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What's the Most Important Thing the Bible Says About Your Sex Life?
What does the Bible say about sex? If you Google this question, you will find a series of articles discussing a dozen or so Bible passages that clearly address sexual issues like adultery, fornication, same-sex activity, and married sex. While those passages are important to understand, they are not the most important thing you need to know about your sex life.  We often make the mistake of reading the Bible as if it’s a reference manual. Concordances (and now web searches) help us find the passages that directly address our questions. That’s not a bad approach, but it is an incomplete one.  The Bible is a story of God’s invitation to an intimate relationship with Him. Please don’t read the “dos and don'ts” of biblical sexuality without first understanding this story. God’s desire is not to “fix” your broken sex life or to judge your sexual sin. His heart is to reunite you through Jesus Christ to the relationship you were created to have with Him. His child. His beloved.  Many people think of sex in the Bible as a list of rules we must follow in order to gain God’s love and approval. They believe they will go to hell because of their abortion, their current relationship, their porn addiction, or their gender confusion. As one gay woman put it when a friend invited her to church, “I wouldn’t go near a church because I’m afraid I would immediately burst into flames.”  When we think like this, we’re putting “the cart before the horse.” Whatever changes God may desire to make to your sex life must begin with His radical transformation of your identity.   God doesn’t change what we do until He first and foremost changes who we are. I know so many Christians who strive to live by the biblical rules of sex without first stepping into the power of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.   What Is the Most Important Thing About You? Many of you know that I was born, raised, and currently live in Northeast Ohio. I have lived in other places over the years (Florida, Colorado, California, Chicago), but Akron is home.  As we like to say in my city, “I’m just a girl from Akron.” If you spend enough time with me, you will see evidence of this heritage—my Midwest accent, the fact that I call soda “pop,” and my unwavering love for Cleveland sports.  This part of my identity flavors how I dress, how I talk, and how I interact with the world. Affections and attitudes flow from identity. All of us have many different markers of identity. Ethnicity, age, gender, profession, or political party to name a few. Each one of these influences and expresses who we are.  The invitation to know God through Jesus Christ is intended to trump all other identities. Many of us call ourselves “Christians” as a secondary identity. It’s simply a piece (perhaps even an important piece) of how we see ourselves and the world. We try to blend that piece with all the other aspects of what it means to be me.  Friend, this is where we go wrong. God does not call us to simply integrate a Christian identity with every other defining marker, but to recognize Him as “Lord of All.” Every other identity pales in comparison to the most important thing about me: I belong to the Lord, and He belongs to me.  If you are a Christian, the most important passage in the Bible about your sex life is this one: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, and see, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17)! We live in a day and age where people define themselves by their sexuality: Are you married, divorced, or single? Gay or straight? What are your personal pronouns? In church culture, we may subtly ask, “Are you sexually pure or broken?” Right before the “new creation” verse, Paul writes, “From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” The only question that really matters is this one: Are you a new creation through Jesus Christ?  My friend, God doesn’t change what we do until He first and foremost changes who we are. I know so many Christians who strive to live by the biblical rules of sex without first stepping into the power of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.  As an Ohio native, what would it take for me to cheer for the Michigan Wolverines, the New York Yankees, or the Baltimore Ravens? (I cringe even as I type these words!) My affections could only change with a radical new identity. And how could I adopt a British accent instead of my Midwest way of speaking? Only through years and years of living in a new country.  Your most powerful weapon against sexual shame, temptation, and confusion is not a list of rules, but walking in your new identity through Jesus Christ. Paul himself experienced this. For much of his life, Paul prided himself in being a zealous follower of God, steeped in the privilege of an impeccable Jewish heritage and training. Then one day, he encountered Jesus. In an instant, he was changed, but it took time for him to “flesh out” this new identity.  God changes our sex lives not by an external list of rules, but through an internal change of identity. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Can you say that?    How Knowing Jesus Changes Your Sex Life If knowing Jesus is truly the center point of my identity, I will begin to see and experience the world differently. This is why the Bible tells us that we will feel like aliens and have different affections than the world does. Following Jesus means surrendering everything, including the powerful messages that once defined my experiences.  Yes, He is invited into my sexuality, into my wounds, into my shame, and into my struggles. It didn’t happen right away, for God waited for me to open each door. God is not calling you to simply live a sexually moral life, but to grow in the maturity of what it means to be transformed by Him. Imagine your life as if it were a house divided into rooms. Some rooms, like the kitchen and living room, you are comfortable sharing with casual acquaintances. Other rooms like your bedroom or office are reserved for people who know you well. And then there are the hidden spaces—closets, the attic, the basement storage—where all the junk stays piled up and unexamined.  Growing in your relationship with God means that you invite Him into every room. Over the course of your journey with Him, the Lord will ask for access into not only the public spaces of your life, but the secret, hidden, and personal places. And so, yes, He is invited into my sexuality, into my wounds, into my shame, and into my struggles. It didn’t happen right away, for God waited for me to open each door.  God’s transforming and redemptive work is not just for those who identify with a particular sin struggle or expression of their sexuality. It’s for all of us. It’s for the Christian man who approaches the bedroom with a demanding spirit. It’s for the woman who swears to herself that she will never allow herself to trust a man. It’s for the Christian single who believes she will never be whole unless God brings a spouse. And it’s for the Christian teacher who has taught the rules without compassion.  As you wrestle with sexual pain and struggles, consider this question: is there any identity, good or bad, that trumps your Creator’s love for you and His Lordship in your life? 
3 formas en las que amar tu cuerpo construye intimidad en el matrimonio
Mientras estaba de pie frente al espejo, conté la cantidad de cicatrices en mi estómago, esparcidas por todo mi vientre como los rayones de un niño pequeño con un crayón. ¿Cómo podría volver a sentirme hermosa, y más sexy? Mis pensamientos fueron interrumpidos cuando mi esposo se me acercó por detrás y puso sus brazos alrededor de mi cuerpo. Me susurró al oído: “Tú, mi Joy, eres tan hermosa”. En el lapso de tres meses, tuve tres cirugías y muchos procedimientos que convirtieron mi estómago en un campo minado de imperfecciones. Sin embargo, a pesar de todo, mi esposo me ha amado de maneras que me han ayudado a entregarle con confianza mi cuerpo, corazón y alma. Mi valor como hija de Dios no depende del aspecto de mi estómago ni de ninguna otra inseguridad que pueda tener. Lo mismo es cierto para ti. Para comenzar a sanar, primero tuve que descubrir las mentiras que creía sobre mí y comenzar a verme como Dios me ve. A través de la consejería, descubrí que creía la mentira de que mi valor físico dependía de la apariencia de mi cuerpo, no de mi identidad en Cristo. Creer que mi valor se encontraba en mi apariencia resultó ser mi mayor fuente de inseguridad y estaba dañando la intimidad de mi matrimonio. Pero a medida que comencé a encontrar mi fuente de seguridad en Dios, no en mi apariencia, también crecí en la intimidad con mi esposo. La intimidad crece al abordar la fuente de nuestra inseguridad. Después de todo el trauma médico por el que había pasado, sabía que tenía que volver a hablar con mi consejero. Mi trauma trajo nuevas inseguridades que en realidad apuntaban a mentiras profundamente arraigadas en las que yo creía. Mis nuevas cicatrices me hicieron creer que ya no era hermosa ni digna de amor, lo que reforzaba la mentira de que la apariencia es lo más importante. A medida que aprendo a abordar esta mentira, descubro que la intimidad crece a medida que nombro mis inseguridades y encuentro verdades bíblicas para contrarrestarlas. Por ejemplo, cuando dudo de mi valor, medito en Gálatas 4:7, “Así que ya no eres esclavo, sino hijo; y si hijo, también heredero de Dios por medio de Cristo.” Mi valor como hija de Dios no depende del aspecto de mi estómago ni de ninguna otra inseguridad que pueda tener. Lo mismo es cierto para ti. Parte de “sentirme hermosa” incluye animarme con mis palabras y creer esta verdad. Todos los días, cuando me despierto y me miro en el espejo del baño, veo una calcomanía que dice: “Este es un buen cuerpo”. Necesito este recordatorio porque a menudo siento que “mi cuerpo me ha traicionado”. Debido a mis problemas de salud, mi cuerpo puede sentirse como mi enemigo. Pero debo recordarme a mí misma: mi cuerpo es bueno. Dios me formó y me entretejió perfectamente en el vientre de mi madre, y Él dice que “asombrosa y maravillosamente” he sido hecha (Salmo 139:14).  A medida que comiences a sentirte segura al revelarle tus inseguridades a Dios, entonces podrás comenzar a sentirte más segura al compartirlas con tu cónyuge. La intimidad crece al animarse unos a otros. No tienes que lucir perfecta para tener buena intimidad con tu cónyuge. De hecho, a medida que envejeces, tu cuerpo comienza a cambiar y nunca se verá como cuando te enamoraste de tu pareja por primera vez. Si has experimentado cambios en tu cuerpo, la verdadera intimidad se puede nutrir animándose unos a otros, superando tus inseguridades y orando con tu cónyuge. Desde que tengo memoria, luché con la confianza con respecto a mi cuerpo. Mi estómago era demasiado grande, el vello de mis piernas crecía demasiado rápido (soy italiana) y mi nariz siempre me pareció un poco muy grande. Sin embargo, desde que conocí a mi esposo Zack, fue como si cuando me miraba viera a una persona completamente diferente a la que yo veía en el espejo. Hemos estado casados por 5 años y la confianza con respecto a mi cuerpo ha crecido. Ahora, incluso con las imperfecciones y las cicatrices, siento más seguridad con respecto a la persona que Dios me creó para ser. Especialmente al meditar en las Escrituras y creer en las palabras de mi esposo. Mi esposo me ayuda a ver un poco de esta verdad en la vida real. Cuanto más me eleva con sus palabras, más hermosa me siento. Puedo sentirme sexy por su amor y sus palabras que continúan animándome. La forma en la que mi esposo me anima ha aumentado la confianza en mi cuerpo, lo cual ha profundizado nuestra intimidad. Esta seguridad y afirmación tiene lugar no solo en el dormitorio, sino también durante los momentos habituales del día a día. Me anima por las mañanas mientras todavía estoy en pijama, con el pelo recogido en un moño y sirviéndome café. Me anima cuando estoy en ropa de trabajo, justo antes de una importante llamada de Zoom. Cuanto más nos animemos unos a otros durante los aspectos normales de la vida, no solo en los momentos íntimos, más lo creeremos. No es suficiente simplemente escuchar las palabras de aliento de nuestro cónyuge, tenemos que CREER en ellas. A veces, queremos negar los cumplidos de nuestro esposo (sé que he hecho esto). Podríamos responder con “No, no soy hermosa” o “De verdad, ¿te gusta este vestido? Estaba pensando en deshacerme de él.” En cambio, tenemos que creer en las palabras de aliento que recibimos y también alentar a nuestros cónyuges en las cosas sobre las que puedan sentirse inseguros. Trato de alentar a mi esposo, Zack, elogiándolo por un trabajo bien hecho en la oficina, elogiando su apariencia física o agradeciéndole cuando sirve a nuestra familia. La intimidad crece a través de la oración con tu cónyuge. Desde que nos casamos, mi esposo y yo nos duchamos juntos todas las noches (¡ese es un blog diferente!) y oramos juntos todas las noches. Pase lo que pase ese día, incluso si terminamos el día en conflicto, nos tomamos de la mano sobre la cama y oramos. Hemos descubierto que es difícil estar enojado con alguien por mucho tiempo si sabes que van a orar juntos antes de irse a dormir. Formar patrones y hábitos saludables como orar juntos puede hacer crecer su intimidad. Si luchan con problemas de imagen corporal que afectan su intimidad en el matrimonio, aquí hay algunas cosas por las que pueden comenzar a orar juntos: •          Oren por su vida sexual. •          Oren para que puedan amar y valorar su cuerpo. •          Oren para que Dios revele las mentiras más profundas que podrían ser la fuente de sus inseguridades. •          Oren y agradezcan a Dios por el cuerpo que les ha dado. A medida que crezco en la intimidad con mi cónyuge, también aprendo a confiar más en él. Le creo cuando me felicita y me alienta. Lo mismo es cierto con Dios. Construir intimidad a pesar de las imperfecciones corporales se reduce a esta pregunta: “¿Realmente confío en Dios con todo lo que Él permite que suceda en mi vida y en mi cuerpo?” Aunque no entiendo por qué suceden las cosas, puedo confiar en Dios en que Sus planes son perfectos y puedo tener confianza en este versículo: “Y sabemos que a los que aman a Dios, todas las cosas les ayudan a bien, esto es, a los que conforme a su propósito son llamados.” (Romanos 8:28) Si te cuesta amar tu cuerpo debido a las imperfecciones, ¡anímate! Puede crecer y profundizar la intimidad con su cónyuge al abordar la raíz de la inseguridad, animándose unos a otros y con oración. Puedes llegar al punto en que estés agradecido por tu cuerpo, incluso con sus imperfecciones. No creo que alguna vez mire mi estómago cubierto de cicatrices y piense: “¡Wow! Eso es atractivo”, pero lo miro y creo: “¡Este es un buen cuerpo!” ¡Regresa la próxima semana para un blog invitado especial de Joy, Zack! Mientras tanto, obtén más información sobre una imagen corporal saludable con estos recursos: •          Java #402: Si Dios hizo mi cuerpo, ¿por qué me causa tanto dolor? •          Ser sexy no tiene nada que ver con tu cuerpo (Blog de Juli) •          Java #381: "Muéstralo" o "cúbrelo": mensajes que moldean nuestra imagen corporal
3 formas de ayudarle a tu esposa a sentirse completamente conocida y amada
Escrito por Zack Skarka. Mi invitado en el blog de hoy es mi ser humano favorito, ¡Zack Skarka! Después de compartir mi lucha con la imagen corporal la semana pasada, invité a Zack a que también contara su versión de la historia. Si necesitas compartir este blog con tu esposo, ¡quiero que sepas que estaré orando por ti! Pídele a Dios sabiduría, valentía y el momento adecuado. Pensé que tenía todas las respuestas. Cada vez que mi esposa acudía a mí con sus problemas, le daba un plan de tres pasos para superar ese problema. Pensé que estaba siendo colaborador... hasta que descubrí que no lo era. Joy y yo estábamos paseando por uno de nuestros parques favoritos. Ella estaba abriendo su corazón y yo estaba empezando a decirle cómo solucionar su problema. Entonces ella me detuvo y me dio la lección más importante de nuestra relación. Joy me dijo: “Cuando comparto cosas contigo, no quiero que arregles mis problemas. Solo quiero que me escuches. En ese momento, pensé que esto era una locura. “¿Por qué no querrías resolver tus problemas en lugar de solo hablar de ellos?” En lugar de compartir este pensamiento, decidí confiar en las palabras de Joy y escucharla. Me alegro de haberlo hecho, porque Joy se sintió verdaderamente amada al compartir sus luchas conmigo.  Joy y yo tenemos una frase que nos gusta mucho (que también está en una camiseta que a Joy le encanta) y dice: "Completamente conocido y completamente amado". Esto es lo que todos deseamos, y es clave para que los esposos ayuden a sus esposas en su proceso de sanidad. Los esposos pueden ayudar a sus esposas al escuchar. La principal forma en la que una esposa puede estar confiada en que verdaderamente la conocen es tener un esposo que la escuche. No comencé de la mejor manera en este aspecto con Joy. Nuestra primera cita fue en un Starbucks en Dallas e hice lo que mejor hago: hablar de mí. Más adelante Joy me dijo que , aunque estaba feliz de conocerme en esa cita, también estaba considerando que esa fuera nuestra última cita. Desde entonces, aprendí que mi capacidad de escuchar no solo es fundamental para nuestra relación, sino que también es fundamental para el proceso de sanidad de Joy. Cuando Joy se enfrenta a la tentación, sabe que puede hablar conmigo sobre sus luchas, ser escuchada y amada. Cuando tiene pensamientos negativos sobre su cuerpo, puede compartir esos pensamientos y saber que será amada y afirmada. Si no estoy dispuesto a escuchar, Joy puede sentir que necesita guardar esos pensamientos para sí misma, lo que la llevará a la vergüenza y a una espiral de negatividad. Al escuchar, puedo darle a mi esposa lo que realmente necesita, la oportunidad de ser completamente conocida y amada. Hace unos dos meses, tuve un susto de salud bastante grave. Me desmayé por primera vez en casi nueve años y estábamos preocupados de que mi cáncer cerebral hubiera regresado. Joy fue increíble. Condujo a más de 150 km/h hasta el médico con su esposo desmayado, llamó a todos los especialistas de la ciudad, me tomó de la mano en la sala de emergencias y me cuidó durante el tiempo que estuve recuperándome en casa.  Afortunadamente, descubrimos pronto, que todavía estoy libre de cáncer. Durante ese tiempo, Joy me compartió  lo difícil que fue para ella ser “la fuerte”. Me contó lo preocupada que estaba. Escuché. Después de que terminó de abrir su corazón, le dije lo increíble que era y pensé en lo bendecido que soy al tener una esposa que está dispuesta a compartir su corazón conmigo. Si deseas escuchar mejor, dedica un tiempo específico en el que tu esposa sepa que tendrá toda tu atención. Joy y yo tenemos este tiempo juntos cuando llego a casa del trabajo. En ese momento compartimos las cosas buenas y las cosas difíciles de nuestro día y disfrutamos la oportunidad de ser conocidos y amados. Los esposos pueden ayudar a sus esposas validando. Confieso que no siempre estoy de acuerdo con todas las cosas que escucho, especialmente con los pensamientos negativos de Joy sobre su cuerpo. A menudo bromeo con ella y le digo: “¡Nadie le habla así a mi esposa!”. Si bien puedo estar en desacuerdo con los pensamientos o sentimientos de Joy, sigue siendo importante para mí validar esos pensamientos y sentimientos. Cuando ella dice que necesita afeitarse las piernas cuando ni siquiera puedo ver un solo vello en sus piernas, podría decir: “¡Estás loca!” Pero en lugar de decir eso le digo que me avise cuando haya terminado para después poder acompañarla durante el resto de la ducha. Cuando Joy comparte sus luchas y sus sentimientos, no necesita escuchar que sus sentimientos son malos. Joy necesita que alguien le diga: “Eso debe ser muy difícil, lamento que estés pasando por eso”. Además de no estar de acuerdo con todo lo que escucho, muchas veces hay cosas que no entiendo y no puedo entender. En situaciones menos serias, le diré en broma a Joy: “Te conozco y te amo por completo, pero no te entiendo por completo”. Desafortunadamente, nos hemos enfrentado a muchas situaciones graves en nuestro tiempo juntos. El dolor que experimenta Joy por las cicatrices en su estómago, tanto física como emocionalmente, es algo que no puedo entender. (Mis grandes cicatrices están en mi espalda donde no puedo verlas). Lo único que puedo hacer es validar sus sentimientos cuando me habla de ese dolor. Si deseas mejorar en tu validación, intenta prestar más atención a las respuestas de tu esposa. Cuando ella te comparte sus pensamientos y sentimientos, ¿los reconoces y validas o los invalidas? También presta atención a la forma en la que ella responde a tu respuesta; si ella se siente más cerca a ti en base a lo que dijiste, buen trabajo. Lastimosamente, me tomó mucho tiempo ver a Joy sentirse peor después de mis respuestas para llegar a aprender que mis respuestas necesitan validar sus pensamientos y sentimientos. Los esposos pueden ayudar a sus esposas amando su belleza interior. Lo sé. Hablar de la belleza interior de alguien suele ser un cumplido deshonesto, pero en realidad es un cumplido bíblico. Proverbios 31:30 dice: “Engañosa es la gracia, y vana la hermosura; la mujer que teme a Jehová, esa será alabada.” La palabra hebrea que se traduce como vana es “hebel”, la misma palabra que se usa en Eclesiastés 1:2. “Vanidad de vanidades, dijo el Predicador; vanidad de vanidades, todo es vanidad.” Esta palabra, en su sentido más básico, significa vapor o aliento, algo que está ahí y luego se va. Si bien creo firmemente que Joy es la mujer más hermosa del mundo por fuera, y se lo digo todos los días, también sé que nuestros cuerpos cambiarán. Quiero que Joy sepa ahora que cuando esos  cambios ocurran la amaré tanto como lo hago ahora.  Hago todo lo posible para recordarle a Joy que la razón por la que me enamoré de ella en primer lugar no fue su buena apariencia sino su gran corazón. Joy ha estado blogueando desde 2013, así que cuando la conocí en 2015, había muchas pruebas de su temor al Señor en ese blog. Vi a una mujer que amaba a Dios y a los demás y que estaba sirviendo a esas personas a través de sus palabras, como todavía lo hace hoy. Si bien amo y afirmo el hermoso cuerpo físico de Joy, también quiero asegurarle que primero me enamoré del corazón que vi en ese blog. Por esa razón, puede estar segura de que es amada por completo, pase lo que pase. Si quieres hacer un mejor trabajo amando la belleza interior de tu esposa, escribe cinco cosas que amas de tu esposa además de su cuerpo. Podría tener que ver con la forma en que te ama a ti, a tus hijos, lo bien que lo pasas con ella o lo trabajadora que es. Luego, con el tiempo, comparte estas cosas con tu esposa para que pueda experimentar que la amas por completo. Esposos, espero que mi historia y mis puntos de vista sean útiles para ustedes mientras comparten el caminar en esta vida junto con su cónyuge. Al escuchar a su esposa, validar sus pensamientos y sentimientos y amar su belleza interior, serán de gran ayuda en su proceso de sanidad.  
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How Do I Know If I'm in an Abusive Relationship?
On the surface, they looked like a perfect Christian couple. Always together, with his arm around her waist. Her friends would admit to feeling a bit jealous. Abby never goes anywhere without Jake; he’s so attentive. I can barely get my husband to notice that I’m in the room! Even as a trained counselor, I’ve sometimes been surprised to discover that people I know are in an abusive relationship. When we think “abuse,” we picture the classic signs of domestic violence—sunglasses to hide a swollen face and long sleeves to conceal bruises. While this type of domestic violence is certainly a real issue, we also need to recognize that abusive relationships take many different forms. In fact, even those in abusive relationships often wouldn’t identify the relationship as such.  A partner can be abusive emotionally, financially, verbally, physically, spiritually, or sexually. Unfortunately, unbalanced religious teaching around submission, a wife’s “duty” to give her husband sex, or the permanence of marriage can reinforce or normalize an abusive dynamic in marriage. I want to communicate with the strongest of terms, God did not design intimate relationships (including marriage) to ever be abusive or coercive! Any seemingly biblical teaching that appears to encourage such dynamics is taken out of context.  In this blog, I want to share with you four warning signs that you may be in an abusive relationship: fear, secrets, control, and blame.   Fear The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Of course none of us loves perfectly, so there will always be elements of fear in close relationships. What if I disappoint him? What if she leaves me? What if he rejects me once he knows the truth?  Marriages sometimes go through rough patches when conflict makes the relationship feel emotionally tenuous. But in an abusive relationship, fear becomes a learned response, sometimes evidenced physiologically.  Every time my husband pulls into the driveway, my stomach is tied into knots. I quickly scan the home to make sure everything is in order. I literally broke out in a cold sweat standing at the bakery counter for thirty minutes afraid that I would get my wife the wrong kind of cake for her dinner party. We learn to fear when we erratically or predictably experience pain or danger. Whether the threat is physical or emotional, interactions with an abusive partner train your body to prepare for the worst. “I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells.” “I have to measure my words very carefully…” “The only time I can truly relax is when I am away from her.”     Secrets Intimacy implies secrets. Lovers have a history they carry together: memories of sexual fun, inside jokes, and the promise to lovingly guard each other’s faults from a critical world. Marriage becomes destructive when either husband or wife publicly flaunts the other’s vulnerabilities and foibles. Indeed, love covers a multitude of sins.  The secrets in an abusive relationship do not emanate from such love, but from fear. In an abusive relationship, there is a spoken or unspoken rule that no one can know what happens behind closed doors. One of the reasons it’s so difficult for people to recognize abusive patterns in a relationship is because there is no opportunity for a reality check on what’s normal. How does a normal couple fight? Do they ever swear at each other? Throw things? How do normal couples navigate differences in sexual desire or finances? Is it normal for one person to insist on always getting his or her way?  You need “eyes” on your marriage. This is not about sharing secrets but about the accountability and wisdom that keeps us healthy. If you or your spouse have colluded to keep certain things private, even forbidding help from a pastor, counselor, or friend, that is a serious red flag.    Control The opposite of freedom is control. God Himself knows that love is true only when it is chosen. This is why He allows us to wander away from Him and even reject Him.  In an abusive relationship, gestures of love are not freely given but demanded. Friends and family become a threat, and so there are rules around how often you can see them. In a facade of “unity,” everything you own belongs to your spouse, and you have no voice in how to steward your life. You don’t have the freedom to decide how to spend your time or money. You work or don’t work according to his desires. You spend or don’t spend to avoid her rages.  Control can be subtle. Often no demands are made up front, but there is a cost to be paid on the back end if you make the wrong choice. My wife wouldn’t even make eye contact with me for a month when I made a decision she didn’t like.   When I don’t meet my husband’s expectations, he makes a big show of expressing affection towards the kids but in the same moment, tears me to shreds.    Constant Blame It might be said that every close relationship probably has moments that could be classified as abusive. In the heat of an argument, you may have spoken cruel words to one another. You’ve probably withheld affection, manipulated to get your way, and lost your temper at some point in your marriage. These interactions are unhealthy and harmful to intimacy. But an abusive relationship has a pattern of such interactions with no awareness or effort to seek genuine change.  When a normal couple gets in a fight, they work toward “repairing the breach.” Even if they may not know the words to say, they are both able to take responsibility for being irrational, losing their temper, or being demanding. A hallmark of dysfunctional relationships is when one person will never acknowledge or own up to his or her failings. Even a move towards an apology ends up being a backhanded accusation. “I wouldn’t have screamed at you if you had cleaned the kitchen like you were supposed to!” If a couple like this finds themselves in counseling, the abusive spouse may charmingly and effectively convince the therapist that the problem is really the other person’s fault. As soon as the counselor begins suggesting otherwise, the abusive partner will bail on counseling by discrediting the therapist.    What should I do?  If you have identified your relationship by one of these red flags, please reach out for help! This is not something that you can address on your own. Whether you identify that you are the one who is controlling and demanding or the one who is on the receiving end, you need help. You need wisdom and support from those who care about you as well as from people who are trained to identify abusive patterns. You are not doing your spouse or your children any favors by avoiding the issue.  I also want to encourage you, friend. God loves you. The Bible tells us that He is close to the brokenhearted and comes to our aid when we call on Him. Addressing abusive patterns in a relationship is not an easy process. You might feel alone and overwhelmed. All you need to do today is take the first step of reaching out for help.    Here are what some first steps might look like: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY); this is a crisis intervention and referral phone line for domestic violence. www.TheHotline.org Read about How to Choose a Wise Counselor (Juli's blog) Use the Focus on the Family Network of Christian Counselors to find a licensed, Christian professional in your area. Listen to Java #372: How to Recognize Domestic Abuse (exclusive content )with Dr. Ramona Probasco   Photo by Canva
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3 Ways To Help Your Wife Feel Fully Known and Fully Loved
by Zack Skarka  My guest on the blog today is my favorite human, Zack Skarka! After I shared my struggle with body image last week, I invited Zack to tell his side of the story too. If you need to share this blog with your husband, please know that I'll be praying for you! Ask God for wisdom, courage, and the right timing. (Presione aquí para leer en español) I thought I had all of the answers. Whenever my wife would come to me with her issues, I would give her a three-step plan to overcome that issue. I thought I was so helpful … until I found out I wasn’t. Joy and I were on a walk in one of our favorite parks. She was pouring out her heart to me, and I was beginning to tell her how to fix her problem. Then she stopped me and gave me the most important lesson in our relationship. She said, “When I share things with you, I don’t want you to fix my problems. I just want you to listen.” In the moment, I thought this was crazy talk. “Why wouldn’t you want to solve your problems instead of just talking about them?” Instead of sharing this thought, I decided to trust Joy’s words and listen. I’m glad I did because it was the most loved Joy had ever felt while sharing her struggles. Joy and I have a phrase we love (that is also on a shirt Joy loves) that says, “Fully known and fully loved.” This is what we all desire, and it is key for husbands helping their wives in their healing journeys.   Husbands can help their wives by listening. The primary way that a wife can have confidence that she is fully known is having a husband who listens. I did not start off the best in this department with Joy. Our first date was at a Starbucks in Dallas and I did what I do best: talk about myself. Joy would tell me later that, while she was happy to get to know me on that date, she was considering having it be our last date. I have since learned that my ability to listen is not only critical for our relationship, but also for Joy’s healing journey. When Joy is facing temptation, she knows she can talk about her struggles with me and be heard and loved. When she has negative thoughts about her body, she can share those thoughts and know she will be loved and affirmed. If I am not willing to listen, Joy might feel like she needs to keep those thoughts to herself, leading to shame and a continuing spiral of negativity. By listening, I can give my wife what she really needs, the opportunity to be fully known and fully loved. About two months ago, I had a pretty serious health scare. I passed out for the first time in almost nine years and we were worried that my brain cancer had come back. Joy was incredible. She drove 100mph to the doctor with her passed out husband, called every specialist in town, held my hand in the emergency room, and took care of me during my time at home. Thankfully, we soon found out that I am still cancer-free. In the middle of that season, Joy shared with me how hard it was for her to be the strong one. She told me about how worried she was. I listened. After she finished pouring out her heart, I told her how incredible she was and thought about how blessed I am to have a wife that is willing to share her heart with me. If you want to do a better job listening, schedule a time when your wife knows she will have your undivided attention. Joy and I have this time when I get home from work. During this time, we share the good things and the hard things from our day and enjoy the opportunity to be known and loved.   Husbands can help their wives by validating. Admittedly, I do not always agree with all of the things I listen to, especially Joy’s negative thoughts about her body. I will often joke with her and say, “No one talks to my wife like that!” While I may disagree with Joy’s thoughts or feelings, it is still important for me to validate those thoughts and feelings. When she says she needs to shave her legs when I can’t see any leg hair, I could say, “You’re crazy!” Instead, I tell her to let me know when she is done so I can join her for the rest of the shower.  When Joy shares her struggles and her feelings, she does not need to hear that her feelings are bad. Joy needs someone to say, “That must be really hard, I’m sorry you are going through that.” In addition to not agreeing with everything I listen to, there are often things I do not and cannot understand. In less serious situations, I will jokingly tell Joy, “I fully know and fully love you, but I do not fully understand you.” Unfortunately, we have faced a lot of serious situations in our time together. The pain that Joy experiences from the scars on her stomach, both physically and emotionally, is something that I cannot understand. (My big scars are on my back where I can’t see them.) The only thing I can do is validate her feelings when she talks about that pain. If you want to do a better job validating, try to pay closer attention to your responses. When your wife shares her thoughts and feelings with you, do you affirm her feelings or do you invalidate her feelings? Also pay attention to her response to your response; if she feels closer to you based on what you said, good job. It took me a long time of seeing Joy feel worse after my responses to learn that my responses need to affirm her thoughts and feelings.   Husbands can help their wives by loving their inner beauty. I know. Talking about somebody’s inner beauty is usually a backhanded compliment, but it is a biblical compliment. Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The Hebrew word that is translated ‘fleeting’ is hebel, the same word used in Ecclesiastes 1:2. “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” This word, in its most basic sense, means vapor or breath, something that is there, and then it is gone. While I firmly believe that Joy is the most outwardly beautiful woman in the world, and I tell her that every day, I know that our bodies will change. I want Joy to know now that I will love her just as much then when those changes happen. I try my best to remind Joy that the reason I fell in love with her in the first place was not her good looks but her great heart. Joy has been blogging since 2013, so when I met her in 2015, there was plenty of evidence of her fear of the Lord on that blog. I saw a woman who loved God and others and was serving those people through her words as she still does today. While I love and affirm Joy’s beautiful physical body, I also want to give her the assurance that I first fell in love with the heart I saw on that blog. For that reason, she can be confident that she is fully loved, no matter what. If you want to do a better job loving your wife’s inner beauty, write down five things that you love about your wife besides her body. This could be the way she loves you, your kids, the fun you have with her, or how hardworking she is. Then, over time, share these things with your wife so she can experience being fully loved by you. Husbands, I hope that my story and my insights are helpful for you as you walk through life with your spouse. By listening to your wife, validating your wife’s thoughts and feelings, and loving her inner beauty, you will be a great help in your wife’s healing journey. Want to learn more? Here are a few more resources you might like: Preorder Juli's new book God, Sex, and Your Marriage Java #406: Every Couple Has a Sexual Dance. What Does Yours Say About You? Java #394: Debt-free In the Bedroom: How To Heal from Sexual Pain A Secret For the Guys (Juli's blog)