Reader Question: I Caught My Dad Watching Porn

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. With the Christmas holidays approaching and extended family being more on our minds, I thought this sad one would be an important one to answer. What do you do if you catch your dad watching porn (or another married relative)?

My reader writes:

I’m in my mid-twenties and still living at home while I finish up graduate school. I’m very blessed to have parents who are willing to support me financially while I pursue my career goals. But I have a HUGE problem: two years ago I walked in on my dad watching porn while my mom was at her weekly women’s bible study. In the two years since, I have walked in on or came close to walking in on him watching porn several times so I know this is a regular occurrence. I believe that God has allowed me to discover this about him. My dad has acted like nothing has changed between us, and I think that is because he has convinced himself that I did not actually see anything. There are times that he is colder towards me or dismissive and angry. He has verbally abused me on a few occasions and yelled at me for being a “petulant child” then the next minute swings back into his normal temperate state like nothing was even said. He has never treated me like this when my mom is around, and no one else in my family knows what he is like behind closed doors. Either my mom has no idea that he watches porn or has convinced herself that there is nothing that she can do about it. She has counseled me that porn use is an automatic no in a dating relationship (my dad was in the room when she said this-awkward few minutes for me).

I really need advice on what to do. I really do not want to see my dad in sinful bondage like this, but I am fearful because I am financially dependent on my parents allowing me to stay at home. I have debated and prayed and asked for advice on whether or not to confront my dad. I want him to get help, I want my parents to have a real, healthy marriage. But I have no idea how to go about that as an adult daughter still at home. There are lines that I am afraid to even toe for fear of retribution. I’ll be honest, I am very uncomfortable living in my own home and spend most of my time shut up in my room. I need advice on something, anything I can do to try and help make this situation bearable. Keeping my dad’s secret is exhausting, not just the porn use, but his verbal treatment of me at times.

This is a really hard situation, and I want to raise just a few issues which could help people make decisions about what to do in a case like this.

Do you keep the secret if you catch your dad--or another married relative--watching porn? Some thoughts on how to stop the cycle of lies in families.

You Are Not Responsible for Keeping Someone’s Marriage Together

No one is responsible for anyone’s marriage other than our own. Yes, we need to support our friends’ marriages, but that doesn’t mean that if we rock the boat and the marriage falls apart we are somehow to blame.

If something falls apart because of truth, then that something wasn’t really together in the first place. Look, what you want is for your parents (or other relatives in other cases) to have a good marriage. A good marriage is one that honors God. And Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is the Truth, and Jesus is in the Truth. We should never flee from the truth.

And if you really are the thing holding a marriage together (like if you telling a secret would break up a marriage) then that marriage wasn’t really together in the first place. Our aim should be for truth and God. God works when things are brought to light, not when things are hidden and when people refuse to address issues and work on them. Hiding things is lying. Often family tries to suck us in to agree with a big “family lie”, but that isn’t your role and it isn’t right. The Truth is what is right, and don’t ever let someone else convince you otherwise.

Secrets Eat at a Family

Secrets get replicated. What happens in one generation often gets passed on to the next, even if it’s never explicitly talked about. A woman marries a man who cheats, and even though the kids never specifically know that he cheats, somehow they all pick similar people to marry. These patterns repeat.

I once knew something about a young man at our church that I knew the parents would want to know. I went through a bit of a crisis of conscience, wondering if it was really my place to get involved. Is it honestly my business? But it came back to this: If someone knew something like that about my child, I would want to be told. And so how could I not tell his parents? They had the chance to do something about it if they knew; by not sharing the secret I wasn’t actually helping him or helping my friends (his parents). I was just allowing him to engage in really damaging behaviour under the radar.

In this case, her father is engaged in really dangerous behaviour. That sinful porn addiction is also likely responsible for the verbal abuse and the cavalier attitude about other things. Porn affects all aspects of our lives. I believe it needs to be told, either to her mom or to a pastor or to somebody, but it is absolutely not fair that she be put in a position where she feels like she has to keep a secret. That’s too big a burden to put on someone.

If you’re the one dealing with this, though, one word of caution:  you may tell your mom and she may choose to do nothing. That is her choice. But you have now given her a choice, and that’s important, in and of itself. Now you can let go of it.

We All Need a Support System

Find some mentors that you can tell these things to–not a whole lot of people, but some, who can pray for you before you disclose the secret and who can pray for you as you try to live in this environment. You can’t carry this all by yourself anymore.

We Need a Safe Place to Live

Here’s another thing that’s so important to realize: we all need a safe place to live. So many studies have been written about the effects of living in a toxic environment. If you are putting up with verbal abuse and lies because you need to save money, you still are likely paying too high a cost.

Toxic people hurt you. They give you a negative outlook on life. They wreck your self-esteem. They make you pessimistic and sad. That’s not a good combination.

Sometimes Life Involves Risk

Disclosing your dad’s porn use is risky; you may not be able to live at your parents’ house anymore. But often doing the right thing is also doing the risky thing. The reason so many of us live miserable lives is because we choose to live with the secrets rather than rocking the boat. And when we do that we limit what God can do.

God really can do amazing things, but He tends to do those things when we open ourselves up, make ourselves vulnerable, and stop trying to protect ourselves.

And that may mean not just disclosing a secret, but also moving out.

And it doesn’t have to be that expensive! A female grad student who stays in her room on wifi? Do you know how great a tenant that is? My mom rented out a room to a college student a few  years ago really inexpensively. If you’re prepared to just take a room in someone’s home, you can often find an older woman or an older couple who just needs a little more income and who has a spare room. Sometimes someone in your church, if you let the need be known, may do it for free to help you get on your feet. It’s not like you necessarily have to rent a whole apartment.

The unknown is scary, but when we step there, God opens doors.

One More Thing: Porn is Not Inevitable

This woman’s mom said that porn is inevitable in a dating relationship. She’s right, it is inevitable–IF you date people who use porn and IF you tolerate it. Whatever you tolerate will continue.

Whatever you tolerate will continue. #marriagetip

Most teens will be exposed to porn (which is why it’s so important to protect the gadgets in your home! See here for a special 2-month free offer from Covenant Eyes).  But while many teens will be tempted (including girls) not all will become habitual users. And if they are habitual porn users, that needs to be dealt with before an engagement or marriage–but it absolutely CAN be defeated.

People say porn is inevitable because it gives them an “out”–if their significant other uses porn, and they haven’t wanted to rock the boat for fear of losing that person, they likely justified it to themselves by saying, “everyone uses it”. But it’s not true.

If, in your circle of friends, everybody uses it and no one is struggling to stop, then you need a new circle of friends. Porn isn’t inevitable, porn can be defeated, and many, many people are fighting for pure marriages.

So those are my thoughts for this poor woman, but I know that there are many of you in the same position–people who caught their brother-in-law using porn, or their married brother, or an uncle, or whoever. Let me leave you with one last thought: what if your sister-in-law (or whoever the spouse is) has been struggling under this burden of her husband’s porn use? What if she has thought it was hopeless? What if she has convinced herself there is nothing she can do, and she feels so alone and so dirty? And then you come to her and say, “no, this is not acceptable. You’re right to be upset.” You actually free her from the trap that she’s built for herself. You’ve spoken truth into a web of lies, and it’s amazing how one word of truth can often turn a situation around. Maybe she’s hurting, and she needs the strength to do something about it. Maybe you’re the kick in the pants, the reality check, the support she needs.

Now, I’d love to know: have you ever been in a situation where you caught a relative using porn? Or did you have secrets in your family? What did you do? Let’s talk in the comments and encourage each other!

Reader Question: Should You Wait Until You Finish College for a Relationship?

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s comes from a college-aged friend of my oldest daughter Rebecca. Should you wait until you finish college to have a relationship–or to marry?

This is a question that’s rather emotional to me, because both Rebecca and myself dated men who felt this way–and eventually ended it. Both of us were just starting relationships when we were around 18-19, and those men, who genuinely liked if not loved us, decided that they didn’t want to pursue a relationship because school was more important.

In retrospect, we’re both glad, even though it hurt horribly at the time, because I got my amazing husband and Rebecca is now in a serious relationship. But that man that I would have married in a heartbeat has now been divorced at least once, and the man Rebecca would likely have married is now alone.

I am not saying that we are the ones who caused these men’s heartache–as if, had they chosen us instead, they’d be happy now. I actually think that this idea they both had that school came first was the main cause of their current predicament–not that they lost us in particular. So let me share my reader’s question, and then I’ll look at it from several angles: the young woman; the young man; and the parents of that young man.

I have been close friends with a wonderful Christian guy for quite a while, and lately we’ve been getting a lot closer. It was obvious that he liked me and I liked him, and we seemed genuinely perfect for each other. Then out of the blue he told me that he needed to end it because school came first. What do I do?

I’m going to answer that by talking mostly to the guy in this scenario, so here goes:

Should you wait until college is over to pursue a relationship? Some thoughts on why that can backfire.

Priorities Follow You–if you prioritize work above all early, you will prioritize it later too

Rebecca and I were chatting about this question yesterday, and she said an insightful thing: “in marriage you have to deal with personality differences and family of origin differences and differences in expectations, but these can all be overcome if you share one important thing: you both feel the relationship comes first.” And she’s right. If the relationship comes first, you will work through these other things.

But here’s what happens to many people when they approach school: They think, I have made certain goals for my life academically and career-wise. And I can’t afford to have anything distracting me from my goals.

There’s a problem with that line of thinking, and it goes like this: If you decide that the main focus for your life will be your career, then the main focus of your life WILL BE YOUR CAREER. It will not automatically change once you graduate. Essentially you’re saying: I need to concentrate on my real life now, and when I am ready I will add a wife and children (or a husband and children, if the roles are reversed). And that’s the problem: you’re ADDING the wife to your life; she is not the central focus of it. You have compartmentalized your life, and you likely will continue to do so. It will be very difficult to all of a sudden do a 180 and then start thinking of your wife, and here’s why:

Life Does Not Get Any Easier After College is Over

This essentially is the biggest misconception people make about relationships and college. They’re so focused on reaching their goal–whether it’s becoming a doctor or getting that Ph.D. or whatever–that they think that once this is over I can start to live my real life.

But let me tell you: I have been married to a physician all during his training (including medical school and residency), and I have done postgraduate work myself. And while there is a unique kind of stress to school, there is stress at every stage of life. Every single stage. And it doesn’t get easier.

If you train yourself that your way of handling stress is to be alone and buckle down and get it done, then that is also the way you will handle stress when you are married. If you think you have no time for a relationship now, you will have no time for a relationship later, either–even if you do marry. Everything in life is about priorities. And deciding that a relationship is a lower priority now is also toxic to a marriage later. Those who prioritize school now are far more likely to become workaholics and have distant marriages later. Which leads me to this thought:

Don’t Underestimate the Asset that a Relationship Can Be During College

I grew up without my dad. I endured my mother and my step-father splitting up at a very vulnerable age for me (14). My son died.

But with all that, I can tell you that the thing that took the worst toll on me is the fact that my now-husband initially broke off our engagement. For three months I was alone, thinking that relationship wouldn’t work, until he came back and we started again.

Why do I share that? Because as terrible as the death of my son was, I could deal with it because I was in a good marriage. Being married strengthened me; being alone shattered me. I learned a lot from that period of my life; it was a spiritual turning point, and God used it for good. But looking back, I also know that one reason God gave us a marriage partner is so that we don’t have to take the storms of life alone. Having someone to walk through the hard times with you is a tremendous boon.

I was married during some of Keith’s hard struggles with school. Medical school was awful for him; he’s an outgoing, energetic, kind person, and having to do extreme bookwork for two years with professors constantly talking down to you was debilitating. He almost quit, and he often says that he would have had it not been for me encouraging him and telling him that being a doctor would be completely different from being a medical student. If he could just get through this, he could get through anything.

And sex didn’t hurt either.

Seriously, sex is a great stress reliever.

So here’s the thing as a student: you’re going to go through stress anyway. It’s going to be a lot of work. So you can choose to go through it alone, or you can say, “if God brings me someone, I’ll really consider it.”

There is a degree of pride in saying “I can do it on my own better.” God made us for relationship.

God’s Agenda is Not Always Our Agenda

I’m a goal-oriented person, and so I can understand being so focused on an academic goal that you decide that relationships have to wait. But I don’t think this is a wise spiritual decision.

You may have the best plan in the world–but that’s all it is. It is a plan of your own making. Do not EVER become so wedded to your own plans that you miss out on what God has for you. Keep open to the Spirit. Keep open to new things. Keep open to changing your plans. If your plans become your life, then you are cutting God out and you are standing in His place, and that’s pride. It may seem like it’s selfless–I don’t want to get into a relationship with someone when I know how much I will have to work to get through this degree, and so I’m sacrificing my own happiness for the sake of the person I may end up hurting–but it’s really pursuing your own goals no matter what.

For some people that may be what God has for them. But in my own life, every time I have thought I had a really great plan God has changed it. The people that I see who are miserable today or not living up to their potential tend to be people who have pursued their own plans. Be careful.

A Quality, God-Fearing Spouse is Not Easy to Find

Why do those two men regret me and Rebecca? Because they let us go, thinking that in their own timing they would be able to find someone like us. They felt this was an act of faith–believing that God would bring someone else when they had made themselves ready. And now they’re both lonely. (By the way, I don’t find any particular satisfaction in that; when I was 20 I would have. Today I’m just so grateful my life turned out as it did).

God does not work on our timetable. And if you find someone that you respect and admire and get along with easily and laugh together who also loves God–do not give that up lightly.

Break Up Because the Relationship Won’t Work, Not Because the Timing Won’t Work

If you end something, it should be because God has shown you the person won’t work. Timing isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s an obstacle, that’s all. Jacob had to work fourteen years for Rachel in the Old Testament story, but he didn’t abandon her just because of timing. “A wife of noble character is hard to find”–as is a husband of noble character. Don’t shut a door that you don’t know will open again. That may feel like an act of faith, but from what I’ve seen, it’s more likely that you’re substituting your own plans for God’s plans.

But What About Money to Support a Spouse?

After all, if you marry, shouldn’t you be able to support someone? Isn’t that a legitimate reason to wait?

It may be a legitimate reason to wait to marry; but I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to wait to have a relationship.

First, if you’re living off of student loans and part-time jobs to put yourself through school, chances are it’s cheaper to be married and live in one household anyway, so money shouldn’t really be a factor in that case. When Keith and I married we saved money, and because we were married we also qualified for more government assistance because they stopped taking our parents’ income into account.

But what if you’re going through school on your parents’ dime? Here’s where parents need to enter the conversation. With our daughters, we are paying a certain percentage of their undergraduate costs (once you’re in grad school you can earn your own way). We have always decided to do that, and it doesn’t change if they marry. So they don’t get cut off from support for school just because they marry.

Last Words to the Young Woman:

To the woman who asked this question, you need to move on and run far away from this guy. If he can’t prioritize you now, he would not be able to prioritize you if you ever married, either. Run close to God, and God will fill the gaping hole you’re feeling right now. And God will bring someone into your life who WILL prioritize you–don’t ever settle for less.

Last Words to the Young Man:

I do understand how important school is. I understand the urge not to pursue a relationship because everything is so up in the air, and you don’t feel you have the time to dedicate to a relationship right now. If no young woman presents herself, then this may honestly be okay. But be careful of ending a potential relationship with a great young woman over timing, because the timing will never get better. And ask yourself this: in twenty years, what do I want most? A great career, or a great marriage and family? If the answer is “a great career”, then you likely should remain single always. That isn’t fair to a spouse. And if the answer is “a great marriage and family”, then that doesn’t happen automatically.

You can’t wall yourself off from people now and expect to be able to prioritize them later. Tread carefully; listen to God’s voice; and keep your eyes open.

Last Words to the Parents:

We live in an age where we value status and career almost over everything else. This is a mistake. The most important aspect of your child’s life will be the legacy he or she leaves behind. For some of us, that will be about career, but for most of us, it’s about family. And family often speaks more to character than anything else. Don’t push your child away from relationships in college, because that’s giving the wrong message about what’s really important in life.

You may also like: Top 10 Reasons to Marry Young

And now, let me know: what do you think? Can and should college and relationships be combined? Leave me a comment and tell me your experiences!

 

Christian Sex Toy Parties: Are They a Good Idea?

Christian Sex Toy Parties: Are they a good idea?

What do you do if you’re invited to one of those “fun” sex toy parties?

Reader Question of the WeekIt’s Monday, the day when I post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today I want to tackle these sex toy parties–especially the “Christian” sex toy parties. Here’s a reader’s question:

I love to read your blog and when I was wrestling with this in my head I was curious what you would do. A good friend of mine has a direct sales business with “girls’ nights in” to explore sex toys, lubes, lingerie, other “fun” things for couples that her company sells. She’s asked me to do parties for her before and I’m skeptical only b/c we don’t like toys, and I just feel like this area of my life is more private (like I don’t share w/ anyone except for my BFF, not a room full of guests in my home). So what are your thoughts on this? Am I too uptight? Thanks!

Great question, and I’ve got a bit of a multifaceted answer. So here we go!

There’s a Difference Between Sex Aids and Sex Replacements

I’m all for using lube–It’s indispensable when you’re just married and you’re nervous about sex, and it becomes indispensable again when you’re in perimenopause/menopause and you aren’t quite as well lubricated as you used to be. It makes quickies easier, and it often makes arousal easier.

Similarly, I’m a big fan of lingerie. I think most women feel a lot more confident with a little bit of material on, and most men really appreciate us in lingerie! It also shows that we’re making an effort.

Massage candles, massage oil, even feathers–awesome! Some of the things that you use to make intercourse easier or more pleasurable–I’m fine with that. Really (though I’m not going to spell them all out). But there is a difference between something that makes enhances sex and something that basically replaces a partner during sex. For instance, I know there are times when vibrators are important–I’ve talked to some readers with health issues who have found that a husband using a vibrator on his wife is one of the only ways that he can give her pleasure, and I do understand that.

It’s just that, in general, the more you use a vibrator, the less likely you are to orgasm during intercourse because the feeling is so much more intense. No guy can vibrate like that. And I could say similar things about some other sex toys.

And the problem is that most of these parties don’t distinguish between the two, and that makes me uncomfortable. Many of them ask to advertise on this site, and I always say no. It’s not that I think sex toys are a sin–I don’t. It’s just that I think that many fall into the category of “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” that we read in 1 Corinthians 10:23.

You don’t want to stress the physical aspect of sex over the spiritual/emotional aspect

Good Girls Guide My SiteHere’s an argument I’ve made before, so I won’t dwell on it much here. But those who tend to enjoy sex the most are also those who are the most intimate–who have been married for about a decade and a half, and who rate their spiritual intimacy as quite high. In the surveys that I did for my book The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, where I explained this point in great detail, I said that the best way to make sex better was to feel more intimate already. In fact, prayer actually makes a woman more orgasmic (which I know seems weird, but it’s true!)

I firmly believe that you can be both hot and holy–and indeed, the two tend to go hand in hand (as the holy-meter increases, so does the hot-meter!) But because of that, if we ignore the holy part entirely and simply look at the mechanics of sex, we often lose out on the beauty.

Those who feel closer will also feel more vulnerable and will be able to explore more. Sex will be awesome. But if you only look at the increasing the physical aspect without the other, then you often lose something. And especially in this culture where I’ve found the biggest sexual problem most couples have is that they’ve made sex completely physical–because of porn, or the way they were brought up, etc–then doing something else which reinforces that doesn’t end up helping sex.

You can read more about this in the Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, or in my post on Christians and sex toys.

Bondage is a slippery slope

Here’s another issue–many, if not most, of today’s sex toys are bondage oriented, especially after the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey. And bondage humiliates and degrades, and treats a woman as if she were an impersonal object.

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's HeartLook–tying someone up playfully can definitely enhance sensation. When you can’t move, you feel everything more. Tying them up with the intention of hurting them in some way (like spanking and whipping) or humiliating them is an entirely different thing. And as I wrote before, I just don’t see how that correlates with treating someone in a loving way.

For more about this argument, see the book Pulling Back the Shades.

Remember the “weaker brother” argument when it comes to sex toy parties

In Romans 14, Paul makes a long argument about how we have to be careful not to put a stumbling block in another person’s way. We may not have an issue with something, but if another Christian does, and we pursue it anyway, it could cause them to stumble.

The classic example here is alcohol: you and your husband may enjoy a glass of wine, but if you serve alcohol to someone who is a former alcoholic, you’re causing them to stumble. Better to leave the wine somewhere else and serve orange juice.

So let’s say that you have a friend whose marriage has been under strain because of porn issues, or because her husband wants her to do things she doesn’t want to do, or because she’s wanted to push some boundaries a little too far. And then you invite her to one of these parties, thinking it’s just a “fun” way to spice up your life.

Her conscience may have been working on her lately: I need to confront my husband and tell him we’re not watching porn together anymore. I need to confront my husband and tell him that I want our marriage bed to be pure.

You then invite her to a party, and she thinks, “Maybe I’ve been hearing God wrong! Maybe I’ve just been too uptight. I mean, here’s my friend who is an awesome Christian and she’s advertising dildos and vibrators and lots of things, so obviously I’ve been wrong thinking that our sex life has become too impersonal. Anything goes, because there’s freedom in marriage!”

And she’s now silenced the Holy Spirit who has been working on her in this area.

Look, for some people using all of these things may not affect their intimacy or marriage in the slightest. But for some it really might. And in the same way that you wouldn’t host a wine tasting or shots party for the College & Career group in your church–even if you drink wine or the occasional mixer–why would you host a sex toy party for people when you really don’t know their back story?

Spread the word about how great sex is

The church has been really sex-negative in the past, and we do need to become more sex-positive and start talking about sex more. We need to tell our friends, “I enjoy sex, and if you’re not having sex in your marriage, that’s bad and I want to help you”. We need to stop making this a secret.

I totally agree.

I just don’t think that these sex toy parties are the way to do that. So I’d love to know in the comments: How can we become more vocal and sex positive WITHOUT going to the extreme? And if you think I’m wrong about the sex toy parties, leave a comment, too! Let’s start a discussion.

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Reader Question: My Husband is Too Tired for Sex

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s is one that lots of people struggle with: what do we do if we’re just too tired for sex?

What advice do you offer women who are married to men who are a little older and say they have the desire to have sex but just don’t feel up to it? I’m 36, hubby is 56. I have lupus, he has injuries from the war in Iraq. Neither one of us are rock stars. But I married a sex crazed man four years ago and now I’m doing good if we have sex once a month. It’s hard not to take it personally. When I try talking to him about it I see the hurt in his eyes, like he feels he’s letting me down. How do I accept that this is just the way it is? How do I protect my heart and mind?

Okay, ladies, it’s time for a bit of a pep talk today!

Maybe I’m just in an energetic mood because I finally finished all the major revisions for my new book (9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage) and got it off to the publishers, and I feel like I have my life back, but let’s think positively today! I’m going to comment on the general issue of feeling too tired for sex, and not on this particular letter writer’s issue, because I really don’t know what his health condition is. So let’s think of some general principles:

Too Tired for Sex? How to find energy again in your marriage!

Live out your priorities–If you’re too tired for sex, are you too tired for everything else too?

I’m not trying to diminish the reality of being exhausted. I know many people are–especially when we’re getting little sleep because of shift work or because we’re in school studying for exams or because we’re pregnant. And when it’s a short term thing–like exams or pregnancy–grace should abound.

But look long-term for a moment. If sex is a priority (and it should be), then make sure you prioritize it! Don’t make it come last. If you have health issues, then you are only going to have energy for certain things. Make sure sex is one of them. Don’t overcommit yourselves to stuff. Don’t have all kinds of energy to clean the house or work on a hobby, and then collapse into bed. Make sex one of the first things on your list–not just something you do at the end of the day “if” you have energy left.

I’ve written in previous posts about how scheduling sex can work for some people, and in this case it may be a very good idea. If you know, we’re going to make love Tuesday night, then you can make sure that Tuesday you get ready! You don’t play video games until 1 in the morning. You don’t work late if you don’t have to. You get ready for sex!

Read it here: Scheduling Sex

Wasting time makes you more tired

Here’s another truth: when we’re tired, we tend to gravitate towards inactive things, like watching TV or surfing the internet. These activities, however, SAP your energy. They don’t preserve it.

That’s true for several reasons, but here are just a few: we know that these things don’t actually add tremendously to our lives, in the same way that talking to a friend, doing a hobby, journaling, or taking a walk do. And because of that, they tend to sap our souls. There’s nothing wrong with them in moderation (and I knit now when I watch netflix, which turns it into a hobby!), but have you ever spent an entire day watching TV and then at the end of the day thought, “where did today go?” It’s depressing because that’s time you can never get back. And if you have tendencies towards depression already, screens tend to make it worse, while fresh air tends to make it better.

God created us for a purpose, and when we spend too much time on activities with no lasting value, we hurt our own souls (and we contribute to mental  health issues, which is often a reason that we feel too tired for sex).

Also, when we’re tired and in pain, sitting in one place for prolonged periods of time tends to reinforce that. I have a friend who suffers from circulation issues due to severe burns she suffered as a child and rheumatoid arthritis (and she’s relatively young)! She recently got one of those pedometers that counts the number of steps you take a day. Her average is 16,000–and she doesn’t really go for walks. She’s just always on her feet at home. I took her out to dinner last Saturday for her birthday, and we sat at the restaurant and talked for a while. It was much longer than she usually lets herself sit down. When we got ready to go, she was really stiff.

“That’s why I don’t let myself watch TV,” she said. “If I were to sit and watch a movie, I’m done for. I have to keep moving.”

Of course this depends on the severity of the problem, but in the vast majority of medical issues, moving helps, and sitting in one place hinders. Another friend of mine with fibromyalgia qualified as a life guard when she was 50 and now teaches Aquafit. If she doesn’t swim, her body stiffens up too much. Of course it’s hard to get the motivation to move when you’re in pain, but ultimately it can help get that pain under control.

Again, it depends on the condition (certain back issues, for instance, make any movement too difficult). But sitting in one place watching a screen is rarely a good idea.

Do you get enough rest?

The average person needs eight hours of sleep a night. Certain chronic pain conditions, of course, make it difficult to get a full night’s sleep.

However, most people just don’t sleep enough today because of screens. We get watching a show and we stay up later than we intended. Or we stay up until we fall asleep on the couch. That increases our chances of depression and makes our sleep far worse. If you want to sleep well, turn off the screen at least 45 minutes before you intend to hit the pillow.

If you want to make sex a priority, set a bedtime when the screens go off! Head to bed at 10 and just talk with each other. Give each other a massage before bed.

Make it happen

As we get older our bodies fall apart, and some of us will have conditions that will cause that to happen more rapidly. It isn’t fair–but it’s life. The question is: what will you do about it? And likely there is so much more that you can do than you think!

Talk to your spouse and say, “I want us to have as much fun as possible, and to have as much energy as possible!” And sex, of course, increases your energy levels because it releases good hormones, relaxes you, and helps the quality of your sleep.

Many of us have bodies that are falling apart because we just aren’t treating them well. We live far too sedentary lives, we don’t feed them well, and we don’t rest enough.

So schedule sex. Turn off the screens. Move as much as you can. Go to bed at a decent hour. Give LOTS of massages. This won’t work for all health conditions–I’ve written before about what to do if health issues make intercourse impossible. But I think many of us are settling for crumbs in life when we can still have so much more! Sometimes we get into these bad habits because it’s just so easy. We’re tired at the end of the day, so sitting in front of  a screen seems enticing. But it won’t really help in the long run.

Ask yourself: is the way I’m living my life sapping my physical and emotional energy, or giving me more? If it’s sapping it, do a re-examination. Sometimes it just takes a few tweaks for you to find you have your life back!

Let us know: what have you found? Have you had something in your life that sapped your energy that you had to get rid of? Or did you find another way to boost your energy? Leave us a comment and tell us!

Reader Question: How Do I Talk To My Kids About Sex?

Reader Question of the WeekThis week I’m going full throttle, doing the final edits for my upcoming book, 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage. So I’ve asked some awesome friends to guest post for me. And I thought I’d start with this week’s Reader Question about talking to your kids about sex. A mom wrote in and asked:

I have an 3 kids under 8. We have had conversations about aspects of the relationship between men and women, how babies come out of the women’s body (not yet talked about how they get in there in the first place though) and other things like that. But we have not yet talked about the actual act of sex. I’ve heard reports that you need to have this conversation with your kids between the ages of 7-9, after that age they will have most likely gotten the information from friends or stumbling across it online.

So my question is, how do you start this conversation? I am very comfortable talking about sex with adults, but my 8 year old son is a whole other area! So I thought i’d see if you had any thoughts or advice on how you may have done this with your kids. Thanks so much!

Great question! And so I’ve asked Luke Gilkerson, from Intoxicated on Life, who has just come out with a book on this very subject to chime in. Here’s Luke:

Talking to Your Kids About Sex

“Why is my penis so big?”

This was the way my five-year-old greeted me one morning. Though he probably had experienced an erection hundreds of times before this, for some unknown reason, on that morning it confounded him. I explained to him, “That’s called an erection. Your penis is supposed to do that from time to time. There are special blood vessels in your penis that fill up with blood and make your penis hard and straight.” In the flurry of morning activities, that was all that was said, and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the time being.

Children are sexual beings—not in the sense that they are mature enough for sex but in the sense that they have sexual anatomy and curiosities. Their gender defines something important about who they are. For that reason, teaching our kids about human gender and sexuality is an important piece of their education, even from a young age.

Anxieties About Sex

Ever since I released my parent-child Bible study about sexuality, The Talk, I’ve received questions from many parents—some of them filled with questions and anxiety—about how talk to young kids about sex. I understand this anxiety. For many of us, sex has either burned us in the past or we were raised in a world where sex was never discussed. We remember the angst of puberty, first crushes, first kisses, discovering masturbation, discovering pornography, and perhaps specific sexual sins we regret. Sex is not a topic some relish talking about.

In some sense, the fear of talking about sex with our kids is normal because we know sex is a powerful force, and whatever we say to our kids about it, we want to say right.

Too Much Too Soon?

Some parents fear saying too much too soon to their young children. Won’t these conversations spark sexual curiosity in them too early?

I think it is important to dissect the question a bit.

  • First, what is meant by “sexual curiosity”?
  • Second, what is meant by “too early”?

For some parents, curiosity about sex, especially in children, is seen as somehow dirty. For these parents, sexual curiosity is intimately linked to sexual sin. In reality, this is far from the truth. Sexual curiosity includes a wide variety of interests: curiosity about sexual anatomy (one’s own and that of the opposite sex), curiosity about how babies are made and grow, curiosity about romance, and curiosity about sexual intercourse are all as natural as the day is long. None of these curiosities is an indicator of an unhealthy or premature desire to have sex.

Furthermore, the fear that we might initiate conversations about sex “too early” is often based on the assumption that our kids are living in a sexual vacuum. This is far from the truth. Kids are coming home from the playground learning about oral sex at age 6. Kids are seeing sexual themes in video games, TV advertisements, and in the grocery store checkout aisle. Even if you take away the overtly sinful examples, kids hear about sexual themes in the midst of wholesome activities all the time: listening to a sermon, watching you and your spouse kiss, and even reading the Bible. The reason why you, as a parent, need to start conversations about sex now is because you have the opportunity to shape and mold what they are already picking up from the environment they’re in.

You will not rob a child of his or her innocence by giving them biblical and biological information about sex. Focus on the Family’s Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care says it well:

Giving a child facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mind-set if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking, or abusive context.

Talking to Young Kids About Sex (Ages 4-7)

1. Get used to it.

I have a friend who routinely speaks to groups of parents at churches addressing hot-button sexual issues like pornography. He’s a dynamic speaker and well-loved by all the audiences he addresses. He gets one complaint everywhere he goes, however: “It was a little uncomfortable when you said words like ‘testicles’ and ‘clitoris.’ Next time you do this talk you should really censor some of your words.” Good grief. If you can’t get together in a room with other adults—adults who have all chosen to gather in a room to hear a talk about pornography—and you can’t stand to hear basic anatomy terms, no wonder you can’t talk to your kids about sex.

For some, sex is embarrassing. They can’t picture saying words like “penis” and “vagina” in the same sentence—let alone talking about how they go together.

If this is you, you have three choices: push through the awkwardness, get comfortable with it, or be silent. If you don’t speak, the world will be more than happy to fill the void.

2. Teach it like you would any other subject: according to what they can grasp

You need to talk to your kids where their cognitive abilities will allow them to go. For the same reason you don’t teach your child their times tables at age 4, you also don’t have a long chat with them about the birds and the bees at age 4. Toddlers are in what is called the preoperational stage of child development. Though their language skills are maturing, they do not have logical reasoning skills. They think very concretely. Concepts like cause and effect are unknown to them.

During this stage of life, talks about sex should be brief and very concrete. My brief conversation with my son about his erection is an example of this. It was not a no-holds-barred everything-you-need-to-know conversation. It is about giving them little bits of information about sexual biology and sexual norms over time. Sometimes, time will permit you to have longer conversations, but remember to keep things focused on one subject at a time.

3. Teach it like you would any other subject: progressively over time

Don’t feel the need to have a single talk about everything sexual. Not only would this take far too long, these conversations and themes work best when they are repeated over and over, progressively over the course of a child’s life. In the early phases of life (0-3), give them correct labels for their body parts and confidence that their bodies are created by God. As they start to notice gender differences, explain some of the obvious outward differences between boys and girls. Affirm them in their gender identity. Help them practice modesty. Model how your child should joyfully react to things like pregnancies and weddings.

As your child gets older (4-8), you can unpack more information about human reproductive organs (male and female). Model the importance of privacy when it comes to nakedness. Warn them from time to time about pornography: tell them that if they see images, cartoons, photos, or videos that show naked people that is not healthy to see. Especially as they get closer to 1st and 2nd grade, children start to enter a new phase of development where they can reason more logically and can start to understand things from another’s perspective more easily, making more detailed conversations much easier.

These do not need to be sit-down, fire-side chats, but they can happen in the context of daily life as questions are asked or opportunities arise.

4. Let the Bible break the ice for you

For more formal discussions about sex, the best context is during conversations about the Bible.

First, get into the habit of opening the Scriptures together as a family, reading from the Bible, praying together, and talking biblical truths. This is Christian Parenting 101: establish a routine in your home that communicates the importance of the Bible to our understanding about God and human beings.

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualitySecond, use specific passages from the Bible to break the ice on these sexual topics. I recommend texts like Genesis 1:24-31, 2:18-25, Exodus 20:14; Psalm 139:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. These texts cover major themes like the creation of male and female, the command to procreate, the mystery and beauty of life in the womb, the evil of adultery and sexual sin, and the importance of honoring God with our bodies.

If you need help with this, my family Bible study, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, gives you a script to walk through these texts with a child

5. Let real life break the ice for you

Sometimes the most natural conversations about sex happen in the context of real life—all the way from the very wholesome or mundane to the perverse.

  • Some kids are naturally inquisitive and will be forward about their questions, like, “How do babies get in your belly?”
  • If you are around farm animals or wildlife, or if you have pets, your kids might catch animals “in the act.”
  • If your pastor preaches something with a sexual theme, your child might become curious about what is being taught.
  • If you see a pregnant woman, you can always stoke their curiosity about how God makes a baby grow in the womb.
  • If your child sees something inadvertently on TV or in a movie that has a sexual theme, don’t be silent. Ask them, “What’s wrong about the way they are portraying this?”
  • If your child comes home from school or a play date and relates some bad information he heard about sex from one of his friends, take time to correct the error.

Encouragement to Parents

The book of Proverbs, written especially for the young, warns its readers many times about the seduction of lust and easy sex. But the readers are promised they can avoid the snare of sexual sin. How?

…keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you. (Proverbs 6:20-22)

Be encouraged. Your words have power. Your commands are life giving. Your teachings are critical. In years to come, the echoes of your voice will watch over your children even in the darkest corners of temptation.


Luke GilkersonThe Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualityLuke Gilkerson is the Educational Resource Manager at Covenant Eyes, where he teaches others about staying pure online. He blogs about adventures in parenting at IntoxicatedOnLife.com with his wife Trisha.

You can buy his book, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, on Amazon in paperback or get a digital version in his online store.

Reader Question: When Your Husband’s Job Stress Wrecks Your Sex Life

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do when your husband’s job stress wrecks your sex life?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. As a doctor’s wife, I could really relate to this question from a woman whose husband’s job stress sucks the romance out of their marriage:

Hi Sheila,

I just had to write and say that hands-down, your book “a good girls guide to great sex “has been the most useful book I’ve read all year. My husband said there has been such a difference that he owes you a box of chocolates. (Sheila says: tell him truffles are my favourite!)

Speaking of my husband I have a question. He’s a youth pastor and my biggest challenge now is how do I change the mood at night for us? It’s common for him to get texts/calls from teens at night who are cutting or dealing with eating disorders or drunk parents. The mood goes from light-hearted and me being excited to having quality time with him in the bedroom to heavy burdened for these kids. Besides praying together any suggestions?

I have to admit that this is something I’ve struggled with and I don’t think I have an easy answer.

On the one hand, people would be quick to say, “you need boundaries! Just turn off the phone at night.” But when there are such horrible things happening that’s hard.

Sometimes Job Stress is Inevitable

My husband is a pediatrician who often has to respond to life and death emergencies at our small town local hospital. When we first moved here fifteen years ago, there weren’t enough pediatricians to cover the call schedule. There were often days that were completely uncovered.

And then, if an emergency happened at the hospital, what would the hospital do? They would phone Keith at our house because they were desperate, and he had a very hard time saying no, because a child could actually die.

I remember my daughter Katie’s second birthday party. We had family over, and it was a day that we had looked forward to for weeks. And just as I was lighting the candles the phone rang. A baby had been shaken and was unresponsive in the Emergency Room. Could Keith come?

He rushed to the hospital and stabilized the little boy for transport. He died a month later, and Keith testified at the trial that put the step-father in jail.

To this day I still remember that little boy’s name: Tyler Barriage. I write it here because I don’t want that poor little boy to be forgotten. He was only a little younger than my own daughter, and we were celebrating her birthday just as he was being killed.

I could have gotten angry at Keith for going into the hospital, and plenty of times I did–when it wasn’t as life and death. But that ultimately wouldn’t help.

So I don’t just want to say “get better boundaries”, because I really do understand the pull of these difficult jobs. But let me still give you some “big picture” strategies that perhaps you can use to reclaim your marriage in the midst of job stress.

Job Stress and Marriage: When job demands intrude on your relationship

Is the Job Stress Life or Death?

Some men (and some women–I can be guilty too) let their work intrude on everything. Often business owners are especially guilty of this. We have started a business and so we want to have control and make sure everything is okay. When people call at night, or when we have some spare time, we immediately respond to these job demands, and often family life falls by the wayside.

Is this life or death though? Certainly there are seasons when a business is in trouble and it needs more attention. But a relationship can’t sustain a workaholic spouse. This isn’t really the issue I’m addressing today, but I know that it is a very common one, and if your husband has a hard time putting his work away at night, perhaps you can leave some comments and I’ll try to write a follow-up post that addresses workaholism.

Does the Job Stress Just SEEM Life or Death?

What I do want to talk about today, though, is what to do with the job that actually IS life and death. But sometimes what looks like life and death may not actually be life and death.

In the letter writer’s case, I wonder if this is what’s happening. Let’s face it: if teens know that if they threaten to cut themselves that the youth pastor will drop everything and talk to you for hours, what’s going to stop them from keeping threatening to cut themselves?

If you are always at everyone’s beck and call for everything they deem a crisis, then crises will multiply.

My husband faced this, and finally the pediatricians sat down with the hospital and emergency doctors and obstetricians and said, “if you call us for everything we will burn out, and then you won’t just have 5 days a month with no one on call; you’ll never have anyone on call. So from now on you can’t call us unless it is truly life and death.”

So perhaps you can set up some systems so that people are still able to get a hold of you in emergencies, but only in emergencies.

Here’s one idea: turn off your cell phone outside of business hours, and let people know that if they have a crisis, they will have to actually phone. People text without giving it much thought. To pick up a phone and have to call someone’s house is different. You realize that you’re calling a family. You realize that it may be dinner hour. There’s more of an inconvenience aspect. And to teens who text all the time, having to phone may slow them down.

With my husband, we also got into the habit of me answering the phone. That way I could screen his calls if necessary. If you set up the expectation that “I am available all the time by text during the day, but in the evenings I’m only available in emergencies”, perhaps some of these calls will lessen.

 Recruit Others to Help

If you are in a job, especially a ministry position, where people are constantly in crisis, then you should not be the only person handling this. It isn’t healthy for the church, for you, or for the people you’re ministering to. What happens if a dozen teens rely on you for everything and then suddenly you’re in an accident or you quit your job from burnout? They have to be connected to the church, not just to you.

So set up a system where several adults become “buddies” for several friends. Or in a churchwide situation set up a system where certain elders in the church (it could be an actual position, or it could be volunteers with great wisdom) divide up the church phone book between them, and everybody knows who their own person to call is. That way the expectation is that you only call the pastor if it’s an actual emergency.

I went to a church like that almost two decades ago now. If I had an issue to talk about, I called a woman, and she was wonderful. But when my son died in the middle of the night, we called the pastor and he came down and sat with us. Now, if we had called him for everything, he would have been so burnt out he couldn’t have come the night we really needed him.

So perhaps having a talk with the leadership team at the church, or the hospital, or the police station, or wherever, and talking about how to divide up the task so that others are also responding to crises can work.

Get Out of Town Regularly

Finally, you can try all of these things and sometimes they just don’t work. With my husband’s job we managed to certainly minimize the intrusions, but they were still there.

What saved us was that we left regularly. We camped a lot in the summer. We took trips. We visited friends for weekends. And when we were away, Keith wasn’t able to help, so they didn’t call him.

Sure, there were still life and death situations, but Keith didn’t feel responsible if he wasn’t actually able to help.

For people who are always being bombarded with requests, physically removing yourself regularly throughout the year may be the only way to get some breathing room. Yes, people will still be in crisis, but you can say, “I can’t help you this weekend, and my cell phone is off, so you’ll have to call Mr. Smith instead.”

How Do You Reclaim the Evening When Job Stress Strikes?

There are some ideas about how to set some limits, but the letter writer also wanted to know: how can we reclaim the romance after a horrible phone call? I don’t have an easy answer. Certainly you can pray and try to leave it at the foot of the cross, but I know it can still ruin the mood. And that’s why I think it’s better to deal with the root of the problem and limit the requests on your time.

But if anyone has a good, practical answer to this part of the question, please leave it in the comments. How do you turn your brain off of your job and back onto your spouse after a crisis? I’d love to know!

 

Reader Question: I Think My Sister’s Husband is Controlling/Abusive

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do if you fear your sister is being abused (or your friend is being abused)?

That’s the question I want to tackle today. Every Monday I take a stab at answering a reader question, and this one is a really sad one. A reader writes:

My family and I are very concerned about my baby sister. She’s 15 yrs younger than I, married for over a decade. I’ll call her Sister1. We saw signs of this going in, but recently she moved closer to us, to be nearer to her family. However, she rarely replies to our emails, always has an excuse as to why she can’t get together with us, and once sent Sister2 away at the door because Sister1 had forgotten to tell her husband Sister 2 was coming. We’ve tried to address this with her, but again, she becomes defensive and evasive. We love her and her family very much.

We think that Sister 1’s husband is monitoring her email and other social media, maybe deleting some especially if it contains stuff he doesn’t want her to see or respond to. We don’t see any signs of physical abuse, but when we do see her without Hubby along, she is a very different person (as was her daughter, notably).

How do we handle this? I think she has a warped sense of what it means to be submissive.

Abuse is a very serious issue, and I can just imagine how heartbreaking it is to feel as if someone you love is being controlled or abused, when there’s so little you can do to help.

I’m not an abuse specialist, but I want to give some general thoughts today. I know many of my readers know more about this than I do, so if you can leave specific places for help in the comments that would be great!

Controlling Behaviour Usually is Accompanied by Abuse (and can be abusive in and of itself)

I know many people will read this letter and say, “but you don’t know if she’s being abused!”, and to a certain extent that’s true. I wrote a post earlier about what is abuse and what isn’t, and one of the characteristics of abuse is that you are always trying to appease the person and walking on eggshells around them. It does sound like this is happening here. She is scared of him for some reason.

Controlling behaviour–limiting someone’s access to friends and family, monitoring their communications–is a sign of abuse and is abusive in and of itself. It isn’t treating someone as a human being with the right to make decisions. It’s treating someone as your chattel, and that is wrong.

Such controlling behaviour is usually accompanied by other negative behaviours, whether it’s physical abuse or consistent verbal or emotional abuse, and that is dangerous.

No, we don’t know if she’s being beaten to a pulp obviously (I’m just already anticipating what some of the comments will be to this), but I would still be very concerned. Controlling behaviour is a HUGE red flag.

That being said, here are some thoughts I have on where to go from here:

My Sister is Being Abused: What to do when you fear for someone you love

1. You Can’t Force Someone to Leave an Abuser

Here’s the hard part: you can’t make someone leave, and often you can’t convince someone to leave, either. It has to be their own decision. If you coerce someone or put a lot of pressure on them to leave before they’re ready, chances are they will end up going back with the abuser.

Thus, in this case the main job should be keeping the lines of communication open and letting the sister know that you will always be there to help her leave.

However–and this is a BIG however–there is not just the sister involved. It’s clear from this email that there is also a daughter (and there could be other kids), and that daughter can’t be more than about 14 (given the length of the marriage). So she’s really young. If you ever suspect that a child is being abused, you simply must call children’s services. In this case, the sister has never seen any signs of physical abuse, but if there ever are any, you don’t have a choice. Call.

The same thing is true for the sister. If you ever see any bruises, call the police. Sometimes getting the authorities involved can also show the sister that this is something serious.

2. Tell Your Sister You are Always There for Her

Let your sister know that no matter what happens, you are there for her. You love her, and you will stand by her. And this is hard: that means standing by her now, even if she decides to stay. If you condemn her for that and get in a big fight, she may not feel that she’s able to trust you in the future. Let her know that you love her and you are worried for her.

3. Talk Up Your Sister’s Good Points

If you fear your sister is being abused,  your tendency will be to talk about how awful her husband is and all the things you see that are red flags. To a certain extent you do need to mention these. But I would spend more time saying to her, “you are a strong woman”, “you are a godly woman”, “you are so kind and so generous”, and telling her examples of each of these things.

When a woman is being controlled or emotionally abused, one of the key weapons an abuser uses is to totally demoralize the person so they feel they don’t have the ability to leave. They’re too stupid, too weak, too vulnerable. If you can continue to tell her the truth–that she is capable, that she is smart, that she is strong–that may be a better message to give her.

4. Get A Nest Egg Together for Her

When I asked on Facebook what the sister should do, one commenter wrote, “start saving up money so she can leave”, and that’s actually an excellent idea. Money (or lack thereof) is often what keeps someone in an abusive/controlling relationship. Tell your sister that you have money put aside for her, and you are adding to it all the time, so that if she ever does need to leave, you can help her get set up somewhere.

5. Have your Husband Talk to Her

In this case, it sounds like part of the reason for staying may be incorrect theology. Many men believe that the wife must obey, and they don’t try to build oneness in marriage. They try to build a very dominant/submissive relationship, thinking this is what Christ wants (though I can’t remember Christ ever being dominant like that). If this is what she believes about marriage, she may think that even if she’s miserable, God wants her miserable.

If a man she respects can come alongside her and say, “God doesn’t want a husband to treat his wife that way”, this may actually go further than a woman saying the same thing.

6. Talk to the Daughter

As much as possible, keep the lines of communication open with the kids in this family. In fact, these children would be my primary concern, simply because they are minors. Talk to them as much as you can, and have them visit as much as the parents will allow. Try to be a big influence in their lives. Let the kids know that if they ever need you, you will be there, and make sure that the children know how to contact you in a hurry, and have a means to contact you in a hurry.

7. Pray a Lot and Let it Go

And now here’s the hard part. Once you’ve done all of this, you need to pray and put it in God’s hands. You can’t force the situation. And the longer I walk with God the more I realize that His timing is much better than mine. Even though I want things done immediately, often they take much longer. And it’s that delay that helps people solidify their decision and often get closer with God.

Dayspring Pray Art

It’s agony to watch someone you love become a shell of who they were in a controlling or abusive relationship. But you can’t force anyone to do anything, and they have a right to choose that (as long as their children are still safe). Love on them, keep the door open, and talk, but then you must try to let it go and leave it with God. Don’t let it sap all of your emotional energy.

Now, if anyone has anything I should add, please do so in the comments. And if anyone has any tips on how to “let it go”, please leave that in the comments, too, because I can only imagine how agonizing this would be. Thank you!

Reader Question: How do You Prepare for Marriage Long Distance?

Reader Question of the WeekCan a long distance engagement work?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it–and invite my readers to chime in, too. Here’s one from a woman in a long distance relationship wondering about engagement:

A few years back I met a guy from several time zones away. We got to know each other through facebook/skype/texting/etc, and saw each other in person for a month or so each year. The last visit (3 months ago) we both admitted that feelings had developed beyond that of “just friends”, and we want to try a relationship with a purpose (neither of us want to just casually date).

What kind of advice would you give to those in a long-distance relationship? We are neither young nor desperate, and are willing to take our time. Even so, I don’t want to miss a huge red flag (or HIM to miss one!) that would be completely obvious if we were living close to each other.

This is such a common scenario today, and here are a few thoughts I have on having a healthy (and productive) long distance engagement:

Long Distance Engagement: Making it work

Long Distance Engagement = Skyping with a Purpose

This reader has hit on something really key–when your relationship consists mostly of Skype dates, how do you make sure you’re not missing red flags? When you see each other on a regular basis, you can figure out if they’re lazy, if they’re good with kids, if they’re kind to strangers, if they take care of their home, and other things like that. When you don’t, then all you see is the persona that the person uses online. How do you get past that?

You Skype with a purpose!

And by that I mean that when you do Skype, you aren’t just talking about “safe” things that make you feel close and all luvey duvey. You don’t just bond over childhood memories or favourite movies or things like that. You actually have to ask the hard questions and make an effort to get to know each other. That can be a difficult thing to do, and the first step is doing exactly what this reader did–clarify the expectations of what this relationship is.

What Are We Doing?

One of the problems with long distance relationships is that, especially in the early stages, you’re always guessing about what the person feels about you. You text and they don’t text back for a day. Does that mean they don’t care? You were hoping to Skype tonight but he’s too busy. Does that mean you take the relationship more seriously than they do? And because you can’t really see body language in the same way, it’s inherently insecure.

Long distance relationships for just that reason have the capacity for a lot of heartache. I’ve seen my girls and other kids I know agonize over long distance relationships because it’s just not clear where it’s going. One person may just have fun chatting while the other is really invested in the relationship. And how do you take it to the next level?

It isn’t worth obsessing over someone long distance for too long. I think we owe it to ourselves to clarify what we’re doing. So once you have some degree of confidence, ask, “what are we doing?” And it’s fine to set some ground rules, like, “if we’re going to talk long distance, I don’t just want to be someone you turn to when you’re bored. I expect that we’ll connect twice a week to get to know each other. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’d like to move on…”

Many women assume they’re in a long distance relationship because they have a guy that they like that they skype with every now and then. But he may not see the relationship the same way. So you do have to talk about it, and be prepared to move on if he isn’t that into you.

Once it’s apparent that you both do want to date with a purpose, then it’s time to do some interesting things while you talk online!

Do Some Personality Tests

Early on in your relationship I think it’s fun to take some personality tests online and figure out some basic things about each other. What is your love language? What is your MBTI type (this is my favourite personality test!).

Ask Some Hard Questions

If you’re moving towards engagement, you have to really know each other. But it can be tough and awkward to ask the hard questions. So I’d recommend getting a book, like 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged, that you agree to work through together. That way if a question’s awkward, you can say, “well, we did agree to work through the book….”

Some people have found the book a little negative–like he’s giving you all kinds of reasons NOT to get married, which can solidify someone’s decision who is commitment-phobic. Perhaps I’d agree in some cases, because I do think commitment is one of the hugest issues in marriage, and you’ll never find that “one perfect person”. However, because of the inherent riskiness of long distance relationships, I’d really recommend a book like this, because you do need to discover those red flags.

Some of the key things you’ll want to know: how does He serve God? What has God been saying to him lately? What is his relationship like with his family? What are his career goals and how is he moving towards them? How do you handle money? When’s the last time you looked at porn? Yes, they’re tough, but you need to know!

Get Other People Involved

As much as possible, use Skype to create some interactions that you would normally have. Meet his parents. Meet his friends. In fact, as often as possible Skype with other people involved, too. You want to become part of his social circle and he should become part of yours.

Once the relationship has become serious, it may be good to set up a Skype meeting between a pastor and the two of you.

And take other people’s concerns seriously. When you’re in a long distance relationship, it’s easy to think of the two of you as living in your own little world, but if you get married, it won’t be just the two of you. It will be your friends, your family, your co-workers. You have people who care about you–listen to what their instincts (and even the Holy Spirit) may be telling them.

Set Up a Schedule to Talk

If you’re moving towards engagement, then you should be skyping/texting/interacting regularly–I would say at least 2-3 times a week for an extended period. If you only talk once a week, then it’s easy to just put on your best face. You want to see them in real life as much as possible–and they need to see you like that, too.

Do A Bible Study

Read and study the Bible together and pray together. Now, some people aren’t really comfortable with in-depth Bible study. That’s not their way of relating to God, and that’s okay. But you can still read a Psalm together. You can agree that “this month we’re going to read through the book of Acts”, even if you don’t do a word study on it. And you certainly can pray together! Make sure that your spiritual life is part of your long distance relationship, even if you can’t go to church together.

Plan for “In Person” Visits

I know it’s expensive, but you simply must spend the money and be together in person several times before you get married. It’s cheaper to do that than to rush into a relationship that’s wrong. Ideally these visits could be for a few weeks, but even a long weekend is better than nothing. Meet his family. See where he lives. Go to church with him (do people know his name? Do they greet him?). The hard part, of course, is where do you stay, since you likely don’t want to stay overnight with him. That’s where meeting some of his friends on Skype beforehand can be good. Or perhaps you can stay with his parents! It may be awkward, but it’s actually good to get to know his social circle and his family anyway.

Once you do get engaged, I think it’s important to move to the place where he lives, or have him move to where you live. Obviously sometimes immigration issues may make this impossible, but if it is possible, be with him on a daily basis before you actually tie the knot.

I know many couples who have married after a long distance engagement, and they’re all still married and still happy. My daughters did the hair for one wedding last year that was just a blast–she was from Pennsylvania, and he was from Saskatchewan, and they met in Bible quizzing. I’m not against long distance relationships at all. I just think you have to be super careful and super wise, and go in with your eyes wide open. But in this day and age when technology makes long distance engagements possible, it opens up a whole new world, and I think ultimately it’s a good thing.

But I’d like to hear from you–what would you add to this list? If you married after a long distance relationship, what’s the one best thing you did while dating? Let us know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteAnd, of course, if you’re getting married, I can’t recommend The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex highly enough! I wrote it for any engaged or married woman, but it’s really my prayer that more engaged women will read it, because I think if you understand sex better from the beginning you’ll save yourself so much heartache–and you’ll have so much more fun. I’ve got a special chapter in it for the wedding night/honeymoon, so please read it before you get married!

Reader Question: How Do I Stop My Child’s Meltdowns

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do when your child has meltdowns that disrupt the whole household?

Every Monday I like to try to answer a reader’s question, and this week we’re going to look at meltdowns in children. I’ve written before on how to handle temper tantrums in toddlers, but this is a little different because this reader’s child is older. She writes:

I have read a couple of your articles but wondered how you would approach meltdowns when things are simply not playing out how my daughter had envisioned. She is 5. For example, she had been wearing a particular t-shirt all day and it had gotten really dirty. Grandparents were coming over for dinner and we decided to bathe the kids before they arrived. I threw her t-shirt in the hamper on top of some already wet clothes. The problem started here because my kids normally put their own clothes in the hamper and so it may have been an indicator to me that she planned on putting the t-shirt back on. Anyway when it came to get dressed the t-shirt was not an option. (I am normally quite lenient when it comes to my kids picking their clothes) There was moaning and rolling on the bed. I tried to identify with her disappointment, identify what exactly about the t-shirt she liked – there may be one similar etc. but then also have her understand she needed to push though and choose another t-shirt. My question is – what is my goal? Ideally I’d like her to name the disappointment – help her figure out what she needs to press through it and move on. I know she is young but I feel that ‘coaching’ in the early years will make her able to coach herself later. Any thoughts? I should also add that these meltdowns–the moaning episodes and sobbing–can completely break the peace in our home and I want her to acknowledge this, too. Perhaps you have written on this?

I can picture what that’s like, because my oldest daughter used to find it difficult to control her emotions, too, though perhaps not to this extent. It does totally wreck your household, and it is absolutely infuriating and exhausting. So what do you do?

To Love, Honor and VacuumThis is launch week for the second edition of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and I thought this was an excellent question to start with, because the premise of that book is quite simple: too many women feel like maids rather than wives and mothers because we’re always working FOR people who take us for granted, rather than working WITH people to create a fun and nurturing home environment that points to Jesus. This mom sounds exactly like the kind of moms I’m talking to: you want to do a good job and raise great kids, but there are times that you just don’t like your kids that much and when you’re absolutely fed up.

Here are some thoughts on handling meltdowns in kids:

1. You cannot reason with a child in a full-blown meltdown

This woman is asking how to help her name what she’s feeling and thus help to work through the disappointment in a healthy way. I understand the desire to do this, but I don’t think it will work when the child is in the midst of throwing herself on the ground and screaming and sobbing. She isn’t thinking clearly, and trying to talk to her will likely escalate everything. You’ll get frustrated, she’ll get more mad at you because you’re giving her attention without giving her what she wants, and it will all get louder and give you a migraine.

2. Stop giving the child any attention

Tantrums are caused essentially by a combination of two things: kids can’t control their emotions and their emotions overwhelm them, and they get attention. That combination is so dangerous, because it can mean that the more that you acknowledge the tantrum or pay attention to it, the more tantrums they have.

How to stop your children's meltdowns (and bring peace to your home again!)Some children DO have an issue controlling negative emotions, and they do need to be coached through it. However, that coaching can’t be done at the time, and often being taught that tantrums are not acceptable is the first step. If they learn that they can’t just scream and cry when they’re upset, then, and only then, can they learn alternative things to do.

So I’d do this: if she starts to cry and flail and scream, pick her up and remove her from other family members. Put her in the bedroom and say, “I see that you’re upset, but the rest of us don’t want to hear this. When you’re calmed down you can come out again.” And then shut the door. Another option is to leave her where she is and then tell other family members, “Jane is being loud and rude, so let’s go somewhere else that’s quiet until she calms down.”

This doesn’t need to be said loudly or with a mean tone, but you need to give this impression:

What you are doing is NOT acceptable, and absolutely NO ONE will pay any attention to you while you do this.

If you are at a party and she does this, you either leave or you pick her up and put her in the backyard or the car until she calms down. You can even stand outside the car while she screams. If you’re in a store, same deal. Be absolutely unwavering in this: you cannot scream in public.

Then, when she is finished, tell her she should apologize to you and her siblings for creating a scene. (I don’t force apologies because I think they should come from the heart if we’re to teach real repentance, but I would seriously recommend that she apologize, and I would require her to acknowledge that she hurt the peace in the house.)

3. Make sure there is not an underlying issue

One caveat: meltdowns are a common feature of many conditions like autism or Asperger’s, because children just can’t process things not going the way they thought they were supposed to. Children need absolute order for the world to feel safe, and if the order is broken in some way, they don’t know how to handle it. It may be a good idea to see a physician to make sure there isn’t some sort of processing disorder going on.

4. AT A DIFFERENT TIME, coach your child on how to work through difficult emotions

When your child is calm, that is the time to help coach them on how to handle disappointment. Talk to them about identifying what they’re mad about, and about taking deep breaths, and about saying, “I’m sad” rather than screaming. Teach her to pray and say, “Jesus, help me to not be so mad.”

But I don’t think this can be done at the time well, and it is such an important skill to learn how to self-soothe (to talk yourself down from a tantrum). Making children do this isn’t being mean to them; it’s forcing them to learn to act appropriately, and actually is giving them control over their emotions. They have to calm themselves down, which means that they have to get control of the anger.

5. Be careful of letting your child set the tone for your house

To me, this is perhaps the most important and also most forgotten point. It is YOUR home. Your children should live by your rules. You have the right to enjoy being at home, and I’m afraid that all too many parents don’t enjoy it at all. I remember a couple I knew when my oldest daughter was 6 who had their 6-year-old in six (!) different after school activities–one for every night of the week, and one on Saturdays. And the reason? When their daughter was at home she was a terror, so they tried to keep her busy out of the house as much as possible to wear her out so that she wouldn’t have meltdowns.

But they were wearing themselves out, too!

We need to get back to the idea that adults have the right to expect certain behaviour from their children. You shouldn’t dread coming home. You shouldn’t dread having hours with the kids alone. You should be able to laugh at the kids, not mentally prepare the day so that nothing will happen that will set your child off.

This is your role. Your children should not hijack it, so don’t let them. You don’t have to apologize for wanting your life back. You don’t have to feel guilty for saying, “I can’t handle when my child is acting like this, so I’m just going to disengage when they do.”

Your child is acting inappropriately, and you have the right to expect them to act otherwise. You really do.

Now go, and set the tone yourself. Don’t let your child do it for  you!

In To Love, Honor and Vacuum I talk a ton about how we’ve gotten mixed up about what our role is at home, and we women often wear ourselves out while everyone else has a relatively easy life. If you’re having trouble creating a good tone in your home, pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

And please stop by my Facebook Page tonight at 8 p.m. EST for a special announcement!

Reader Question: If My Mom has Alzheimer’s, Do I Have to Give Up My Life?

Reader Question of the WeekHere’s the situation: you have young kids. You’re really busy. And now your mom has Alzheimer’s (or someone else in your extended family does), and people need you to drop everything and run. Do you do it? And what if the situation persists–so that you have to give up your life? What do you do?

Every Monday I post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. Last week I linked to an older post about setting boundaries with parents, and a reader wrote in with this really tricky problem:

My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. My husband is one of 3 kids, and one of his siblings moved the mom in to his house. But they said that they’d look after her during the week, but on the weekends they want a break, so the other siblings have to care for her 24 hours every other weekend. I’m a stay at home mom; I could look after her during the week easier, but if I give up every other weekend, my family will hardly ever have any time together. We’ll only go to church together every other week, and the kids are really involved in church. We already have very little time. My husband thinks we should just do it, but I’m so afraid of losing my family. What do I do?

That’s a really tough situation, and there’s so much guilt involved. I’ve had other readers write in with similar problems. One reader had a sister-in-law with schizophrenia who lived in another city. She refused to sign any authorizations for the physicians to talk to her family about her condition or to have power of attorney. Yet every time she got into trouble and ended up in the hospital, my friend would have to drop everything and go to the rescue.

Here are just some general principles that I think need to guide us when we’re trying to decide thorny issues like these:

When your mom (or another relative) has Alzheimer's: Sorting our your responsibility to older relatives who need you.

1. Clarify: What Are Your Main Responsibilities?

Just because someone needs you does not mean that you have to meet that need. Lots of people have needs; the real question is:

What needs has God specifically assigned to you?

In most cases, those would include your children’s and your husband’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. We also must honour and care for older parents. Any community that we are a part of, though, also does have the right to expect certain things that come from being part of a community. When friends, extended family, or our church family has a legitimate need, then we are to step in. As it says in Galatians 6:2,

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

So likely you have a hierarchy of those whose needs you are wholly or partly responsible for: your immediate family; your extended family; your friends; your church community. As the circle gets wider, then those responsibilities should be shared with more people. So while your own children have a high demand on you, and your parents have a demand on you, someone at church would be the responsibility of a wider number of people.

2. Clarify: Is this a Temporary Blip, or a Permanent Thing?

I once received a phone call from a panicked mom from my church. She had taken her child in to the doctor’s office that morning because he just didn’t seem “right”. The doctor sent the child for tests and within a few hours that little boy was admitted to the ICU with problems stemming from diabetes, which had not been diagnosed. She had to stay at the hospital with him.

But she also had kids arriving home from school, and she had no clothes for tomorrow, and her husband wouldn’t be home for a few hours.

I dropped everything, put some of the dinner I was making in a Tupperware container for the mom, headed over and picked up the kids from school, got them some pizza, left them with a friend, collected some clothes for the mom and the boy, and went to the hospital and delivered dinner and clothes–and a novel and a crossword puzzle book. I spent some time sitting with her and talking with her before coming home.

That was a temporary emergency, and I would hope that most of us would drop everything and run for that. But what my two readers are describing isn’t temporary; it’s something which will be a long-term responsibility. And that requires a different response.

3. Ask Yourself: What Am I Capable and Willing to Do While Still Fulfilling My Main Responsibilities?

The problem with decisions like this is that we have the wrong starting point.

We begin with: “My mother-in-law needs someone to care for her full-time, and there is no one else, so I’ll have to do it.” Or we say, “My sister needs someone to rescue her, and she has no friends or relatives except for me, so I’ll have to do it.”

We’re starting with the need.

If you do that, the need will suck you dry. And I do not believe that God wants you exhausted, and unable to tend to your main responsibilities (your kids). You can only do so much. He only gave you so much time, so much energy, and so much money. You need to be a wise steward of those things.

So instead, ask yourself: what am I capable, willing, and called to do?

BoundariesI believe that there are times where we are definitely called to sacrifice–especially for our parents. However, even this does have its limits. There are times when you just can’t do it all.

The woman with the mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, for instance, is willing to do some work on the weekdays. She’s willing to give some weekends–just not every other weekend. And it’s okay to take a look at your life and say, “I’m able to do this much, but no more.” It’s called setting a boundary, or setting a limit, and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is excellent at explaining how to do this and showing how healthy boundaries are actually part of a healthy Christian life.

Sit down with your husband and say, “this is what I can do. I can give one day a week during the week, or one weekend a month. But that is all, because I think any more than that will exhaust me and harm our own family.”

He can choose to spend more of his time; that is his choice. But you are being clear about what you can do and still be emotionally healthy and able to raise your children well.

Here’s why it’s important to do this: Often until we say, “I cannot meet all of these needs,” we don’t find the solution that God actually wants for us. We throw ourselves totally into it and we make ourselves exhausted, but perhaps God had another option. Maybe you could pool your money and pay for a week of relief in a home every month. Maybe you could see if there’s a volunteer agency that could send him help once a week. Maybe there’s a government program she could qualify for. Maybe there are other friends who might be willing to help on a rotating basis if it was manageable, like once every two months. But you don’t start exploring these options until you say, “I can’t do this.”

4. Accept that Others May Not Be Happy

It’s messy to say no. Other family members get mad. Sometimes our spouse gets mad.

In this case, one family member has taken on a HUGE responsibility by having her live there, and it’s easy for that family member to turn around and say, “I’m doing all this, the least you can do is every other weekend.” Put like that, it does seem selfish to refuse.

But here’s the thing:

You never asked her to take the mom in to live full-time.

Part of having boundaries  is also letting other people have their own boundaries. This other family member needs to be told, “What you’re doing is wonderful, and we thank you for it. But we can only help this much. If that just isn’t enough, we would be happy to sit down with you and try to figure out a better solution, since it doesn’t seem as if we can do this.” Just because someone else has decided to give X amount does not mean that you are likewise required to give X amount. We are each solely responsible for our own choices.

Just because someone has a need does not mean you need to be the one to meet it. It means you need to run to God and pray and listen and wrestle and seek His calling for your life. It will be uncomfortable. And sometimes we are asked to sacrifice so that we can care for a relative. But the answer isn’t the same for each family, because each family has different schedules and different demands. So pray about it, and then draw a boundary. Say, “This is what I’m able to do. If that isn’t enough, I’m happy to throw my energy into finding another solution.”

There always is a solution that will not require you to burn yourself totally out, because I don’t think that’s God’s will for you. So seek it. Run after Him. And ask Him to show you and give you wisdom. Don’t let guilt make you do things that aren’t yours to do.