Does Your Marriage Have a Pulse?

Last month, we kicked off the new year talking about how you can take care of your heart in 2024. I won’t spoil the main topic of that post here, but trust me, I feel like you’re going to benefit greatly from that post!

This month, I want to shift the focus a little bit from managing your internal world in a healthy way to how effectively you’re taking care of quite possibly the most important relationship God has given you in this life: your marriage.

Before we get into the meat of this conversation, I want to preface this month’s focus with some confessions:

⁃ I’ve been married for almost 15 years.
⁃ I’ve made many mistakes.
⁃ I’ve achieved tremendous growth.
⁃ I’ll be making mistakes and growing until I take my last breath.

The point is this: In no way am I a marriage expert. Many of the things that I will suggest to you this month are things I’m still getting better at. I don’t know about you, but I want one of the crowning jewels of my life to be that I learned to love my wife well. And not only that, but that she truly felt that love. In 2009, our marriage had started off in a really tough spot as I was just starting to walk in recovery from my pornography addiction. So we were facing an up hill climb for sure.

Having said all of that, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) is that it is my responsibility to make sure my marriage has a pulse. You may have heard it said before that marriage is 50/50, meaning I give 50% and she gives 50%. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have to come the realization that because of my love for my wife, I’m going to give 100% to my marriage, no matter what it costs. I’m making the assumption that if you’re reading this and you’re married, there was a time when you made the decision that you wanted to join your life with someone else for the rest of your life. And so when you made that commitment, it wasn’t just that it would be for life, but that it would be a quality life. That means giving everything you’ve got to your spouse.

So how do you take the pulse on your marriage? I want to present a few thoughts in the form of questions you can ask yourself:

1. Do you pray together? Believe it or not, this has been one of the hardest areas for me to make a priority. Yes, the author of this article is admitting he doesn’t pray with his wife as much as he should. Guilty as charged. Thinking back, it’s easy to think about the “crisis” moments that brought us together. But what about the day in day out moments that we have together to simply give God thanks? Prayer is such a powerful weapon that married couples have at their disposal. It’s not only something that we should reserve for the dinner blessing or when we run into the wall. It’s a lifeline we need to be tapping into on a daily basis. Especially through recovery and the restoration of our marriage, I’ve always felt that if it weren’t by God’s grace, I would not be where I am today, nor would our marriage.

2. Do you spend time together? Let me clarify what I mean by this: Do you spend time together in the same space WITHOUT a screen in your hand or some other kind of distraction looming? In other words, are you being present to each other? This also is something I’ve had to learn over the years. If my wife is trying to talk to me and I’m on my phone or engaged in another activity, I’m not being present to her. Are you intentionally spending time with each other? Whether that be through date nights, vacations, playing cards, or even just snuggling? (and I mean the kind of snuggling that doesn’t always include sex) Few things will deepen your marriage than by simply spending time with each other where no other person or object has your attention.

3. Do you work through conflict together? Call me a slow learner – but my wife & I recently came to a pretty stark realization: While we don’t argue often, when we do, we have a hard time working through it. Not all the time, but there are some fights that where we feel like we hit the same wall over and over again. When things are good, we’re good. But when we (and by we I mean I) feel overwhelmed — whether in circumstances or emotion — it tends to leak out on to others. Again, we’re learning and we’re getting better. But we’re committed to work through it together. One example I’m working on: In the past as we’ve dealt with conflict, I’ve tended to be the one who withdraws or retreats while my wife is the one who is desiring connection. This hasn’t been easy to navigate through, but I’m committed to getting better.

4. Do you laugh together? Have you ever been out in public and seen a couple who clearly love each other? And it may be in the ways you least expect — including their ability to laugh and have fun together. I believe this area is a call back to the question I asked earlier about spending time together. As you spend time together, you will discover (hopefully) the things that bring you both joy. The things you both find interesting. And yes, the things you can both joke and tease each other about. And when I use the word tease, I certainly mean it in a playful way, not in a mean way. Recovery work is a very serious matter and so whenever you’re able to inject something fun or lighthearted in the moment, try to do it.

5. Do you dream together? The last one that I really believe will take a couple from simply living together to thriving together is the act of dreaming together. For some couples this is harder than for others. In our marriage, we’ve found this to be so life-giving. We have dreamed about God’s plans for our lives, the kind of home we could build, places that we want to visit, and what our future careers could look like. The sky’s the limit! There’s something really beautiful when two souls who have joined their lives together seek the Lord for their future and all that He has for them. I believe the Lord is honored when we seek His heart and His plans for our lives.

For some of you, reading these five questions might feel overwhelming. Where does a couple even begin to take the pulse of their marriage when there are so many indicators of health?

I want to encourage you to take some time to pray together and ask the Lord where to begin fortifying your relationship with each other. He will tell you. And once you know where to start, only tackle one area at a time. Remember, there is no deadline. You have time. It may take you six months or a year even to start consistently praying together. It may only take a you a week or two to start dreaming together. None of the areas above are accomplished over night. Just keep working at it and loving on each other well.

One of the greatest ways you can support your marriage is through joining Small Groups Online. Each week you’ll get to join other men or women who are learning to become the husbands and wives God is calling them to be. SGO is specifically designed for those walking through sexual addiction and even those who are suffering from sexual betrayal. Many couples have found incredible healing and restoration for their marriages through the help of Small Groups Online.

One final thought: Our standard of how to love our spouse well comes from Jesus. He is our model and example. Look at what Ephesians 5:25 TPT says:

”And to the husbands, you are to demonstrate love for your wives with the same tender devotion that Christ demonstrated to us, his bride. For he died for us, sacrificing himself“

When a person with some kind of compulsive behavior comes to the end of themselves and are ready to change, there’s a lot of work to do. Identifying the pain they have tried to medicate is one of the primary goals they face. And for those who are married, this complicates things significantly. Because their spouse is essentially pulled into their journey as well. As a matter of fact, they must walk through a recovery journey themselves. Because addiction is like a wrecking ball to a marriage, trust has to be built from the ground up. Over the last 15 years, I’ve had to learn to love myself well and love my wife well. It hasn’t been easy, but I can never forget one of my greatest callings (perhaps THE greatest) is to cherish my wife’s heart. I want to encourage you to go after the questions asked in this post together as a couple. It will take work for sure, but believe me when I say, your marriage is worth it!

Can You Feel The Pain?

One of the greatest realities I love about recovery is that there’s always something new to learn about yourself. For example, how a person deals with real emotions and pain in their life will directly affect their long-term outcome in recovery. For me, this has been proven time and time again. Let me explain.

I’m approaching my 13th year in recovery from a pornography addiction that nearly ruined my marriage and was on the verge of ruining my entire life. For 13 years, I was totally unaware of the toll that porn was taking upon my heart and mind. I lacked the understanding, and ultimately the real conviction of what I was doing and how it was affecting me and eventually those around me. I also lacked the tools necessary to fight back. But there was one thing I had that I lived very aware of: Pain.

I was living with a lot of pain: Loneliness, insecurity, fear of the future to name just a few. And I really believe to this day that unprocessed emotions and pain really contributed to my need for comfort. For something that would distract me and somehow take me out of that pain. And so I looked to pyrography to fill that void. But it would never deliver on the promise of being everything I needed. It only drove me further from God and further from people really knowing the real me.

I’m thankful today that I’m not that man that I was in 2009. I’ve lived in freedom for many years and experienced healing that I would have never dreamed of all those years ago. But there is still plenty that I’m working on in my recovery including dealing with what is uncomfortable. What is painful. Negative emotions. Anger. Disappointment. Stress. Frustration.

Recently at my place of work, this was tested. And I failed. There’s really no other way to say it. My response to a frustrating interaction to a customer on the phone combined with some other negative dynamics going on that day in my heart resulted in me getting into a serious funk. Looking back now, I’m really thankful for the drive that followed while delivering parts to one of our technicians in the field. It really allowed me to reflect on what was really going on inside my heart that day.

First, I needed to repent for my attitude. That was most important. I hadn’t conducted myself in a professional manor at all, never mind not delivering on my daily mission of bringing the Kingdom of God to work with me instead of expecting it to somehow magically appear at work! 🙂 So once that was done, I began to try and look deeper as to what was going on, but I noticed an interesting thing occur:

I felt a strong desire inside to create. To imagine. Not to fantasize, but to think of something I could do or say to bless someone. This has happened many times in the past as well when I’ve gotten myself in a dark place. Whenever I began to pray for someone else or think about a creative project, my mood seemed to shift. Upon consideration of this a while longer, I began to ask myself if this was really the right response or not?

Had I really processed my negative emotions (pain) or merely distracted myself from it?

Obviously, the things I mentioned above aren’t inherently wrong or evil in anyway. There are obviously ways worse things I could try to distract myself with, but was I in that moment really choosing to sit with the pain I was feeling for a while in an attempt to try to understand what was happening inside?

As I discussed this with a friend, they shared with me that there is a difference between processing techniques and distraction techniques as it relates to dealing with painful, negative experiences. And to be honest, I’m still not completely sure where I land in one of those two places. I don’t claim to be an expert, that’s for sure.

What I don’t want to do is live with unprocessed pain. And I don’t want that for anyone. Sadly, there are millions of people today that walk around with so much pain in their life and no way to deal with it in a healthy way.

Not surprisingly, unprocessed emotion has been proven to have the ability to affect you physically, opening up the potential for immune compromise and illness.

I leave you with with one final challenge: Feel your pain. Don’t stuff it. Don’t avoid it. Don’t pretend like it’s not there. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself.

Pain is a reality of life that we have to face. We live in a fallen and broken world capable of doing so much damage. None of us make it out of here without wounds. But they don’t have to be open wounds. There is a way in which you can find freedom and healing in the midst of your pain and in whatever form that it may take.

If you’re not sure where to begin, Small Groups Online makes it incredibly simple to find a community of people who, like you, are walking through pain and are learning how to process it in a healthy way. That begins in community. SGO offers you a weekly online support group with many days and times available to best fit your schedule. You can even try out SGO at no cost for two weeks to get started.

Don’t allow pain to put you under. You don’t have to live in the shadows of your past. You can have freedom over life-controlling addictions and compulsive behaviors. Check out Small Groups Online to find the group that best matches your need today!

4 Ways to Help You Deal with Sexual Dreams

One of the comparisons I’ve often used to describe pornography addiction is that of a wrecking ball. Our infatuation with what we see on our computer screens and smartphones many times leads to a life demolished by the unhealthy effects pornography has upon our relationships, our careers, even our very own brains. It truly is like a wrecking ball, tearing through every thing it comes in contact with.

So it begs the question, if we’re constantly exposing ourselves to sources of sexual explicit material on a daily basis, what is happening underneath the surface in our hearts and our minds? Going even further, how do we process all of this during our times of sleep?

I’ve had many conversations with men over the years who’ve been addicted to pornography and as a result also deal with pornographic dreams at night. Now, the reality is that there are probably many reasons a person experiences sexual dreams or “wet dreams” at night. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a ton of research that has been done on the subject. But I believe one of the greatest reasons we experience sexual dreams is linked to our compulsive behavior during the hours we are awake.

For me, sexual dreams occurred much more frequently in the earlier half of my recovery than they do now. I would literally spend hours, especially in the evenings, watching porn online before going to sleep. This was a pattern that continued for years. I believe this has a way of really working itself into a person’s subconscious.

And while sexual dreams aren’t something we choose, they do have the potential to bring a ton of shame and discouragement. We’re trying to become free from these unwanted sexual behaviors, not dream about them! Thankfully, today I don’t have these kind of dreams much anymore. Every so often something random will come up and I’ll wake up from one of these dreams. But I know that I have freedom from pornography, I’ve experienced much healing over the years, and porn isn’t something I desire anymore.

Even so, a major truth we need to be reminded of is that the brain also needs time to heal. And this is a process that generally takes a while.

Consider a person who experiences some kind of traumatic brain injury. Maybe from a car accident or a stroke of some kind. This is an incredible injury to one of the body’s most critical areas. Unfortunately, for some, it can take years or even a lifetime to recover. Those kinds of situations present a real physical damage to the brain. In similar ways, because we’ve viewed so many images, videos, and scenarios of hardcore pornography, our brains have been traumatized by what we’ve seen. But thankfully, the brain can recover and heal. Dr. Mark Laaser once said, that the brain is “plastic”, meaning that it while it can be shaped and influenced by negative sources, it can also heal and regenerate new neural pathways.

The point is this: There is hope. You aren’t stuck. Your heart and even your brain can be restored to health again. I believe that sexual dreams, while they are unwanted, are normal and apart of the process of healing. Just as setbacks and slips are apart of the journey, sexual dreams are too. We just have to learn how to respond when an unwanted sexual dream occurs. They can bring additional guilt and shame, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over them either.

Our time of sleep and rest should be to RESET our brains and our bodies. It should be rest-FULL, not rest-LESS. Rest is for RESTORATION.

So what can we do if we’re experiencing sexual dreams? Here are some ideas to help…

  1. Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night — C’mon, we all probably know the 8 hour rule. But how often to we get consistent, solid sleep? 8 hours of sleep is my goal, but I try not to get less than 7 hours. Anything less than that and I don’t believe the body and mind can really rest the way it was meant to. Turn Netflix off, have someone hide your phone in another room, put away the Oreos and get to bed on time!
  2. End your night with prayer, Scripture, & worship — The GREATEST rest that I’ve ever gotten has come when I’m in that 7-8 hour range AND I’ve spent time with the Lord before bed. You don’t have to pray for hours or read tons of chapters, but what if each night you had a meaningful connection with Jesus before closed out your day? Turn on Spotify and fall asleep to some worship music. Let God’s Word and some great lyrics get into your soul as you close your eyes. Do some deep breathing exercises to relax your body.
  3. Consider exercising — This might seem like a strange one right before bed, but I’ve found a quick walk or run helps to actually relax my body and prepare it for rest. And it certainly releases lots of great brain chemicals like dopamine and others. Give it a shot.
  4. Don’t eat junk food before bed — This is a big one for many of us. It’s so easy to sneak an Oreo or two…or ten right before bed. This really can have a negative effect on your body and not allow it to rest properly. As well as put a few more pounds on you if you’re not careful. Try drinking lots of water to stay hydrated throughout the day, but also before resting. 

How do we prevent sexual dreams? In all reality, I don’t think we can. But I do think we can limit them. If you’re walking in recovery right now and putting in practice the things you need to be doing (the heart work, being in a support group, spending time with a counselor, etc.) you’re on the right track! The tips above are simply additional things to help you rest well and hopefully avoid sexual fantasy in the dream state.

If you do continue to have sexual dreams, you can choose how to respond to them! We don’t have to allow those fantasies to plague us the rest of the day or carry shame in our hearts. We can choose to surrender every thought to God and even every dream we have too.

I love what 2 Corinthians 10:5 says in the Passion translation: “We can demolish every deceptive fantasy that opposes God and break through every arrogant attitude that is raised up in defiance of the true knowledge of God. We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One.”

Capture your thoughts. Capture your dreams. Don’t allow them to capture you and hold you hostage. Remember you are in process. Your heart, your mind, and your life. Be kind to yourself and be patient through the journey. If you haven’t realized it by now, hopefully you will realize it has the potential to be the most beautiful journey you will ever walk through.