Lily was crushed. She’d told just a member of her church her secret, and the member warned her that if anyone else found out, she would probably lose her position teaching the youth. What was this secret so deadly that she would be warned to hide it?
Lily is same-sex attracted.
Neither the struggle nor the terror is uncommon. How, then, do we create an environment in our churches, small groups, and families where we can even have this conversation, where Lily can share her struggle without fear?
Here are three places to start.
1. Don’t Assume Anything about Anyone
According to one recent study, 83 percent of LGBT people grew up in a church. One obvious implication is that there are youth in your church right now dealing with these feelings. There are adults as well, and if they’re in a conservative church, odds are they’re hiding this part of their lives.
Humans like to be normal. This means most same-sex-attracted people in conservative churches don’t look or act any differently than others. Because they’re committed to the Bible’s sexual ethic, there’s little about their outward lives that would reveal this inward battle. You would have to be told. But the church often hasn’t been safe for those who experience same-sex attraction. Ugly assumptions are made and spoken; misunderstanding and suspicion abounds. Therefore, many stay hidden in fear.
Your friend and Bible study partner who’s married with three kids might experience same-sex attraction. The single guy who serves faithfully on the hospitality team might have known since he was little that his desires were different than other boys’. The elder’s wife who is every woman’s shoulder to cry on may weep privately about this struggle that just won’t go away. I’ve met all of these people. Start by recognizing that same-sex attraction is in the church already.
2. Create a Safe Space for Them to Disclose
It’s not your responsibility to guess who’s same-sex attracted, just like it’s not your responsibility to know all the struggles of your church. Your opportunity is to become a safe person for disclosure. Ask the Spirit of God to help you identify false stereotypes you may hold. Read a good book like Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach [read TGC’s review], or check out the excellent materials at Living Out. Repent and confess anything the Lord brings to mind.
In your speech at Bible studies, in one-on-one conversations, or any church context, discuss what you’re learning with humility and honesty. You don’t have to know everything to start a conversation about how your church can be a safe place to not be okay, to be growing together toward holiness. You may be the key to helping other Christians recognize ways they’ve been (wrongly) off-putting while trying to (rightly) hold to Scripture’s truth about sexual morality. You may even be the first Christian your brother or sister has been able to share with about their same-sex desires.
3. Be Ready for Disclosure
The scariest thing might be when someone actually tells you, like Lily, that she is attracted to the same sex. What a powerful moment, with the explosive potential of a firework—or a bomb. If someone comes out to you, recognize that this disclosure took incredible courage on their part and that you were picked because you seemed trustworthy.
The first thing you should do is look your friend in the eye, thank her for her trust, and affirm that you love her and that Jesus loves her. Give her a hug; reach for her hand.
The next thing you should do is listen, and listen, and listen. When she gets to a pause, ask her to tell you more. When did she first know? What’s her experience been like? Has she felt wounded? This is not the time to run a theological litmus test or demand linguistic perfection. This is the time to bear each other’s burdens in love (Gal. 6:2); perhaps this is a burden she’s been shouldering alone, silently, for decades. Don’t make assumptions; ask how you can serve. Take a long-sighted relational view. This conversation is the first of many you will have on this topic. While you listen and love, pray for wise and compassionate words.
Christians, we serve a God who casts out fear with love; we worship a Savior who came that we may have life to the full; we are filled with the Spirit who makes all things new. In his power, let’s be quick to listen and slow to speak as we embark on the long road of discipleship.
By Rachel Gilson
Rachel Gilson is director of theological development at Cru Northeast. She holds a BA in history from Yale College and is completing her MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She blogs at rachelgilson.com. Article originally posted at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/safe-space-for-ssa/.
There are so many ways to instantly communicate with anyone right at your fingertips. But despite this age of heightened connectivity, an increasing number of couples come to me citing device usage and social media as an issue in their relationship. Excessive device usage acts as a barrier to quality communication, which leaves partners feeling ignored or unimportant.
Many of us have experienced sharing a significant story with someone and they grab their cell phone halfway through the conversation. Attempting to share the highlights of your day with your partner but they have their nose buried in their Facebook feed? Trying to relay a story about your son but your partner is flipping through Instagram?
Well, the message seems clear – their phone is more important than you are at this moment. Over time, this can be very problematic, leading to feelings of rejection and separateness. You may even start to believe, “Why bother?”
Recent research indicates how cell phones are affecting our relationships. In a study titled “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone,” Meredith Davis and James Roberts suggest that the overuse of cell phones can lead to greater dissatisfaction within our most important relationships. According to their study, which included 145 adults, excessive device usage decreased marital satisfaction.
An additional study by Chinese scientists assessed 243 married adults with similar outcomes. This study posits that excessive phone usage not only decreases your marital satisfaction, but it also contributes to a greater likelihood of depression. And even more concerning is that 86% of American adults constantly check their devices for social media updates, email, and text messages.
The implications are clear; our most important relationships can be dulled and diminished in favor of screen time. But you and your partner can work together to overcome excessive device usage and reconnect with face-to-face time together.
The Importance of Bids
Drs. John and Julie Gottman assert the importance of “bids” in healthy relationships. A bid is an attempt at seeking attention, affirmation, and/or affection to positively connect with your partner.
For example, at a meal together you might say, “I can’t decide between the fish and the steak” to your companion. Although the content of the statement isn’t incredibly important here, it’s a simple attempt to connect with your partner in that moment. Your partner could keep perusing their menu and ignore you, or they could accept your bid for connection and say something like, “They both sound good, but didn’t you just have steak the other night when you tried that new restaurant down the street?”
If your partner responds positively in that very small interaction, they are being mindful that you want to connect with them and are “turning toward” you. Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that successful couples turn toward each other about 86% of the time, and accepting your partner’s bids requires paying attention, which is something you can’t do if you’re using your phone.
Too much screen time may also prompt trust issues. Is your partner communicating with someone else? Are they messaging with an ex through Facebook? Social media may blur the lines of what is acceptable behavior and it could potentially lead to an emotional affair, so make sure to have a conversation with your partner about what is off limits and why.
A good rule of thumb: use real world boundaries as a guide. If you wouldn’t have that conversation with a Facebook friend in real life with your partner by your side, it’s probably best not to do it online, either.
Spending Device-Free Time Together
You should make it a priority to spend quality time with your partner without your cell phone. But before you make any rules, you should examine your own phone habits first and discuss the issue with your partner calmly and respectfully.
James Roberts, in addition to his co-authored study above, also wrote “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” He explains that “if you need to improve as well, approach your partner that this is something you need to tackle together. If you point the finger at your partner without taking responsibility for your own behavior, it won’t go over well.” Like Dr. John Gottman suggests, it is always best to express how you feel and what you need by using a soft start-up.
Once you and your partner have that discussion, try taking 30 minutes together, face-to-face, as a trial run without phones. Notice how different your interaction and conversation feels when you can see each other’s facial expressions and make eye contact, which will give you an indication of how much more connected the two of you may be when spending time device-free. Express how you feel after those 30 minutes, and try to build that routine into your daily life with your partner.
Outside of 30 minutes of daily device-free time, silencing your phone during dinner, or even leaving it in another room, is a good habit to get into so you can focus on the meal and on your partner and/or family. You can make an agreement with your partner on when and where smartphones will be allowed or not, and there are apps that you can use to monitor how much time you’re spending on the phone, especially if you’d like to cut back on device usage overall.
Despite these suggestions, some of my clients will say, “But I have to be plugged in for work.” The importance of staying connected to your job is understandable, especially that more and more employers expect their employees to be accessible outside of work, but you can set boundaries for work-related phone use, too. You could try using a “do not disturb” feature on your phone to silence alerts and phone calls, but you can also allow certain contacts (like your boss) to get through in case there’s an urgent issue that needs your attention.
Whether you use your phone for work or leisure, it’s important to make an effort to spend more time face-to-face with your partner. All it takes is to be present, look your partner in the eyes, and have a real conversation. Once you feel more connected to them, you’ll know that it’s worth the effort.
Katie Golem, MSW, LSW
(Katie Golem is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist based in Chicago, IL. Working with both couples and individuals, she is passionate about helping others thrive. She also loves to write – you can find her blog here: artemiscounseling.com. Article originally posted at https://www.gottman.com/blog/smartphone-might-sabotage-relationship/. Reposted with permission.)
Don’t let your wedding day be the last day you truly appreciate your spouse.
When my wife and I got married, more than twelve years ago now, we were convinced that we would have a happy life together. Our courtship was exciting, and our wedding day was a dream. Little did we know that a switch flipped in both of our heads on the day we said “I do.” Indeed, the very next day—the first full day of our married life—my wife and I would begin taking each other for granted.
It’s only in looking back that I can understand what happened early in our marriage. At the time, the change was so gradual that we didn’t even notice it.
Before our wedding day, our focus was each other, having fun, and building our love. After our wedding day, our focus began to shift. Without realizing it, I viewed our wedding day as the finish line in the courtship race, and I had won the prize: my wife’s love.
It was about six months into our marriage when I discovered that we had actually lost something when we said our vows. As each month of marriage passed, the slow decline in our relationship continued. I still couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong, and though we weren’t yet at a terrible place, I looked to the future, and I did not like what I saw.
I called three friends of mine, all of whom had been married for more than twelve years. I thought they all had good marriages and would be good people to get advice from.
My first friend urged me to get over it. No one is happily married, he said. My second friend explained to me that this is what happens in marriage: The initial passion fades away, and you end up bickering for the rest of your lives. My third friend told me the key to surviving marriage was to have low expectations—very low expectations.
Devastated by my friends’ advice, I feared that I had ruined my life by getting married. But my marriage took a turn for the better when I was asked to teach Pre-Cana, a course of marriage consultation that couples must undergo before they can be married in a Catholic church. My initial reaction was: Are you crazy? I’m not suited to teach this. But in the end I accepted the challenge.
This was a game changer for our marriage. As we did our homework to prepare to teach the class, my wife and I felt the trend of our marriage shift in mere days.
Research by marriage specialists such as Dr. John Gottman, author of the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and Bill Doherty, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, provided practical suggestions for how to strengthen marriage, which were simple enough that we were able to easily apply them to our marriage.
In a life-changing talk, Doherty makes an important point about marriage. He explains that the natural trend of marriage is for romance, affection, appreciation, and communication to decline over time, not because couples start to dislike each other but because they become too comfortable together.
Doherty explained that it is important to choose the right person, but it is also important to have a strategy to stay happy. His big phrase is “the intentional couple,” by which he means you need to be aware of what you’re doing, and you need to have a plan to nurture the positive in your relationship.
Couples with marriages rich in habits, rituals, and traditions will be better suited to avoid the trap of taking each other for granted and will keep the positive side of the relationship nurtured over time.
Here are three important rituals that saved my wife and I from taking each other for granted and drifting apart.
01. Create a habit of reunion every day.
According to Doherty, the most important moment in your marriage is the moment of reunion—it’s how you greet each other. If you consistently greet each other well, you will look forward to seeing each other. If you are inconsistent about how you greet each other, you can lose that sense of excitement. If you criticize each other at the moment of reunion, you can become fearful of seeing each other.
In need of a daily ritual in my own marriage, I remembered something my parents did that had made a strong impression on me when I was a little boy. My parents did it very rarely, but occasionally after dinner my father would ask my mother to dance.
I made a commitment right then and there to dance with my wife whenever I greet her. Now the first thing I do when I get home is to find her, and tell her, “I have to dance with you.” On days when I work too late, or am traveling without her, I make up for the missed opportunity by sending my wife a video kiss from my iPhone. Once we even danced via Facetime.
The consistency of greeting each other well has completely transformed our marriage. Every day of our marriage has romance and affection in it, and my wife and I are always excited to see each other.
02. Set aside two minutes of undistracted communication every day.
Gottman has found that two minutes of undistracted communication can be more important than spending a whole unfocused week together as a couple. Even though I am not a morning person, I resolved to wake up a little earlier each day and have breakfast with my wife.
Having breakfast is not our morning ritual, as Gottman has found that even the food you’re eating is a distraction. It’s when we are finished eating that I slap my knee and invite my wife to sit on my lap. We then ask each other what our days will be like.
Right from the beginning of the day, we have a ritual to nurture the romance, affection, and connection in our marriage, and we have found that this feeling persists throughout the day. Two minutes of non-distracted communication, while dancing at the moment of reunion, serves to refresh this daily connection.
03. Practice an appreciation ritual every day.
Sadly, couples tend to take the good in each other for granted very quickly—and can even stop noticing the good that the other is doing—while focusing more and more on the petty failings of the other.
Inspired by the research of Gottman, we began to incorporate an appreciation ritual into our daily lives. We’ve learned to say thank you throughout the day. And we end each day before going to bed by sitting together, with the computers off, and thanking each other once again for all the big and small things we’ve done for each other that day.
When we first started this ritual, we were stunned to realize how much each of us was doing for the other during the day. I had become so focused on my petty complaints about my wife that I had forgotten what a good wife she was. Our thank you ritual to end the day has helped us become much more tolerant of each other’s failings.
Most couples allow their marriages to decay slowly over time, often without realizing it. But this wasn’t my marriage’s fate, and it doesn’t have to be yours. Daily rituals keep the sense of connection strong in marriage and assure that romance, affection, and appreciation are a part of your married life every day.
By Peter McFadden, Verily Magizine