Are you longing to be loved?

unconditional love

In the study of human relationships, Psychology and Christianity both explore what it is to be loved. But they’re often at odds about how we should love. One focuses on reciprocity (conditional love), whereas the other focuses on giving (unconditional love). Which of these describes your SOP? And how’s that working out for you?

We’re born vulnerable. And we stay that way … if we’re healthy, that is.
Because vulnerability is a requirement for emotional connection with others.

But Life Experience has told us all to “watch out!”

We’ve all been disappointed and hurt by someone we counted on. And the fact is that the people we love – those who matter most to us – have the power to hurt us most.

Some of us have been abused. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. Sexually. Spiritually. Indeed, every aspect of our vulnerability can be a target for abuse. If that’s you, you need to set boundaries. That’s biblical. And it makes total (psychological + spiritual) sense to seek help in establishing those boundaries. In fact, sticking around for more abuse actually enables someone else’s sin by interfering with the biblical principle of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7). That is, when you abuse someone, you lose them.

NOTE: Do not blame the victim! Take care of her (or him)!

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again … (Romans 8:15a)

God has called us to live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15b)

But as a Psychologist, I know we can take “boundaries” too far.
Especially in marriage counseling!

What was designed to keep people safe has been perverted into a self-justification for our tendency to be self-serving. Most believe – with the help of psychology – that if you aren’t getting what you want from a relationship, demand it. Or manipulate. And if the other person doesn’t respond the way you want him to? Replace him?

GOOD NEWS! His “insensitivity” is often not even about you.

No woman wants to be referred to as “The Princess” or “The Diva” or “The Old Lady.” All those titles described a self-centered woman who has no clue that men are people, too.

Honestly, most women are just dealing poorly with hurt feelings. But you can avoid name-calling (and deal with your own hurt) with a simple-but-not-always-easy strategy.

Unconditional Love

The Fact-of-the-Matter is, even if you’re married to an emotionally healthy (yes, most men are emotionally healthy despite the pain of their upbringing), usually kind, godly man, he won’t be perfect at meeting your emotional needs.

He is a human being, right? So perhaps it’s his emotion needs that aren’t being met! And, unfortunately, men are not the best at asking for what they need.

So if he’s inattentive or unkind in a way that’s out of character for him, ask The Lord these three questions:

  1. What is happening in his life now that might cause him to be this way?
  2. What is it that You want him to have or to be right now?
  3. How can I partner with You the process?

Follow God’s Example

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

And it’s perfectly all right to ask The Lord
to help your man love you again.

Love Doesn’t Punish

But that’s what happens to most men … on a regular basis. As one man told researcher Dr. Brené Brown,

… you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see … my wife and my three daughters? They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else. (transcript)

Determine not to punish him – to shame him for his vulnerability. Because …

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:38)

And soak up all the Jesus you can – all day, every day!
Because you need unconditional love, too!

NOTE: If this post on unconditional love raises questions for you, please send a message to mail@drdebismith.com. I will respond personally as time permits.

I failed … again.

Yes, this woman messes up on a regular basis. Repeatedly. Frequently. And I’ve done it again. And I hurt. Yes, I take risks. I swing the bat. And I strike out. Far more than I get a hit. But when I try to hide my vulnerability, someone else gets hurt. I hate that.

When I take matters into my own hands and pretend like I didn’t mess up or try to prevent others others from knowing about it, I’m living in the flesh. And since I’m dead to sin and alive in Christ, that simply won’t do!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB)

From Vulnerability to Shame

You’ve no doubt watched a baby learning to walk, yes? He’s vulnerable. He falls down. A lot. He cries. He looks for empathy. But, no matter what, it’s in his DNA to get back up and try again. His vulnerability doesn’t stop him. He’s just learning what doesn’t work in walking. And he’s training his muscles to do what they’re created to do.

However, long before he reaches adulthood …

  • life experience will teach him to hide his vulnerability.
  • He will go from knowing he’s failed to believing he’s a failure.
  • And that’s called shame.

Everyone experiences vulnerability and shame. And everyone knows shame can be debilitating. But men and women think about vulnerability and shame very differently.

Women and Vulnerability

The point where vulnerability hits us women hardest is in our belief that we must do everything perfectly. Like the Proverbs 31 Woman. Which, of course, we can’t. We compare ourselves to other women – mostly the airbrushed ones – and anxiety takes over. Here are two ways to look at it:

  • Psychologically: When you hide your vulnerability and set yourself up as “having arrived,” you’re partnering with shame. You’ve set up a wall between you and the man you love. And the disconnection hurts you both. Deeply.
  • Spiritually: Jesus has set you free to learn without fearing your failures. Perfect love casts out fear. Because fear has to do with punishment. And God is not about to punish you for being vulnerable. Jesus took your punishment for you so that you would be free to learn to walk in His Righteousness instead. (1 John 4:18)

Men and Vulnerability

I’ve written extensively about men and vulnerability in my books and could simply quote myself here.

  • Psychologically: But for this post, I want to quote Dr. Brené Brown in her TED video, “Listening to Shame.”

For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one: Do not be perceived as what? Weak. I did not interview men for the first four years of my study. It wasn’t until a man looked at me after a book signing, and said, “I love what [you] say about shame, I’m curious why you didn’t mention men.” And I said, “I don’t study men.”And he said, “That’s convenient.”

And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?” I said, “Yeah.” “They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.”

  • Spiritually: Our Creator never meant life to be that way for men! That means He is deeply invested in helping us make things right again! (Ephesians 5:21-33)

He who finds a wife finds what is good
    and receives favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22)

She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:12)

Problem or Possibility?

Whenever a new couple comes to me for counseling, The Lord quickly shows me what He has in mind for them. So my initial goal is always to help them see how their issue, when the problem is defined, is pointing toward the possibility for their marriage. That is, without the issue they would probably continue to ignore the problem – and thereby miss out on all that God has for them both.

My method is pretty easy actually. You can do it, too. Just define the problem; then name its opposite. And there you have it!

If you’d like some help identifying your possibility,
just send a message to mail@drdebismith.com

HINT: The problem is usually the how we deal with our vulnerability (by being defensive) and shame (by hiding).

The Truth: There is Freedom in Vulnerability

Psychologically: People who can allow themselves to be vulnerable with one another have achieved the Core Skill needed for Emotional Connection. And according to Dr. Brown, vulnerability is also “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Spiritually: We are free to stumble while we are learning. The Lord knows we are dust. After all, He is the Potter, and we are the clay. (Jeremiah 29:16)

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)

REMINDER: Seek the Holy Spirit to examine the Scriptures.

… they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11b)

Can Women Be Trusted with a Man’s Heart?

“Wondering Wounded” asked:

“I would like your interpretation of a man who seems more interested in spending his time with other men.

“I went out with him a few times and we really hit it off, but he suddenly withdrew without much explanation.

“He spends most of his time on hobby of Ham Radio consisting of mostly men friends, and he also spends much time going to Tradorees and trading and selling vintage Boy Scout patches (once again mostly men and boys attend these). Most of (90%) the friends he has on social networking sites are also men. He does not go out with women often in fact it is rare. Do these things indicate he might be gay?”

Dear “Wondering Wounded,”

No, they don’t. In fact, there are many, many reasons a man would prefer to be alone … or in the company of other men. Most have to do with issues of safety.

Dr. Stephen Bergman described a common emotional experience he refers to as male relational dread. This fear is characterized by a sense of inevitable, never-ending disaster and an expectation of immense and irreparable damage. The closer a man feels to a woman, the more intense his dread. He feels unsafe, guilty, incompetent, and ashamed in this uncharted territory.

Under the pressure of needing to fix things, he is overcome by an exponential increase in his dread. Even though he may desperately want connection, a man may interfere with activation of his own attachment system by

“withdrawing, striking out, tuning out, changing the subject, joking, being nice, falling silent” (Bergman, 1995, p. 83).

As Dr. Bergman has observed in his workshops, men may have sufficient experiential evidence that disconnection is the better, safer, way to go.

“The men—sometimes with good reason—did not trust the women to let go of their images of men and to accept male vulnerability” (Bergman, 1995, p. 83).

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Want to know more? Check out the
Quick Start Guide to Understanding Men