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.

Reader Question: How Much Do I Tell My Kids About My Past?

Reader Question of the WeekHere’s the scenario: you have quite a past–whether it’s drug use or alcohol or past sexual activity–and then you got married and you cleaned up your life. But now your kids are growing up, and you’re trying to teach them to do the right thing. How do you start telling them about your past?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and try to answer it, and today’s is one I’ve heard many variations of:

I have two teens (14 & 15) who like to push my buttons and test boundaries. They’re good kids, but I there’s a lot of tension with them. So now I’m wondering: what should I tell them about my past?

I’m not embarrassed by it because God did an amazing transformation of my life, but I already told my son just a little bit–that I smoked when I was a teen–and now whenever he wants to do something we don’t want him to do, he says, “but you smoked and you turned out okay.” And that was just smoking! What if I told him all the other things I did? It’s like he now feels like he has permission to do the things I did. How should I handle this?

That’s tough, isn’t it? Telling your kids about your past does open a huge can of worms. So here are a few of my thoughts, but I’d really like yours, too! So after you’ve read some of my thoughts, please leave yours in the comments as well!

How Much Should You Tell Your Kids About Your Past?

1. Secrecy Doesn’t Tend to Work Well

I’ve never found that secrets work well in a family. The kids pick up on it anyway, and you’re always tense that they’ll find out.

So I tend to be a big advocate of telling kids your story–at age appropriate levels, and with only the necessary detail (if you went too far with a boyfriend when you were 14, for instance, you don’t have to say EXACTLY what you did–only that you did too much.)

2. Remember that Your Story is Really God’s Story

I think we’re often embarrassed to tell our kids our story because it wasn’t pristine. Yet this is really a problem the early church didn’t face. In the early church (at least with the Gentile converts, not the Jewish converts), EVERYBODY had a past. Nobody had had a pristine pre-Christian life, and so they were able to say, “Thanks to God who saved me from so much!” They knew the difference between having God in your life and not having God in your life, and they were grateful.

And because everybody had the same messed up past, it wasn’t a big deal to talk about what God saved you from.

The problem today is that we’re trying to raise our kids to make good decisions from the start, and then if you didn’t, it’s like you’re giving them permission to do things you’d rather they wouldn’t.

But perhaps that’s because we’re still seeing living a Christian life in terms of our strength rather than God’s strength. Maybe we need to get back to the mindset of the early church, which basically said: it doesn’t matter what kind of past you had; what matters is what God did with it and how He redeemed you! If we frame our whole lives like that, then our stories become God’s stories.

I have a dear friend that I’ve known for several decades. I knew her when she first became a Christian–rather dramatically. She had hit rock bottom with drugs and relationships, and swore to God that if she made it through the night she’d follow Him. And she did! She stopped her lifestyle and did the most dramatic 180 turnaround I’ve ever seen. She is the most transparent worshiper in church, because she truly knows the meaning of grace.

She married a wonderful Christian man who DIDN’T have much of a past, and is raising a whole pile of teens now.

But she had never really shared with her teens the details of her past until someone else, who did know her past, asked her for advice. It all came out in front of her oldest, and her oldest really grieved. She knew that her mother had “a past”, but she didn’t know what it was. And she wanted to know the details. “How many men did you sleep with? What did you do?” Etc. etc. There were a lot of tears, and her daughter grieved for what her dad had missed out on, too.

It was an emotional time, and my friend didn’t share all the details. But she did bring it back to God. “That’s why I love Jesus, because I know what He did in my life, and He helped take away the shame.”

It’s not easy when your kids no longer see you as this perfect person to look up to. But maybe they were never supposed to in that way.

3. Let’s Always Talk About What God Has Done

If we frame it in terms of God–He rescued me, He helped me live with my scars, He gave me strength to quit drinking–then we do our kids a favour. We teach them, “Christianity is about a relationship, not rules.”

Then your story can’t give them permission to follow in your footsteps. If your child says,

But, Mom, you did all this stuff, and you turned out fine.

You can say,

No, I didn’t turn out fine. I still have scars. God has healed me, but the scars are still there. It leaves a mark on you. I suffered. And I don’t want you to do the same. God came and brought me out of the life I was in, but that doesn’t mean that I would have much rather avoided it altogether. I saw what it did, and I don’t want that for you.

And you can tell them about the scars. I think once a child is old enough–say 16 or 17–you can say, “it was really hard in our marriage to feel free sexually because my old boyfriends were always in the back of my mind, and I felt dirty,” (or however you want to word it or whatever sexual baggage you struggled with). I think telling our kids the truth is perfectly fine and healthy. And then you can say, “But God has worked in me and I understand the difference between real intimacy and just sex. And I know why God wants intimacy for us, and that’s what I want for you.”

The whole “you turned out fine” argument seems powerful, but it really does fall apart if you look at it. My mom had cancer 25 years ago, and she’s okay now. But she went through a lot of pain and a lot of fear and she still has physical struggles. Sure, you can turn out okay, but that doesn’t mean you’re as good as you could have been otherwise. So tell your kids the truth–and show them that God saved you anyway.

4. Swallow Your Pride

For a lot of us, this is the big issue. We like being that mom to look up to, and we’re worried that we’ll lose that if they know the truth. But there really isn’t room for pride in the Christian life. It’s about what God has done, not what you have done. You don’t really want your kids to think of you as this amazing, wonderful, perfect mom, as much as you want them to look at God and see a loving Father who wants to protect and guide them, do you?

Let’s let our kids want to walk in Jesus’ steps, not in our steps.

Those would be my thoughts, then–from an early age, let your kids know that God rescued you from a lot. As they get older, fill in some details (but not ALL. Your kids really don’t want to picture you in bed, for instance). And always, always say that it was God who rescued you, and it’s because of God (not your effort) that you have turned your life around.

But I’d love to hear from someone else who has to go through this. What did you tell your teen? And when? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Question: How Do I Defeat Sexual Temptation?

Reader Question of the WeekSexual temptation. We often talk about it in relation to teenagers and young adults who are dating, but they’re not the only ones who face it.

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and here’s an important one:

My friend at work told me about your website. I’m in desperate need of some help! My husband and I have been separated for over a year now. I don’t want a divorce, but that’s beside the point at the moment. We have been married for 7 years and since we’ve been separated I still crave sex. I want it. I need it. But he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. He is openly having relationships with other women. So I’m basically on my own. But I struggle with masturbation. It’s becoming very difficult for me. Obviously it would be wrong to engage in that sort of thing with another person, but I can’t help but think about wanting to do that because I’m so desperate. I feel weird talking to my friends about this sort of thing. Can you help me?

I often think that the people who struggle with sexual temptation the most are those who have already been married and know what it’s like to be able to have sex when you want it. When that suddenly comes to a halt–because of separation, divorce, or widowhood–how do you deal with the sexual feelings you have that won’t go away?

When I’m speaking in churches about sex, there’s always at least one woman who comes up and asks me that question. It will go something like: “I was in a bad marriage/bad relationship, and I want to do the next one right. But what do I do now–there’s nothing about how women older than 40 should handle sexual urges.”

I really feel for these women, and so I’ll give just a few thoughts.

Sexual Temptation: It can be worse as an adult after a failed relationship. How do you stay pure then?1. There is No Magic Answer That Ends Sexual Temptation

I really wish there were something easy to tell you, but I can’t. This is a struggle you’re going to deal with, and it likely isn’t going away. I hope I can give you some tips to make it easier to manage, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to end. Sexual temptation is serious; it’s a drive that all of us have, and when you know how great sex can be, and you go for several years or more having sex quite frequently, and all of a sudden you have to quit cold turkey? That’s not easy. And it’s likely even harder than for that 19-year-old who is waiting to get married in the first place.

2. That “Sublimation” Thing Works

Have you ever heard of “sublimation”? Basically it’s a psychological term that means this:

You take the sexual energy that you have, and you “sublimate” it, or push it under the surface but then let it pop up somewhere else. So you take that energy you have for sex, and you divert it into something else.

Some of the best geniuses in history, the most creative people ever, the most active for God–were single who “sublimated” their sexual energy into something else. Michaelangelo painted the Sistine chapel. Single missionaries preached their whole lives. Paul conducted three missionary journeys and founded the church we now share. Sublimation is real.

I know several middle-aged and senior single women who have done so much for God. Many have organized missions trips, or have headed volunteer drives, or have started new ministries altogether. Others have launched businesses. Some have taken up a hobby, like watercolor painting.

When you have something that can consume your creative and mental energy, then the sexual temptation often doesn’t hit as hard.

So pray for passion in your lives. Find something else that you can be passionate about–something that matches your giftings and your heart. When you’re lying in bed, and you’re drifting off to sleep, but your mind is playing over and over some more ideas on how you can expand your business or on how you can grow your ministry, it will be so much easier than if you have nothing else to think about and sexual thoughts enter.

I know I preach often about not being too busy, but there is a time for busy-ness, if it’s simply taking our energy and putting it into something we feel passionately about. It can be one of the best ways to defeat temptation. And the added bonus? The busier you become with a ministry/business, the more likely you’ll run into people who share your values and your dreams–even men.

3. Stay Away from Things That Get Your Mind Going in That Direction

Now take a good hard look at yourself and ask, “what activities tend to make me face more temptation than others?” Is it watching certain types of movies? Reading certain types of books? Being home alone on a Sunday afternoon with nothing to do?

Take a look at your last few weeks and figure out when the temptation has been the worst. What had you just done before that? Can you see a pattern?

If there’s something that sets you off, then as much as possible, stop doing it. If certain media make it hard for you, stop watching that. If being alone is difficult, plan activities or invite people over. Know your own weaknesses.

4. Have a “Go To” Activity When You Face Sexual Temptation

When you do find yourself restless and really fighting sexual temptation, have something that you’ll do. First, of course, pray. And a simple, “God, help me be strong,” is fine. You don’t have to pray something long and elaborate. Just invite God in. That gives Him permission to use His power, but it also reminds you that He is there.

Now have some activity that you’ll do. Maybe it’s doing the dishes, or picking up a rag and starting to dust something. Maybe it’s going and doing 15 minutes on the treadmill or bike. Maybe it’s a C.S. Lewis book beside your bed that you’ll try to read to help your mind go in a different direction when you need to sleep.

Just have a plan–or even several–for what you will do when it hits the hardest.

5. Turn a Bad Day into Good Data

You’re going to mess up. We all do. None of us is perfect. When we do mess up, we often feel so badly. We’re disgusted with ourselves. We cry. We fret. We feel, “I’ll never defeat this.”

But I heard some great advice on a TED Talk recently, and it went like this: “Turn a bad day into good data.”

When you do mess up, remember that this gives you great information on what your triggers are and what your weaknesses are. So you can study that day and ask, “what was different about today than days that I didn’t mess up? Was I more stressed? Was I bored? Was I alone for a longer period of time? Did I watch too many movies?”

If you can figure out what was different, then it gives you strategies so that you can avoid recreating those circumstances later. Look on the times you mess up as research that can help you grow.

6. God Does Want to Help You With This

Remember, you aren’t alone. God does understand, and He does want to help you. When you pray about this, and you’re honest with Him, He will start to give you power to fight back.

Often when we’re feeling sexual temptation, too, it’s tied up in all kinds of other emotions. For widows it’s grief. For this letter writer, it’s rejection and feelings of loneliness. This man that she loved has already moved on with other women. For many of us, it’s also a realization that we’ve made poor choices and we may feel like we’ve now “lost” important years of our lives.

That’s a lot to process.

If you can start working through some of those other emotional and spiritual issues, you may find the sexual temptation lessens a bit. Just as we can “sublimate” sexual energy into creative energy, other things can be “sublimated” into sexual energy. So if you’re lonely, that can manifest itself by sexual temptation, even if the main need is just for human companionship. Working through some of your feelings with a trusted friend, a counselor, or even a Christian self-help book can start you on the road to healing.

But it won’t stop the sexual temptation altogether because sex is a fundamental part of who you are. And balancing fighting sexual temptation with still being a sexual being is tough. You are made to be sexual, whether you’re married or not. It’s just that right now you don’t have an outlet.

God understands. And so I just want to leave you with a few verses that I have found helpful when dealing with temptation. (Two of them are part of my 50 Best Bible Verses to Memorize!). Commit these to memory, and recite when necessary.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

 No temptationhas overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

Reader Question: I Checked Out of My Marriage

Reader Question of the WeekHow do you love your spouse again, especially after you’ve already given up your dream of a happy marriage?

That’s today’s Reader Question! Every Monday I like to take a stab at a question a reader sends in, and this week it’s from a man whose wife finally understands how hurt he’s been over the years–but he’s afraid it’s too late.

My wife and I have been married for 19 yrs. For the majority of that time we’ve been a mess. We don’t fight and never have. I very easy going and I have never even raised my voice to her. Our problems began early on. She simply did not pay any attention to me. I spoiled her, gave her everything. Every few years I would break and crumble due to loneliness. She said she loved me but didn’t know how to show it. Last year was the final straw! I melted down completely. I sought therapy and even took pills for my depression. I began to brace myself for divorce. I had done all I could do to get my wife to understand my needs.

I decided to “let her go” and with that, the dream of the wonderful fairytale marriage I had so longed for. Then my wife read your book “The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex”. After that she said she had been illuminated. She all of a sudden became interested in “fixing things”. Here is the problem, I “let her go” already. All my love and desire is just gone. I don’t feel anything anymore. She so wants to have everything I ever wanted and now I just don’t care. My friends say I should just go with it and be happy. But I would be faking everything. I am miserably sad about this and I’m broken. Please tell me you have something! Anything!

That’s tough, and I want to answer it both for the husband and the wife. But first, please understand: there are no easy answers. There’s so much heartache involved here and so much water under the bridge that an easy fix isn’t possible. That being said, let me leave you with some big picture ideas:

How to Love Your Spouse Again--if they've hurt you and now want to work on the relationship, can you decide to work on it, too?

Thoughts for the Spouse Who has “Checked Out” Already

You’ve likely been hurting your whole marriage, and you had to steel yourself to the idea that you’d never get what you want. You couldn’t live in the misery of unmet expectations anymore, so you decided to give up on your dream of ever being happy with your spouse. To do that, you had to seal off a portion of your heart. You decided, “I don’t need you anymore”, which is almost the same emotionally as saying, “I don’t love you anymore.” If you’ve done that, then how do you love your spouse again–after all that emotional turmoil of letting go?

Act Love Rather than Feel Love

We tend to think that love is a feeling, but it’s really not. Love is deciding to act kindly towards a person and to look after that person’s well-being tangibly. Love is just being kind.

I remember how absolutely devastated I was after various breakups in my late teen years. My heart was broken in two, and I really didn’t think that I’d ever be able to move on. Even when I met my husband, and we started getting closer, I still thought about that last boyfriend. I didn’t want to go back to him, but I secretly hoped to run into him in 15 or 20 years, and be able to say, “Ha! Look what you missed out on!” I didn’t think I’d ever really get him out of my system.

But he’s totally gone now. It didn’t even take very long. Even before I married, I realized I didn’t even care anymore.

I’ve heard of similar things from women who have had emotional (and even physical) affairs. Even though they chose their husband, they thought they’d never be able to be perfectly happy again, because they were without their one true love. And now that they knew what true love felt like, the marriage could never measure up, even if they stayed.

Yet a funny thing happened. Time goes on, and the act of being married and being committed changes you. Those heady infatuation feelings fade, and they’re replaced by real love that you feel for your spouse.

I believe a similar thing can happen if you’ve LOST love. You’re hurt, and you’re closed off. But if you stay, you’ll find that little by little, everyday, you start building a new life together. You start growing that love again.

There’s a story I heard about a counselor talking to a woman who was determined to get a divorce. He advised her that before she do so, she take 30 days and treat her husband as wonderfully as she could. Say nice things to him. Be affectionate. Shower him with blessings. And then, at the end of the 30 days, she could tell him she was leaving him.

That sounded like a great idea, she thought. It would be so perfect–like a whammy he’d never expect. She’d lull him into believing everything was alright, and then she’d leave. It would be so devastating, like an extra punishment.

So she did it. She was sweet. She was affectionate. She brought him coffee.

And when 30 days was up, she went to see the counselor. He asked if she was ready to tell him, and she said, “No way! A funny thing happened this month. I think I fell in love with him again!”

As she was nice to him, he was nice to her. And they found a new balance in their marriage that was actually quite fun. But it happened because she started ACTING love out, not because she started FEELING.

Our feelings normally follow our actions, not the other way around. Try acting out love, and you may find that your heart softens.

Think About the Benefits of Marriage

Being married makes you wealthier. It makes you happier. It adds as many years to a man’s life as quitting smoking does. It makes you less susceptible to disease. It helps you to raise better kids. Marriage is a wonderful thing.

Before you throw it away, think about the cost.

If people put as much work into their marriage as they will have to into a divorce, more people would stay happily married. (Click to Tweet)

Work at Your Marriage

Thoughts If Your Spouse Has Checked Out

Your spouse has checked out of the marriage, and you’ve finally realized that you were doing wrong. You want your spouse to love you again. Maybe you had an affair. Maybe you withheld sex. Maybe you just never cared about your spouse’s feelings. What do you do now to show your spouse you’re different?

When You've Broken His TrustI’ve got a post with some great thoughts on what to do when you’re the one who needs forgiveness, and I’d encourage you to read it. Some quick thoughts from that: give your spouse time to be angry; work on a friendship before you work on a sex life; don’t just apologize, show tangible change; get counseling; and decide how much to tell the kids.

Read that post for lots of insight!

But I do have one more thought. I have a friend who is walking through this right now. He has checked out; and his wife is only starting to realize the damage that she has done. Much of that damage, though, has its roots in her own childhood, with trauma that she has never dealt with.

Often the reason that we are unable to give a spouse the love that he or she needs is because we ourselves didn’t receive it when we were young. We thus are in self-preservation mode. We have control issues and trust issues. And so it’s hard to build a good marriage, and we often hurt the one we want to love.

If someone hurt you in the past, do not give that person power over you today.

Do not continue to live with it. Get counseling!  Even if you have to pay a counselor $100 a week, it’s worth it. If you go for a whole year, that’s $5000. That’s a lot, but it’s less than it will cost to get divorced.

Take this seriously and deal with it. If your spouse sees that finally you are admitting you have issues, and finally you are admitting you have a problem, that may go a long way in helping your spouse to love you again.

Whichever spouse you are, this will be a long road. But I firmly believe that God is in the transformation business, and He’s in the reconciliation business. He loves nothing better than to take two broken people and make them whole again. And He can do that, when we finally let our guard down and be honest with Him and with ourselves. That means being vulnerable with each other. That means touching those deep hurts. But there is no hurt that is deeper than God’s love, and when we do become vulnerable, we finally give Him permission to touch that hurt and heal it.

I hope that both of you are able to do that.

Let me know in the comments: Have you ever closed yourself off from your spouse? How did you get over that (if you ever did?)

Reader Question: My Husband is So Passive!

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do when you’re married to a passive husband?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today we’ve got a question from a woman who feels like her husband doesn’t initiate or take the lead.

A little background–we are not a “traditional” newlywed couple–my husband and I just celebrated our second anniversary, I’m older and have grown children from a previous long term marriage, he was briefly married as a very young man, I am his first “roomie” ever, he is still in the military.

Our situation–I need and want my husband to be more decisive, a leader, and take charge (in and out of the bedroom). He is a generous, kind, caring man and I’m grateful and love him dearly. We have a good sex life (2-4/ week) but I’d say I’m the higher drive spouse and initiate almost all of the time–however after much reinforcement and affirmation and really just getting tired of always initiating–I’ve notice a slight improvement in he starting to initiate. I long to feel desired and pursued! I long for him to be more in charge-need his strong, masculine self to make me feel more feminine. I long for him to have an opinion when I ask what he’d like to do, eat, watch etc. It is nice that he wants to please me and make sure I’m happy but I’m concerned how this passivity will affect the long term health of our marriage.

The last thing I want to do is hurt my husband or make him feel like he’s “doing something wrong”. I heard that term in the beginning of our marriage when I tried to bring up things that were bothering me and have worked on finding ways to communicate more effectively. I’m more hesitant and seeking help in this area bc this obviously ties to his being a man and his masculinity and in no way do I want to unintentionally disrespect or demean him!

Do you have suggestions, resources, a way to encourage him? A way to start talking?

Let’s look at this from a number of different angles:

Living with a Passive Husband: Accepting Personality Differences

1. Some People May Seem Passive, But Their Personality is Just Laid Back

She seems to want her husband to be decisive and have opinions, and she views this as a character defect because he doesn’t. But these are also different sides of personality. There are umpteen ways to measure personality, and I’ve talked on this blog before about my favourite–the MBTI. Basically it divides personality into four spectrums:

Extrovert/Introvert
Sensing/Intuitive (are you a detail person or a big picture person)
Thinking/Feeling (do you value logic or feelings when making decisions)
Judging/Perceiving (are you quick to have an opinion, or do you like to be spontaneous?)

I’m totally guessing here, but it sounds like he may be an FP, and she may be a TJ. Thinking/Judgers are big on opinions and action and just DOING something. FPs are big on living in the moment, enjoying things, and not getting too worked up over anything.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with either.

We need to be very careful in marriage that we do not attribute a character flaw to someone when it is simply a personality difference. I’m a TJ, so I understand the woman’s urge to want someone to make a decision and to express it quickly. But I also married a TJ. If she chose to marry someone who was not like that, she really can’t blame him for it. Even the fact that she’s saying he’s a passive husband instead of saying he’s a laid back husband already means a value judgment.

In marriage we all have to adjust to each other. Perhaps what God really wants her to learn is how to be more spontaneous, how to live life without definite plans, how to enjoy the moment, and how to just relax. These are all good things, too.

Don’t try to change him. He’s a good and generous man, but he’s simply different from you, and that honestly is okay. It may be a good idea to take a personality test so that you can see this in black and white. It isn’t a character problem, but instead differences in how you approach life. Sometimes it’s those differences that can make life fun!

2. Be Careful of Overcompensating

Different Parenting StylesThere’s a funny dynamic in marriage that goes something like this, and let me use parenting as an example because we all get it. Let’s say that you could measure leniency as a parent on a scale of 1-100, and discipline on a scale of 1-100. Let’s say that one parent falls at about 25 on the discipline scale, and one parent falls at about 25 on the leniency scale. One parent wants more order, and one parent wants more fun.

Here’s what often happens as the two parents interact with the kids: the lenient parent sees the discipline parent discipline, and so they became concerned. That makes them become even more lenient, because they want to give their kids a break. As the discipline parent sees the lenient parent grow even more lenient, they feel that the discipline is even more in their hands, and so they start coming down even harder. Both parents are trying to make up for what they see the other parent not doing.

Now, suddenly, they’re both 75 on their scales. They’re comfortable at 25, but they’ve become a caricature of themselves while they try to compensate for the other.

That’s a common dynamic, but it’s one we need to make sure we don’t follow. In this case, the wife could be so concerned the husband makes no decisions that she starts to make even more. That reinforces him as the passive one, and her as the decisive one. Soon she’s become more decisive than she even wants to be, but she’s also given him permission to be even more passive. It’s not healthy.

If you see something lacking, don’t fill the gap. Sometimes it’s best to back off. She backed off on initiating, and he did begin to initiate more. That’s good!

3. Accept Him as He Is

Here’s what I see from this letter: she’s tried all kinds of different ways to make her “passive husband” open up more, because she feels that something is holding him back and he’s missing out on life. She wants him to communicate better and to initiate more.

But few guys like talking. And he’s in the military! That means that he’s been taught to keep his feelings under wraps and just do what you need to in the moment. Sitting around and analyzing what’s going on in your head isn’t a big part of his experience.

She suddenly wants him to start opening up, and she’s frustrated that he’s not.

I guess I’d ask, why? What did you expect him to do?

Let me be perfectly blunt here. Stop trying to change him and stop trying to have these big communication sessions. Just accept him. He seems like a decent, responsible, kind person, who doesn’t like to talk about his feelings. In other words, he seems like the vast majority of men. It doesn’t mean he’s hiding anything, and it doesn’t mean that he has things bottled up. He just would prefer not to look too deeply, and that’s okay.

Instead of trying to get him to sit down and talk, why don’t you spend time with him? Find a hobby you can do together. Have him take you to the shooting range. Take up jogging. It doesn’t matter what it is; but do things together. That’s when you’re likely to start talking; it’s far more likely to happen outdoors when you’re doing something than at night when you say, “now’s when we’re going to communicate.”

4. Be Grateful for Your Sex Life

It sounds like you two have a great sex life. 2-4 times a week is wonderful! And it sounds like he’s a good lover, interested in pleasing you. No, it’s not absolutely everything you want, but it sounds pretty good. Why not start focusing on what you do like, instead of on what you’re missing?

Thank him for what he does do. Send him flirty texts referring to something that happened last night. Just be generous!

If there really is something that you’re missing, you can suggest having “His/Her Saturdays” or something, where one week you do what you want (and you lay out how he’s supposed to initiate), and the next week you do what he wants. That works for some couples. But I think learning to laugh together and appreciate what you do have is far better than mentioning inadequacies, especially when you’re doing well. When you both feel like good lovers, it’s far easier to continue to improve. When you both feel judged, people tend to retreat.

Those are my initial thoughts, but I’d love to hear yours! I’m also quite aware that this woman has a great husband–he may be passive, but overall he sounds like a solid guy. I know some of you don’t have that. Your passive husband won’t get a job, or plays video games all the time, or something like that. In those cases my advice would be quite different. But this man doesn’t seem to be doing anything wrong; they simply have different personalities. And in that case, I still think the best route is acceptance, not trying to change someone.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

Reader Question: My Friend is Having an Affair

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do if you discover your best friend is having an affair?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. And that difficult situation is the subject of today’s letter. A reader writes:

I really appreciated your post about When you catch your husband texting another woman but I’m wondering if you have ever written or would be able to address the topic of when you have friend, who is the wife in this situation, engaging in the affair. She recently told her husband, so it’s out now. I’ve confronted her before about what I saw because I was concerned that she may be headed down this path, but she denied that it was an issue. But now I know it was an issue before I even talked with her. So I’m just looking for advice on how to walk through this with her and respond lovingly and Christ-like. She is a believer.

That’s a tough situation, isn’t it? Few of us like confrontation, but when a friend is having an affair, confrontation is pretty much required of you.

Before I give a framework for this situation, let’s just lay out a few “givens”, that I hope we all agree with. Affairs are horrible things. They should never be justified. If a marriage is abusive, or if there is adultery on the other person’s part, then it could be that the marriage needs to be ended. But that is still not an excuse for an affair. You deal with the marriage you are in before you look elsewhere. The vast majority of affairs, however, do not occur in marriages where divorce is the best option. They occur in unhappy marriages, or in marriages where the couple has just grown distant lately. That is NEVER an excuse for an affair.

An affair blows apart the marriage and it blows apart the family, and people need to understand the gravity of what they’re doing. So if you have a friend who is having an affair, here are some thoughts:

"My friend is having an affair!" How to confront her

1. Affairs are Fantasies that Exist in the Dark. Bring it to Light

Why do people have affairs and continue in affairs? Because it feels so intoxicating! They’re unhappy or bored with their “real life”, and the affair makes them feel alive again. Someone loves them. Someone appreciates their thoughts and their feelings.

But it’s all just an illusion. The reason that person is able to act like they love them unconditionally and that their thoughts and feelings are so important is that they’re not living in real life. They don’t have to pay bills, make meals, take kids to the doctor, dealing with extended family crises, and all those other things that marriage brings.

When you’re in the middle of an affair, too, you start to fantasize about what would happen if this continued. You can see yourself married to this person, and see how that marriage would be wonderful. You don’t take into account how angry and hurt and bewildered your children will be. You don’t take into account how long the legal battle will be to end the marriage and establish custody. You don’t think about that; you fantasize as if all the obstacles just float away.

Nothing ends an affair like a good dose of reality. Now I’m going to recommend something here that is drastic, and some people may disagree with me. Perhaps my advice isn’t the right course of action in all circumstances. But I still firmly believe that secrets are dangerous, and that when we bring things to light, God can start to work.

If you know a friend is having an affair, I highly recommend sitting down with her and telling her in no uncertain terms, “End this right now or I will tell your spouse and the spouse of your lover.”

Don’t get into a conversation with her about how unhappy her marriage is. Don’t get sucked into discussing how great the guy is. Just be firm.

What you are doing is wrong, and it needs to stop. If you are going to go on with this person, your spouse still deserves to know now so they can prepare. I am not going to be a party to something like this, and so I will tell if you don’t end it.

How do you tell? I’d go as a couple, you and your husband, and sit the spouses down and let them know.

What if, like in this letter writer’s situation, you have a suspicion, but the friend hasn’t admitted it? You can say to your friend, “What I’m seeing is inappropriate, whether it’s a full blown affair or not. And I fear for your marriage, and I think your husband needs to know so that you can work on this together. I’d be happy to be there with you when you tell him.”

Will your friend hate you and be angry at you? Probably. But ultimately what is more important? Keeping that friendship, or giving that marriage the chance to survive? That marriage won’t survive if the affair is ongoing. Telling the spouse, though, does two things:

1. It stops this fantasy life where the affair appears so easy
2. It gives the other spouse a chance to fight for the marriage

2. Help Your Friend See the Long Term Repercussions for the Children

If your friend has kids, she needs to understand what will happen with those kids. Ask her these sorts of questions:

1. Are you prepared to only see your children 50% of the time?
2. Are you prepared to spend half of your Christmases away from your kids, and half of their birthdays away from them? When they are grown up, are you prepared to see them and your grandchildren significantly less? (People need to be aware that when they divorce, they end up seeing grandchildren only about 40% as often as if they had stayed married. It becomes too stressful for young couples to juggle two sets of parents, and so they tend to withdraw more.)
3. Are you prepared for your children to understand that it was you who broke up the marriage?

That last one is vitally important. People need to know that they will not get off scot-free. I have extended family members who have had affairs and ended marriages, and their children have all been made aware of the fact (not by me) that one of their parents broke up the marriage over an affair. Even if that affair happened when the kids were young, they do find out. It doesn’t stay a secret. And you should tell your friend, “This will NOT stay a secret from your kids. They WILL know that it was you who ended the marriage. They’ll know that you chose your lover over them.”

Is this harsh? You betcha. But people in the middle of affairs need a good dose of reality.

3. Help Your Friend Understand the Ramifications for Her Social Circle

You may want to stay her friend; this letter writer does want to try to still model Christ to this woman, and I do understand the sentiment. After all, James writes:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We want to be that person who rescues our friend, and so our instinct is often to be compassionate rather than confrontational. We want to listen to her and talk with her and pray with her and say, “I understand that you’re hurting, but there is a way out.” Perhaps there is room for that.

However, I’m not sure that rescuing a friend from wandering always involves being nice. I think it often involves a cold, hard telling of the truth. And the truth is that if this friend leaves her spouse for her lover, you likely won’t be her friend in the same way ever again, nor should you. She has broken faith with her husband, her kids, God, and her church community. Someone who has done that deserves to know that there are repercussions.

You will not socialize with this other person. You will not go to a second wedding. You will not support her; you will, instead, support her husband, providing baby-sitting and whatever else he needs to get set up as a single parent. And you’re pretty sure that everyone else you know will take a similar stance.

And then be sure to tell her: If you do not end this affair, I will tell the pastor and have you removed from any leadership activities. And people will find out.

If your friend is not a Christian, and that isn’t a good threat, then you can still let her know that your mutual friends will eventually find out what she did.

4. Be There When Her World Falls Apart

Most affairs don’t end well. There is no marriage to the lover; there is only destruction in the wake. When the destruction occurs, and if she is truly repentant, be there to help restore her. Once she’s repented, there is no need to ostracize or punish her. Now is the time to restore her.

Help her and her husband find a good counselor. Baby-sit as much as you can so they can work on this. Pray a ton with her. This is when she’s going to need you.

Many of us are awful at confrontation, and we likely don’t appreciate most of these suggestions. And doesn’t talking about all of this to pastors or others in leadership sound like gossip? I don’t think so. I think affairs are so dangerous that they need to be brought to the light, and so basically, you have no choice. Standing by your friend means helping your friend. You don’t help her by letting her continue her fantasy.

You may need to have another friend pray with you or talk you through this before you confront her, and that’s okay. Talking to one or two other people so you can pray and prepare may very well be a good idea. I think sometimes we’re so scared of gossip that we don’t take the proper steps we need to when something serious is at stake. Do what you must.

In the meantime, here are some more posts that may help if your friend is having an affair:

Books on How to Deal with Affairs
What to Say when a Friend Announces She’s Getting a Divorce

Now, what do you think? Have you ever had to confront a friend over an affair? What happened? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Question: I Hate My Daughter’s Boyfriend!

Reader Question of the Week“I hate my daughter’s boyfriend.” That’s a tough situation to be in. And that’s our Reader Question this week! Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Here’s this week’s from a woman who is not pleased with who her daughter is dating:

I am concerned about my daughter’s current boyfriend. It seems to me and my son that he doesn’t respect my daughter and he is getting her involved with odd things – role-playing games, songs with bad lyrics, etc. She is 18, so I have limited power, but any advice would be great. Her dad doesn’t really see it, but he is gone a lot for work.

This is a difficult one, isn’t it? Personally, I’m really blessed, because I love my daughter’s boyfriend, but I’ve often thought about what I would do if one of my daughters decided to date someone I didn’t approve of.

And the truth is that once they’re a certain age there really isn’t a whole lot you can do. You can’t forbid them; they’re an adult. Nevertheless, you do have influence, so here are some thoughts I have on how to tackle this problem.

I hate my daughter's boyfriend! Handling a relationship you disapprove of.

Keep Your Daughter’s Boyfriend Close

You know the saying, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?” I think this applies doubly for a situation like this!

Here’s the thing: if you tell your daughter that he is an awful person, and you tell her that you don’t like him, what’s she going to do? She’ll hang out with him anyway, but she’ll do it away from you! You’ll end up driving her away from the family.

Teenage love is a strange thing. People feel all these intense things, and believe that this is real love, and we’re alone in the world, and no one else understands us. Pretty much all teenage couples feel this way to some extent. Add in a slightly controlling or “dangerous” boyfriend, and you’ve already got those feelings doubled.

Then, if you start reinforcing this by telling her how awful her boyfriend is, she’ll take that as a sign that this is true love, and that only her boyfriend does understand her.

Instead, have him over a lot. Engage him in conversation. Ask him to help with things around the house, like fixing some plumbing or changing the oil on your car or something. Treat him like he’s part of the family.

Won’t this tell your daughter that you like him? Not necessarily, especially if you follow the next few steps. But what it will do is show your daughter how he sticks out like a sore thumb. If he is really different from your family, and your daughter is comfortable in the family, and then she finds that he just doesn’t fit, it could easily make him look more pathetic. If she only spends time with him away from the family, he can look better than he really is.

Here’s another benefit: even if you don’t like this boy for your daughter, he is a child of God. And right now, you have influence over him. I can think of two moms that I know who didn’t like their sons’ girlfriends. But they embraced those girls, they mentored those girls, they interacted with them on Facebook and tried to make them feel like they were valued, and when those destructive relationships did end, those girls had seen what Jesus’ love looks like.

If you bring that boy into the fold, you’re not blessing the relationship. You’re simply exerting influence, and showing your daughter that you trust that she will eventually make the right decision. And then you’ll know more what’s going on in their relationship, because they’re living it under your eyes.

Ask Your Daughter What She Wants in a Relationship

Talk to your daughter about the future. Where does she want to be in five years? In ten years? What kind of job does she want? How does she picture herself living? Does she want children? Then ask her in the abstract: what kind of man would make a good father? What are your non-negotiables for a husband? Eventually you may ask her how she sees her boyfriend fitting into this.

The main point: Don’t volunteer your own opinion. Simply keep asking questions. It’s better for her to come to the conclusion herself about whether he’s marriage material than for you to tell her repeatedly.

Share Your Specific Concerns to Your Daughter about her Boyfriend

In this case, the mom is worried about the role playing games and the songs she’s listening to. Again, start with questions. “What do you think of that song?” Share with her that this isn’t a song that you thought that she would like. And ask her, “have things changed? Do you feel differently now?”

If she no longer feels the same convictions that you do, you can’t make her suddenly have those convictions. But you can make her confront her own hypocrisy. Ask her, “how does this connect with your faith?” If she can’t answer it, then at least she can start to see that her faith may be weak. You can’t have a real God experience without realizing that you truly need Him and you’ve messed up. It’s totally okay to help her see that.

One word of warning, though: It could be that she does still love God, but she’s going to express it in different ways than you would. I know some teenagers, for instance, who the parents have told me have “rebelled” and have “turned their backs on God.” However, from my perspective they haven’t done that at all. They’ve gotten tattoos, and they’ve got different views of some social and political issues, and they’ve started going to different churches. But they still love God, they’re still in ministry, and they still pray and identify as Christians. They just do it in a different way from their parents.

I’m not saying that’s what happening here; I’m just saying that sometimes we react to what we perceive is a child leaving the faith, when really they’re choosing to express faith in a new way. I know that’s hard, because it means that your child is rejecting your family culture. But please, in those times, remember that God is bigger than your family culture, and see the faith that is still in your child. Approve of it. Bless it as he or she goes on a different journey, and don’t make him or her feel guilty for choosing something other than what you would do, as long as the essentials of the faith (say, the Apostle’s Creed, for instance) are still there.

What if the Relationship is Dangerous?

But what if it’s not a question of just disapproving of the guy, but a question of the relationship honestly being dangerous? Maybe she’s at risk of pregnancy because you’ve found that your daughter is sleeping with her boyfriend, or you fear he’s violent or controlling. That doesn’t look like the case for our letter writer, but some of you may be facing a more dire situation. Here are some thoughts in that case:

Do Not Let Your Daughter Sleep with Her Boyfriend in Your House

When You Discover Your Daughter is Having SexIf your daughter is going to sleep with her boyfriend, she’s going to do it somewhere. Either your house, his house, a friend’s house, or the car. Those really are the only options.

You can make sure she doesn’t do it at your house by not letting them in the house alone, and by never letting them be in a room with the door completely closed.

If he still lives with his parents, you can talk to those parents and ask that they not leave the two of them alone, though you have no guarantee that the parents will follow this advice.

If the car is an issue, you can stop letting her borrow your car.

Here’s a more detailed post on this issue:

What to do if you discover your daughter is having sex

Give Her a Taste of Reality

The quickest way to end a fantasy is with a little dose of reality. If your daughter is completely rebelling, and is involved with someone that you know is bad for her, and is openly sleeping with him or doing drugs/alcohol, etc., then sometimes the best thing to do is to issue a bit of tough love. Tell her that she cannot do these things while living in your house, and tell her that if she is going to make these choices, then she will have to support herself.

Will this be hard? Absolutely, and this is really only for the worst case scenarios. But sometimes a person needs to go through a year or two of horror to come back and realize that’s not the way she wants to live her life.

Maybe it’s not to that level, though. Let’s say your daughter is involved with a slightly older guy that has kids with another woman, and he has to pay child support. Have her make up a budget. Have her figure out how much money will actually be left over if her boyfriend pays the full child support. Have her talk to one of your friends who is always in court battling her ex about money or access (you likely have at least one friend that does this; I have several!). Let her see how hard life will be.

If Necessary, Call the Police

If you suspect your daughter is being physically or sexually abused, call the police. Will it make her mad? You betcha. But it’s difficult for the authorites to prosecute unless they have a paper trail showing a pattern. And it could be that this guy has already been charged with domestic violence with other women. Violence is violence; don’t keep it in the family.

Remember that She is in God’s Hands

Finally, and this is the hardest part, remember that she is in God’s hands. You’ve done all you can; you’ve raised her for eighteen years or so, and you’ve instilled all the values in her that you can. Now it’s time for her to make her own decisions–even if you don’t like those decisions.

So pray hard, and lean on God, and learn to trust Him. He really does love your child, and He will protect her wherever she goes. Sometimes it takes a few years in the wilderness for her to figure out what she wants. Those are going to be tough years for you. But God can carry her, and He can carry you, too.

Now’s the time to learn to trust. It’s not an easy lesson, but it’s an important one. And He will be enough for you.

Now I’d love to hear from you: has your child ever dated someone you didn’t approve of? How did you handle it? Or if you ever dated someone your parents didn’t like, what made you eventually see the light? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Reader Question of the Week: Some Quick Answers and a Question from ME

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to put up a reader question and take a stab at answering it, but today I thought I’d go through several ones that I’ve received recently that I can answer quickly. Some of the questions I’m just going to put links up to answers, because I’ve written about it before. But if people are sending me in a question, chances are some of you have the same ones, and you don’t know there’s already a post on it.

Then I’ve got a question to ask you! (I’m writing a book and could really use some help!). So here goes:

1. My Husband’s a Photographer, and Takes Boudoir Photos. Is that Okay?

She writes:

Earlier in our marriage my husband took boudoir photos of some women at their request. I asked him to stop, and I thought he did, but I recently found out he’s still taking them. I don’t want to be the “police” in our marriage, but I had confidence that he understood where I was coming from in this situation and I feel as though he has broken my trust. He says he needs the freedom to take photos artistically without worrying what I might think and needs me to trust him that his motives are pure. Perhaps they are, but the intimacy of someone posing nearly nude for a photo taken by my husband seems to cheapen the intimacy we share. He does not have plans for more shoots like this. However, I am struggling with wanting to be supportive and at the same time protecting our marriage and the intimacy we share. To him, taking those photos is completely separate from our relationship and has no effect on us as a couple.

That’s a tough situation! It’s interesting–I answered the question a while ago “Is it okay to take sexy photos of yourself for your husband“, and talked about boudoir photos shoots, and we had lots of debates in the comments. But nobody actually mentioned the effect on the photographer’s marriage. Something to think about.

My quick thoughts: I’d be uncomfortable with this, too, and I’d definitely ask him to stop. If he just won’t, though, then I’d insist on being there during these photo shoots. I don’t think that solves the problem–he’s still looking at another woman who is almost naked–but at least you’re there.

And I’d pray a lot! But yes, I’d make an issue out of it with him, and I’d maybe say something like this: “I believe that this isn’t what God wants. Why don’t we look at how much money you made from the photos in the last few months, and then decide that you won’t take them in the next few months, and pray that God will make up the difference?” I’ve often found that when we do the right thing, God honours that.

Sex and Hormones: When Pregnancy, Nursing, or Menopause Kill Your Libido (thoughts on what to do to stay intimate!)2. PMS Kills My Libido!

A reader writes:

My hormonal imbalances wreak havoc the week before my period & then when I start, I feel tons better. I have spoken to my OBGYN & she has increased my magnesium & that seemed to help with my last PMS. But here’s the thing, the week before, I’m not in the mood sexually at all. Then we usually do nothing sexually while I have my period. So, essentially, we only have 2 weeks out of a month to enjoy sex. What can I do to improve this?  Those 2 weeks we have fun & build up my hubby’s stamina, but then my PMS issues begin. Then we are back to square 1. Ugh.

I hear you. Oh, how I hear you! Hormones have been wreaking havoc with me, too!

I’ve written a post on hormones and sex which may help. It’s more specifically about menopause/nursing, etc., but I think it applies any time our hormones are out of whack:

When Hormones Mess Up Your Sex Life

3. My Husband Has ADD–How Do I Not Nag?

Here’s the situation: Her three boys have ADHD, but her husband seems also to have it, though it’s undiagnosed. She writes:

I don’t feel like it is entirely appropriate to approach my husband the same way I approach my children. I don’t want to treat him like a child, but at the same time he is doing many of the same things they do, and it drives me CRAZY!!! I feel like nobody listens to me, usually because I have to repeat myself many, many times to everyone. I feel like nobody respects my opinion, or what I am saying, because I am constantly interrupted! I am the only one keeping the house picked up and organized, in a house full of people who want to hold on to everything, and never put any of it away! I am exhausted trying to balance it all, and I am afraid that the relationships in our house are falling apart. I am constantly frustrated with everyone, my husband is frustrated by the kids behaviors, and mess, but is failing to see that he is the exact same way, which makes me even more frustrated!!!!

I hear you. I can just imagine living in that chaos! I wrote a while ago about husbands and ADD, and this may help:

When Your Husband has ADD

"My Husband Doesn't Find Me Attractive." How to process this hurt and decide how to deal with it.4. My Husband Looks at Other Women in Front of Me

A bit of background: He’s  used porn almost the whole marriage (though he’s trying to quit), and he suffers from ED. And now she writes this:

I have not noticed any signs that my husband is still doing porn. My problem is that he still has a wandering eye for beautiful women when we go out. My self esteem was not good before I found out about the porn and after that it was in the negative so say the least! I have told him how much his looking bothers and hurts me. I know this is a difficult thing for men and his comeback was that all men do it! We can go out on a nice date and I come home feeling like crap about myself because he’s checking out other women and then wants sex when we get home, while I’m crushed and angry. Do I say something to him when I notice it? What should I say? I want to be loving and not angry and start a fight everytime we go out (which doesn’t happen right now because I just stew and cry in silence). I love the beach, but last summer I could barely take it and silently cried the whole time (sunglasses help alot). We had a marriage speaker at church last week and we went for a date night and of course there was a beautiful woman to the side and behind us and he turned around 7-8 times to get a look. I try so hard to ignore it, but when he’s actually turning his body to get a look, it’s hard to ignore!

A few quick thoughts: I can absolutely understand how devastating this can be.

However, there’s a thread in her email that concerns me, and that’s the complete and utter lack of communication. She cries in silence; she tries to ignore it; she doesn’t say anything.

I’m not quite sure why? I think I may write a longer post about THAT issue–why is it that we often feel it’s wrong to talk about something that is obviously wrong in and of itself–but in this case, I think that’s what’s missing.

Here’s what I’d do. If you’re out, the very first time he looks at another woman, I would get up sweetly, put my arm on his arm, and say, “Honey, you’d obviously rather be alone so you have time to look. So I’ll just head on out and get my own dinner, and you text me when you’re ready to go home.” Or I’d grab a cab or a bus myself, or better yet take the car. Ditto with the beach. If you’re there with your kids, pack up and go home, and tell them that you’ll come back another time just with you and the kids. They need to also see that there are some things that you won’t put up with because they’re just wrong–even if it makes them upset, and even if it makes Daddy upset. There’s a bigger point to be made here, which is that you do not allow yourself to be treated that way, and you do not enable sinful behaviour (which is what it is when he is checking out other women).

I simply would not put up with it.

And if he makes an issue out of it, he makes an issue out of it. That’s okay. That’s his prerogative. He can get angry at you if he wants. But the truth is that seeing him look at other women is hurtful towards you, and you need to say, “I will not sit here while you do that.” That is setting an appropriate boundary, and it needs to be done.

I’m wondering right now if he even realizes that he’s hurting you or that what he’s doing is wrong, because she’s never said anything.

In addition to that, I have several posts that can help:

My Husband Doesn’t Find Me Attractive–What Do I Do?

My Husband Looks at Other Women (I talk about the difference between the drive to look and the temptation, and actually following through with it)

5. My Question: Have You Ever Been Ticked At Your Husband–and then Let It Go?

I’m looking for stories of people who were once really ticked at their husbands for something, and felt like their husbands weren’t making them happy. Then something changed–God changed your heart or your perspective–and you decided to be grateful instead.

If that’s you, can you tell me: how did that change how you saw the marriage? How did that change how you saw your own role in the marriage? And once you changed, what effect did that have on your husband? You can leave a comment, or, if it’s an involved story (and I’d love some involved stories!), just email me here.

Thanks so much, everyone! I’ve got the drafts of 6 chapters of 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage done; working on getting chapter 7 done today!

Reader Question: Why Did My Husband Change After We Got Married?

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. I get a ton of questions, and I don’t have time to answer anything personally. But when something comes along that looks like it would apply to a lot of people, I like trying to answer it on the blog.

Today we’re going to deal with what to do if your husband changed after marriage.

A reader writes:

What do you do when your husband changes who he is after you are married? I’ve been married for 3 years and prior to saying “I do” my husband was a fun guy, he liked to go out on dates etc. Now he’s not into anything, I try to get him to do stuff with me and he just say’s he’s not into it anymore. He’s even recently decided that he doesn’t need to get me presents anymore. He doesn’t see why he has to get me a Christmas present which he didn’t until 4 day’s later when he felt guilty. On Valentines day, he worked extra duty and went to get his hair cut. I saw him for and hour that day. Then we have a big fight on why it would have been nice to just get out of the house with him and do something together. I didn’t need gifts. He told me I was high maintenance expecting him to do something nice for me on Valentines. I don’t know what to do.

That certainly would be frustrating, and I can understand feeling so lonely and rather taken for granted.

I want to give a few very quick thoughts with some links to longer posts I’ve written which may prove helpful, and then I’ve got a broader point to make–so read on!

What happened to that romantic guy I dated? If your husband changed after marriage, some thoughts to bring romance back!

1. Do You Know Your Husband’s Love Language?

From what I can see in this very brief letter (which obviously is missing a lot of key information), her love language is likely quality time or gifts. She doesn’t feel loved because in her experience, he isn’t thinking of her and caring for her in the way that she needs.

We tend to like to give love in the same way we like to receive love, so she’s probably wanting to spend time with him to show him that she loves him, and she’s not able to. But what if his love language is words of affirmation? Or service? Or physical touch? It could be that he is feeling just as lonely.

So I’d encourage you to look at love languages and talk to your husband and see if you can figure each other out. Lots of people like taking personality tests on the internet, so this may be something he’d join you in.

2. Are You Meeting His Needs?

She’s really upset because he’s not meeting her genuine needs for connection, and that definitely is lonely. But rarely have I seen a marriage where only one person is lonely. Often what happens is one person becomes upset, so they lash out in hurt, which makes the other spouse defensive and hurt so they withdraw. The other spouse is now hurt, too.

I know this is hard to ask yourself when you’re definitely hurting, but are you meeting your husband’s needs? Let’s take a look at ourselves first before we point the finger at him.

Why He Won’t Meet Your Needs

Why am I The One Who Has to Change? (if you’re uncomfortable with my suggestion here, read this post, too!)

3. Can You Find Things to Do Together?

She has a big need to spend time with her husband–and that is a legitimate need. Sometimes, though, we need to take the initiative and find things that will work for both of us.

Here are some posts that might help:

Finding Things to do Together

Benefits of Walking Together

Reviving Your Friendship

4. Marriage is a Big Adjustment–and It’s all About Expectations

Is the problem that your husband changed after marriage? Or is it more that he just didn’t change the way that you expected him to?

Marriage is a HUGE adjustment for most couples, and while some enjoy a “honeymoon” period where everything is wonderful, I think far more find those first two years the hardest of their lives. We had ideas that once we were married we’d eat dinner together every night, and we’d do stuff together, but maybe he didn’t share those ideas. Maybe he thought he’d just continue to have fun–but with you along for the ride. It’s not that either of you is wrong; it’s just that you had different ideas of what life was going to be like.

Dreaming togetherMaybe what you need to do, then, is to talk about your expectations and your dreams and your visions for  you as a couple and as a family. If we can actually talk about our expectations, then we can start to understand our spouse better and figure out how to adjust. But if you never talk about the expectations, we tend to make a lot of assumptions–including assuming that the other person doesn’t really love us the way we love them.

This post may help you inspire some conversation:

Dream Together as a Couple

Do All Men Change After Marriage?

Everybody changes after they get married, as Dayna Bickham wrote about so well last week in our Wifey Wednesday.

But I’m not sure the problems we encounter in marriage are as much about people changing as they are about the fact that once we’re married we learn people’s true selves.

And what worries me is that many people get married without really knowing the person they are marrying.

What I see in this letter, for instance, is that before marriage they went on dates, but after marriage they don’t. Now, I think dating is fun, and should certainly continue after marriage. In fact, I’ve got a post on cheap date night ideas for married couples, too!

But here’s the thing:

Doing “dating things” is not preparation for marriage. Going out on dates tells you almost nothing about what that person will be like once you’re married.

You don’t need to know whether or not someone is capable of taking you to movie and a dinner. What you need to know is what they do on a day-to-day basis, when they’re at home. It’s the home life that counts, not the dating, because dating isn’t real.

I know a young couple who has started seeing each other in the last few months, and they’ve fallen quite hard, too. But while they see each other constantly, they’ve only been on three real “dates”. They simply don’t have the money. So instead they hang out with friends, or go on walks, or just spend time talking and cooking together. They go to church together. That’s a better preparation for marriage if you ask me, because that’s sharing real life.

Too often when we date we don’t share real life, and so you truly don’t know what this person is really like. It could be that this guy hasn’t changed at all–it’s just that she never really knew him.

Is your friend marrying the wrong person? Top 10 questions to ask her to help her make a good decision (because that's what friends do!)That’s why I’m very adamant that we need to ask our friends those hard questions before they get married.

Sit them down and drill them, even if they’re uncomfortable, because it’s better to do that than to have a friend marry badly. And as I said in my post last week, one of the key questions is: What do you DO together? If the only things you really “do” together are dating things, then you don’t know how you will act when you actually marry.

And the other key question? How does he treat his mom? I know some men treat their moms like queens and treat their wives horribly, but that really is the exception. Most men who treat their moms well also treat their wives well. If he doesn’t send his mom a Mother’s Day card, and doesn’t remember her birthday, and doesn’t care about Christmas, it’s unlikely he will for you, either.

We don’t know enough about this letter writer, and so I’m not trying to say that all of this was necessarily visible before she got married. But I do think for many people it is. You meet someone; you get infatuated; and you spend time together being all romantic. But that’s not the basis for a life together. You have to have shared purpose, and shared values, and a shared vision. That’s what’s really important in a future spouse.

What if you don’t share anything important with your husband?

Then it’s time to start building the relationship from the ground up. Work at being his friend. Find things to do together–even things you never thought you’d enjoy. Figure out what his love language is and really love on him.

You made this vow, and the vow matters. Bailing on the marriage is unlikely to bring you a lot of happiness, but working on the marriage you have likely will. So ask God for grace and patience and focus on what you can do to make things better, not on what he can do. You just may find that you enjoy being with him after all.

What about you? Were you surprised that your husband changed after marriage? Did he go from a romantic guy to someone who missed birthdays? How did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments!

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