Passionless or crumbling marriages have become all too typical even in our Christian community. Efforts to help seem to focus merely on the symptoms, while bypassing root issues. Counselors and pastors alike seem to be afraid to bring out the “big guns”…. or if they do, it is the wrong ammunition or they take aim at the wrong target.
For 35 years I have been a Christian Counselor committed to a counseling model that is not only consistent with biblical truth but emerges out of it. At least half of my practice involves therapy with married couples. For reasons that are not strange to me anymore, I see couples really change! I see one hundred eighty degree turnarounds with couples who came into counseling making such statements as: “I do not love her anymore”, “I cannot forgive him for the affair”, “We have been arguing for 20 years and I do not see any hope.” I see these couples in many ways fall in love all over again or even for the first time. They demonstrate a new willingness to engage more honestly, love more unconditionally and just plain ole downright have more fun (in and out of the bedroom).
Even for spouses whose partner is abusive or unwilling to participate in dealing with the marital discord, there is hope. The willing spouse can enter a place of rest as well as embark on an adventure of “provocative and productive loving”.
Who would have guessed that a little girl who was a geek in middle school and who now as a woman has never been married would be able to speak powerfully into the lives of struggling couples in a great deal of pain? I am amazed how God has groomed me with what I believe is “strategic” suffering to give me eyes to see the diseases at the roots of the problem. To take off on my earlier metaphor, He has made me brave enough to pick up the gun, wise enough to pick the right ammunition and discerning enough to shoot at the right target. However, lest I sound too cocky, the journey to this glorious place has included years of major surgery at the hands of the Lion in the spirit of the Lamb. He keeps me “wiped out” so that as I LIVE at the foot of the cross at His mercy, leaning. on the Holy Spirit for life, I get to see life come up out of death in me…and consequently in others.
He has mangled me (Lamentations 3:11) and I am thrilled about that for I get to enjoy his good purposes as stated in Isaiah 61: 3: “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”
Here is a taste of my “sweet” mangling list: The years as a lonely, depressed child battling with my raging, dominating, rejecting, and shaming mother…the years I spent feeling overly responsible for the pain of my weak, selfish, self-pitying, and passive father…the years I spent shut down as a woman because I did not and would not deal with my sexual abuse…and finally, the years I spent newly alive as a woman (as a result of some intensive counseling regarding my abuse) but feeling more fully the pain of my unmet longing to be loved by a good man.
As God has led me through the restoration of my femininity, moving me from a controlling, hard woman who kept people at a distance to a softer (still working on it) woman who no longer shames her needs or her beauty, you will not be surprised to learn that my passion is in sexual abuse recovery and healing in the area of gender identity.
However, I never expected that knowledge to so deeply change my understanding of what marriage is as well as how damage to the gender identity cuts at the heart of a marriage.
In counseling with individuals and couples for years I gleaned much in how damage to one’s gender can affect the ability to enjoy satisfying adult relationships.
To say simply what I mean by gender:
For the man: a confidence that he has what it takes to be a man, that he has what it takes to satisfy a woman, that he has what it takes to accomplish successful work, and that by God’s grace he can do life well. Because he is strong in his gender he does not resort to hiding a fear of failure behind “powering up” or “sucking up.”
For the woman: an assumption that she (inside and out) is lovely and desirable to men, enjoys her femininity without shaming it, has the ability to give herself to a man with abandonment without losing herself.
She can live in her vulnerability and does not require “walls” or “control” to feel safe in relationships.
How am I defining “damage”? Anything that causes a child to feel devalued, unwanted, unknown, or unable to measure up. Of course we would include obvious gender damage such as sexual abuse, emotional incest, and exposure to pornography and rape (which does the most direct damage). However, when a parent rejects a little boy, he is not rejecting a “person”; he is rejecting a “boy”, and you cannot reject a boy without his concluding there must be something wrong or inadequate in “who he is” as a boy…. and then a man.
That deeper damage mandates further investigation into what men and women are afraid of, how to deal with the brokenness so they are free to love unconditionally, how to keep from destroying each other with their needs and insecurities. We all play out our “unfinished business” in our close relationships. Simply vowing to never repeat our parents’ sins does not work.
I want to take you “behind the scenes” in therapy, to flesh out the application of truth through sharing the stories of couples that are “making it”. Their examples will make practical and clear the intriguing, messy, painful, and slow journey to a lovely, vibrant, marital intimacy. We will present and develop some truths you already know but maybe have underestimated their importance. Then we will cover truths that will surprise and intrigue you, scare you and even anger you. However, when all is said and done, we will leave you with HOPE!
By God’s Grace, I believe we are “on to something”! The results are standing the test of time. Therefore, it is with pleasure I pass on to you “what I know”.