Monday, November 6, 2017

Because I loved Her I left Her



Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I chose to include them both in this response. I will be speaking in terms of divorce, but these concepts are equally applicable to "break ups" prior to marriage and within engagements.

Q: When do you suggest that a problematic/troubled partnership separate? Or keep them together?

Q: How to successfully break up with someone that you see no potential with?

See also:
Marital Myth of Communication

A: The quick answer, with love. 

I left my wife because I loved her. 

The following is true and personal. I hesitate sharing this; one, because the experience isn't mine alone and two, it's a sacred and vulnerable experience. Sharing this experience opens the door for much judgement and misperception. Additionally, in sharing something so personal, there is an acknowledged risk of bias in my recounting of these experiences and I fear I may misrepresent other's perspectives. As such, I am openly acknowledging the following as my perspective alone. Despite these risks, I felt the clear impression to share these things with you. There are so many lonely and hurting souls who don't have a loving example of healthy break ups, that I would feel selfish not to share. Divorce and break ups are never easy, but they are also a taboo topic and few know how to navigate them, fewer with a healthy perspective. With that, I hope my experience guides those who are currently struggling, hurt and alone, to a more loving and healthy path. 

For the first time in my 13 years of married life, I lay next to my wife with a peace and clarity I'd never felt before, at least not to this degree.

There had never been a time I didn't love my wife, although life presented challenges and pain I never thought possible. Those challenges and the associated pain often proved my character, while at other times it revealed, with heart-wrenching clarity, my weaknesses. Nonetheless, my love, devotion, loyalty, and hope never wavered in our marriage. In fact, they deepened with each new challenge and blessing. But with each new challenge and blessing, I felt our relationship becoming more distant and lonely. 

How is it that marriage could be so painful and lonely? Our Stake President once told us, "I don't understand, I see two smart and worthy people who are fighting for a good marriage." I too didn't understand, but what I felt was pain and loneliness during this time. No matter how much faith, prayer, fasting, temple attendance, service, scripture reading, or selflessness was given, the relationship seemed to get worse. It didn't make any sense. 

Knowing that, there I was lying in bed next to my love, my wife of 13 years and the mother of our two children. I was feeling a peace and clarity I had not previously felt in our relationship. These feelings didn't come because we made a "break through" in our marriage and felt connected and joyful, but because it was then I knew it was time to leave. As we held each other close, tearfully discussing the path forward, it was ironically the easiest discussion I felt we had had in our married life. 

In order to not inappropriately discuss too sacred of personal experiences, I will share the doctrinal concept that God answers all prayers, James 1:5. The decision to end the marriage was made in serious fasting and prayer. It was entirely a spiritual decision; in no way was it a flippant decision, but one involving God in the process.  There was no infidelity, "sin," or behavior that is otherwise viewed as "sufficient" to leave a marriage. I emphasize this fact only to clearly communicate that this was completely a decision I made with my Father in Heaven. Although unhealthy behaviors existed within our marriage, the decision was made between the Lord and I, not me running away from the behaviors.

To this point, and in response to the questions asked above, there are quite a few toxic myths and traditions in our culture that cause us to distance ourselves from God.
One - the assumption that divorce is not really an option.
Two - the idea that divorce is only a consideration if abuse and infidelity occur.
Three - the feeling that divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage or relationship.
Four - the fear that divorce is perceived as an easy way out or a form of giving up.

These myths are devices used by the Adversary to prevent Heavenly communication with your Father in Heaven. These myths make the assumption that God will not tell you to leave your spouse, that divorce is only acceptable if a spouse becomes so dangerous that their behavior has essentially ended the relationship already or has put you and the family at risk. Where is the joy and agency in these perspectives?


Myth One - Divorce is Not an Option:
Divorce is absolutely an option.

There is a notion that if someone believes divorce is an option, it's somehow synonymous with rejecting the marriage covenants and will prevent couples from "fighting" for their marriage. If this were true, I assure you there would be bigger issues within the individual and relationship than their ability to "choose" marriage first. If these unhealthy issues are present, a mantra, a belief, or a moral standard that divorce is not an option will only foster resentment, feelings of isolation, and in some cases a feeling of being a prisoner. It's very common for individuals who believe divorce is not an option, to privately hope that illness or a crisis like a car accident will take their spouse from them. Some may even privately hope the same would happen to themselves just to be free from the relationship. Depending on how toxic the relationship becomes, some spouses will add to the toxic behavior by setting their spouse up for failure. They do this by withdrawing, denying sex and intimacy, becoming passive aggressive, and/or constantly finding fault with their spouse. Ironically, due to the natural human need to feel connection, the one spouse who views choosing to leave as worse than participating in a relationship that is so lonely, may end up seeing the other spouse seeking companionship elsewhere. By participating in the toxic behavior the spouse actually exacerbated the issue at hand. Which leads to Myth Two: divorce is only an option in cases of abuse or infidelity.

For example; a young wife came into my office expressing suicidal thoughts, feelings of depression and anxiety, and her absence of joy in living the gospel. She was doing her best, doing everything she could to have the spirit and love of God in her life. She felt that her depression was a function of her biology and considered getting medicated. Before we explored that option, we explored her relationship with her spouse. There was significant conflict and emotional distress. Her husband was a good man who also struggled with his own weaknesses. These were two good people who were "fighting" for their marriage. In a sincere desire to support and encourage her in her marriage, priesthood leaders would frequently say things like, divorce isn't an option, don't consider it, work hard, and "don't give up" on him.

In her mind this was logical, but also created a feeling of despair and resentment that was like quick sand. She wanted to do the "right thing" and therefore pushed aside her feelings as just her being "selfish" and "unrighteous."

She shared her "resolve" to not give up, using incongruent optimism (the words were optimistic but her affect was depressive).  I then asked her why she doesn't divorce him? She looked at me with a little confusion, but also with some curiosity and asked, "Why would you say that?" She quickly added, "Aren't you suppose to encourage me to stay married?"

I replied, No, my professional responsibility is to improve individual health and happiness. If that leads to a stronger happier marriage, that is wonderful, but if it leads you to move on from an unhealthy relationship, that is also wonderful. Either way, you get the choice to stay or go. That is not my choice, it's yours with God.

She broke down in tears and asked, "I get a choice?!"

Yes, I said. Isn't that the agency you were blessed with? The power of owning your authenticity and identity?

"I've always been told I made a covenant and can't ever back out of that choice. It made me feel trapped and lonely, like my spouse can say, do, and act in anyway he wants because he knows I can't leave." She tearfully explained.

Again, I calmly but confidently reassured her, "You get a choice. That choice is between you and God."

Something interesting happened. She came back the next session excited and hopeful. Her whole countenance changed, she expressed feeling joy for the first time in years. But get this, she said she decided to stay in the marriage.

What changed? She made a real choice with God. She felt empowered and was able to own her decision because it WAS her decision. Some may say, she always had a choice. Maybe so, but when you are told over and over that it's not an option, you stop making it an option. When you stop making it an option, you don't really choose. When you don't choose, you secretly and sometimes openly wish for death to take you or your spouse away, to free you from that decision.

The doctrinal mistake people are making here is to not use their agency. To not counsel with their Heavenly Father and decide with Him, together, what is best. It has nothing to do with "breaking a covenant," it's the fact that they are not choosing for themselves the next step, not recognizing that they even have the right to choose. Not embracing our agency is the greater sin. The entire Plan of Salvation was provided for us to have Agency. Father's plan was for us to have the chance to choose "wrong," ergo the Atonement was also provided. Not using our agency and the Atonement is a rejection of His Plan. Too many are so afraid to "make the wrong choice" that they make no choice at all. This places them in darkness where the Atonement feels distant and hope dissipates. No wonder those who give up their agency experience depression and anxiety.

It is no surprise that clients who learn to embrace their agency often find they have the ability to choose to joyfully remain in their marriages, where otherwise they would have either left, or stayed out of fear.  But again it's not about me convincing them to stay or leave. If they choose to leave, that is their choice, not mine. When individuals feel compelled, forced, or are convinced there is no other option, they experience increasing resentment.


Myth Two - Divorce Only if Abuse Exists:
If abuse is present, you waited too long.
Meaning, you deserve better and this has gone on far too long already.
"Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. Abuse can damage your ability to form healthy human relationships. You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise, they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.
Satan will strive to alienate you from your Father in Heaven with the thought that if He loved you He would have prevented the tragedy...
To find relief from the consequences of abuse, it is helpful to understand their source. Satan is the author of all of the destructive outcomes of abuse. He has extraordinary capacity to lead an individual into blind alleys where the solution to extremely challenging problems cannot be found. His strategy is to separate the suffering soul from the healing attainable from a compassionate Heavenly Father and a loving Redeemer.
If you have been abused, Satan will strive to convince you that there is no solution."
To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse Richard G. Scott Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Abuse is a dangerous place to get to in a relationship. If experienced, it distorts our perceptions of our Father's love for us, our perception of human relationships, and even our ability to use the Atonement within our own lives. Abuse should never be tolerated in ANY degree within relationships. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, spiritual and physical. I have heard people say, if my spouse ever did.... to me, I would leave. Why would the Lord design a plan or commandment that would require severe abuse to be the only reason for divorce? Why do we wait until a relationship becomes so toxic and dangerous, to only then begin to consider divorce? If you have children, what are you teaching them? If you don't have children, what message are you communicating to yourself about what is acceptable in a relationship? 

For many years, I convinced myself that I must "long suffer" in my marriage and "endure to the end." To hope that my spouse will "change," only to realize that my tolerating of the toxic behavior and me staying in it was merely enabling the unhealthy behavior and giving permission for it to continue. I was essentially teaching my children that "love" was to be abused and to accept abuse. When in fact, to honor the eternal marriage covenant is, in part, to teach our children how to love and be loved in God's way. Generations of youth have been taught that abusive relationships are acceptable and are a normal part of marriage. That unhealthy and unhappy parents are to remain in abusive or unloving relationships for "the sake of the kids."

"...Men [women] are, that they might have joy" is a concept I believe we fail to understand, embrace, and teach to our children.


Myth Three - Divorce is Equivalent to a Failed Marriage:
Another form of denying agency is to view a marriage as "failed." This is a ridiculous notion and is toxic at its core.

To say a marriage has failed suggests that both people in the relationship can control each other. That one spouse's behavior is a reflection of the other's "righteousness" or "unrighteousness." Said in a different way, "Through my righteousness, I can 'control' my spouse's behavior. If their behavior doesn't change as a result of my prayers, fasting, obedience and sacrifice, then I must not have been faithful or righteous enough to save the marriage. Therefore, I have failed the marriage."

Sounds silly and a bit arrogant when written out, doesn't it? Now, think about how many actually view marriage that way and then notice how that line of thinking, I argue, is similar to emotional and spiritual abuse.

It also suggests that someone failed or both individuals failed in the marriage. This is dangerous thinking and does no good to entertain it. This line of thought isolates individuals and children of divorced parents. When my own divorce became public, those who knew me for many years made an assumption that I did something horribly wrong to cause the marriage to end. I'm not entirely clear why they came to that conclusion, other than they were influenced by a societal stereotype that women leave abusive men or that divorces are a result of men being unfaithful. With the exception of a couple people, I was fortunate not to experience this form of judgement publicly. What was more difficult was the absence of help during the difficult and lonely time of separation. As a single father, working full time, I didn't get the support that is traditionally given to women in that same situation; meals, babysitting, or emotional support. Fortunately, I did have amazing home teachers at the time who were as supportive as they could be in their visits.

The view that divorce is a failed marriage affects the children in negative ways too. Each of my three step-daughters experienced this first hand.

In my current marriage and family we consider each child our own full son and daughter, and refer to them as such. But, for clarity's sake in the following examples, I refer to my daughters as step-daughters.
A friend of my youngest step-daughter found out that she was a child of divorced parents and promptly assumed she needed comforting. In his attempt to sympathize with her he said, "I am sorry you come from a broken home." She was a startled when she heard this comment from her friend. She was deeply confused by it and replied passionately, "my home isn't broken!" Never had she been happier and felt more loved than after her parents separated. Before the divorce, her parents' marriage relationship didn't allow her parents to connect with her or with her sisters. After the divorce, the result was a uniting of the relationships between parent and child, and therefore an increase of joy. The divorce allowed my step-daughter to develop a more loving and connected relationship with her mother. Because of this, she was seriously surprised anyone would make such an observation (brash assumption that divorce could only be so negative and not be fulfilling a need within the family as a whole).

My middle step-daughter, while in a seminary class, was taught that her parents did "not keep their temple covenants" because they got a divorce. That mindset implies it's a serious sin to God to get divorced. This interaction during class both deeply troubled her and angered her because she began believing one of or both of her parents were "wicked" and did something horrible to end the marriage. Fortunately, she was mature and loving about her response and said, "I have a problem with that" and asked her teacher for further clarification. To the teacher's credit, he did his best to explain what he believed, but ultimately left her troubled and unclear on the topic.

Last example; my oldest step-daughter also experienced the judgement of others assuming that divorce could only be a negative, but in a more abusive way. When her boyfriend was experiencing jealousy, he told her he didn't want her to have friends outside of their relationship. He accused her of being unable to commit to him because she came "from a broken family," insinuating that she didn't know how to be in a relationship with him due to her parents being divorced. He used similar language later, when she recognized their relationship was not working and needed to end it.

These specific incidents happened to be where individuals boldly judged a situation incorrectly. Unfortunately, the social stigma is prevalent within society and even within our faith. Children often see themselves as the cause or reason for their parents divorce and that they have become a "statistic" of a broken home, more likely to repeat their parents' behavior in their own relationships.

I wonder if this has lead to individuals delaying marriage? What if the need to separate can be viewed as a healthy alternative to a living in a toxic relationship? What if we taught ourselves and our children that a successful marriage is one in which you haven't lost yourself nor lost your relationship with God? Thriving in your relationship with God might mean leaving a toxic marriage you have no control over.


Myth Four - Divorce is an Easy Way Out:
Anyone who says divorce is "an easy way out" is profoundly ignorant and dismissive.

Individuals who tend to say divorce is an easy way out, fall into a pattern of the first two myths.
1) They fear to use their own agency or "give up" on their spouse. 2) They view divorced couples as weak and unloving.
After all, we promised to "endure all things" with our spouses, but that does not include abuse. 

One divorcee observed;
"People who make this claim about divorce have clearly never been through it or they would never say such a thing. I don't know a woman [or man] out there who has been through a divorce and didn't fight with everything she had to save her marriage. I guarantee you, leaving or being left was the scariest and bravest thing she had to go through. 
Those on the outside may see this decision as being rash and quick because they didn't share the same four walls in which the couple changed, fought, and tried. It's not a "get out of jail free" card. You do not pass go, do not collect $200, nor do you ride off into the sunset. It affects you deeply and for the rest of your life. 
The pain you feel during this time is like no other. So nobody gets to sit on the sidelines and say you took the easy way out. 
Every time you look at your kids or see another family holding hands crossing the street as you sit alone in your car, you are constantly reminded of how hard you fought and how much you gave and how it still wasn't enough." By Katie Smith, I Really Wish People Would Stop Saying Divorce Is the Easy Way Out.
Another;
"When I first started telling people about the divorce, a lot of responses I got were the "choosing love" idea. But it takes two people for a relationship to work. It takes trust, communication, openness, and honesty — things my ex and I had lost or never had. 
Divorce is an incredibly personal, difficult decision. And what it comes down to is that no one, but the people in it, knows the dynamics of the relationship. When we first made the decision, I had my week of crying, of freaking out, of feeling lost. But then I gathered myself up and started working towards making the best life I can for myself and my kid. Many people took my pragmatic, positive attitude as either not caring or the divorce being solely my decision. I know there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed in me, but if I've learned anything from becoming a mother, and now going through a divorce, it's that I can't control how other people act or what they say. I can control how I react and how those things make me feel. 
I'm learning that it's okay for me to do what I know is best for my family, despite what others think."  By Rachael 'On divorce and the "you just didn't try hard enough" myth'
There was NOTHING easy about my divorce. Even with the knowledge I had from God to proceed with the divorce, and feeling his hand in my life through the process, the intensity of this refiner's fire was more than I had ever experienced. It tried me, it tested me, it strengthened me, and it crushed me. There were times I felt the spirit stronger than I had ever felt before, but there were also times I felt a despair I'd never thought possible. There were times I felt more love for my ex-wife than I had ever felt for her.

I chose divorce out of love.  I did not hate my ex-wife, nor did I think she was wicked or sinful or dangerous.  I chose divorce because when looking at all the options, this was the most loving thing I could choose.

Too many turn their spouses into monsters; to make it palatable to leave, to justify their "giving up." I don't take divorce lightly, but when we view divorce as an absolute no, we remove choice and foster resentment, we wander in darkness and wish for other acceptable ways out. Own your choices. Know your limits. Trust your relationship with your God. Recognize that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Marrying Outside of Faith

Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I choose to included them both in this response. 

Q: I met a man who is generous, grateful, patient and compassionate but knew nothing about my faith which is important for me. Is happiness possible with such a person who does not believe in Christ?

Q: Would different faiths workout in a marriage?

See also:
Happiest Marriages
How to Train Your Spouse
Marital Myth of Communication
Book: "Real Love"

A: The quick answer, yes! Be mindful that it must be guided by the Lord.

Yes, absolutely. However, as you know, marrying outside the faith adds an additional complexity to the relationship. Though, marrying within the faith doesn't guarantee success or happiness. Having an interfaith marriage or marrying someone without a faith also doesn't mean you can't have a successful and happy marriage. You must simply be aware of the potential challenges.

Here are some interesting statistics: 21 Intriguing Interfaith Marriage Statistics

As I have shared in my other post, Happiest Marriages, there has to be a solid foundation of true love - a foundation of what it means to truly adore each other. You must not, in anyway, go into the marriage with the belief that you will "convert" your spouse. Neither should the other ever make you feel the need to compromise your beliefs in any degree. Go into the marriage recognizing that it is inappropriate for you to make your spouse comply to your belief system, just as it would be for them to make you loosen up on your belief system. You both will need to explore what it will look like to raise kids and if that will be in or out of the faith. It will be hard, but if you can both truly embrace each other in adoration, and the Lord guides you in that direction, then yes, absolutely, it can work and it can work really well.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Happiest Marriages



Anonymous Question Series:

Q: What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest? Give some examples of how they work through times of disagreement or misunderstanding.

See also:
How to Train Your Spouse
Marital Myth of Communication
Book: "Real Love"

After I complete my book on sexuality in the LDS faith, I will complete the writing of my "marriage" book. In which I address this and other questions more thoroughly. Because, much like our LDS cultural approach to sexuality, our couples approach needs a revamping. 

A: The quick answer: Couples who know how to adore versus accept. These couples learn how to be okay with the "messy" of each other. Those who value and encourage individuality and those who see each other as truly equal, regardless of perceived differences or shortcomings.

Marriage books don't work. Marriage communication skills don't work. No amount of techniques, skills, or dating will improve a relationship if the fundamental understanding of love (Atonement) and Agency is flawed. The problem is most don't recognize their understanding of love is flawed.

The concept that most of us have a flawed understanding of love, is a complex one. However, it's rooted in how we view our relationship with God/Christ and our spouse. For example, you most likely have seen a diagram similar to the following:


 Preparing for an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual, (2003), 51–53 "True Love"  you'll find a similar diagram. Yet, similar to almost every lesson in the church-provided manuals regarding marriage, its focus seems to be heavily on what marriage is NOT, "infatuation, selfish desire, transitory, domineering, and lust." Although those are important to know, those same lessons tend not to provide good examples of what love IS. That is, other than providing the marriage triangle and sharing some stories about "cleaving" to your spouse. 

Despite teaching the marriage triangle in its traditional context, what I've noticed is couples' emotional understanding of the triangle is actually as depicted below:


Logically, the couple knows that they are two separate people with their own agency. This is why many wait so long to address their pain, depression, anxiety, and the eventual resentment in their marriage. Again, they know each person in the relationship is an individual, but they cannot reconcile the paradox of being "one" in the marriage. Emotionally, they believe "cleaving" means oneness in everything. In some marriages individuals may even believe oneness is supporting and sustaining the "priesthood" in all things, not matter what. This idea creates a dangerous and toxic environment of dominance and unrighteous dominion, which leads to eliminating individuality in the marriage. This is a deeper concept few seriously weigh out and will need to be explored in depth at another time. 

To concisely address the question, "What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest?"

Those who can truly value each other as equals in their individuality. Those who put aside every survey, research, and pop psychology article that defines the "perfect couples." Those who understand whether or not their differences or similarities improves the relationship, or they know how to "compromise," and they have good communication. These are all required in a happy marriage, but these ALL pale in significance to one's own ability to adore their partner in ALL their strengths and perceived weaknesses. 


You should never compromise who you are. That is putting your spouse before your relationship with God. Compromise is a ridiculous pop psychology/business approach that results in resentment; which prevents couples from seeing any other option than sucky choice A and sucky choice B. Compromise puts couples at odds with each other, it assumes one is right and the other is wrong. It creates a "balance sheet" type marriage, void of revelation. It's the epitome of what the marriage triangle is not. It also assumes our spouse has perceived weaknesses that we should avoid and makes them inferior to us.
"As a way of honoring my marriage, I try to make sure I don’t ever compromise about anything I really care about. “Compromising” means doing something other than what I know is best, not saying or doing what I really think I should say or do—not, in essence, being who I am. How could doing that be helpful to either my wife or me? About anything before us—any subject we’re discussing, I mean—I’m either right, or I’m wrong. If I’m right, or at least really think I’m right, then it’s my job to (politely, carefully, kindly—which is everything) say why I think I’m right; it’s important that I not compromise my convictions about that matter. It’s then my wife’s job to listen and carefully consider what I’ve said. If, having done that, she concludes that in some relevant way the position I’ve taken is wrong or mistaken, it’s her job to (politely, carefully, kindly) tell me why she thinks that. Then it’s my job to truly listen to her (as opposed to, say, pouting and walking out of the room)." A Great Marriage is About NOT Compromising
For example, let's consider an individual who is skilled at budgeting and compare him/her to their spouse who has never taken budgeting seriously. Who is better? Who should take the lead? Does this perceived weakness or difference become a source of contention? Compromise would suggest that one of the two must be less skilled while the other is more skilled and the better one is to take over the budgeting completely and view the other as incapable. Compromise fosters resentment. Compromise is a version of acceptance in a relationship and acceptance is a form of judgement. Where judgement exists, love and the atonement can not flourish. Do not compromise, rather adore. Adore and value your spouses differences. See them truly as an equal. When you can learn to fully adore/love your spouse in their differences, you provide a safe and vulnerable love that is only known through the atonement. This type of love can be experienced in the proper marriage triangle. 

Unfortunately, because this concept is unfamiliar to many, some assume that this type of "love" is a justification for abuse to exist in a relationship. Some see that adoring a spouse is equivalent to being blind to harmful behaviors, but it is quite the opposite. When we allow compromise into our relationship, we lose who we are (relationship with self) and our connection with the Lord. In the absence of those two relationships, feelings of insecurity and anxiety develop - causing individuals to feel trapped. They feel they can never "give up" on their spouse or they just can't abandon the family and leave them like this. This is dangerous thinking. When we don't compromise, we improve our relationship and confidence in our Father above. We allow Him to clearly communicate to us how to proceed in a relationship or to end it.

One last example, but something I see frequently. This example is of a wife discovering a husband's porn usage. There is no abuse or adultery in their marriage; the behavior is limited to the husband viewing porn. This couple has a loving relationship and is doing well until one finds out that the other is engaged in pornography.

There are usually two types of responses in these types of situations.

One response is a wife who no longer sees her spouse as an equal, but sees his behavior as a betrayal of adulteress level. She disengages and dictates to him how he is to behave, usually withdrawing sex and other intimate connections during this time. These are those wives who often become anti-porn advocates and use their spouses struggles as a soapbox for the dangers of porn. They express they have been traumatized by their spouses behavior and have to recover from this betrayal.

In no way am I minimizing or mocking wives (or husbands) who have truly been traumatized. Neither am I condoning pornography. What is important to see in this example is how we view the perceived weakness of our spouse.

A second response is a wife who, rightfully so, is overwhelmed and hurt that he could not divulge his struggles. She decides to continue to view him as an equal in the atonement and joins him emotionally where he is at, without compromising who she is.

Imagine the savior kneeling down to bring himself eye level with the woman caught in adultery. His thoughts and words are of safety, peace, and comfort. He adores her. As the Christ he does request that she not sin anymore, but that is not our role as spouse. Those who can join, love, and adore in their spouses struggles will find profound fulfillment and comfort, even in these difficult issues. Wives (or husbands) who can embrace their spouse in these types of moments are the happiest. Wherein the previous example the couple usually spirals downward and resentment increases.

The natural question is, isn't the wife "compromising" her standards by adoring her spouse? NO. Think back to the example of Christ comforting the woman found in adultry. The Pharisees are more like the first wife, holding to an expectation that was anything but adoring. Meanwhile, Christ did not compromise His standards by adoring and joining the woman, but merely loved her. It is unloving to cast stones and punish our spouse. If the situation becomes abusive, or to a degree that is toxic, the wife's confidence in the Lord will guide her to the best choices. This may mean leaving the relationship before it becomes toxic and dangerous.

This example is a sensitive and difficult issue because of the intimate nature of the struggle. The first woman's response is usually how husbands and wives show "love" to each other. A husband who is skilled at budgeting, now becoming annoyed at the wife. So he begins managing every penny and taking her to every Dave Ramsey course available to improve her. He continues by controlling her through apps that notify him of every penny spent and "holding her accountable" for her behavior. You see, this behavior seems acceptable in cases of pornography, but outrageous for the case of finances. The truth is that they are the same in level of destructive consequences.

The most successful marriages are those that honor and thrive in individuality, agency, and love (Atonement). Without the ability to truly adore your spouse, without losing yourself, no amount of "I statements," communication skills, or improved sex will ever heal and improve the relationship. When adoration exists, communication skills enhance an already loving relationship.

Keep a look out for my book that will include more on this topic and others:

Chapters in forthcoming book --
1. Not Another Marriage Book
2. Avoidance and Courage
3. Embracing our Fears
4. The Importance of You – Order of Importance
5. Assuming the Best
6. The Divorce Equation
7. It’s Never About Communication
8. 30 Minutes
9. Don’t and Be
10. The Most Important Thing
11. Daily Adore
12. Trust Partners Needs
13. Foster Independence and Individuality
14. Be Messy, Not Hurtful
15. No Divorce Equation
16. No more Parenting Books
17. Sex its communicating not a reward or punishment

Friday, October 20, 2017

Female Struggles with Porn and Masturbation



Anonymous Question Series:


Q: "What is your advice to females who have watched pornography or masturbate?"

See also:
A Place of Healing, Not Hiding

Furthermore, as I have stated in other posts; this is a great question and will be a little difficult to answer concisely, for me. This has been a topic of GREAT interest and equal concern for me; so much that I have taken up the opportunity to write about it. I am over 100 pages into a book I hope to complete by the end of this year that addresses this issue and other related topics and their solutions. Additionally, Kathryn Kirk and I have attempted to fill this gap, of women not having a resource, with "LDS Women Struggle Too" Blog and Group. But because of our LDS culture, it is very hard to get the word out.

A: The quick answer; Love yourself, be kind to yourself, retain the joy and beauty that is your sexuality, come out of hiding, and be confident in your struggle.

Your question is important to me; one I am addressing in depth in my book. There are too many women struggling alone. There are few resources and even fewer good resources. There is much I want to say, but there is so much misunderstanding, negativity, and flawed ideas around the subject that a more lengthy response is required. I am working frantically to get good resources out to our dear sisters alone in this battle.

But for now, avoid negative self-talk and avoid viewing sexuality as bad or evil. Discover joy and beauty in sexual desire. Understand these desires are of God, they are not evil. Also, recognize that every individual's biology and sexual drive is different. Be careful to not compare your sexual urges and desires to another person's. Focus more on untangling the unhealthy views of pornography from your own sexuality. Develop a true self-mastery plan that measures progress as apposed to abstinence.

Continue to be brave! Porn is everywhere and everyone defines it differently. You do not need to be ashamed, in fact I encourage you to put off all shame that is preventing you from feeling joy. You love the Lord and you know that. Don't let your struggle define your love for Father.

Take a moment and read Kathryn Kirks blog:

"Being open about my struggle with pornography has changed my life. I haven’t been wide open about it, but I have opened up to some very key people, and as you can see from this blog, I’m starting to share my stories and experiences with whoever wants to listen. Once I stopped trying so hard to hide from everyone, I slowly started finding room to heal. This ongoing transformation has been something I never could have imagined, and now I want others to experience it too." A Place of Healing, Not Hiding




Thursday, October 19, 2017

Jealousy and Social Media



Anonymous Question Series:

Q: My husband gets jealous about Facebook likes, emojis, and comments I get from other men who are just friends. How do you recommend dealing with such situations?

A: The quick answer; Recognize your husbands jealousy is rooted in fears and insecurities and avoid taking responsibility for his emotions.

Jealousy is a toxic form of control and is never a healthy or appropriate response. While it is important to respect and love your spouse, to hear out their concerns, you never should take responsibility for his emotional immaturity - his jealousy. What I mean by this last comment is that you should never feel you have to change because your spouse guilts, scares, or uses logic to convince you to change. Even in the case of emotional or physical infidelity, jealously is toxic and not healthy.

It is natural to experience hurt, pain, sadness, maybe even a little jealousy, but jealousy is a manifestation of other serious emotional issues. Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D., addressed these mental health issues well in her article "What's Really Behind Jealousy, and What to Do About It"

Research has linked several traits to jealousy:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Neuroticism: a general tendency to be moody, anxious, and emotionally unstable
  • Feelings of insecurity and possessiveness
  • Dependence on your partner: Codependency
  • Feelings of inadequacy in your relationship
  • An anxious attachment style

Take courage in your integrity. You get to be you! Some married individuals require or expect their spouses to: "unfriend" old friends of the opposite sex and past boyfriends/girlfriends and share social media and emails. This is inappropriate. Some people agree to do this because it seems to make logical sense and they see it as a form of "honoring" their spouse. So, they agree to go along with it. Sure, absolutely, if you personally decide it's best for you to avoid interacting with others of the opposite sex, you get to make that decision. But it is not loving nor healthy of him to make you feel obligated to comply.

Elder Holland made it clear that this immature jealousy and tantrum is not appropriate (refer to my post: Marital Myth of Communication); 
"The second segment of this scriptural sermon on love in Moroni 7:45 says that true charity—real love—'is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity.' Think of how many arguments could be avoided, how many hurt feelings could be spared, how many cold shoulders and silent treatments could be ended, and, in a worst-case scenario, how many breakups and divorces could be avoided if we were not so easily provoked, if we thought no evil of one another, and if we not only did not rejoice in iniquity but didn’t rejoice even in little mistakes.

Temper tantrums are not cute even in children; they are despicable in adults, especially adults who are supposed to love each other. We are too easily provoked; we are too inclined to think that our partner meant to hurt us—meant to do us evil, so to speak; and in defensive or jealous response we too often rejoice when we see them make a mistake and find them in a fault. Let’s show some discipline on this one. Act a little more maturely. Bite your tongue if you have to. 'He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city' (Proverbs 16:32). At least one difference between a tolerable marriage and a great one may be that willingness in the latter to allow some things to pass without comment, without response."   
How Do I Love Thee? ―Elder Jeffery R. Holland 
Respond with love and boundaries, don't loose who you are, have fun and be you. It's not easy, but he needs to learn how to be an adult and a loving companion. You can't force him, but you can take comfort in knowing you get to be you.

One final thought. If he is making such an issue over "likes" that you feel it had to be addressed with me, I am going to assume this behavior is not limited to social media. I would encourage you to read and become familiar with Emotional Blackmail. 

Additional Resources: 

Here is a summary of the book: "Emotional Blackmail" patterns.  


Emotional Blackmail website: Out of the F.O.G.

Self-Assessment of Emotional Abuse: Emotional Abuse 

A Conversation on Spouse Abuse

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Transparency in All Things


Anonymous Question Series:

Q: If someone has watched pornography or masturbated in the past do you feel they are obligated to tell their future spouse? Does it depend on how long ago it was?

There are three concepts in this question that need to be answered; 1) Transparency in relationships 2) Stigma/shame of sexual sins/behaviors, 3) Masturbation, is it really that bad? 
The main focus in this question is transparency and stigma/shame of sexual sins/behaviors. I will address the third concept in a separate post.

A: The quick answer; yes, and if you can't/don't, you should not get married.

Transparency in Relationships
"Where there is respect, there is also transparency, which is a key element of happy marriages. There are no secrets about relevant matters in marriages based on mutual respect and transparency. Husbands and wives make all decisions about finances together and both have access to all information." Marriage: Watch and Learn By Elder L. Whitney Clayton Of the Presidency of the Seventy
I understand the above quote is specifically addressing social media in marriage, which I will address more specifically in my forthcoming post on, "Jealousy and Social Media". Once published, I will put a link to it here.

Nonetheless, this quote is absolutely applicable to premarital relationships, especially if you are engaged. How do you ever expect to be transparent or desire your partner to be transparent if you yourself keep secrets?

Myth

Let's dispel a myth right now. I have searched all over for a source, a reference, or the origin of one of the most ridiculous myths and traditions in our faith. But I cannot find an original source nor anything that supports it. That is, if you have "repented" of something, you don't need to divulge it to your future spouse (or current spouse). I cannot emphasize how naive, controlling, and dangerous this concept is.

There are women who say, "If it is in the past, I don't want to know about it, I don't need to know about it." For some reason I've only heard women express this idea, but please realize that this is a rejection of your partner. Not wanting to share and not wanting to know is anything but love. Many excuse it as "true love" and "embracing the atonement" when they don't "dig up the past." These individuals believe it is a rejection of the Atonement to bring up the past. When women desire to learn about their loved one, the men often respond defensively, "why do you keep wanting to know about the things I've repented about?"

This is a huge RED FLAG and if it wasn't so common, I would tell you to turn and run, run as fast as you can. Unfortunately, it is far too common of a conversation, which means it's a tradition and myth that good people truly believe. It can be worked through and properly understood, but transparency is an absolute must! Without exception!

Clarity and Perspective

It boggles my mind that we still speak as though pornography is some type of sin of "perdition," unrecoverable and mentally damaging. A sin that turns beautiful, intelligent, amazing individuals into social pariahs. The social and self shame around this topic is unjustified. I assure you, nearly 100% of individuals, male and female have viewed pornography and 80-95% of people have masturbated. In today's information age, it is impossible to not view and even engage in pornography.

Additionally, there is a real problem with even the word "pornography." It's a nonsensical, abstract word. Let me give you a real life example; A wife demands her spouse repent to the bishop because he saw breasts in the movie "Titanic". The Bishop, whom that husband will potentially confess to, went on a date with his wife to see "Deadpool." One can argue the Bishop and his wife are in serious violation themselves. This is the problem; who gets to define pornography?

Recently, I was interacting with a anti-porn advocate who uses her spouse's "short comings" as a platform for her "trauma." Yet, she has a plethora of highly sensual books and movies on her own Facebook "Likes" page. Some could easily be considered "harlequin" type material. When pointed out, she defended it saying there was no "nudity" in those types of entertainment. That statement wasn't entirely true, but it's an example of the double standard and confusion around the concept of pornography.
"Historically the term 'pornography' has an unreliable history of usefulness as a scientific term. Instead, it is a social construct of the human mind. Its social use is vague, inaccurate and is often co-opted for use as rhetoric by those who use it to further their social or political agendas. Over time the term has taken on negative connotations, and is now, also used as a pejorative term in expressions of disapproval. The term "pornography" is like using the term "lemon" to describe an automobile. It describes a negative quality of an object in the minds of many people.

....Now is the time for scientists to break a bad habit of using this socially biased, non-scientific term. As scientists we create problems for ourselves when we adopt unscientific terminology that has culturally evolved, and is loaded with cultural or moralistic bias. We handicap the social effectiveness of our research when we use such terms." A New Taxonomy: Scientific Misuse of the Term "Pornography" Mark Kim Malan, Ph.D.
As I pointed out in my previous post, problematic sexual behavior is an ambiguous terminology socially defined by white middle class christian males. ARP Fails Women Support Groups

Fortunately, Elder Oaks has addressed this topic well in an Ensign article October 2015. Where he embraced a more scientific and correct view; (1) inadvertent exposure, (2) occasional use, (3) intensive use, and (4) compulsive use (addiction). The Church is making great progress in defining the "problem" and eliminating the shame.

Stigma/Shame of Sexual Sins/Behaviors

From a "doctrinal" and spiritual perspective. Our culture has traditionally lumped ALL "porn" into the same level of severity and seriousness. In spite of logic and the infinite Atonement, we conceptually view, even 5 mins of pornography, as a sexual "sin next to murder," which is not accurate.
"...Corianton’s sin was a composite of several elements, specifically sexual immorality by a priesthood leader that caused him to abandon his ministry and therefore neglect the spiritual needs of his flock, thereby leading them into apostasy. In effect, Corianton metaphorically “murdered” the testimonies of those he was commissioned to bring unto Christ when he was lured away by Isabel (cf. Alma 36:14). 
This understanding of Corianton’s particular situation is strengthened by of the fact that in Alma 39:5, Alma speaks of “these things” (plural) being “an abomination in the sight of the Lord.” Apparently, “these things” included not only Corianton committing sexual sin, but purposefully neglecting “the ministry wherewith [he] wast entrusted” (v. 4). Perhaps, then, “the more serious infraction was the resulting spiritual damage inflicted upon others who had witnessed Corianton’s sinful actions.” Michael R. Ash and B. W. Jorgensen - "Knowhy #147" 


Let me be clear, the prevalence of a sin or behavior doesn't make it right (just because everyone is doing it). However, we treat pornography and masturbation with such rejection, that emotionally, we loath ourselves and others for engaging in it. In the great words of Elder Uchtdorf, "STOP IT."

Doing it Right

We must stop it; stop being ashamed and own it. The fact that people view it with such seriousness, makes it this landmark conversation in the relationship. My suggestion is to go into a relationship with the assumption that the other has engaged in these behaviors. As the relationship matures, it will provide appropriate opportunities to discuss the history and severity of the behaviors.

Every relationship is different and there is no fast and set rule on when to divulge your past. You can not control your partners responses, but you can begin to view yourself in the loving context of the Atonement. Their response is a reflection of their spiritual and emotional maturity. In fact, your sharing and their response can be an excellent indicator of their marriage readiness.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sex and Illness


Anonymous Question Series:

Q: "What would you do if you had a sick spouse you loved but was unable to perform sex due to illness?"

A: The quick answer; find a way. Consult with medical professionals and spouse (if they are capable of discussing) and explore options. If your spouse is physically, mentally, or both, incapable... Between the Lord and you, you may consider self-stimulation.

(This is a great question and will be a little difficult to answer concisely. This has been a topic of GREAT interest and equal concern for me; so much that I have taken up the opportunity to write about it. I am over 100 pages into a book I hope to complete by the end of this year that addresses this issue and other related topics and their solutions.)

This is such a valid topic with so many misconceptions and harsh taboos around it. These harsh taboos, unfortunately, block truth and clarity. "...men (and women) are, that they might have joy." You are married and now incapable of having intercourse with your spouse. What doctrine, principle, or concept confines you from experiencing the God-given desire and blessings of arousal that are associated with the powers of creation? Because of a biological or medical issue your spouse is experiencing, you are NO longer allowed to experience the JOY and fulfillment of marriage, sexually? I have studied in-depth everything written on the subject within the church since its restoration in 1830. I'll share my findings in my forthcoming book. There is not one scriptural, solid doctrine, that says you cannot experience sexual fulfillment in your marriage, even when your spouse cannot.

As I said, I have read everything written and spoken on the topic within the church. I am not exaggerating nor taking my comment lightly. I am fully aware of the harsh and bold declarations President Kimball and Elder McConkie and others have made regarding Masturbation. (I will get into far greater detail on this topic in my upcoming book.) In short, their ideas are NOT based on doctrine and more importantly, are rooted in BAD medical science. The reason they spoke so harshly against it was because they believed it caused homosexuality and other "diseases."

In fact, and quit interestingly, the Church was very progressive in sexual understanding at its restoration and up through the 1930's. At that time the world believed having an orgasm literally shorten your life span and caused severe illness. Our leaders were teaching the beauty of desire and sexuality;
Elder Orson Pratt, “God is the Author of sexual or conjugal love, the same as He is of all other kinds of pure…God has ordained that pure and virtuous love should be incorporated with sexual love; that, by the combination of the two, permanent unions in the marriage covenant may be formed, and the species be multiplied in righteousness.”1 
In another instance Elder Parley P. Pratt expressed, "Some persons have supposed that our natural affections were the results of a fallen and corrupt nature, and that they are 'carnal, sensual, and devilish,' and therefore out to be resisted, subdued, or overcome as so many evils which prevent our perfection, or progress in the spiritual life...Such persons have mistaken the source and fountain of happiness altogether."2 
“The late 1920s and most of the 1930s saw a more explicit “sex education” in church lessons, to a degree not matched before or since. As one invited speaker explained to a general conference of the Relief Society, adults needed to realize that “you and I have been brought up in a generation where we just could not talk about sex. Not so our youngsters. They are talking and thinking about sex as frankly as anything else, and so far as I can discover, as wholesomely. Official church manuals endorsed secular books about sexuality and suggested that sexual interests be guided rather than inhibited. During this time masturbation did not always carry the same onus that it does in the popular Mormon literature of today. Rather than focusing on abstinence supervision as is practiced today with current church youth interviewing policies, lessons instead warned parents that they could create emotional problems in their adolescents by an “unintelligent” over-response to their masturbation (Bush, 1993).”3
Yet, over the last 20-30 years the church has removed, almost entirely, any mention of masturbation. Additionally President Kimball's book, "Miracle of Forgiveness" has been discontinued, recognizing that many of the opinions in it were neither scientifically accurate nor accurate to Church doctrine. Furthermore, the Brethren have counseled leaders NOT to inquire about the behavior and if brought up, to remind the member asking about it that it's a discussion between the individual/couple and the Lord. Leaders are NOT sex therapists and should not be consulting in such personal matters.

Again, this is such an important topic, which has so many false concepts around it. I am doing all I can to complete my detailed response to this topic in book format. Until that time, four resources I highly recommend;

1) The Lord, seriously. Take it up with the Lord, openly and honestly. Put off all your preconceived notions, ideas, and taboos and seek the Lord in this regard first and foremost.
2) Reach out to me for specific follow up Daniel Burgess at daniel.burgess@gmail.com,
3) Read "And They Were Not Ashamed",
4) "Art of Desire" by Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife.

Also posted at: Sacred Sexuality

1. The Seer 1:155 (1853)
2. Essential Parley P. Pratt Ch 10, p.124
3. Health and Medicine among the Latter-day Saints: Science, Sense, and Scripture by Lester E. Bush, Jr pg. 144