Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage

This is the second month of our Healing the Hurt blog series. Join us as we talk about the different types of anger and where you learned to resolve conflict.

What Type of Anger Heats Up in You?

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There are three varieties of the "baked potato" of anger: situational anger, displaced anger, and chronic anger. Each one has a different cause.

Some anger responses are situational, triggered by specific events. You can almost predict it: when a certain something happens, one of you reacts with anger. For example, Barb and I have identified several events that usually trigger anger in one or both of us. One situation that makes sparks fly is when Barb is behind schedule as we are leaving for church or an appointment. Sparks usually fly when we hang wallpaper or pictures together. Once I hang a picture, I don't want any more nail holes; one is enough. Barb, on the other hand, likes to experiment with different spots or later change things around. And I can get a little surly at Christmas time when I'm down on my hands and knees trying to get the tree to stand straight while my family is already starting to hang the ornaments.

What flips your anger switch? Behind every eruption of situational anger are offenses and hurts that have not been resolved. The sooner you close the loop on offenses and hurts, the less damage you will suffer – or inflict – from anger.

Another variety of anger is one counselors refer to as displaced anger. Rather than confronting and dealing with the direct cause of the anger in a situation, the offended spouse expresses his or her feelings indirectly. Here are a couple of classic examples. Your boss ticks you off at work, so you come home and yell at your spouse and kids for no reason. Or how about this classic: Your spouse offends you, so you go outside and kick the dog. Displaced anger may not be as damaging as other forms, but it still leaves a painful open loop in the relationship.

A third type of anger resulting from unhealed hurts is chronic anger. When an open loop is not closed in a timely manner, the hurt and anger are often shoved to the background and ignored. Because it is unresolved, this anger can flare up again and again. Buried wounds and anger generate an assortment of psychological and physical stresses that can ruin a person's perspective on life and eat away at the soul. People with chronic anger are like loose cannons, ready to blast away whenever someone unwittingly touches off the fuse.

Where Did You Learn to Resolve Conflict?

Whether you realize it or not, you came to your wedding day with certain conflict-resolution strategies that you accumulated consciously or subconsciously as you grew up and prepared for marriage. But you have probably discovered by now that some of those strategies are about as effective as bloodletting was for curing illness a couple of centuries ago.

Many individuals and couples wonder why it is so difficult to resolve conflicts in their marriages. Barb and I believe it is because they have never learned the right way to do it. They either received bad advice from someone, took their cues from the wrong role models, read books that contain more opinion than truth about forgiving love, or otherwise assimilated unproductive strategies for handling the conflict, hurt, and anger in their marriages. And in learning the wrong stuff, their conflicts have gone unresolved or become worse.

Where did you learn what you know about closing the loop of conflict? There are two primary sources through which most people get their information and advice on such matters: culture and family. Before you can learn the right way to heal the hurt in your marriage, you must realize what you have been doing wrong, identify where you got those patterns, and determined to let them go. In this post we will focus on different types of family dynamics and how they can affect our conflict-resolution styles, and in turn, our marriages.

What Our Families Teach Us About Conflict

For Gary and me, home is really where the heart is. When we think of our families of origin, we remember the love and camaraderie, holiday dinners, birthday celebrations, vacations, times when we laughed together and cried together. We also remember parents who were committed to getting along with each other, talking – and listening – to each other, and settling the differences.

Sadly, not all people can say this about their families. For many people, the very mention of family or parents sparks other memories – absence, loss, pain. Conflicts and pain at home were frequent, and forgiveness and healing were infrequent or absent together. And these people have carried what they learned at home into their marriages. Unfortunately, they don't realize how they are perpetuating the same problems with their own spouses and children. It's not until they end up in a counselor’s office, trying to sort out the messes of their marriages, that they are willing to take a hard look at themselves to discern why they act as they do.

You have probably noticed people who are repeating behavior patterns, both good and bad patterns, that they learned from their parents. A woman mirrors the perfectionism she once hated in her mother. A man finds solace in rage and control, just as his father did. Of all the married couples we counsel who are having difficulties resolving conflict, the vast majority need to come to terms with unhealthy patterns they learned during childhood.

See if you recognize your family of origin, or your present marriage and family, in one of these four descriptions.

The Good Family

Have you ever said about a neighbor, "The Andersons are such good people! They're an impressive couple, and they have a lovely family. Everyone likes them."

We all have neighbors like the Andersons, don't we? They're really nice people, the salt of the earth. They make a good living and keep their lawns mowed and trimmed. They treat their kids well. They vote every election day. Some may even attend church and be highly moral people. And they are always ready to loan a gardening tool to their neighbors. There's only one thing missing from many good couples like the Andersons: They lack a personal relationship with Jesus.

These kinds of people are like the hard-packed soil where the seed cannot take root. They may have heard the message of the gospel but have never let it penetrate their hearts. They either don't recognize their need for a relationship with Jesus (because the voices of our culture are drowning out the truth), or they hear it and don't care. They turn a deaf ear to the truth and decide to live their lives just for themselves, casting off "church stuff" as either an encumbrance from their parents' generation or as hype from a bunch of "religious nuts."

This is perhaps the most difficult home of all to understand because the family members may not realize how needy they are. Perhaps you or your spouse grew up with parents who were good to you but did not provide a spiritual foundation for the family.

How do "good" families deal with conflict? They teach and model what appears to be a healthy strategy: Fight fair, negotiate, and compromise in order to get what is rightfully yours. It sounds good until you look at the basis for this philosophy. We call it the 50/50 relationship. The message each family member delivers in this arrangement is, "I'll do my part if you do your part." Life becomes a matter of trade-off and compromises, with parents and kids keeping score so one person never gets or gives more than the other.

In this kind of home we see a lack of serving because family members have no place for the loving, serving Savior. Instead, we see a strong emphasis on self-centered people trying to get what they deserve. Kids tend to grow up to be me-oriented adults. When they leave their parents' home for their own marriages, they bring these values along with them. They will be drawn to more of a contractual style of marriage, focusing on what they get, rather than a covenantal style of marriage, focusing on what they give.

The Religious Family

The Bensons live down the street from the Andersons. In many ways they resemble their neighbors – at least from the outside. The Bensons are good, moral people, but they are also religious. They believe in God, attend church, and try to follow the Ten Commandments. But there is no personal relationship with God. Christianity for them is a religious ritual. The Bensons represent the rocky soil where the seed dies for lack of depth.

The religious home is shallow and without root. Their faith is a toxic faith. Christianity is a set of rules, a code to live by. Parents like this remind us of the Pharisees in the New Testament. They were religious people who professed to know the truth about God, but it was all superficial. Their goal was to gain attention and applause – and Jesus called them out on it.

Because of the emphasis on rules, the Bensons live by a rigid structure of family roles. Dad runs the family with an iron fist, demanding respect from his wife and children. The watchword in a religious home is "Do what you're told." The Bible is used as a club to alter behavior. Conflicts are either avoided out of fear or "settled" quickly as the kids fall into line with Dad and Mom’s dictums. Authoritarian parents are harsh and demanding. The kids may tow the line externally, but often their spirits are broken by such harshness. Or deep inside they are seething with rebellion, just waiting for a chance to escape the religious tyranny.

As adults, these children tend to bring one of three types of behavior patterns into their own marriages. One, they may become overly compliant, doing what they're supposed to do out of sheer duty. When it comes to resolving conflicts and healing hurts they are more interested in keeping the peace than dealing with issues. Two, they rebel against God, church, and rules. Conflicts usually get worse – not better – in this environment. Three, they may become indifferent, both to God and to their spouses. As such, conflicts often go unresolved and hurts unhealed.

The Wounded Family

The Carters live a few blocks away from the Andersons and the Bensons. They are not what you would call good people. The parents are controlling and abusive toward each other and toward the children. This is the kind of soil where anything of God or goodness is choked out by anger, hatred, spite, and distrust. Their kids are growing up never quite feeling accepted and loved the way God intended.

Gary and I often refer to the adult children from homes like the Carters' as the "walking wounded." These people were hurt by growing up in homes with serious relational problems. Some bear the emotional – and sometimes physical – scars of alcohol and drug abuse, emotional and physical abuse, or sexual abuse in the home. Others are wounded in less obvious ways. Some were raised without the love and nurture they needed because their parents were so distracted by their own wounds. Still others were wounded by the loss of a parent through death or divorce.  Whatever the root cause of their pain, these families tend to raise kids that carry the pain of the parents into the next generation.

Wounded people often struggle when it comes to dealing with their own marital conflicts. That's the way it was for Meghan and Ben. Whenever they began to argue, Ben got angry and Meghan ran to the bedroom, telling Ben by the slam of the door that she needed some space. In the meantime, Ben wanted to resolve the issue right away. The more Meghan pulled away, the more Ben demanded that they "fix" the problem. 

After describing the situation to Gary in a counseling session, Meghan commented, "That's just the way it is, Dr. Rosberg."

Gary asked, "Do you ever sense, Meghan, that you are repeating the same old pattern that you saw growing up?"

After a moment of contemplative silence, she corrected herself. "No, that's just the way it was when I was growing up." Megan had suddenly realized she was acting just like her mom.

If you came from a wounded family, it's never too late to learn effective ways to deal with the conflicts in your marriage.

The Biblical Family

The Duncans represent the biblical home. They live in the same neighborhood as the Bensons, Andersons, and Carters. What makes them different? They have problems and conflicts just like the other three couples. But like the good soil in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 13:3-9), their fertile hearts have allowed the truth of God’s word to take root, so they are better equipped to appropriate God's healing for their hearts and their family. Rather than let conflicts drive a wedge between them, they allow those difficulties to pull them together for healing and growth. 

Here's what a typical conflict looks like in the Duncan household. Does it look anything like the family you grew up in? Does it look anything like your family today?

"Erin, you eat your spaghetti like such a pig," Rachel snarled at her sister across the table.

"Dad, did you hear what Rachel called me?" Erin whined. "A pig!" Then she snatched up her plate and stomped into the family room to finish her dinner alone.

"Rachel, why did you say that?" Dad said. "You know Erin is sensitive about comments like that. And nice, reasonably quiet dinner was just spoiled."

"But, Dad, didn't you see her slurping up spaghetti? Her face was almost on her plate! The way she eats is gross."

When Mom and Dad came into the family room, they could tell that Erin had been wounded by her big sister's attack and the apparent indifference of her parents. They knew a loop had been opened and that they needed to talk about it as a family. So they called Rachel into the room.

As they talked it through together, the real issue came to light. Mom and Dad learned that Erin felt self-conscious about her weight, interpreting Rachel's comment as "You eat as much as a fat pig." Rachel, sensing that her words had really stung her sister, realized that the hurt went deep, far deeper than she ever intended. She apologized and said she was referring to Erin’s manners, not her weight. Erin forgave her sister. As they talked and listened to each other, the conflict dissipated.

If you grew up in a family like the Duncans, you have experienced something of the biblical pattern for healing hurt in your marriage and family. But even if your parents were not like Dad and Mom Duncan, you can learn to resolve conflict if you recognize the need for the presence of the living God who helps us to heal from the inside out. You are not confined to the patterns you have learned from your family.

What to Do About What You Learned

It is our God-given responsibility to cultivate good soil in our marriage relationships so that our children and grandchildren will have a biblical pattern to follow in their marriages. The Psalmist wrote: "For [God] issued his decree to Jacob; he gave his law to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them – even the children not yet born – that they in turn might teach their children. So each generation can set its hope anew on God, remembering his glorious miracles and obeying his commands"(Psalm 78:5-7). As you strengthen your marriage through forgiving love, you will help your children to protect their marriages.

So what are you doing to alter the patterns you learned? You can look at this responsibility in two ways. You can think of it as a tremendous burden and a lot of hard work. Or you can welcome it as an opportunity to pass on to your children something that was not passed on to you. Even if you did not grow up in a healthy home, you can commit yourself to developing healthy patterns for resolving conflict.

The family you come from is important, but it is not as important as the family you will leave behind. Identify from your family of origin the barriers to communication and healthy conflict-resolution. Gain whatever insight you can from the past, deal with the emotional pain of it, and then move onto developing new patterns that include confession and forgiveness of offenses and healing of hurts. As you leave the past behind and begin to create a more positive present, you will bless the next generation.

Conflict in your marriage is inevitable, but you are not trapped in the dysfunctional patterns of resolving conflict you learned from your parents or the world around you. If you grew up in a painful situation, we will coach you on how to break out of your negative behaviors and begin a new pattern of resolving conflicts. Join us again on our blog next month as we talk about different conflict-resolution styles.

 

 

How Can I Stop Being a Control Freak in My Marriage?

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Q: I like to have control and tend to be a perfectionist. I know this is harming my marriage. What suggestions can you give me?

A: A controlling person usually makes life miserable for others when he or she isn't in the driver’s seat. Control can take many different forms in a family relationship. It may be exerted through persuasion, manipulation, projection of guilt, expression of shame, or the silent treatment of withdrawal. Some people grew up in homes where control is the way things got done. You may have had a dad who controlled you by his disapproval, a mom who controlled you through guilt, a big brother who controlled you by sitting on you until you yielded, or a sister who controlled you with her sharp tongue. A grandfather may have gotten what he wanted from you through criticism. An aunt may have controlled by shaming, or an uncle by belittling.

Control in a family relationship squashes the human spirit and stifles loving relationships. You probably know the pain firsthand. But are you also a controller to some degree? Are your spouse and children hurting because you tend to ride roughshod over them? If so, it's time to find out where this need to control is coming from and deal with it. Read what Wes told us:

“One of the differences my wife and I had when we first got married was that we would get into major arguments over simple things such as rolling the toothpaste tube. I grew up in a home where we rolled the toothpaste tube to make sure we got all the toothpaste out. She grew up in a family where they twisted it to make sure they got it all out. I got upset when I saw a twisted tube; she would get upset when she saw a rolled tube. But we learned that the end result was more important. We found out that the tube was always empty before we threw it away, so we decided it was not necessary to argue over how it got empty, just to make sure that it was empty. We learned to love each other and make sure that the toothpaste tube was empty.”

If you are a controlling person, what can you do? Strive for excellence but not perfection. Excellence means doing the best you can in God’s strength with the time and resources available. Perfection leaves no room for error; perfection says, "Do it right every time, or you fail.” The downside of perfectionism isn't pretty. You lose your tolerance for the mistakes and imperfections of others. You make unrealistic demands of your spouse, children, pastor, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow church members.

You need the perspective of the apostle Paul who, before meeting Christ, was a successful perfectionist. After reciting his lofty religious pedigree to the Philippian Christians, Paul concluded,

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with Him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I've become righteous through faith in Christ. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith. Philippians 3:7-9

Compromising Differences in Marriage

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Q: I'm an extrovert and want to have people over; my spouse is an introvert who prefers a quiet evening at home with a book. How can we compromise?

A: Often we find in counseling that, although opposites attract, usually the more similarities between the spouses, the stronger the marriage. When it comes to a marriage such as yours, made up of an extrovert and introvert, you can fill the gaps in each other's personalities and make your marriage exciting – as long as you understand each other. It can be good for the introvert to get out more; it can be good for the extrovert to have some downtime. But it also helps to understand that under pressure (which every marriage faces), an extrovert can become sharp tongued and an introvert can become isolated.

Couples need to honor their differences. Don't try to change your spouse, because he or she was created uniquely by God’s design. Validate each other, honor each other, and encourage each other to grow. As you do that, you can counter some of your spouse’s weaknesses with your strengths, and vice versa. Let this potential hotspot be the recipe for fun as you learn new things!

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! ~Psalm 139:13-14

Healing the Hurt Blog Series

Join us as we post from our book Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage over the next several months, and take away some tools to help you navigate conflict and get on the path to healing hurt in your marriage.

Surprised by Offenses

Most people launch into matrimony with an idealistic view of marital harmony. Have you ever talked to engaged couples? Have you seen that glazed-over gleam in their eyes? Have you heard them say about each other, “I’m marrying a perfect gentleman” or “My wife-to-be is my dream come true”? They are so overcome with feelings of love and visions of a fairytale marriage that they are numb to the inevitability of conflicts and offenses. That’s fairly typical of most couples, and it’s probably how you and your spouse began your marital journey.

Barb and I often meet these husbands and wives after the Novacain of naivete wears off. The flow of the honeymoon and first year of marriage has begun to fade. They come face-to-face with the reality that their spouse isn’t a perfect angel. He or she has weaknesses and character flaws. He or she makes mistakes and acts selfishly. And as misunderstandings arise and shortcomings begin to surface in a variety of ways, each partner feels the sting of being offended.

Things like adultery are marital offenses in the first degree. But there are a myriad of less serious ways we wrong our spouses. Perhaps you recognize some of the following examples from your own marriage.

·       You forget your anniversary or another date important to your spouse.

·       Your spouse makes a critical comment about your appearance.

·       You promise to be home at a certain time but arrive an hour late.

·       You rarely compliment your spouse on his or her appearance.

·       Your spouse acts unappreciative of you and all you do for him or her.

·       You withhold information from your spouse.

·       Your spouse refuses to discipline the children when you are away.

·       You spurn your spouse’s approach to you sexually.

The list could go on, of course. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of marital offenses, merely a reminder that a wide variety of conflicts open loops of offense and hurt in every marriage, perhaps more frequently than we care to admit. Barb and I are not implying a fatalistic view of marital conflicts—they are going to happen anyway, so why try to prevent them. Rather, you should continue to work just as diligently to avoid unnecessary conflicts in your marriage as you do to resolve the conflicts and heal the hurts that occasionally happen.

Throughout this series, we are going to be looking at a diagram we created that shows the loop of conflict that is opened when an offense occurs. We’ll be talking about what can make the offense worse, and how to make it better. We all have a choice when it comes to conflict—whether we will let it continue and fester, or take the steps to end it. We hope this diagram will give you the tools to close the loop of conflict when it arises and make your marriage stronger.

Click to enlarge

The Chain Reaction of Hurt and Anger

During a fitful night of sleep several years ago, I awoke and rolled over to find the light on in the hallway outside our bedroom. Barb wasn’t lying next to me, so I knew something was wrong—and I had a good idea I was the cause of it. Earlier that evening we had an unexpected conflict. While trying to resolve our problem, we argued. As I scrambled to defend my ego, I pulled out a subtle verbal zinger and shot it her way, something that fell out of my mouth before I thought through it. I knew it offended her, but she gamely carried on the discussion. I hoped she would quickly forget about my unkind remark.

The cool sheets on Barb’s side of the bed alerted me that she hadn’t forgotten. I slipped out of bed and went looking for her. I found her in the guest bedroom—alone, wounded, and tearful. It had been a long, painful night for the one I had promised to love, honor, and cherish. My thoughtless, defensive zinger had hit its mark. This was not one of the high points in a good marriage that is growing into a great marriage. I had opened a loop by offending Barb with my words. It was one of the many times Dr. Rosberg, the marriage counselor, had to take some of his own medicine by closing the loop and healing the hurt I had caused.

When you offend your spouse or your spouse offends you, it hurts. The pain is not so much physical as emotional and relational, although unhealed inner hurts can affect how you feel physically. Barb will give you a closer look at the dynamic of hurt in the open loop of marriage conflict and introduce where it can lead.

Unresolved Offenses Cause Hurt

When Gary “zinged” me that evening with an unkind remark, it hurt. But I didn’t want him to see how much pain I felt, so I tried to ignore it. And when Gary didn’t step in and close the loop right away, I felt even worse. Inside I was heartsick. I couldn’t sleep that night. Slipping away to the guest bedroom, I cried from the inner pain I felt.

Now, in case this sounds one-sided, let me assure you that I am just as guilty of offending and hurting my husband from time to time. We have a good marriage that is growing better every day. But we still hurt each other, just like you do. Our marriage continues to grow stronger because, when the offenses and hurts happen, we try hard to close the loop as soon as possible. It’s one of the ways we are protecting our marriage.

If an offense between you and your spouse is dealt with immediately, the hurt is fleeting and without lasting consequences. For example, wives, let’s say that, while on a trip together, you let slip a critical remark about your husband’s driving. Suddenly you feel a moment of chilly silence between you. Realizing your offense, you say with sincerity, “I’m sorry, honey. That was unkind and unfair of me, and I didn’t mean to hurt you. Will you forgive me?” Your husband warms to your apology and forgives you—and the hurt is virtually negated by closing the loop so quickly.

Sadly, however, most marital offenses are not dealt with so efficiently. Sometimes you don’t realize that what you said or did offended your spouse, so you are oblivious to the hurt you caused. More often, as in Gary’s personal example above, you know what you did was hurtful, but you are too hardheaded or embarrassed to own up to the offense. So you let it slide, giving time for your spouse to stew over what happened while the pain intensifies. It’s as if your offense opened a flesh wound and your reluctance to resolve it right away allowed infection to set in.

Another reason emotional pain is sometimes overlooked is because, when you are offended, you may not recognize the hurt right away. Let’s face it: There’s no blood, no broken or dislocated limbs, and no discernable physical pain. Something your spouse said or did left you feeling a little down. On the surface, it may not have seemed like such a big deal. Why am I feeling so off center? you ask yourself. Maybe I’m coming down with the flu. It doesn’t hurt like other pain we know, so we fail to classify it as pain.

Then again, you may recognize the inner hurt right away but try to hide it, just as I did that night when Gary zinged me. You don’t want your spouse to know he or she has hurt you. You don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. So you tough it out and act as if nothing happened. In the meantime, the inner wound only gets worse.

Whether you are aware of it or not, when you or your spouse opens a loop by wronging each other in some way, it triggers hurt, the primary emotion in a conflict. And if you delay closing the loop, that simmering inner hurt can boil over into anger.

Unhealed Hurt Triggers Anger

Anger is the next step in the open loop of conflict. We have learned that anger is a secondary emotion, typically following hurt, disappointment, or fear. It’s what grows out of the offense and the hurt when they are not dealt with quickly. Unleashed anger only makes things worse in a conflict and becomes another hindrance to resolving it peacefully.

Anger is an emotion that Christians often try to deny. In public, we keep it in check. But in the privacy of our homes, we tend to let our defenses down and allow anger to build up and explode, often with grim consequences in the relationship.

In our conferences, when Gary and I talk about anger in a marriage relationship, we share what we call the “baked-potato syndrome.” Picture a big, brown russet potato in the oven. You turn on the heat and the potato begins to warm. Given sufficient time, it bakes to a fluffy white inside, ready for butter, sour cream, chives, and bacon bits. But if you forget about the potato and let it bake too long, it could explode and make a mess in your oven. This illustrates what can happen when offenses, hurts, and anger are allowed to heat up through lack of loving action. The result can be a disaster.

Many counselors today say it is healthy to express our anger. Yes, it’s good to express our feelings if we do it in a constructive way. We all know that when we are on the receiving end of uncontrolled anger, it gets ugly real fast. And if we are on the giving end, the guilt that follows is a reminder of just how messy a lack of self-control can become. The apostle Paul admonishes, “’Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Too often, however, we unleash anger as a weapon to retaliate for an unhealed hurt. When you release your anger with hostility and the intent to harm, it causes more problems than it solves.

In our next post in this series, we’ll talk about the different types of anger, where we learn to resolve conflict and what our conflict-resolution style is. Thinking through each of these helps give an idea of how we can become better at resolving issues in our marriages.

How to Guard Your Heart, Get the Girl, and Save the World

We review Barrett Johnson’s The Young Man’s Guide to Awesomeness.

We recently had the opportunity to review a very valuable resource for parents and teens alike and we want to share it with you! In The Young Man’s Guide to Awesomeness, our friend Barrett Johnson speaks into the hearts of teenage guys on the topics of sex, relationships and leading a meaningful life. Often in the church or in our homes we’re afraid to meet teens where they struggle because of the awkwardness and vulnerability involved. We’re thankful for men like Barrett who step up to talk about what the Bible has to say about sex and finding God’s design for your life—and to “tee up” parents and teens to discuss these topics together. One of Barrett’s key points is that the choices young men make now matter later. In our ministry to married couples, we see this time and again. Many men have laid a weak foundation for their marriages because of the choices they made when they were younger. God is faithful to forgive and restore, but we save ourselves a lot of struggling, conflict and sometimes heartache by keeping God at the center as young people. This book is all about working to lay the foundation for meaningful, spiritual marriage relationships and significant lives even when it’s counter-cultural. The teenage years may be when guys are hit the hardest with temptation, which means it’s a critical time to hear this message of God’s purpose and plan for their lives. Barrett delivers that message honestly and very relevantly.

This book is now available on Amazon and at www.INFOforFamilies.com. Check it out!

Also, take a minute to read this excellent post written by Barrett about helping young men navigate temptation and sin to live a life of eternal significance. You can find the original post here.

10 Unpopular Truths Parents Must Teach Their Sons

My boys are quickly becoming men. Sadly, I have to confess that I haven’t always known how to help them to grow up. The culture they are living in certainly hasn’t helped.

I desperately want to help my sons to live differently than what the world defines as "normal". I want to set a high bar for them regarding character and purity. I want them to treat women with respect. I want them to learn how to be Godly men, not just, as Mark Driscoll calls them, “boys who can shave.”

This means that I have to talk to them about a few unpopular truths. The following list of 10 things has served as the outline for my new book, “The Young Man’s Guide to Awesomeness: How to Guard Your Heart, Get the Girl, and Save the World.” It has been designed to help teenage guys like yours to start thinking about what matters in their lives. It is also the perfect way to “tee up” these important (but sometimes awkward) conversations in your home.

Here are some of the unpopular truths that your son needs to know:

  1. The choices he makes now have the power to set the course of his life.
    He can’t afford to make the “I’m just a teenager” excuse. He needs to know that his life has already started and that the trajectory of his life is being set right now.
  2. Porn is just as addictive as any drug.
    Most every man wants to look, but the internet has provided your son’s generation with unlimited accessibility. That’s why, according the Chap Clark of the Fuller Youth Institute, 60% of our teenage guys are now addicted.
  3. Masturbation is a habit that has the power to undermine his future marriage.
    Our guys need to know that sex is best when it is given, not when it is taken. Young men who have a habit of masturbation are training their bodies and brains to be selfish. And selfishness gets in the way of just about everything in marriage.
  4. He probably doesn’t need a girlfriend just yet.
    Most teen romantic relationships are characterized by selfishness and sexual temptation. If the relationship is not going to help him to be more of what God wants him to be, then he’s probably not ready.
  5. Sexual activity should be saved for marriage.
    He knows the big reasons why his sexuality is precious and worth guarding. (Hint: it has nothing to do with pregnancy or STDs.)
  6. Practicing the long-lost art of chivalrous manhood will set him apart.
    Most guys in our world are consumers of girls. He needs to learn how to be a young man who guards, protects, and honors the women in his life.
  7. God’s plan for his life might involve doing some difficult things.
    Instead of filling his days with video game adventures and entertainment, he needs to discover the calling that God has for his life. It might be hard, but it will be good.
  8. Walking with God is the most important thing for him to learn.
    Through his life, he will hear plenty of voices telling him what is important. Only One voice truly matters. That’s why it’s so important for him know God personally.
  9. He’s going to screw up sometimes, and that's okay. It's what he does next that matters most. 
    Too many of our young men believe that when they blow it, God is mad at them. They distance themselves further from Him. Your son desperately needs to know that God offers forgiveness and a fresh start. Every time.
  10. Life is short and he can’t afford to waste his time.
    He may not have it all figured out yet (who of us does?) but your son can start getting his life moving in the right direction now.

It's Time to Start Teaching Your Son These Things

If one or more of these truths resonates with you, you’re not alone. In our work with families, we often hear the frustration of parents who want to train their teenagers to not just blend in with their peers. They want to call their young men to a higher standard. We talk to dads who want to have these “talks” but who feel ill-equipped to do so. They don’t know where to begin.

These very themes (and many more like them) make up the bulk of “The Young Man’s Guide to Awesomeness.” We created a book that guys would want to read and that would open up some meaningful conversations between parents and their kids.

The “guide” covers three main themes: how to guard your heart (sexual purity), get the girl (principles for relating to the opposite sex), and save the world (keys to building a life of significance).

The book has an easy-to-read format, lots of art, and 25 QR codes that connect to videos that will enhance your son’s reading experience. There are also great discussion questions as the end of every chapter so that parents can engage in the process.

Guys from about age 13-23 will benefit from reading the book. It deals rather openly with issues like porn and self-gratification, so if you don’t think your son is ready for that, then you might want to wait. (But in our experience, most parents push these issues back way too far, thinking their sons aren’t dealing with them yet. They probably are.)

If you are looking for a way to introduce these “unpopular truths” to your son, then we invite you to put “The Young Man’s Guide to Awesomeness” into his hands and see what happens.