten about me, God?” 

Being single and Christian can summon a kaleidoscope of emotions, thoughts, and various responses (did I just hear an amen?). In this cultural moment, our craving for intimacy is posted publicly in our status updates and Instagram posts. Could it be that we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that intimacy is best found in romantic and sexual relationships? While I can elaborate more on how we’ve developed a false binary scheme of the two, I really want to tackle singleness in the next 700 words. Our cultural understanding of singleness has led to a sense of loneliness that is only remedied in the communion of Christ. 

Men and women are experiencing their first marriage, on average, between ages 27-30; this proves to be a significant departure from the median age for marriage in previous generations, when individuals would wed between the ages of 20-24. This fact alone may explain why your grandmother has been asking for great grandchildren. Christians are no exception, as this median age applies to those within the Church as well. For this reason, we have far more singles in the Church than at any other time in history. And while I don’t think it’s safe to call the rise of this median age a problem, I do think it proposes a different challenge for Christian singles. Love is harder to find today, and it begs the question worth answering: 

Is “true love” available for singles? 

Whether you’re single, dating, married, celibate, or “it’s complicated,” I hope you find solace and Christ in the following words. 

Singleness isn’t a curse. 

In fact, it’s a gift to receive joyfully. As reluctant I was to write the previous sentence, I can’t help but trust that it is true. Many grow up with the notion that marriage is the epitome of the Christian lifestyle; it’s the Creme Brûlée of Christian delicacies. I did not grow up in a Christian household, yet, growing up, there was an agreed notion in the air that marriage was one most substantial relationships to enter into. To find “the one” was to live your best life. Ideally, the dream would play out like this: the two of us would get married, teasingly argue about the number of kids we were to have and what their names would be, and drive off into every sunset we could find. This would be the relationship in which true love is found. This is where love would be enough. All I needed to do was endure my singleness.

How I wish that I understood sooner that singleness is a gift. There is real intimacy available to us singles that brings lasting joy and satisfaction; and it’s found in Jesus. Yes, the classic Sunday School answer is the remedy to loneliness (notice how I didn’t say singleness), but it’s far more in-depth than proclaiming Jesus as your boyfriend at your local Galentines. When I say Jesus is the pathway to intimacy, we need to understand what it means to bravely enter into a relationship with Him and what He offers. 

When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, we enter into a relationship with True Love. God is love. Jesus is God. The logic follows. Yet, despite having a theological understanding of who God is and how He relates to us, we still find ourselves wrestling with loneliness. Our craving for intimacy still feels starved when we don’t experience physical acts of love. Tim Keller exposes our desire for intimacy in his book, “The Meaning Of Marriage:”

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Trusting Keller’s wisdom, then, means being fully knownand truly lovedis already a reality because Jesus created you and He died for you.

I love how David, the Psalmist, puts it, “For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God knows you. Your hands, feet, the curvature of your nose, the roundness of your shoulders, the hue of your iris — He knitted you together in your mother’s womb. You are fully known, and His love extends just as deep. John, one of Jesus’s apostles, records Jesus’s words as His imminent death is around the corner, and Jesus says this, “…Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus laid down His life for you. In bringing to fulfillment the redemption story, Jesus valued His relationship with you to the extent that He would do anything to make that relationship permanent… even if it meant giving up His own life.   

There is nothing that can separate you from His love. Jesus is committed to you. He was purposefully single because of you. Jesus, our Bridegroom, looks at His bride, we the Church, and He marvels at her because He is the perfect husband. He did not commit to an earthly wife during His ministry. He sought union with us. He invited us to be one in Him just like in marriage when two flesh become one. His lack of an earthly marital status hinged upon His covenant relationship with His Bride. 

Whether you like it or not, Christian, you have a husband, companion, helper, redeemer, lover, and savior in Jesus. There will be a day when you face your Bridegroom face-to-face. You are looking forward to, yet, mysteriously already in, the most intimate relationship you will ever experience.


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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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Porn is Not Just a Man’s Problem

You may or may not hear this often, but women struggle with porn.

Over the past few years, there has been a new wave of what some have called “mommy porn” across the world of entertainment with films as controversial as 50 Shades of Grey and as mainstream as Magic Mike XXL.

No matter what you call it, the truth is that this kind of entertainment is definitely not just geared toward “moms,” but rather, women in general. It’s a type of entertainment that’s typically loaded with sexual innuendo, scantily clad men and, in some cases, explicit sex scenes.

But the truth is, this type of over-sexualized entertainment is not just found in recent blockbusters, it’s been slowly seeping into popular books, television shows and even commercials for quite some time now.

What bothers me the most about this new movement is how little attention it seems to be receiving. In fact, we often sit back and take it in without even batting an eye. While I’m happy to say that the objectification of women is finally beginning to gain some attention and push back in our society, it seems that we’ve neglected the other side to the story. Women struggle with porn, too.

Even the Church at large has had a role in the double-standard by pushing sermons, messages and ministries encouraging men to deal with their lust, porn and sexual immorality.

But what about women?

Women Struggle With Porn

We often view porn and lust as a man’s issue, so we don’t typically challenge women as much about the things they think about and the ways they entertain themselves.

Whether man or woman, as human beings, we are all wired with natural emotions and a sexual appetite that can become unhealthy if we continue to feed it with junk. It’s important that we remember that lust is not just a male problem, and start realizing how our culture has played a role in this important conversation.

Women Struggle With Lust

While I can’t deny that men and women perceive and process the world differently, when we focus the entirety of the conversation about porn and lust on men, we not only ignore, but also isolate the many women who are also struggling. By making light of female lust issues we actually enable and encourage the problem instead of offering a place for help.

According an article by the American Psychological Association, various studies report that porn use ranges all the way up to 99 percent among men and up to 86 percent among women. The difference is much less than we tend to talk about.

I had a personal realization of this truth when I received a barrage of emails from women stuck in porn addiction after an article I posted on my blogabout the subject.

Maybe it’s time to recognize that we’re all prone to get lost in sin, yet we’re all given the opportunity to walk in freedom.

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“Protect Your Eyes” vs. “Explore Your Sensuality”

Often, we challenge men to protect their eyes all the while encouraging women to explore their sexuality and sensuality. We tend to “scold” and even look down on men who struggle with porn use and addiction, while women are praised for being “in tune” with their sexuality.

And stranger still, some of the same women who are offended at the thought of their spouses watching porn are just as quick to run out with their girlfriends to watch the latest sex-themed film or book club for that racy novel. It’s time to challenge one another to a higher standard, starting with looking inward and working to remove even a “hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity” from our own hearts and lives.

Objectifying Men

True, women tend to be objectified far more than men in our society. But that doesn’t justify objectifying men. Objectifying men is just as degrading and detrimental to our society as men objectifying women. As a society, we are quick to get up in arms when women are used as sexual objects in films and in marketing, and rightly so. It’s devastating to fearfully and wonderfully made, complex and capable human beings reduced to the shell of their bodies.

But shouldn’t it be just as devastating when we see it happening to both genders? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see that we tend to feel differently from one gender to another. It would do us all well to take a second look at our definition of “equality” and then apply that to the entertainment we allow ourselves to consume, learning to respect both genders in the process.

God’s Call to Holiness Has to Do With Each and Every One of Us

When we categorize sin into “gender specific” categories, we miss the mark. As children of God, we’re called to reflect Christ in the best way that we can—whether we happen to be male or female. Together, we portray to the world a clearer picture of who He is.

Whether we’re talking about lust, sexual struggles, or any other sin, let’s remember that the call to holiness applies to all. We shouldn’t shame one another about issues like porn—after all, the cure for any sort of sin is not shaming, it’s Christ—but we should talk about these issues with both genders. Because women struggle with porn, too. But too many of them are struggling alone.

Let’s challenge, encourage, and support one another in the Body of Christ as we take inventory of the things we’re allowing to enter our minds and influence our hearts.

How do you control your sex drive while you’re single? Check out the latest episode of the Love + Relationships Podcastwhere I answer this exact question!

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on September 20th, 2018. Used by permission.


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 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: The Hidden Self

“And you’re wondering why you felt like you weren’t good enough?” my friend Dave said. “You were literally conditioned to think that way!”

I had just finished telling Dave about an exercise I had been doing for a class on addiction in which I created a timeline of my life. In doing so, I realized that there was a lot of rejection in my younger years. Prior to college, nearly every girl I had been interested in either dumped me after a few weeks, or flat out rejected me from the start.

I hardly dated anyone after that.

It has taken me a while to freely admit it, but one of the deepest roots of my addiction to pornography has been this feeling that I’m not good enough for a real woman.

You see, in middle and high school, I was not the oxen of a man you see today. I was not the “Shirtless Wonder.”

I was a nerd.

A geek.

Whatever label you want to stick on the kid that moved a couple times, went to three high schools and two middle schools, and had a collection of 500 comic books. The kid who had every detail about Middle Earth memorized and longed to become Batman (truth be told, that’s part of the reason I started working out…I guess comic books were good for something.)

After a number of failed relationships (or whatever you call two 9thgraders going to a movie), I came to think that the problem was me. That I was the undesirable one.

So I worked to change it.

I chopped my Beatles-era haircut and hit the weights. I bought nicer clothes and dropped the Star Wars t-shirts. I did everything I could think of to change people’s perception of me into a man who was worthy of dating. The problem with these things is that they do nothing to heal the wounded heart of a man.

Dr. Dan Allender saysthat men today are broken hearted. “Not broken hearted as in sad or full of grief,” he writes. “Instead, we are broken into fragmented selves that are unable to do much other than posture and pretend we are someone whom we know we are not.”

At an early age, my heart was broken into a dozen different pieces. Some of these pieces ventured to the identity of a nerd while others worked at getting into better physical shape. Some tried to earn value in artistry, while other fragments delighted in being the class clown.

All of these “identities” were only parts of a shield, though. Like a turtle shell I could tuck into whenever someone looked my way, while the Real Ethan, the weird, eccentric, tender-hearted self stayed safe inside.

John Eldredge echoed this sentiment when he wrote,

This is every man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an impostor, and not really a man…We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we, too, are not what we were meant to be, desperately afraid of exposure, terrified of being seen for what we are and are not, we have run off into the bushes. We hide in our office, at the gym, behind the newspaper and mostly behind our personality.

The sad thing is, most of us go on living like this and wondering why we feel so severed from our realself. Why there is no peace inside us. Why we feel splintered into so many pieces. Social media doesn’t help because we can look any way we want online.

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I maintained the charade for many many years until recently when I decided to do the tough work of examining myself and taking a good, hard, honest look in the mirror. It was like pulling a hermit crab from his protective shell: It was ugly and it snapped and fought like hell against being exposed, because the work of healing is not easy.

Several years ago, I was on the bus in Chicago with a Moody student who was an acquaintance of mine. He began sharing what the Lord was teaching him in that season, and the only part I remember was one line: “The Lord is teaching me that it’s okay to be weak, to be broken.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much respect for another human being in my life.

It’s as if he was standing before me as the bus tilted and rocked, holding his palms open to me saying Look, this is me. I’m not that cool. I’m hurt and broken. But God’s cool with that, and I’m learning to be cool with it too.

So I’m attempting to become like that too. It’s incredibly hard for a man to admit that he is weak and broken, but I think that is the first step in healing.

Because women don’t fall in love with how many pounds you can put up on the bench, or that sweet new shirt from H&M. They can’t even love the jokes you make or the intelligence stored in the folds of your brain.

People love other people, not the things they try to wrap around themselves as a disguise.

Learning this is hard, because ever since we got the boot from the Garden of Eden, we’ve been trying to cover ourselves up, trying to look better than we actually are.

Underneath all the fancy fig leaves and one-liners, we are all pretty ugly and weak, but that doesn’t mean we’re unworthy of love. God doesn’t stop chasing you because you woke up with bedhead, or you can’t curl a 5 pounder.

It’s hard to examine myself and see that there are a lot of things I don’t like about myself. But it’s even harder to accept that despite them, God still loves me. And hopefully, there’s a woman out there who will too. But living with a splintered heart and trying to be a dozen men at once is exhausting and will keep us returning to the fire hydrant of porn to try to nourish our broken heart.

My friend Michael Cusick points out that the word “integrity” comes from the word “integer,” meaning whole. A person of integrity is a whole person, not a shapeshifter who modifies themselves to fit the scene.

So may we be a people who give up disguising ourselves and trying to be more impressive than we are.

May we seek wholeness, root ourselves in quietness and peace and know ourselves as we are known by God, recognizing that God loves the weak and the broken; He lifts up those who are low. (Psalm 145)

“But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on September 21st, 2016. Used by permission.


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I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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You Can Fall In Love With The Wrong Person

“I know she wanted to fall in love. I just hope she fell in love with the right guy.” 

I was looking at an acquaintance’s engagement photos on social media recently, and found myself thinking that very thought.

If you follow my blog posts or my relationship podcast, you’ll know that I’m not an fan of the philosophy that says there is “just one person” out there for each of us to marry. I don’t believe in finding “the one“, but I do believe that once you choose someone to marry – they become “the one“.

So, when I say “I hope she fell in love with the right guy”, I’m not referring to the theoretical needle-in-the-haystack. I’m not hoping that she stumbled across, “the one and only one” for her life. No, that’s not what I mean at all.

When I say that I hope she fell in love with the right guy, what I mean is that I hope she fell in love with someone who’s a right match for her life. Someone who is a goodmatch for her life.

Finding someone who is a good match for our lives is something people don’t often think about, especially in the wake of the hangover of “feeling in love”. 

But when we follow our feelings into love, we can also follow our feelings right back out of love.

There’s got to be more keeping us than feelings.

Do you believe it’s possible to fall in love with the wrong person?

I get that question thrown at me often. So, I will go ahead and wholeheartedly say, YES – I do believe it’s possible to fall in love with the wrong person. In fact, I think it happens all the time, every single day.

As a professional counselor, I work with many couples who come to me with major problems and issues that have surfaced through marriage.

They might have differences in their communication abilities, problems with how they manage conflict, deep seated issues or traumatic experiences they’ve never dealt with, personality differences, etc. But other times, there are much bigger problems. Honesty issues. Trust issues. Addictive behaviors. Character problems. Power struggles.

There are so many red flags that get ignored or shoved under the table in the name of “falling in love”. Yet if we’re actively looking for them, the red flags of marriage often trace back to the red flags in dating.

So many times, we look to chemistry to tell us what works in a marriage rather than looking at compatibility.

But when chemistry wanes, all that’s left is a lack of compatibility that brings people to the harsh reality that maybe, just maybe, they fell in love with the wrong person. That maybe, just maybe, they didn’t make the wisest marital choice when it came to finding the things that really matter in a relationship: character, connection, and compatibility.(READ MORE: 5 People You Should Never Marry).

The majority of my audience at TrueLoveDates.com are Christian singles, looking ahead at marriage. I write this article primarily for you. I want you to realize that it is possible to “fall in love” with the wrong person, and when you let feelings lead the way you will end up getting hurt every single time.

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Feelings have got to be part of the equation, but there’s got to be more than feelings. Because there’s so much more to a healthy, life-long marriagethan how we feel about someone in the moment. Take a few steps back by understanding who you are, so that you know the type of person who fits into your story from the type of person who doesn’t.

Choosing Marriage

But even as I write these words, I am fully aware that there are those of you reading this who feel like you’ve made a bad marital choice. You ignored all the red flags and warning signs, and married the “wrong person”. You committed your life to someone who wasn’t the best match for your life – worse yet, someone who wasn’t a match at all.

You rushed into love on the wave of feelings, and now the wave has crashed and you find yourself drowning in its midst.

My encouragement to you is this: even if you didn’t choose a good match, you can still become a good match. There are choices that you can make TODAY, to build a better marriage for TOMORROW. Choices to get you healthy, and move your relationship toward healthy as well. It’s possible. It’s achievable. And it’s absolutely worth the process.

I have seen God take two people, so far from my expectation of a good match, and weave their broken lives together in a remarkable way. He is the Healer of all things, and as He begins to heal you from the inside out, He can also heal your relationship. The process won’t be easy, and it won’t be without it’s fair share of work. But the outcome will be worth it.

If you’re struggling to know what makes a good match in dating or how to become a good match in marriage, pick up a copy of Choosing Marriage: Why IT Has To Start With We > Me, and start making the choices that will change your life and in turn, your love life. Because a huge part to marrying the right person, is becoming the right person.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on December 5th, 2018. Used by permission.

DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of Choosing Marriage and True Love Dates. She’s also the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people with the message of healthy relationships. Connect with her on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter

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6 Signs You Spend Too Much Time on Social Media

We’re becoming a digital culture. Maybe we’re already there. I’m not sure. But I am sure this presents unique challenges. The digital shift is neither good nor bad. It just is. And we must learn to navigate this shift, not use it as a scapegoat.

The problems we face today are as old as Eve. Does social media amplify them? Probably. Make them more visible? Certainly. But are they unique to our generation? Not hardly.

If you google “average time spent on social media” you will find varying answers, anywhere from 60 minutes to 9 hours a day. While these numbers are alarming – nine hours a day on social media, really? – they’re merely symptoms.

The real problems rests underneath the surface. And if we’re serious about addressing them, we must dig deeper. Social media can have an equally negative effect on the soccer mom and the college student, the one-hour-a-day user and the nine-hour-a-day user.

Using time spent as a metric is little more than a quick answer to a deeper problem. Instead, we should look at habits, behaviors and perceptions. The negative effects of social media breed particular problems.

Here are a few. If any of the following points resonate, you probably spend too much time on social media.

1. You have a nagging sense that your life is “average,” and that’s not okay.

Sensing your life is average, that’s not the toxic part. When you think “my average life is not okay” you have the origins of something toxic.

In college, several of my professors graded on a curve. This curve says a few people fall in a percentile lower than their shoe size (5 or less), a few more in a percentile higher than their oldest living relative (95 or greater), and every one else fall in the middle.

Statisticians call those in the lowest and highest percentiles “outliers.” Because outliers skew results, they normally aren’t considered in analysis.

Social media, however, is built on outliers. The worst of the worst and the best of the best are most likely to show up on your timeline. A few weeks ago, for example, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were littered with articles about some dude who killed his girlfriend, stole her car and was now at large. I remember thinking during all this that social media gives someone with evil intentions an easy way to gain international fame.

We now have a celebrity as President. Earth can’t complete a full rotation on its axis without a new story about President Trump.

If you have a nagging sense that your life isn’t special because you haven’t committed a heinous crime or received the final rose on TheBachelor, you might be spending too much time on social media.

If you have a nagging sense that your life isn’t special because you haven’t committed a heinous crime or received the final rose on TheBachelor, you might be spending too much time on social media.

Almost everyone, 99% or more, lives in the middle. And that’s quite okay.

2. You have a lot of “friends,” but you still feel lonely. 

A meaningful life needs a few necessary ingredients. Human connection is one. These connections are tiered based on intimacy. Spouse being the most intimate, then family, close friends, co-workers, and Spot, the dog who isn’t a human but is.

You don’t need every tier, but the fewer you have, the more incomplete you will feel.

If you’re doing it right, social media will undergird and strengthen relationships, from the top down. If you’re not doing it wrong, social media will amplify disconnection and loneliness.

Social media friends are mostly padding for your ego.

Social media profiles don’t determine how many friends or followers you have. Those are just numbers, mostly padding for the ego. If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, ask yourself how many intimate relationships you have.

3. You can’t commit to anything because you’re afraid of missing something better. 

Several years ago, this behavior was dubbed FOMO (fear of missing out). Today, I think it’s called normal. The source of its rise? Social media.

Jill is kickin’ it on the beach. Timmy is posing with the crew on a mission trip in Africa (#blessed). Everyone seems to be killin’ this life thing but you, so says social media.

Without some inner work, constantly checking your heart and aligning your decisions with your values, you end up playing the game. Rather than embracing the life in front of you, you hold out, waiting for the next experience so you can one-up Jill and Timmy.

This game is competitive yet it has no winner. You can’t compete with your timeline, mostly because what you see is a facade.

If making decisions brings anxiety, you might spend too much time on social media.

4. You often say or do things you later regret. 

One of my favorite books of all time is Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he says this, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

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I would let Frankl elaborate, but he’s dead. So I’ll give it a try. Regardless of situation, you have the power to choose your response. You can’t necessarily choose the circumstances (or stimulus). But you can always choose your response. The space between a situation and a response is where growth and freedom live.

Social media decreases this space, leading to high levels of sensitivity and low levels of emotional resilience.

5. You have a low tolerance for people who don’t think like you. 

Social media platforms want you to spend more time on their site, so they give you more of what you like. These platforms filter your feed based on previous likes, clicks, etc. In other words, social media pads your ego by strengthening your confirmation bias.

If you’re hardline conservative, for example, chances are your feed won’t include posts about Black Lives Matter or knocks against President Trump. If you lean left (I hate labeling people this way, but it gets the point across, so…), you won’t see posts supporting traditional marriage or travel bans on refugees.

And both sides said, “Amen.”

Yeah, except this doesn’t promote much tolerance, compassion or humility. Especially if you’re a Christian, this is bad. This is one of the greatest challenges facing our generation.

How do we find common ground and come to the table with people who think different from us?

6. You have no boundaries between personal and private moments. 

I see Christians post pics about alone time with God. While I’m not judging, I wonder about the motivation behind this? Some moments are too intimate for a timeline, too powerful to be contained in 140 characters (or less).

I fear we irreparably harm our peace and joy when every moment becomes shareworthy. Whether it’s lunch with a good friend, date night with your spouse or intimate time with God, we can’t fully embrace a moment while simultaneously trying to capture it. We also can’t embrace a moment when it’s interrupted with chirps and rings.

One of the greatest gifts you can give any one is your full attention. I suspect the most grateful, content among us understand this.

It’s your turn.

What are some signs someone spends too much time on social media?


A version of this post originally appeared on Bayside Blog on March 25, 2017. Used by permission.

Frank Powell-

Frank is a freelance writer and speaker living in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three kids. His goal is to challenge status quo Christianity and push everyone (Christian or not) to see God with fresh eyes.

His content has been featured on sites like Relevant, ChurchLeaders, Catalyst, Thought Catalog, Mogul, and FaithIt. Be sure to check out his work on the Bayside Church blog at: blog.baysideonline.com.

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Why Dates Shouldn’t Be About Marriage

Ever heard the expression “date to find a mate?”

The phrase pops up every now and again Christian culture. It highlights the idea that the purpose of going on dates should be to find a spouse. This idea has been popular in Christian circles given the movements over the last twenty years that have criticized casual dating and urged singles to focus their romantic activities on marriage.

The problem is that going on dates and thinking about whether you’re going to marry the person on the other side of the table is a bad idea.

Don’t Overthink Dates

In his book How To Get A Date Worth Keeping, Dr. Henry Cloud shares a story about a woman who never seemed to get asked out on any second dates. The longer she went without a second date, the more anxious she got about it. She tried to do everything right on her first dates so the guys she saw would ask her out again. As it turned out, trying to do everything right was what she was doing wrong.

She was so worried about getting a second date that her anxiety got in the way of being relaxed and fun on her first dates. It was when she stopped worrying about getting a second date that her natural personality was able to shine through. That made her more attractive to the men she saw, which resulted in her getting second dates.

This story is a good example of how overthinking dates can quickly short-circuit your dating life. It also illustrates why thinking about marriage on dates is a bad idea. It’s usually impossible to know on an early date whether you will or won’t marry the person sitting across from you. And being preoccupied with thoughts of how far a relationship with your date could go easily distracts from getting to know your date in that moment. Not to mention how being preoccupied with a distant, possible, future marriage adds a lot of stress to going on dates. That stress can show through and make your date feel like you’re a high-strung person.

This is why it’s much better simply to enjoy a date while you’re on it and not worry about the future or marriage. Living in the moment of a date allows you to get to know your date in a much more fun and relaxed manner. And that allows both people to see each other’s natural personalities without anxiety getting in the way.

Besides, worrying about marriage on a date isn’t how to be intentional about marriage anyway.

Marriage Will Worry About Itself

In my post “How To Be Intentional (Without Even Trying,)” I talked about how it’s who you are at heart that determines whether you’re intentional about marriage, not what happens on a first date. A person who is interested in one day committing to marriage rather than in immediate self-gratification will naturally pursue dating in a way that leads toward finding a spouse. When that’s your attitude, you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll marry the person across the table. That question always answers itself with time.

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See, as you get to know a person better, you’ll naturally discover more and more whether you want to spend your life with that person. Worrying about that process of discovery doesn’t make it happen any quicker. In Matthew 6:34a, Jesus said, “don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself.” Maybe we should reapply that principle and tell ourselves this:

Don’t worry about marriage while on a date, because marriage will worry about itself.

Be Normal

I like a passage by Jefferson Bethke in the book he coauthored with his wife Alyssa, Love That Lasts. I think Jeff summarizes well how we shouldn’t be anxious about going on dates and relax along the journey toward marriage. Jeff writes,

I don’t necessarily think you should date every person with the goal of marriage. I think that’s the problem sometimes with Christian culture, especially at Christian universities, where girls are terrified to go out for coffee with guys because the next day the whole campus will think they are getting married by the end of next week.

So quick word of advice to the fellas. Have purpose and have vision, but don’t make it weird. [It’s] just friendly conversation over a cup of coffee. Be normalare probably the best words of advice I could ever give to a guy in his twenties who wants to date.1

By ‘be normal,’ Jeff means, ‘be a person who isn’t trying to figure out if someone he or she hardly knows is his or her future spouse.’ Normal people don’t attempt something so absurd. Instead, be a person who enjoys living in the moment of having fun while getting to know someone. While it’s good for the process of dating to lead to marriage, individual dates shouldn’t be about marriage.

So the next time you head out on a date, be sure to leave the worries about marriage at home.

What do you think? Have you found it wise not to worry about marriage when going on dates? Is there a way you’ve found thinking about marriage beneficial? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

And please help others learn not to overthink their dates by sharing the post! Just use the buttons below.

1: Bethke, Jefferson & Alyssa. Love That Lasts. Nelson 2017. p. 134


A version of this post originally appeared on Justin’s blog, That Crazy Christian Romance, on September 1st, 2018. Used by permission.

Justin Megna-57

Justin Megna is the creator of That Crazy Christian Romance, a blog dedicated to sharing biblical wisdom for romance with Christian young people. He completed a BA in Pastoral Ministry at University of Valley Forge.

Get Justin’s free Christian Love Life Essentials Checklist by clicking here.

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There’s No Such Thing As “Love At First Sight”

A recent poll I did on TrueLoveDates.comrevealed that more than ⅓ of voters believed in “Love at First Sight”.

According to some of the people I’d spoken with, they knew they fell in love within a few moments of making eye contact.  Their feelings were undeniable.

The heart-fluttering, brow-sweating, stomach-knotting emotions that were simply out of their control. There was chemistry, there was connection, there was immediate attraction. They were struck by love, and there was nothing they could do to get over it.  So, how can one explain this instant connection other than saying that it’s pure love?

There’s a reality series on TV called “Married At First Sight“. And yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds…

The premise of this show is to “do-away” with the concept of modern-day dating, offering 6 individuals a chance to be paired to their “perfect match” at the altar. Psychologists and Sociologists work hard to evaluate the candidates with psychological testing, interviews, and assessments in order to match them with their most compatible counter-part.

Eventually, the “experts” pair up two individuals and they meet for the first time on their wedding day. After they get married, they have 6 weeks to live together and make their marriage work before deciding whether or not they want to stay together, or get a divorce.

Essentially, it’s a modern day arranged marriage (minus the option for divorce, of course), and it’s an interesting premise, which is why I decided to tune-in when the show first came out.

But as the season unfolded, I couldn’t help but make some interesting observations about the three couples who participated.

What People Get Wrong About Love

For one thing, I observed that the couples who had the most “chemistry” at first sight were, ironically, the ones who ended up having the most unhealthy relationship and getting divorced in the end.

In the first episode, you watch them glance at each other and you can see the instant attraction flying off the television screen. One of the women described that initial moment as a “fairy tale” experience. In the past two seasons of the show, 3 out of 4 of the couples who had that instant experience of “love at first sight” ended up filing for a divorce only 6 short weeks after that moment. You know what that tells me? “Love at first sight” – isn’t really love, is it?

The second observation I made was that any couple who is considering whether or not to get a divorce at the 6-week mark, can’t be a couple who is really after life-long love. 

Because true love in any relationship is ONLY defined within the context of commitment.

So how can you talk about love, or even marriage, outside of that context? I have a hard time swallowing the idea of love at first sight, because by the very nature of the definition, it describes love as a feeling.

But here’s the thing you need to know about feelings: they can’t be trusted. They’re fickle, up and down, and oftentimes even deceitful. Feelings come, and just as fast, feelings go. One minute you can feel defeated by sadness, and then in a blink of an eye, happiness follows.  Confusion turns to assurance. Excitement into fear. I fully believe that feelings should influence us, but they should never lead the way.

To believe in love at first sight is essentially to let emotions take the reins, which ultimately causes confusion more than it makes a way for romance. Healthy relationships are based on so much more than feelings.

On the other hand, feelings shouldn’t be repressed or ignored.  They are meaningful, when kept in proper perspective.  They have an important place in our lives and can be a powerful influence in the choices we make.

When it comes to understanding love in it’s proper context, it’s crucial to distinguish between the feelings of love, and the actions of love.  Though we might feel the feeling of love upon first glance (which I prefer to call attraction or chemistry), those feelings are not love because they don’t display the actions of love.

And real love is something we do, not something we feel. <– TWEET IT!

You know what’s interesting? My husband, John, describes his first encounter with me as an instant attraction. He says he walked into the room and was “overwhelmingly struck” by my beauty (Yah, baby! I’ll take it!).  He says he couldn’t take his eyes off of me. Something inexplicable drew him to me.  But though his emotions were a first step toward getting to know me, they were not love in and of themselves.

Because Love is defined by what a person does, rather than simply by how they feel.

The greatest definition of love ever written is found in the pages of the Bible.The Bible reveals love as a choice that is based not entirely on feeling, but on the commitment of one person to another.  Love is giving of self with no expectation to receive- a decision made every moment of every day. It’s unconditional.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  It does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

According to this, true love is a series of actions and a pattern of choices.  But what’s even more amazing is that this definition comes from a God who took it upon himself to show us what choosing lovemeans.  He gave complete love by pursuing it as an action–to the point of sacrificing his life.

Love at first sight is never complete love, because it’s based on emotion rather than commitment; a feeling, rather than a choice. It can’t accurately represent love because it’s only the beginning.  True love is born when two people commit to offer themselves for the sake of the other person. It’s a process of growth that deepens a couple’s bond over time.

That’s exactly what happened with me and John. The instant attractionslowly grew into something more meaningful.  We chose to connect, to give, to serve and to honor one another in the friendship and relationship that formed thereafter.  We watered the seed of love by our choices.  Attraction may have opened the door- but action kept it open. And love was born. True Love. Real love. Lasting love.

Because stronger than love at first sight, is choosing love thereafter.  Every. Single. Day. 

How Important Is Physical Attractionin a Relationship? How do you know if you have healthy expectations for what physical and sexual chemistry should feel like in a dating relationship? What about in marriage? Find out in this candid conversation all about sexual and physical attraction. Click the image below to listen to this eye-opening podcast episode!

Love and Relationships Podcast

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on September 8th, 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 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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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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