Self-protection kills intimacy

self-protection man woman kickboxing

Intimacy and self-protection are mutually exclusive

It has occurred to me recently how often my clients and parishioners are living in a defensive mode, trying to protect themselves from perceived attack/abuse by a loved one. This is a natural instinct, of course, but ironic, since self-protection kills intimacy. Intimacy comes from vulnerability, willingness to open one’s self up and share one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In defensive mode, one person is intentionally keeping themselves from being vulnerable to the other. Oftentimes both partners are doing it.

Empower your partner to ruin you!

I tell clients that if you’re not sharing enough with your partner that they could completely screw you over and ruin your life if they chose to, you’re not being vulnerable enough. It’s a paradox. We often argue because we are not connected. As we argue we hurt each other and as we hurt each other we take defensive and isolated postures against one another. This may effectively keep the other partner’s grenades from landing and doing further damage, but it also prevents each partner from the very behaviors, attitudes, and emotions that create the intimacy they lack, which may be leading to arguments to begin with.

Why therapy is hard

That is why therapy is so often difficult and painful. A person who is hurting in a relationship and wants to not hurt anymore will often be dismayed to find that they may have to let down their guard in order to have any hope at all of moving towards intimacy. No doubt there are situations where this is not advisable (all cases of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and most cases of addiction), but anytime it is not contraindicated (strongly advised against), it will have to be done. Laying down one’s shield is difficult when one knows the other is still flinging arrows one’s direction. But a person of good will will not continue fighting for long once their partner lays down their shield.

Self-protection kills intimacy. If you’re hurting so bad in your relationship that you cannot imagine that you could stop protecting yourself, get help as soon as possible. As long as you keep fighting, your probably will too.

Six Words That Would Transform Most Marriages

men grow up women put up

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[This post was previously titled My Book About Sex]

If I could write just one book that would transform most marriages, it would have two chapters, and six words. In fact, I’ll write that book right now. I will release all copyrights to it, and you are free to distribute this fantastic advice from a seasoned counseling professional to as many people as you’d like.

Chapter 1

Men, grow up.

Chapter 2

Women, put out.


Can you define what a healthy relationship is?

young couple, healthy relationship

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What is a healthy relationship?

It seems like an easy question to answer, but there are thousands of people who would be stumped by it. Many have never seen a healthy relationship, don’t know anyone who has one, and certainly never experienced one for themselves.

Are you one of those people?

A healthy relationship is one where two healthy and whole human beings are attracted to one another and choose one another as companions on life’s journey.

This is a simple, boiled-down definition, but it has a few important implications:

1. A relationship, by definition, can only be as healthy as the individuals in it. Two broken, needy, insecure, and/or immature individuals cannot “complete” one another. When they form a relationship, they will both end up with twice the brokenness, neediness, insecurity, and/or immaturity they had before.

2. The individuals in a healthy relationship do not need each other. Each of them is a whole person by themselves. They come together not out of need, but simply because they enjoy each other’s company and want to spend life together. This is why I use the word “choose” in my definition of a healthy relationship. Only healthy people are truly free to choose one another. Broken people always think they are choosing, but they are driven by their emptiness and deep need for the other person. “I need you,” as romantic as it sounds, actually means, “I am not free to choose not to be with you.”

3. When one person in a relationship believes they are healthy and whole, but that the person they are with is broken, it is almost certainly the case that the first person is not healthy and whole. Healthy and whole people rarely choose unhealthy and broken people as partners. Brokenness is obvious to them, and is a turnoff.

4. Broken people, however, will be deeply attracted to other broken people. To a broken person, brokenness in others feels like love. They will mistake their partner’s jealousy, neediness, dominance, sometimes even aggression and violence, for love. And they will mistake their own craving and neediness to be with the other person as love. These are all signs of brokenness.

5. The work of saving a broken relationship is always the work of the broken individuals becoming healthy and whole. As that happens, the relationship will naturally begin to heal. It is next to impossible for broken people to be in a healthy relationship, and it is just as unlikely that whole people will be in a broken relationship. The only exception to this is when a broken person in a broken relationship finally sees their brokenness clearly and does what must be done to become whole.

6. Very young people can be healthy, but are rarely whole. To be whole is to have a full sense of one’s self as an individual. When very young people marry, they essentially end up raising each other, and their process of becoming whole individuals is seriously complicated. This is why marriages between partners who married young often end in divorce.

Question: How have you seen these ideas in action in your own life, both for better and for worse? Leave a thought or two in the comment section!

Dr. John Gottman on How to Build Trust

Dr. John Gottman on How to Build Trust

Dr. John Gottman is the foremost expert in the world on relationships and how they work (and don’t work). When Dr. Gottman speaks, every person in a relationship should listen. He’s the real deal. Here we learn that building trust happens in small moments, moments that are insanely easy to overlook, moments we actually may have to learn to even be aware of. It happens around the edges of a relationship and between the lines.


To everyone who has ever church-shopped (and everyone who has given up)

I have a friend who has a friend who is looking for a good church.  In the middle of his search, he went to a church where he heard that “the church is not meant to serve you and meet all your needs.”  Now he is feeling guilty for even looking for a church that seems like the right place for him.  Is it okay to shop for a church, to look around for one that seems to “fit?”

The answer, I believe, is yes.  AND – the church is not meant to serve you and meet all your needs!  It’s fine to look for a church that has beliefs and practices you are okay being involved with.  It is fine to look for preaching that “works” for you, as long as “works” means challenging you, prodding you, making you think, and maybe even sometimes making you mad.  “Working for you” should mean you won’t always agree with everything, will sometimes feel a bit offended, and will frequently be challenged and urged to think.  If you are not stretched and challenged, you are not learning anything.  So find a church where the preaching challenges you to grow and makes you think in new ways.

On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to approach finding a church from a consumer mindset.  Churches that are doing the best work are critiquing the American “you can have it all” way of thinking.  Churches that have anything important to say are saying – at the very least – that the real meaning of life is something other than getting everything we want, or even everything we think we need.  [In my opinion, any church that is not constantly returning to this idea has lost its way and now believes it is part of the culture.  Churches should stand outside the culture and never become beholden to it.]  Finding a church is not like deciding what to order at McDonald’s.

I think finding a church is actually more like finding a mate.  Because of the size of the commitment you are going to make to a mate, you are serious about the search.  You don’t just settle for anybody.  At least you shouldn’t!  You date.  You think through what it is you’re looking for and what marriage is going to mean. 

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