“My Virginity Mistake”

A friend sent me a link to “My Virginity Mistake,” written by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez who explains her belief that making a purity pledge and remaining a virgin until she got married led to the ultimate demise of her marriage. The article evoked a whole range of emotions in me – sadness, pain, empathy, but also frustration, rage and indignation. It wasn’t that I was surprised by her revelations or perspective; it was that I have heard her story so many times before within the privacy of my coaching sessions.

A large number of my clients are church leaders who were given the purity talks as teenagers and skidded into marriage having pushed the line as far as they could go while still remaining “technical virgins” (no penis-in-vagina action, but various levels of everything else). Keep in mind, they are in the minority – 88% of people who take purity pledges end up having intercourse before marriage.

These people are therefore part of the dwindling 12% who “made it” to marriage, but instead of the bliss that they were promised, they battle with disappointment, resentment and drudgery in their sex lives. However, unlike Henriquez, they are committed to their marriages and desperately seeking places of refuge and help.

To me, this article was just another reminder that in the Church we have dropped the ball on how we handle sexuality. We screw it up from the cradle to the grave. We have covered genitals with special names because we cannot bear the medically correct terms. We have disciplined our toddlers when their hands stray into their pants and linger there too long. We have implicitly at best (explicitly at worst) told our teenagers they are trash if they get hot and heavy before they get married. We have dodged anything beyond the bare-bones basics of sexuality in our pre-marital courses. We don’t provide a safe place for newlyweds to even admit they are facing problems with intimacy, causing them to suffer through confusion, loneliness and isolation. We have acquiesced to the ethos of silent tolerance of women who are disinterested in sex and men who turn to porn for the thrill their marriage does not provide. We have actively participated in a culture that shuts down, shames and eviscerates people who fall sexually and need our help. We have turned a blind eye to the hurting in our churches, choosing instead to focus on programs that are less controversial and easier to justify to the board of elders. Instead admitting our own imperfections and inviting others into the safety of that communion, we have presented a portrait of a God who freely forgives (or at least overlooks) the sins we are comfortable with, but harshly judges the sins we find personally disturbing.

In doing so we have lost sight of what we are called to do. We have stopped being the salt of the earth and started rubbing it in people’s wounds. This is our sin.

And yet, this is also our opportunity. People desperately want health and wholeness. Parents want to have guidance on how to talk to their kids about masturbation, oral sex, condoms, porn and STIs. Young people need to know that if they stumble and fall before marriage, they are still valued in the eyes of God…that the blood of Jesus is more than a cheap laundry detergent that gets out the smell but not the stain of our sin. Newlyweds need to have a place to acknowledge that they couldn’t even have sex on their honeymoon because it just didn’t work. They must be provided with the freedom to talk to people who will not flinch at words like clitoris, penis, orgasm and semen. Couples deserve marriages where sex is more than just a duty – it is pleasurable, frequent and sought after. They need to have the freedom to struggle with something in their marriage – smack dab in the middle of imperfection – while still working toward the goal of holiness and restoration.

This is why I love the Church. The Church is uniquely positioned (and called) to be what these people so desperately need. We have the community buildings. We have the small groups. We have the mentorship programs. We have the childcare. We have the pastors who are on call night and day for people who need them. We have volunteers who can facilitate teaching sessions. We have the very words of Jesus. And we have the God who actually came up with this whole idea of sex, put the proper plumbing in place and hard-wired it into our DNA.

But do we have the courage?

Will we step up to the plate; take a long, hard look at our faux-sacred status quo; and be willing to admit (and change) what honestly is not working? Can we repent of our institutionalized sin and break free of our bondage to it? Can we lay aside our ignorance, our shame and our fear when people like Henriquez need us?

The Church must come to the table as a faith community, regardless of our specific denominational segregations, to share best practices – ideas that actually work and have higher success rates than 12%. And I believe we can do it.

But we have to remember that while Jesus loves us, He came to seek and save that which was lost. He didn’t come to “put a ring on it.”


If Tragedy Struck, How Would Your Marriage Do?

One week ago, I was absolutely gutted. I didn’t have a chance to see the news until I went to pick my daughter up from school. Just before she ran out to greet me, excited to start our weekend together, I read about other parents who would never see their little ones again because a mentally unstable man had gunned them down.

Like parents all around the world, that night when I put Riley to bed, I held on to her a bit longer than normal.

“Mom, why are you hugging me so tightly?”

“Because I am so grateful for you.”

“Oh. Go ahead then.”

I was able to squeeze my daughter. But I was also able to hold my husband. Because after I loved on my child, my attention turned to him. You see, the divorce rates for couples who lose a child are notoriously dismal. One study estimated that there was an 80% chance that a couple would split up under these circumstances.[1]

My heart aches for the loss the couples in Newtown are experiencing, but I am also deeply concerned about their marriages. Will the death of their children be compounded by divorce in the years to come?

As I dug deeper on these questions, I took a long, hard look at my own marriage. How would Eric and I do if – God forbid – something happened to our daughter? Because even when it doesn’t make international news, tragedy strikes. Children get cancer. They drown. They are killed in car accidents. They are stillborn.

Friends of ours lost their two-year-old boy when a tornado ripped through their campground. One moment they were enjoying their vacation as a family, and the next minute they were dealing with indescribable loss. Eric and I present with this couple at a marriage conference each year where they openly share their story. Here is their perspective about processing loss without losing each other:

When we lost our son Lucas, people told us about the high rate of separation for couples who had lost a child. Our experience was that EVERYTHING is magnified. So, if you had a bad relationship, then that would be magnified. If you had a good one, then that would be magnified. We found God blessed our good relationship and brought us closer together than ever.”

If the unthinkable happened in your family, how would you and your spouse do? What would be magnified in your relationship? What are you currently doing to invest in activities and choices that would anchor you as a couple in the midst of tragedy? Are you carving out time for “professional development” in your marriage – perhaps through a marriage conference or coaching? Are you booking get-away weekends so that you and your spouse can reconnect? Are you scheduling date nights?

Without a doubt, we want this horrible situation to remind us to appreciate, love and value our children each and every day. But let’s not forget that what we are building into our marriages – right here, right now – predicts how we would navigate the tumultuous waters of grief as a couple.

[1] Rando, T. (1985.) “Bereaved Parents: Particular Difficulties, Unique Factors, and Treatment Issues,” Social Work, Vol. 30, p. 20.

How Do You Blow Your Marriage?

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM today:

On her radio show this afternoon, Susan Knight mentioned a blog post by Single Dad Laughing. Having two divorces under his belt, the author wrote a post on 16 Ways I Blew My Marriage. I think it is a fabulous piece because it gives us all the opportunity to look at our relationships and see where we are “blowing” it right now, but it also gives us tools to make things better.

Single Dad Laughing (aka Dan Pearce) has some great insight, and I highly recommend you read the blog for yourself. But before you do, let me highlight a few take-aways from his list.

1)   The little things are important. You know how we are always told not to sweat the small stuff? Well, the small stuff is important in marriage because a bunch of small stuff accumulates into big stuff over time. Remembering to hold hands, putting effort into staying attractive, making meals and letting your spouse know you appreciate him – that might seem small in the moment but it has a huge impact on a long-term relationship.

2)   Get rid of contempt. Yelling, name-calling, and believing you are better than your spouse are all signs of contempt in your relationship. According to Dr. John Gottman (who claims to predict divorce with 93% accuracy), contempt is the fast-track to divorce. So stop calling your spouse a jerk or pointing out all his faults…it’s not a productive way to let out your frustration.

3)   You have got to laugh! Laughter (often prevalent in the infancy of our relationship) is absolutely crucial to its well-being. Pearce mentions that you have to have fun together, and while I agree whole-heartedly, I would take this a step further. Laughter releases endorphins in our brains and makes us feel closer together. So, instead of fighting, trying watching a funny movie or going to a comedy show together instead. When we are laughing with each other, it is a lot easier to sort through the tough stuff in our marriage.

Thanks for bringing Pearce’s post to my attention, Susan! The rest of you can go read it for yourselves here.

The Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift You Can Give

The Greatest Gift You Can Give

When was the last time you told your children how much you love your spouse?

That’s right.

When was the last time you looked your kids in the eyes and said, “I am so in love with your Dad [or Mom]”?

Are you terrified that they will feel unloved? Are you nervous that they will fall over themselves and say, “Ahhhh, that’s gross!!” Would they be totally confused? What holds you back?

Recently, I had to explain the concept of divorce to my daughter. Our goddaughter is part of a blended family, and so when my daughter asked some probing questions about them, I decided to answer honestly (but with brevity since she is only five). Many of Riley’s schoolmates come from single-parent households, but this was the first time she connected the dots with someone who is really close to our family.

The sadness that Riley felt was palpable. She didn’t understand how two people could marry and then divorce. It was incomprehensible to her that you would not live with the father of your child. In fact, she was so disturbed by the concept that she had another heart-to-heart with her teacher that day at school. I wish we were all so disturbed by divorce. The impact on a family is truly nothing less than devastating.

Kids live with the fear that their mom and dad will split up. This is understandable. They see it on TV (in one of Riley’s favourite shows, the dad is conspicuously absent). It is happening to their friends all around them. Why wouldn’t they wonder if they are next?

I believe that one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is love for your spouse. Your marital happiness is the foundation of your family unit. And your kids need to hear about it. They need to know that you go on dates because your relationship with each other is precious. They need to see you flirt and cuddle and laugh. They need to hear that you love each other.

I don’t care if you are on your first, second or third marriage…if you are committed to making it work, then talk about how much you love your spouse around your kids.

“Riley, I love your Daddy.”

“Yeah, I know Mom. You tell me that all the time.”

Perhaps she will appreciate it more when she marries. Until then, I will have to keep modeling it for her.

Statistical Research on Divorce

This is a fascinating article on what puts your marriage at a higher risk of divorce. Are you in one of these risk categories? If so, then take this article as a nudge to keep working to keep your marriage strong and healthy.

The original article with references can be found here.

15 Ways to Predict Divorce

by Anneli Rufus

1. If you’re a married American, your marriage is between 40 and 50 percent likely to end in divorce.

2. If you live in a red state, you’re 27 percent more likely to get divorced than if you live in a blue state.

3. If you argue with your spouse about finances once a week, your marriage is 30 percent more likely to end in divorce than if you argue with your spouse about finances less frequently.

4. If your parents were divorced, you’re at least 40 percent more likely to get divorced than if they weren’t. If your parents married others after divorcing, you’re 91 percent more likely to get divorced.

5. If only one partner in your marriage is a smoker, you’re 75 percent to 91 percent more likely to divorce than smokers who are married to fellow smokers.

6. If you have a daughter, you’re nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than if you have a son.

7. If you’re an evangelical Christian adult who has been married, there’s a 26 percent likelihood that you’ve been divorced—compared to a 28 percent chance for Catholics and a 38 percent chance for non-Christians

8. If you live in Wayne County, Indiana, and are over 15 years old, there’s a 19.2 percent chance that you’ve been divorced.

9. If both you and your partner have had previous marriages, you’re 90 percent more likely to get divorced than if this had been the first marriage for both of you.

10. If you’re a woman two or more years older than your husband, your marriage is 53 percent more likely to end in divorce than if he was one year younger to three years older

11. If you’re of “below average” intelligence, you’re 50 percent more likely to be divorced than those of “above average” intelligence.

12. If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, your likelihood of getting divorced is 40 percent higher than standard rates; it’s 20 percent higher if you’ve been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

13. If you have twins or triplets, your marriage is 17 percent more likely to end in divorce than if your children are not multiple births.

14. If you’re a female serial cohabiter—a woman who has lived with more than one partner before your first marriage—then you’re 40 percent more likely to get divorced than women who have never done so.

15. If you’re in a male same-sex marriage, it’s 50 percent more likely to end in divorce than a heterosexual marriage. If you’re in a female same-sex marriage, this figure soars to 167 percent.

Keep in mind that stats are just numbers – nothing is a guarantee.  There are a few of these that could apply to my marriage, but I am not concerned because of what they say.  We should always be working on our relationships regardless of any statistics.  A marriage is the very last thing we should ever take for granted, no matter what the “numbers” say!!

How is yours?

Learning to Date Again

Why is it that we stop dating when we get married? Theoretically, once we live under the same roof we should have more money to spend on each other because we have combined expenses. Are we afraid of spending time alone because we have forgotten what to talk about? Do we confuse quality time together with the fact that we are in the same room watching TV together? If we are going to keep that spark alive – the one that drew us to each other in the first place – then it needs to be nurtured. And one of the best ways to nurture it is to date each other!

Learning to Date Again

How do you do it? Here are five ideas:

1.    Start dating again. Choose to go on regular dates with your spouse. Put the date on the calendar, book a babysitter, make reservations at a restaurant, purchase tickets to the game and go! If you are out of the habit, then begin dating your spouse once a month and make it easy to remember (for example, the first Saturday of the month is date night). Make it your goal to decrease the time in between so that you eventually go on dates once a week.

2.    Don’t let cost get in the way. I promise you, the cost of having regular dates is far less than the cost of a divorce. Build the expense of your dates into your budget so that you know how much you can spend and not feel guilty about it. Remember that this money is an investment into your marriage. However, if you are really pinching pennies, then get creative. Set up a babysitting co-op with friends: you watch their kids one night, and then they watch your kids another night. Go on inexpensive dates: have coffee at a local coffee shop; park close to the airport and watch the planes come in; take a long walk together.

3.    Try a “Happy Camper” Date. For a lot of couples, just trying to decide what to do on their date causes conflict because they have different interests and tastes. Here’s how the “happy camper” date works: one week you go on a date and your husband gets to choose what he activity he wants the two of you to do. (He gets to pick the movie, the restaurant, the hockey game, etc.) You go on this date with a great attitude – you are the “happy camper” this week. However, the following week, it is his turn to be the happy camper and do whatever you would like to do without complaining. This experience gives us greater insight into what makes our spouse tick and it builds our common history together which, in turn, leads to a stronger marriage.

4.    Set the rules of the date. The focus of the date is the two of you deepening your relationship together as a couple. So consider limiting your conversations about the kids or work (these can often be all consuming topics). If this leaves you nothing to talk about, then think of things that you used to talk about before the kids came along, what is going on in the world around you, or get a book which gives you questions to ask each other. Learning to talk again as two lovers may feel awkward at first, but the more you practice it, the easier it will be.

5.    Put some effort into your appearance. Remember spending hours in front of the mirror or in the closet picking out the perfect outfit when you were first going out? Fixing your hair so that it looked just right (women – this isn’t just directed at you. I have known plenty of men who spend more time on their hair than women!) Doesn’t your spouse deserve the same now? The art of attraction should never be neglected or lost simply because your partner said “I do.”

One of my coaching clients had an amazing perspective on marriage. She told me that her spouse is the one person who will be witness to her journey through life. We leave our parents’ home, our kids eventually leave ours, we change jobs and friends move away. But our spouse stays with us and we build a common history together over the years. Solidify this history with memories of the two of you.