Archive for February, 2012

The Myth of Compatibility

Too often we treat compatibility as it were a noun (something two people share – like a cupcake or eye color) instead of a verb (something two people do – like synchronized swimming or conversation). There is a big, often overlooked, difference between compatibility as a noun and a verb.

When I hear commercials for dating sites or listen to marriage seminars talk about compatibility, I often get the impression that these tests are like the blood work done before an organ (i.e., lung, kidney) donation. They allege to tell a couple if they are compatible with one another in some absolute or scientific sense. That is good advertising but not reality.

Think for a moment. Over the course of human history every combination of husband personality traits and wife personality traits have combined to make excellent marriages. Equally true, every combination of personality traits has ended in painful, bitter divorces.

Simply put – compatibility is not the make or break issue for marriage. It may not even exist in the way that the concept is popularly presented.

Are these tests bad? No. They usually do a good job in letting couple’s know what common challenges they will face based upon their values and preferences (less mystical words for “personality types”). From my experience, rarely is a couple surprised by what they find and any of their friends could have given them a similar assessment.

Should couples take these tests? Sure. They’re fun and usually provide a neutral language to discuss differences that would normally come out during an argument (a time when couple’s assign moral language – “good” and “bad”—to their differences).

So what’s my concern? My first concern is that a heavy emphasis on “compatibility” during the dating process opens the door to an “irreconcilable differences” excuse for divorce. The fact is we change over time. Who we are when we are dating is not who we will be on our 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, or if we are lucky 50th anniversary.

What happens to the marriage covenant when “compatibility” fades? What happens when the timid young professional becomes a confident leader in his/her field? What happens when the confidant young athlete ages out of being dominant with physical prowess and becomes insecure? What happens when we scored 23 out of 27 on our eHarmony test in our 20’s and only 13 out of 27 in our 40’s?

My second concern is that “compatibility” emphasizes personality matches over growing in godly character as the foundation of a good marriage. When we think we have what it takes, most people coast or look for new challenges.

Let me offer a contrast to the fact that every combination of personalities has made for both great and disastrous marriages. There has never been a good marriage between two prideful, selfish, lazy people. There has never been a bad marriage between two humble, other-minded, servant-hearted people.

I know those two categories don’t exist in absolutes. We are each a combination of prideful-selfish-lazy and humble-other-minded-servant-hearted. But hopefully you get my point. Character is the better predictor of marital success than personality.

Does this mean any high character person can marry any other high character person and have a great marriage? I would say no. “Spark” and “chemistry” are important to marriage and should not be neglected. But I would say that two high character people without “spark” would have a better marriage than two people who ignore the importance of character with “spark.”

So what is the take away? Learn all you can about your spouse, fiancé, or dating partner. Use personality tests to get to know one another if you like. Be able to predict every foreseeable difference you may have. But do not begin to think that “compatibility” is something you have (noun). Remember compatibility, if the word is to be redeemed, comes from pursuing the same thing of eternal value together – Christ, His character, and His glory.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.

C.S. Lewis on Being Too Heavenly Minded

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither (p. 134).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Who saves more money: the person who thinks of retirement or the person who ignores it? Who does better on a performance evaluation: the person who thinks of the boss’s expectations or the person who doesn’t?

Who changes the world: the person who believes what he/she does has eternal significance or the person who thinks “you only go around once, so why not enjoy it”? The parallels are not exact, but  the principle the same – if you think what you are doing matters for something, then you do a better job of it.

The question eternity forces us to ask is, “Does life matter?” If we are temporal creatures who live, die, and decay, then the answer is no. If we are eternal creatures whose earthly life sets our eternal destiny, then the answer is a resounding YES!

It quickly becomes evident why (at least partially) modern Christians do not make a bigger difference on the world – we believe this world is all there is. We no longer live our lives as an investment in something greater than our lives.

When this happens we flip the big question of life from, “What can I do for God?” to, “What does God have to offer me?” We begin to live as if God existed to satisfy us instead of seeing that we exist to glorify God. We grade God instead of seeking to please Him.

Heaven is as important for this life as graduation is to school or a paycheck is to a job interview. Heaven provides a reference point where effort will be rewarded. Like a diploma or a paycheck, Heaven will not be something that everyone receives for “just showing up.”

This must not be taken to imply that we “earn” heaven. That would be the grandest distortion of heaven and the gospel. The point being made is that knowing (a) there is a time when people will give account, (b) that people may eternally go without, and (c) what people decide – in this case about Christ – will make the difference, compels us to live differently.

Passivity is the functional expression of disbelief in eternity. To do nothing assumes that nothing I do matters; that nothing is at stake. The only possible way that could be true is if I live for 70 years and then cease to be.

So what is the take away? Think about heaven, but not as a luxury destination or optimal retirement home. Think about heaven as the ultimate investment. Realize that heaven is what makes everything matter and then live as if life mattered. With that perspective, see how God will use you to change the world.

When the Holy Spirit Prays for You

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on John 14:12-26 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 25-26, 2012.

If the Holy Spirit is indeed “the shy member of the Trinity” (always drawing attention to Jesus), then Romans 8 is a passage where His bashfulness if most noticeable. The role of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8 is often tragically lost and often leads to applications of this passage that do not reflect Paul’s pastoral intent when he penned these verses.

Most Christians know (whether they quote or cringe) verse 28, “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But few recitations of this passage trace the journey of how Paul applied this truth; as a result the sovereignty of the Father is emphasized to the neglect of the compassion of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a journey from verse 25 to verse 28.

“But if we hope for what we do not see…” (v. 25)

Paul is writing to hurting, longing, waiting Christians. They want something (every indication is that their desire is for a good thing) but they do not have it. God seems silent to their prayers and they are struggling to maintain an accurate view of Him as gracious and good.

“…we wait for it with patience.” (v. 25)

Patience is a pretty word on paper. It sounds nice. We use it as a compliment. But patience is a virtue only necessary because of sin, so it feels like Hell. In the perfect rest of Heaven patience will be as irrelevant as time. So these waiting, hoping believers are withering as they cling to a belief in God’s faithfulness with their patience.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness…” (v. 26)

We know their wasting away because Paul speaks to their growing weakness. In this moment the Holy Spirit softly enters the text… and our lives. “Likewise” reveals how much the Spirit embraces our sorrows. The Spirit is there to help. But if the Spirit’s help is like much of the help we get from those who lead with Romans 8:28 during our suffering, we may be hesitant to receive it.

“…for we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” (v. 26)

These weak Christians, wearied by waiting for God to deliver, are beyond words to speak. When asked, “What’s wrong?” They shake their head as if to say, “I don’t know where to begin… Reciting it again would only magnify the echo of sorrow… I’ve talked to God and He was silent; what good would it do tell my sorrows to you?”

“…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (v. 26)

What is going on here? The Spirit is speaking truth, but He is speaking to the Father, not the weary believers. The Spirit is not saying “just do this” or “something good is about to happen.” The Spirit is taking our pain and despair to the ear of the Father. Even our hopeless silence cannot be silent in the Father’s presence because of the Holy Spirit.

“And he who searches hearts…” (v. 27)

The words of the Holy Spirit are not just “on our behalf,” they are the exact representation of our heart. The words coming before the Father in our suffering are everything we would say if we had the wherewithal to articulate our hope depleted soul-aches. Our pain screams we are alone. The prayers of the Spirit remind us we are known.

“…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (v. 27)

Not only is our heart’s cry translated to God, our soul’s essence is knitted with God’s will (i.e., direction) for our life. The reach of the Spirit’s prayer is so great that it can connect our pain and God’s redemptive agenda. The distance that leaves our mind speechless is not too far for the Holy Spirit.

“And we know…” (v. 28)

This ministry of intercession by the Holy Spirit is what gives Paul confidence to speak into suffering. Paul is not offering a quick answer. Instead Paul is summarizing the implication of the tender, personal ministry of the Holy Spirit. We should only speak this truth to others in the same pastoral way that the Spirit brought Paul to this truth, through much listening and great compassion.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

Sacred “Silly” Moments of Marriage

What goes through your mind when you hear a couple giving compliments to each other? Some people melt; others snicker; a few roll their eyes. But I want to contend that what is said during moments of marital affirmation has a powerful effect upon the character of each spouse and the future of the marriage.

Too often these kinds of discussions do little more than scratch the surface of these profound marital interactions. When this happens we only think about what makes each other feel good (which is something we ought to consider) and usually how that helps us get what we want in return. But we miss the character shaping influence of compliments.

Compliments Teach and Motivate

When I compliment my wife I am teaching her what is important to me. My compliments show her what aspects of her person cause a reflex of praise to spill out of my mouth. If I have protected our relationship and speak with honor, her heart will be motivated to increase or enhance those things I affirm.

With that said, my words hold great power to encourage or discourage; to move her towards godliness or merely towards my preferences. Do I only praise features of beauty tied to her youth (Prov. 31:30) or do my words of affirmation point her towards her “imperishable beauty” found in Christ expressed through her unique life and gifts (I Pet. 3:4)? Do my compliments cause her to fear “Father Time” or restfully pursue those things that are timeless?

If I am to stir her up towards godliness (Heb. 10:24), then as her husband, my compliments are a primary way I should carry out this calling. In order to realize the full effect of affirmation I describe in this post, I will recommend two types of compliments. However, I want to affirm all types of honoring compliments that spouses might exchange.

First, compliment the full character of Christ in your spouse. For help in this, take several key passages that capture Christ’s character and make index cards of key attributes: Galatians 5:22-23, I Corinthians 13, Philippians 2:1-11, and Proverbs 31 (for wives). Use these index cards as a scavenger hunt and to ensure that you are teaching and motivating your spouse to pursue the full character of Christ in your compliments. Pay attention to which attributes you tend to compliment least and grow your appreciation for this facet of Christ by learning to praise it in your spouse.

Second, compliment your spouse most frequently and emphatically for those qualities and interactions that are most unique to your marriage. What are the ways that your spouse cares for you that no one else does? What are the aspects of your spouse’s character that you get to see and few others see? What is special about your marriage that is not shared with anyone else? Compliment those things frequently. Focusing your attention on these things helps you not to view your marriage as ordinary.

Compliments Reinforce a Narrative

Compliments do more than teach and motivate; they write a story. In a fast-paced, now-oriented culture we don’t reflect very much. Journaling or nostalgic conversations are becoming increasingly rare exercises. But that does not mean that we have become people who live without a story. We just tell our story in sound bites.

The marital sound bites that we use to tell our “marriage story” (most often without realizing it) are our compliments and our grumblings. Intentional affirmation does more than make your spouse feel good; it is a discipline to protect the way you think about your marriage.

If you are hunting for full breadth of Christ’s character in your believing spouse, thinking on those attributes, and verbally bringing them into conversation; then it is harder for a negative marital story line to emerge. However, when we begin to fixate on all the things that are not the way we prefer, then any marriage can begin to feel lousy and the door is opened to many marital difficulties.

Compliments Affect Competition

Complimenting your spouse in the ways described above serves to protect both partners from a sense of competition. First, the spouse being complimented is protected from performance anxiety. Beauty, intelligence, humor, earning power and the like are not verbalized as the primary things that make the marriage good. Because of this, these things can be the blessing God intended them to be. As C.S. Lewis famously said (paraphrased), “When we put first things first [Christ’s character in our spouse] second things are increased, not decreased.”

Second, the spouse giving compliments is protected from thoughts of straying. When you are complimenting those things that are uniquely good about your spouse and marriage, then outsiders cannot compete in that “scoring system.” Complimenting those things that are uniquely good about your spouse has a way of “setting apart” (the biblical behind the words “to make holy”) things like your spouse’s beauty, intelligence, humor, etc…

My prayer for you as you’ve read this post is that you no longer view compliments as a “silly” nicety of marriage; something that you are “supposed to do” like you’re supposed to floss your teeth (for good “marital hygiene”). I hope you see the compliments you give your spouse as an incredibly powerful shaping influence on your spouse and marriage which is only surpassed by each partner’s personal relationship with Christ and conversations with Him (personal prayer and Bible study).

This post was originally published at the “Grace and Truth” blog of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. I highly recommend the BCC as a place to find excellent resources for counseling and discipleship.

C.S. Lewis on How God Feels About Feelings

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right (p. 132-133).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This is an uncomfortable attempt at offering comfort. The real and sincere question is often asked, “How do I please God when the emotional responses He commands (i.e., to love, to fear not, to rejoice, etc…) do not come naturally to me?”

Lewis is acknowledging this as a legitimate question. Some would say that, “If you sincerely want to please God and your heart is right you will always feel what Scripture calls you to feel (i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, etc…).” Lewis disagrees. Now he is trying to explain what it looks like to serve God in the gap between sincerity and a void of righteous affections.

Lewis’ answer could be summarized as, “We are responsible for the direction of our will. God may or may not bless us with the corresponding emotions.” When we fear God’s punishment for our emotional disobedience the first part is comforting. When we desire more control over our person and emotions the second part is unsatisfying.

The first question is, “Is Lewis’ assessment accurate?” Unfortunately, I believe that he is. We can only self-create sinful or destructive emotions. Being alone with my thoughts I can create anger, grumbling, self-pity, anxiety, or despair. I can do this on a good day. However, I cannot internally trigger love, joy, peace, or hope.

This is not just my own pessimistic, melancholy testimony. I dare say it is the universal human experience. Our emotions respond to life like our bodies respond to gravity – they remain grounded until acted upon or are carried away by an outside force. This seems to be more true the more we want to feel better than we do.

The second question is, “How do we maintain hope for change?” At first consideration, this seems to imply that feelings don’t matter. God will tip you a little happiness, peace, or love if He chooses but don’t count on it and you have no right be upset if He doesn’t.

That level of cynicism towards God is out of sync with God’s character. It may be accurate of what we deserve as sinners with no inherent claim on God. But it is does not capture who God is as a Father who wants the best for His children.

By contrast, Lewis is recognizing that we have a Father who knows our hearts. He can see when we are people loving with out feeling love. He can see when we are peace longing but our hearts are not at rest. God can tell when we are desperately searching for His presence (an act of faith) without the capacity to draw hope from His presence. When this is true God honors our will rather than grades our emotions.

It is hard to remember in these times that we obey God for His glory more than our pleasure. Usually the two are closely aligned. But when they are not, we can rest in God’s character that He will not punish us for the absence of emotional response when our will was aligned with His.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” post which address other facets of this subject.

Two Time Tables of an Affair

This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin” seminar.

It goes without saying that when an affair occurs a married couple is not “on the same page.” But this is truer than our catch-phrase reveals.

Time Table One

As the news hits, the betrayed spouse goes from denial (This cannot really be what is happening. There has to be another explanation.) to anger (I cannot believe you did this to me.) to questioning (What did I do to make you stray? What made the other person more desirable than me?) to depression (I don’t think I can handle this.) to acceptance (I am going to have to chose what the rest of my life is going to look like.).

The rise and fall of these emotions is intense. The betrayed spouse’s emotions can ping pong between the first four experiences multiple time per hour. The fluctuation can be so physically intense that it is nauseating. Every picture and decoration in the house can trigger a new emotion. Any word in a conversation can seemingly change the direction of their heart.

Time Table Two

When the affair comes to light the betrayed spouse is usually surprised at how calm and nonchalant the offending spouse has been.  What is often overlooked is that the offending spouse started on a similar emotional journey when the affair began and has been at the last stage for some time now (at least until the infidelity came to light).

When the affair began as an “inappropriate relationship” chances are the offending spouse experienced denial (No, that is person is not interested in me. This can’t really be happening.), anger (What am I thinking? This is stupid.), questioning (What if I get caught? Am I willing to risk it?), depression (in the form of shame after sexual encounters or telling the lover, “We can’t keep doing this?”), and then acceptance (a sense of normal settles in and its only emotionally intense when they almost get caught or something sparks their conscience to the choices being made).

So by the time the betrayed spouse finds out what it going on the betrayed spouse has been processing the shocking information for weeks, months, or even years. This accounts for the difference in response and is understandable (not acceptable) given the amount of time each person has had to process the infidelity.

What Do We Do?

You begin by acknowledging what each time table represents. Table one is a shock response to traumatic life-changing news. Table two is a picture of how the presence of sin slowly hardens our hearts. There is no way to quickly undo either response. Shock takes time to process regardless of whether we are ready to forgive. Hardness of heart does not wear off at the first penetration of light into our darkness.

Then you must each realize that your time table will distort your responses. Neither person “sees clearly.” This is why counseling is an important part of restoring a marriage broken by adultery. Both of you will be “it’s not like that” frequently in the coming days and weeks. Unless you are able to gain a shared accurate understanding of what has taken place and what needs to happen, then the sense of mistrust will multiply with each attempt to talk and you will likely conclude “we just can’t recover from this.”

Finally, you must realize that you will never have the same experience of the affair. Each of you had a radically different experience. What you should be able to agree on and experience the same is: the affair was evil and must be completely severed, the Gospel offers the power to change and comfort we each need, and a standard of future faithfulness and transparency.

It is by God’s grace through this kind of process that a couple can begin to live “on the same page” again. An affair causes a division that is larger than a series of sexual encounters. It will take more than an extended time of “being good” to bridge the gap. The patience the offending spouse shows is not an act of penance, but a recognition that their spouse is “catching up” (in addition to forgiving and healing personally). The betrayed spouse can benefit from understanding these things, because it often makes the offending spouse seem less callous or aloof.

 

Book Review: Unfaithful: Hope and Healing After Infidelity by Gary and Mona Shriver

When I counsel couples who are experiencing the affects of infidelity one of the most common things I hear them ask for is an example of a couple who has been where they are and restored their marriage. Usually the only time we hear of infidelity is when a couple gets divorced. Hence when a couple is facing this challenge, the only examples they know of are failed marriages. This compounds pain and betrayal with hopelessness.

Gary and Mona Shriver show great courage by allowing their testimony to speak into that void. Telling the story of Gary’s unfaithfulness and their marital recovery, they write a book about what restoration looks like. However, the book is more than their story. It is a book  about the process of recovery which is effectively illustrated with Gary and Mona’s experience of that process.

Strengths of the Book

There is great deal to like about Unfaithful, so for space considerations I will highlight those in a bulleted format which mixes my thoughts with excerpts from the book.

  • Honest and Real: The greatest strength of this book is how it allows a couple to see and hear their experience from an outside perspective. It gives them something they can say, “Yes! That sounds like us. That’s what we’re going through,” when it is hard for them to believe anyone could comprehend the magnitude of their experience. The vividness and honesty with which the Shrivers tell their story (without unnecessary details) is what I have seen God use repeatedly to give couples a first taste of hope after adultery comes to light.
  • “I heard Gary come in, and I heard the boys greet their father. Normal sounds. But this wasn’t a normal household. Nothing was normal anymore. I wasn’t normal. All I could do was cry and ask questions. I was obsessed. Everyone would be fine if I could just move on. They could all just live their normal little lives with all the other normal people (p. 41)… Nothing surprised me anymore. Except me—I surprised me all the time (p. 177).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Sequential: While acknowledging that recovering from an adultery is not neat and does not follow systematic “steps,” the Shrivers do organize the book around principles or themes that have a general order. They buffer from making this a “uniform process” by telling snippets of their story at the beginning of each chapter, and the vignettes vary in the time period of their recovery addressed. Within this principled lay out, I appreciated that they put forgiveness after disclosure, learning about the marriage, and mourning. Too often I find couples focus on forgiveness to early in the restoration process and it harms their ability to maintain hope that they “have what it takes.”
  • “Gary was not the man I had thought he was, but I was no longer sure who I was either. For that matter, who were we as a couple? Were we a couple (p. 24)?… That night my life took on a new timetable: before the affair, during the affair, and after the affair. Everything during was now marred and distorted: our family trip to Disneyland, Gary and I going to Hawaii. I recalled snippets of conversation with both Gary and my friend and suddenly heard and saw completely different things (p. 26)… You each will process at your own pace. Remember, the infidel began this process before the affair even began. The spouse typically begins at revelation (p. 54).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Sensitively Biblical: While Gary and Mona make it clear that overcoming the affects of adultery is a God-sized task and they frequently teach from Scripture, they do not lead with the Bible. They walk towards their reader in compassion, identifying with their pain and confusion, and then walk the reader towards the hope of Scripture. In that sense, Unfaithful reads a bit theologically light, but I found their approach to be very effective and theologically powerful for their audience.
  • “We found that not recognizing the loss, not mourning, only made it worse (p. 131)… It took us a while to identify the things we had lost, and even when we did, accepting that they were really gone was more difficult that we expected it would be. However, once we were able to name them, it seemed we had taken another step on the path of healing. We didn’t feel so stuck (p. 132)… We had to mourn the time of Gary’s unfaithfulness, but that did not mean his faithfulness to Mona or to God could not be resumed (p. 135).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Lay Written But Well Informed: Gary and Mona are not trained counselors; nor do they have any formal theological education. They are “regular lay people” who experienced a tragedy, saw a void in the church’s care, and studied hard in their area of need to be equipped to serve the church by serving others in the area of adultery recovery. I found them to be well read and well thought out in their subject matter. Their lack of training gave them an extra dose of humility that made them more readable than some “experts.”
  • “How many people knew about the affair? I didn’t know and would never know… I felt as if I were wearing a sign that read, “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!’ (p. 61)…. God, I need a miracle here. You’re the great Healer. Heal us! Let me wake up from this nightmare. We’re sitting here breathing, and yet as surely as there is air moving in and out of my lungs, I know we’re dying. But I want to know why I have to die when the sin is not mine! I didn’t do this (p. 75)… In my weary brain there were only three alternatives: lying to myself, being lied to, or pain. If there was no pain, then someone must be lying (p. 98).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

  • Experienced as Helpee and Helper: After their marriage was restored, Gary and Mona started Hope & Healing Ministries and have walked with many couples through the aftermath of adultery in a support group setting. As you read their book, you hear the voices of other couples and other experiences. This adds to the richness of a book that otherwise could become too anecdotal and based upon what worked for one couple, with one set of personalities, in one set of circumstances. With this experience the book reads like a musical with two soloists singing a song of redemption backed by a large choir of voices agreeing and filling out the redemptive song.
  • “She suddenly realized she had lost not only her marriage and her husband but also part of herself. There was absolutely nothing left to hang on to. She found herself completely insufficient for the first time in her life, and terror gripped her… She came to understand that she had put Gary above God. It was not that she thought Gary was God—especially now—but she looked to Gary to be her source of strength, comfort, and love (p. 66)… Our faith grew because we found we were not enough and God was (p. 67).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

 

Ministry Usage at Summit

As Summit launches our recovery ministry for spouses processing the affects of marital infidelity, Gary and Mona Shriver’s book will be a core resource that we use. Of all the books I read on the subject it did the best job of capturing the gospel-centered, Bible-based redemptive tone that we want to promote in all our ministries. If you are interested in learning more about our men’s and women’s purity ministries, I would encourage you to attend our upcoming seminar.

True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin
February 19, 2012 // 5:00 to 8:00 pm
The Summit Church; Brier Creek South Venue
2415 Presidential Drive, Suite 107; Durham, NC 27703
Free – No RSVP Needed

Evaluation Tool: Condition of Marriage Before Sexual Sin

This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sinseminar notebook.

Evaluating the pre-betrayal marriage requires a degree of objectivity during a time of fluctuating emotions. During this evaluation things will be both good and bad; but the good things will not excuse the sexual sin and the bad things will not explain the sexual sin. However, the evaluation needs to be done for two reasons.

1. The sexual sin, while the most obvious and emotionally urgent issue may not be the most destructive factor in the marriage. If there are more significant problems in the marriage than the sexual sin, then purity will not “fix” the marriage. It is likely that the sexual sin will have common roots (idolatry of power, immaturity, control, etc…) with these larger problems. During this time of concentrated change, the pursuit of purity by your spouse must also address these larger concerns.

2. In cases where these larger concerns do not exist, the couple may still begin trying to fix the marriage by getting back to what they had before. Whenever your past is brighter than your future it is a recipe for despair. During a crisis, pre-crisis can seem like heaven; or the “good old days.” If this tendency is allowed to take root, then purity will have become a distraction from the broader need to be growing individuals. A good marriage can never be reduced to success in one area of life.

The evaluation below is meant to help you assess the condition of the marriage before the sexual sin interfered. It would be unwise to allow this evaluation to shift your focus from marital restoration to marital enrichment. Marital restoration (the subject of this material) involves repairing the unique and significant damage done by your spouse’s sexual sin. Marital enrichment involves creating a pattern of life and interaction that fosters God’s design for a healthy personal and married life. Marital enrichment solidifies marital restoration; it is not a replacement for marital restoration.

Instructions: Read the following descriptive statements. Consider how well they describe your marriage before your spouse’s sexual sin. This exercise should be completed after the full disclosure and follow up in order to ensure that you know when “before” the sexual sin began.

(CD) Completely Disagree, (SD) Somewhat Disagree, (NS) Not Sure,
(SA) Somewhat Agree, or (CA) Completely Agree

Click here for assessment tool: Evaluation – Condition of Marriage Before Sexual Sin

Remember this evaluation is not your new “to do list” replacing the marital restoration efforts under way. Any couple taking this assessment would find aspects of marital enrichment to work on. Your goal in this assessment is to identify any long-standing marital problems that would have contributed to the sexual sin or undermine the sustained progress achieved during the restoration process.

10 Ways Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin Effects You

This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sinseminar notebook.

As you seek to understand the impact of your spouse’s sexual sin upon you, it is important to recognize that these impacts will come in two varieties: (1) impacts for which understanding, time, and removing the destructive elements of the suffering story are the remedy; and (2) impacts which call for actions from you or your spouse in order to counter the effects of the suffering. For the first variety, the corrective elements will be defined in chapters four through six. For the second variety, the corrective elements will be defined in chapters seven and eight. Your goal in this chapter is merely to “understand.” If reflecting on these aspects of impact on you is overwhelming, remember you can take your time – recovery is not a race.

There is the obvious emotional impact of your spouse’s sexual sin: numbness, anger, despair, fear, jealousy, regret, embarrassment, shame, depression, and other emotions. These emotions are assumed in each of the impacts discussed below. But the ten changes below focus more on the relational or dispositional affects than the emotional expressions. Most of them have to do with influences that began before the discovery of your spouse’s sin or common unhealthy ways of responding to a spouse’s sexual sin.

1. Tolerating an Unhealthy Lifestyle: Unhealthy does not always mean unfaithful, but unfaithful requires increasing doses of unhealthy in order to grow. The types of unhealthy marital habits can small or large: keeping the computer in a low traffic area of home, not communicating schedules and having blocks of unaccounted for time, separate budgets and unmonitored spending, recreating in mixed gender settings without your spouse, allowing personal hobbies or work to crowd out time for marriage, crude or demanding language about sex, responding in anger to questions about time or money, or growing disinterest and infrequency in sex. When sexual sin is a part of your spouse’s life and you do not know it, then these unhealthy lifestyle changes become the “normal” of your household.

Read Ephesians 4:3-13. Paul says that the lifestyle associated with sexual sin “must not even be named among you (v. 3).” The lifestyle characteristics described above should be changed; not just because they make you uncomfortable, but because they create an atmosphere where sexual sin (and many other sins) are easy. When Paul talks of major changes to language that are “out of place” (v. 4) he says that this should be done with thanksgiving (both in content of speech and attitude of heart). It is not in response to your preferences that these changes should be made (insinuating when you are “less sensitive” things can return to “normal”) but in response to God’s design for a healthy marriage.

2. Changing Role or Identity: It is hard to live in sin and live responsibly. As the offending spouse becomes less responsible, the offended spouse takes on the role of parent, nag, stiff, or rescuer. If the offending spouse is generally irresponsible, these relational roles can become an identity. After the sin has been discovered the roles can become even more pronounced. After discovery, the offended spouse can feel a sense of identity confusion (i.e., “I feel lost. I don’t know who you are or I am anymore.”) or escape into other roles (i.e., devoting yourself fully the kids or work to avoid the pain and confusion that comes with being a spouse).

 “[Case Study and testimony] Lorie, 34, is a nurse and mother of two young children. She believed that her 10-year marriage to Todd, an engineer, was good. True, their sex life had decreased recently, but Todd told her it was because he was involved in an important and demanding project at work, and he was usually exhausted by evening… Lorie’s life began to fall apart when she accidentally discovered Todd’s secret sexual life on the computer… She later said, ‘I felt total distrust in myself, my spouse, and the relationship. I felt betrayed, confused, afraid, and stunned. The person I loved and trusted most in the world had lied about who he was. I felt I had lived through a vast and sinister cover-up (p. 24).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

Read Ephesians 5:22-33. At this time it is better to read this passage for a refresher on marriage functioning. Your marriage is strained and away from what God designed it to be. But it is important to notice that in each case the spouse role (husband and wife) is secondary to and an example of the relationship with God (“as to the Lord” and “as Christ”). Whenever we face trials we have tendency to define ourselves by our struggle. In times like these it is easy to be defined by your marriage more than your God. When that is the case how you see yourself and how you relate to your spouse will be negatively affected..

3. Acquiring Controlling Tendencies: “I don’t want to be hurt again.” The controlling tendency has a very understandable origin. “Healthy” (discussed in impact variable one) becomes controlling when it doesn’t allow the other person to voluntarily choose “healthy.” Controlling claims to know what you’re thinking, feels threatened to be wrong, must have “say” not just awareness of money and time, or demands proof of subjective realities. After the betrayal of sexual sin, these responses are usually done more from self-protection than vengeful punishment. But regardless of motive they eat away at the betrayed, now controlling spouse and withers efforts at marital restoration. Control promises safety but provides a counterfeit version of safety at the cost of creating an environment for healthy restoration.

“What you will have to face, Kelly, is that you cannot make your husband do the right thing. You cannot talk him into it; you can’t shame him into it; you can’t police him into it; and you can’t threaten him into it. However, what you can do is begin learning the secret of how to entrust him into the hands of the Lord. After all, only God can change his heart (p. 94-95).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

4. Becoming Inconsistent: This is the other side of the controlling tendency. Inconsistency can come into your life in several ways. First, before discovery, you may find that nothing you do makes a difference in the marriage and begin to give up on things that are important. Second, after discovery, you may make so many declarations about changes that “should be made” that not all of them can be done consistently or find that some of them were not as relevant as they seemed in your initial fear. You begin to feel weak or hypocritical for not following through on what you said. Third, after discovery, you become emotionally overwhelmed and quit in areas of life or marriage that you know to be important. Regardless of its cause a lifestyle of inconsistency establishes itself and eats away at the good intentions of a healthy marriage.

5. Growing Gullible or Cynical: The lies of a spouse’s sexual sin can push the offended spouse in one of two unhealthy directions: gullible or cynical. You feel torn. “At some point I have to give the benefit of the doubt, right?” But on the other hand, “So much that sounded plausible was a lie, why believe anything but my doubts now?” It feels like the only choice is to believe everything or believe nothing. “Truth” begins to feel like a cruel joke. You want it to know the truth, but each time you have thought you did, it changes (i.e., more of the story comes out or another hurtful choice is made).

“One of the terrible and frightening aspects of sin is the unbelief it fosters (p. 141).” Steve Gallagher in At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry

Read Hebrews 2:10-18. This passage raises the question of trust in the midst of suffering. That is the difficult battle you are facing as you seek to resist being either gullible or cynical – learning how to trust wisely in the midst of suffering. Notice the passage ends with Jesus compassion for your predicament (v. 18). Jesus to was betrayed by one he committed His life to (Matt 10:1-4), whom he trusted enough to manage His earthly money (John 13:29), and had the power to destroy Him with affection (Luke 22:47-48). You may feel like this skepticism and uncertainty is a “lifelong slavery” (v. 15) know that Jesus is able to deliver. He is with you in the midst of this uncertainty (Heb. 13:20-21) and will ultimately let the truth be known (Heb. 4:12-13). The True Betrayal and False Love studies are designed to allow truth to be known by confession, which is best for your spouse’s restoration and the benefit of your family.

6. Growing Passive Toward Life: “It doesn’t matter what I do.” These are painful words. Whenever we speak them it reveals that we have lost the exclusive ability to do, protect, or create what is most important to us. They are the words of a parent whose child has a terminal disease, the business owner facing bankruptcy, and the spouse whose partner has been unfaithful. Nothing feels permanent, solid, or dependable anymore. Emotional or relational investment no longer guarantee the desired result like they once seemed to. It is easy in this environment to become passive in such a way that depression becomes a cocoon protecting you from the unpleasant realities of your marriage and family.

Read Philippians 3:7-16. Paul knew he did not have what it took to continue (v. 12a) and that what he had been building his life upon was not capable sustaining him through his current situation (v. 7). He had to remind himself and his readers to “press on” and not allow this sense of being overwhelmed to paralyze them (v. 12b). Paul did not literally forget his past (v. 13). He frequently referenced it (2 Cor. 11:21-33; 1 Tim. 1:12-17). But Paul is talking about not allowing our past to define us more than God’s ability to work in our present and future. This is the mark of maturity (v. 15) to which he was striving and calls on us to strive for.

7. Growing Insecurity: This insecurity may be expressed through fear or anger, but regardless of its expression you begin to live with a constant barrage of questions about yourself, your spouse, and your marriage. Everything is being evaluated and there seem to be no certain answers to any of the questions. The net effect of living in this kind of questioning is that everything begins to feel personal, as if it is a commentary on your actions and worth. It is from this self-referential way of thinking that each action, word, or even silence in you day begins to illicit fear, doubt, anger, quick hope, deep disappointment, and other intense emotions.

“We wives need to know that when we allow fear and doubt to consume our minds we become just as self-centered as the man who is controlled by lust. Why? Because when we do, we are only thinking about ourselves, and everything centers around us (p. 65).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart

Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-18. Paul is in the midst of an intense and personal conflict. He is struggling with how he comes across (weak in person; strong in his letters). He wants to maintain the humility of Christ while boldly answering his critics who question his ministry. Notice how Paul struggles to avoid making an intensely personal conflict self-referential. From the tone of his public letter, it is safe to say that Paul also struggled to maintain this distinction in his personal thought/emotional life. Be encouraged by his vulnerability while learning from his example.

8. Living a One Variable Life: Living a one variable life can happen in several ways after a spouse’s sexual sin. First, as your marriage becomes the most intense issue in your life, it is easy to allow the condition of your marriage to define your life. Second, you can focus on the “one thing” your spouse should do next as if it would make everything better. Third, you can use your fluctuating response to your spouse’s sin as the measure of your faith in or walk with God. However we reduce our life to a single variable it has two effects: (a) it makes our world smaller, and (b) it makes every problem in our now small world seem bigger. The result is that we create a mental environment that is inhospitable for hope or encouragement.

9. Relating as a Codependent: Codependency can be defined as a relational style built upon the false assumption that sin plays by consistent rules. The “game” in codependency is to learn the “rules of sin” (at least the particular sin of the particular person that is affecting you) so that you can prevent the sin from occurring. The “advantage” to the game is that it gives the façade of control over another person. The problem with codependency is that these rules do not exist, it makes you responsible for your spouse’s sin, and it results in the preferences of your spouse becoming your functional god. As you resist the urge to relate codependently, you will experience the fear of realizing that your spouse’s sexual sin is outside your ability to control. But you will also be laying the foundation for a marriage that can be a relationship of mutually responsible, mutually honoring people.

10. Post-Traumatic Stress: After the discovery of your spouse’s sexual sin, it is common to live with a high degree of emotional and situational intensity for a period of time. This can be “traumatic” in both the descriptive and clinical sense of the word.

“The deception and the secret life of the sex addict bring unprecedented turmoil, fear, and pain to the partner (p. 11).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

In some cases, this trauma can create the experience of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD). PTSD is when an individual faces an event he/she is unprepared to handle and the impact of that event has a lingering impact on life functioning. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms six months after the discovery of your spouse’s sin, then you are likely experiencing the affects of PTSD. As you create a safe and transparent home environment, these symptoms should subside. If not, then seeking personal counseling for these affects is advisable.

  • Intrusive recollections of the events surrounding your spouse’s sexual sin or your discovery.
  • Recurrent dreams associated with your spouse’s sexual sin.
  • Flashbacks where you feel like you are re-experiencing your spouse’s sin or the discovery of it.
  • Intense distress when you experience things that remind you of your spouse’s sexual sin.
  • Feelings of detachment from others.
  • Difficulty concentrating at your normal levels.
  • Hypervigilance – always looking for what is about to go wrong.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Adultery” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Pornography” post which address other facets of this subject.

C.S. Lewis, Moral Compound Interest, and Spiritual Warfare

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible (p. 132).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This is a great picture of spiritual warfare. When I have read books or articles on spiritual warfare they seem to fall into one of two camps: (a) sensational portrayals that rely on imagination more than Scripture or (b) theological accurate descriptions that sound like an academic lecture on WWII more than one of its battles. This quote is both vivid and accurate.

Spiritual warfare does primary boil down to obedience. Most of the commands that give instruction to Christians interacting with dark forces sound like “stand firm” (Eph 6:13) or “take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:5). Most of our battles with Satan boils down to don’t listen to his lies and don’t follow his example.

But Lewis’ imagery does not leave obedience as simple obedience. Rather every act of obedience is strategic obedience and every act of disobedience is a strategic fall. Ground is being won and ground is being lost. Two armies are marching across the terrain of my soul, each has a markedly different agenda, one will win, and my moral choices will determine who has the “home field advantage.”

Lewis shows me the importance of every day obedience while calling my soul to attention. The “normal” is no longer “mundane.” Lewis does not pressure me to do more than I can do or to try to redo what Jesus has already done (defeat Satan). Instead he shows me the importance of every “little” thing I do.

At the same time, as I read Lewis’ description I am not left in a fearful guessing game – where is Satan going to try to attack next? I simply “guard my post” at the next area of obedience. As a single soldier I am not asked to grasp the whole war. I am called to perform my role and trust that my general (God) is more clever and powerful than the enemy’s general.

With this mentality entrenched, I am reminded that the most dangerous question I can ask is a version of, “What’s the big deal if I…? It won’t hurt if I don’t…? Whose going to know if…?” These minimizing questions become the small points of encroachment for my enemy. They are not themselves defeat. But they are the points of advance from which my enemy would ultimately launch his attacks of victory.

Another truth this imagery reminds us of is that life never stands still—we may progress or regress, but stagnation is a myth. There is always an agenda for our life that is “winning.” Our life is always “advancing” one kingdom (God’s) or another (our own). We are always building a momentum. At any given moment we may not yet have fallen or flown, but we are gaining the speed necessary to soar or crash.

So the instruction is simple. Guard your post. But the motivation should be vivid. Each act of obedience is winning strategic ground for your Savior or the adversary.