Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Making of an "Affair" part 2

In my last post I talked about how affairs start and progress. The first stage occurs when we become vulnerable. We're not communicating, we're hurting from a major loss, some aspect of life is especially trying or we simply quit paying attention to one another. During those times we can find comfort with another person of the opposite sex which can lead to what I call engagement.

We don't intend to be unfaithful but through a simple conversation or two, coffee, a lunch, some back and forth bantering, an internet connection or regular interactions within a group, we start to become attracted, at least on an emotional level. We may see our connection with them as innocent but because it feels so much better than how things seem in our marriage we go back for more.

And if we continue to become more intimate in soul and spirit with the other person the next step can lead to a physical betrayal and adultery. In fact, as I said last time the betrayal already began and the affair had actually started emotionally. However, once the physical line is crossed the road back becomes more difficult and painful.

Marriages can be devastated, ministries lost and reputations ruined. Spouses usually have to face coworkers, family and friends telling them through their tears what happened and how they've let them down. Many spouses unfortunately make it worse by continuing to try to cover up the truth rather than facing the facts and dealing with them.

So let me talk first to those who have entered into an affair whether it's known or not. Stop now. No excuses. Stop. Your marriage can make it but the road you're on is a road to more damage and pain not health. Get some help from a friend, pastor and/or counselor. Come clean and do the right thing.

Don't hurt your spouse, children and marriage any more by waiting. You will have to face a long journey of counseling, discussions, changing of habits and the like. There is no shortcut. And there is no guarantee that your marriage will make it. But if you are Christ followers you have a much better chance to get through it. In fact, eighty percent of marriages impacted by an affair stay together although sometimes they don't remain in a healthy marriage.

Become accountable to someone for the rest of your life. Being in community with others who love you will pay incredible dividends. Determine that you will do whatever it takes to restore the marriage relationship you committed to years before.

But let me secondly suggest to all of us what we can do now to help avoid compromising our marriage vows or getting into that situation again. First, don't have exclusive close associations with members of the opposite sex. Jackie and I together have female friends, but I alone don't have my own female friends.

I don't even go to coffee or meet in a restaurant with any women alone. I want to do everything I can to guard against any inappropriate connection or the impression of one. I also don't want to risk a relationship with another female that is attractive even for a short while.

If you're in a setting where regular connections with the opposite sex are required or regular (I am), then set up appropriate and healthy boundaries. Make your decisions now what you will and won't do. It's better to be overly careful without being an annoyance or rude. But if your employer, for example, is unwilling to work with you on those boundaries, seriously consider your options at that job. I realize that may not seem very practical in our current economy but how practical is it to lose your marriage.

Second, keep growing in marital intimacy. Couples who are talking to one another regularly don't need to find someone else to talk to about their struggles. Couples who are praying for one another and growing in their faith aren't tempted to find spiritual connections somewhere else. If you serve others together you'll grow tremendously and help anchor your relationship. Because you see, unfortunately the church and other seemingly safe places are often where many affairs start.
Also, keep evaluating with each other how you can make more time together, get away from time to time and work on your relationship in general. Make time to enjoy your physical relationship too. I like to say that if you don't seduce your spouse now and then, someone else might!

Third, get help when you need it. There's nothing wrong with letting someone else look into your marriage and help you walk through the rough spots. Guarding your heart is your responsibility and it will protect one of the most important possessions and relationships you'll ever have. And it's worth it!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Making of an "Affair" part 1

This is a topic I'd rather not be writing about but it's too important and relevant to skip. I deal with couples every week who have been torn apart by inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex. I see the pain and long agonizing months and even years it will take to bring healing and reconciliation.

I also sadly observe the couples who don't make it because the pain is too great and/or one or both won't accept the hard work it will take to be restored. Add to that children who can be impacted by it all and it makes you wonder why anyone would risk facing all this.

However, what I want to make sure we all understand, including me, is how vulnerable any marriage can be to an affair. That's because the majority of affairs do not just happen. There were several stages that the offender went through most likely thinking that there would never be a problem. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

So let me in this first post on this important topic suggest some of the dangerous phases of our relationships and their warning signals that can help us avoid the tragedy of an affair.

We must first be aware of and address the times when our marital relationship is vulnerable. Our relationship is particularly at risk when . . . there is significant stress (which is most of the time), when we're not communicating well, when we've gone through a difficult emotional experience such as death, job loss or other personal challenge.

We can be vulnerable when we're too busy to spend significant, intimate time with each other and our relationship is just on auto-pilot or in orbit. We are in danger when our children's attention and activities are allowed to rob us of meaningfully connecting with our spouse.

The problem is that when we're hurting and not relating with our spouse, we can easily be attracted to someone else who does connect with us. They may be the associate at work, the volunteer or staff person at church or even a neighbor who simply shows us a little attention. But when we talk to them they listen, they're interested in us, they follow-up concerning our struggle or even pray for us!

In those times of need some meaningful interest from another person, interest that we're not getting from our spouse for whatever reason, is like a cup of cold water in the desert. It tastes wonderful and without thinking much about it we long for more. So we find ourselves wanting talk to them a little more, spend a bit more time with them, send them one more email/text or even consider having coffee or lunch. That leads to the second stage which I'll call engagement.

We start to connect with this other person beyond our normal relating. We can begin to take risks and not care because the thrill of having another person care about us seems so worth it.

Of course, we disguise it by saying it's nothing or it's just for business. We call them just a good friend and a person whose wisdom and advice we find helpful. But without knowing it we could be on our way to an affair. Why?

Well, intimacy is more than physical, contrary to much of Hollywood's perspective. Intimacy involves body, soul and spirit. When we start to expose our soul and spirit to someone of the opposite sex, we're starting to become intimate with them. Is that necessarily all wrong? Of course not. But it's dangerous because the physical was designed by God to work in tandem with soul and spirit in men and women.

This is why affairs are so prominent among religious leaders, counselors, doctors and therapists - there is much soul and spirit connecting that goes on between those leaders and those they work with every day. Now obviously an affair does not need to be the result but we must be intentional about doing our part to keep things from escalating beyond appropriateness.

Because if we're not careful we'll at some point move to the next stage - betrayal. Yes, in some sense the betrayal has likely already started but at this point a significant line is crossed. That line is usually a sexual relationship that has started but it doesn't have to be physical. It may be emotional but the connection is at a new level. The spouse begins talking and relating to that other person about things that are deep within. They share words meant only for their spouse but they don't care anymore.

They may even take their "spirituality" to a new place, praying for each other, sharing Bible verses and being involved more deeply in serving together. It may sound and look acceptable but it's not.

If you find yourself at this place or headed in this direction, I want to plead with you right now to stop. Get some help. Talk to someone. Quit the relationship today. The consequences are too great. God said that we're to give ourselves only to our spouse and he said that for our good.

I'll talk next time about some practical things you can do to keep yourself from ever getting to this place. In the meantime, as Proverbs 4 says, guard your heart.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Teaching Your Kids Lasting Truths

One of the most difficult (and often scariest) tasks for a parent or parents is to figure out how to teach God's truth to their kids. We usually have good intentions but in reality our time pressures, fear and lack of training usually cause us to leave this task to the experts. As a result we expect the church, the Christian school or other organization/group to do the work for us.

However, there are a few problems with that approach. First of all, God tells us parents that this kind of training is our job. Check out Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs 22:6 for starters and you'll see what I mean. The church and school can be available to help us but they're not to take our place.

Second, we miss out on the opportunity to spend meaningful time with our kids. When we're teaching them they're also seeing our faith modeled in us. We are also afforded opportunities to talk with them about some of the most important lessons and truths of life. Why should everyone else have that chance instead of us?

So, where do we start if we want to be intimately involved in the spiritual training of our kids? Well, first of all, start early if you can. If your children are young begin now. Start simply, but get going. The more you make training them a natural part of your home's routine the more responsive they will be when they're older.

Second, be creative and age-appropriate. Not all spiritual training has to be done while you're sitting in a table with the Bible open. When our kids were little we used to act out Bible stories rather than just read them. We used to take all their stuffed animals and put them on the couch to teach them about Noah's ark. We'd find a wood plank in the garage and use it as a ramp in which to march the animals into the ark.

Other times we'd act out Daniel and the lion's den. I'd be Daniel and our son Tim loved being the lion. We had great fun while they were learning some of the most important stories in the Bible. As they got older we used other methods such as letting them read the story themselves, finding well-written Bible story books and looking for God in everyday life.

I remember taking a trip with my son and a number of other dads and their kids to Colorado. We learned some phenomenal lessons about God by observing the nature all around us and talking about it in a relaxed, enjoyable setting.

Third, talk with your kids about what they're learning in church, children's ministries or youth group. Find out what they're studying and then make time to talk with them about it. Keep it light and fun, but let them teach you! They'll enjoy that a lot more than being lectured to in some boring after-dinner devotional. In fact, there were times when we had our kids in church with us and Jackie would draw pictures during the sermon to help illustrate what we were learning in simple ways.

Finally, be sure that faith is lived out in your home everyday. When your children see you stop and pray about a challenging situation they're learning to do the same. Bring your kids together with you to pray about their struggle, others or a family decision. You can even use TV and movies to talk about the spiritual lesssons to be learned. You can follow up by looking at or finding scriptures that might illustrate that lesson.

In addition, find ways to serve others in your community or on a missions trip. God's truth suddenly comes alive in ways you won't be able to teach when you're ministering to others who have less than you do.

There are all sorts of ideas and ways to teach God's truth to your kids. But whatever you do don't leave the teaching in the hands of someone else. Becoming involved yourself is really worth it. And you might be surprised how much you learn in the process!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ten Mistakes To Avoid on Your Next Marriage "Date"

In a recent post I talked about the importance of married couples continuing to date and spend focused time together even if they've been married a long time.

However, there are some pitfalls that would be wise to avoid if you're going to truly have a meaningful and special time. So here are my top ten things to avoid when on a date with your spouse:

10. Texting the entire time with your children, coworkers or best friend.
9.   Bringing the paper along to read during dinner and doing the crossword during dessert.
8.   Going to a sports bar - period. Just don't.
7.   Leaving the radio or stereo going whenever you're in the car. Just talk.
6.   Taking in a hockey game. There are too many fights that might bring up bad memories.
5.   Attending an activity that one of you clearly hates.
4.   Talking the whole night about your kids.
3.   Referring to several of your spouse's greatest weaknesses.
2.   Having a debate about politics, the war in Iraq or TV evangelists.
1.   Not making plans for the next date.

So, are there some things we can do to make our dates more interesting and desirable? I think there are although every couple will need to determine what unique activities fit them best. Here are at least a few things you might try:

A. Play the favorites game. Each person gets to bring up a topic and then you try to guess the other's favorite in that category - i.e. ice cream, movie, song from the 80s, actor, book, etc.

B. Ask the other person what they've always wanted to do but never could and why?

C. Talk about what your dream vacation would look like.

D. Discuss the favorite place you've ever lived along with the place you'd most like to live someday if money were no object.

E. Share one of the times in the last year when you really saw God at work.

F. Exchange things you want the other person to be praying for you the next week.

G. Go somewhere you've never been, even if it's just local. Research it ahead of time and then make plans to get there.

Hopefully you get the idea! Dating is part of the glue that can help marriages stay together, fresh, alive and exciting. You can take turns planning them or just work them out together. They don't always have to lavish (ours rarely are) but they can always be fun and you can learn more about each other if you work at it. Sometimes you also just need a no-brainer date where you dont' talk about anything of significance.

Whatever the case, keep dating alive in your marriage. Just make sure it's only with your spouse!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Are You Still "Dating" Your Spouse?

Remember those days when you and your spouse were just getting to know each other? You called each other on the phone, set up a special place to go or spot to meet, held hands everywhere you went and made the evening last as long as possible?

But then came marriage, kids, a house to take care of and bills to pay. Working late and getting older meant you were more tired and it was easier to just share a quick kiss and say goodnight. Time for each other became replaced by time for everyone and everything else.

No more love letters, evenings just for the two of you, and conversations that seemed to never get boring. It was like you'd learned all you could about the other and if there was more to find out it was just too much effort.

Does any of that describe your marriage? Or are you possibly on your way there? One reason might be that you and your spouse have forgotten what it's like to date or you've quit making personal time for the two of you a priority. And if you quit being intentional about your one another relationship, you'll quit growing closer.

But here's the good news. It's never too late to re-kindle the sparks in your marriage. And you don't have to wait until your kids are grown or the house is paid off or you get that perfect job with the ideal hours to do so. And I'm not just talking about returning romance to your marriage but also deepening your total intimacy of body, soul and spirit.

Let me give you a couple of suggestions that you can adapt to your specific situation. First of all, commit now to a regular time to do something together. Some people pick a night of the week or every other week that is date night. If that works for you go for it.

We have chosen a day or part of a day each week that is more our day. It's varied over the years depending upon our work situation and the ages of our children. When we were younger, had small children and didn't have a lot of extra money, we worked out an every-other-Saturday morning deal with some friends where we would watch their kids one week and they would watch ours the next. That way we never had to pay for a sitter but stayed committed to get out of the house together.

Now we spend every Monday doing something. Sometimes we may include some errands but we're still together and at least have a relaxing lunch in there somewhere. But as much as possible we're out hiking, going to some new place and eating at a different restaurant. It usually doesn't cost a lot but it's worth millions for our marriage.

In fact, because we've done this most of our married life, it was a natural thing to continue once we became empty-nesters. And our kids also learned growing up that while they were incredibly important to us and much-loved, mom and dad's relationship was a priority too. Remember your home is Marriage 101 for your kids. What you do is what they will more likely model themselves.

Second, talk together about some things you could do as a couple that you both would enjoy. You may need to add some new things to your list or there might be some activities that you used to do that you've long forgotten about. We've found that much of the fun and what brings us together revolves around the planning of the events.

Is there a trip you've wanted to take? Is there a new hobby that would be fun to try? Don't wait until you're old to start checking off some things on your "bucket list."

Third, get away for at least a couple of nights together every year. We've found that those extended times help us to take inventory of how we've been doing the past year as a couple and/or parents and what we want to work on during the coming year. That coming together helps unite us even more around our real purposes, goals and what we believe God wants for us and our family.

A classic excuse I hear from married couples is, "Well, we just can't afford the time to do those kinds of things." My response is, "You can't afford NOT to do them." If you're too busy to work on your marriage, then you're too busy. If time with your children has usurped any time for you you're in for trouble at some point if not already. Invest in your relationship with each other. It's one of the most important possessions you'll ever have. Enjoy it and enhance it. And do it now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.