What do you do when it feels like there’s no one out there for you? Are we really in the middle of a Christian man drought?
It’s been a little while since I’ve last posted something here.
That’s because my wife and I have been in Europe for our anniversary. We went
across England, Ireland, France and Greece. From London to Stratford to Galway
to Paris to Athens, and even more places in between, we’re back and refreshed,
ready for the next chapter of life.
I returned from our holiday to find that the ABC published a super popular, highly resonate article regarding the man drought in the Christian community. I have written a few times about the perceived man drought in the past, but this article in particular seemed to reach far and wide across the faith community, scratching at a perceived reality that affects people to the core of who they are. This, coupled with Singles Day in China causing multiple billions’ dollars worth of sales on the Alibaba site alone, is definitely of note at this time of the year.
Call it narcissism, call it selfish, call it TPS – we see it in our society, but can we see it in our connections? Tall poppy syndrome is killing your relationships.
We’ve recently been rewatching Seinfeld of all shows. One that came on today was where Jerry, doing quite well financially, decides to buy his father a new car. Unfortunately for Jerry’s dad, it attracts the ire of some very jealous and sour people who see it as a status symbol and they vote him out of an important position as a result. This is a pretty good picture of exactly this reality that I’ve had in mind for a few weeks recently – that tall poppy syndrome is killing relationships all over the worlds today.
No two couples are alike, but we have more in common than you might think. Here are 8 ways all marriages are the same.
Marriage is the joining of two individuals together. If you’ve ever met two individuals and known them for any length of time, you would know that despite how similar even the most similar people are, they’re still worlds apart in a lot of ways. As such, you look at any couple, and you’ll see areas where they are vastly different from other couples – how they spend their time, what they do with their money, who earns more than who, who does what for the kids and the home, differing family circumstances, career pressures, physical location preferences, culture in the home, views on faith, and conflict resolution techniques… just to name a few.
Queenstown is always the popular place for those visiting the Land of the Long White Cloud, but here’s some other ideas on how to have a great time in New Zealand.
This isn’t really a travel blog, but I thought it was time to talk about our trip to New Zealand. It really is a great place. I’m not exactly a world traveler, but I have mentioned and written about my month in Japan going to 14 cities (including the northern most point), as well as my times in Hong Kong, mainland China in Zhongshan, and Macau. Last year I finally added New Zealand to the list, and what a stellar place it was. We went for our honeymoon after deciding Europe may have been too extreme after all the expenses of a wedding (although we’re coming for you!!).
As we grow older and through the ups and downs, we can either let life make us better or let it make us bitter. Are you becoming a cynical person?
I would have to say this time in my life is one of the most up and down times I’ve been through. There really have been a lot of great things happening – so many new opportunities, so many great people in my life, fulfilling relationships and new ventures. It’s also been a time with a lot of other things happening around all that, quite a number of additional life pressures, high stress situations, and it’s definitely been one of those trying times in general.
It got me thinking about how easy it is to go through the hard times in life and allow them to shape our entire future for the worst. Instead of becoming better through our experiences, we can so easily dip and become bitter, angry, emotionally frustrated people.
The greatest issue is our ability to experience a complete loss of joy. Where once we may have been thrilled and forward looking in our lives, we can become twisted by the past and allow a single moment (or a number of moments) to define who we are.
And so I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to look at how to avoid becoming a cynical person. I’ve mainly been thinking about this as a caution to myself, and I thought it would be worth sharing. We all know people who have allowed life to become a completely joyless procession, and have altogether halted in their aspiration or enjoyment. How do we avoid becoming like that?
#1: It all starts with pain
I used an image above from the timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. I don’t think there’s a Christmas of anyone’s year that goes by where the classic tale by Charles Dickens isn’t revisited in one form or another. My favourite retelling includes Gonzo.
But it’s a story that’s repeated so often due to its human relatability. A young, enterprising business man, Scrooge is reaching success upon success in life, until one moment in his life where he has his heart completely broken. From that moment of heartbreak, largely caused by his relationship with one person, he becomes a withdrawn, self centred man, who cares nothing for the suffering or the situations of others, until he once again gets to experience the light of life through the perspectives of the spirits who visit him.
Pain has a profound effect in our lives. Pain reduces our IQ, and causes us to make decisions with less than our full mind. When we badly graze our knee, our whole body and perspective curls around the wound – much like what happens when we experience pain in other areas of our lives. All decisions become about protecting the area that’s been wounded.
I wonder what the pain is in your life? What moment utterly changed you, and was the beginning of becoming a cynical person? Perhaps it’s a number of decisions that you made, or that you keep making in present tense. I think removing our cynicism starts with correctly identifying and addressing its source.
#2: Where we dwell
Chris Hemsworth recently released a program called Centr, whereby he’s opened up and made his personal training regiments and meal plans available to the public. We’ve been trying the workouts and all the great healthy meal plans for a while now, and it’s been really great. Another aspect of the program, as is common in many fitness and wellness plans, centres around meditation and mindfulness. It is well known the benefits of calming your mind and taking control of your thoughts.
The Jewish people define meditation as what you repeat to yourself. If you watch any of the Rabbis at the Wailing Wall, you’ll see this in practice – certain prayers and statements repeated over and over out loud, completely given to focusing on the statements and Scriptures they have chosen to dwell on, until it finally sticks and becomes cemented in their hearts and mind.
What do you dwell on? What do you repeat to yourself? Is it wholesome? Or is it destructive? Sometimes we do ourselves a real disservice by going around and around the same thoughts, camping at the base of a mountain of disappointment and discouragement. And then we wonder why it’s so hard to move forward from that place. We have to make a decision to pack up the tent and move forward with our lives.
#3: When our automatic thoughts tend towards negativity
As someone who has struggled personally with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I can really relate to people who feel like they just can’t help it but be negative or disappointed. I think something that was really enlightening to me was the concept of neural pathways, which are physical electrical paths that get carved out in your brain when a new decision is made. After a new decision has been made and a new pathway has been formed, the brain will tend the pathways that have already been created before considering alternative options. A new decision or a change of mind involves the carving of a new path physically in your brain before it becomes easier for your brain to keep choosing the new option. We’re still making choices – it just doesn’t feel like it.
One time in a time of really bad, repeated panic attacks, my counsellor at the time offered a freeing perspective. He said, “Matt, the reason you’re having these attacks is because you believe that you are trapped with no way out. Are you actually trapped? Who is making you do those things?”. It was a real moment of healing when I realized that I was not as trapped as I had allowed myself to repeatedly choose to think, and that I had other options available. It didn’t change overnight, but there was my new pathway to form by making new choices over the automatic thoughts that had developed. Eventually, this new pathway became the default, and the negative and destructive pathways weren’t being automatically selected anymore.
Can you relate to me? If you can, I hope you will always be able to relate to my healing. You’re not as trapped as you feel like you are, and you do still have the ability to choose the truth of the good in your life.
#4: You have so much to look forward to
Friend, you have so much ahead of you. Negativity builds a stronghold over our heart and tries to stop us from seeing or believing that. We think our best days are behind us, and so we start becoming a cynical person with our disposition and focus aimed behind us.
Bitterness and resentment build and become our default behaviour when we’ve lost our view of a bright future. The Proverbs tell us that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
So you’ve had to bury one of your dreams before. Physically, emotionally, mentally, whatever it may be. You’ve had to say goodbye to a future that can no longer happen. You went through a traumatic experience and suffered great loss.
But what about the other things that could still happen? What about the good things that could still be ahead of you? We’ll never see the good things while we keep our negative glasses on. In fact, we can ruin the potential for good things in our life by always filtering them through negativity and doubt.
To this end, I love this quote from RC Sproul:
Hope is called the anchor of the soul because it gives stability to… life. But hope is not simply a ‘wish’ (I wish that such-and-such would take place); rather, it is that which latches on to the certainty of the promises of the future that God has made
When you feel cynicism and negativity developed and dominating your life, cling to the promises of good made before you were even born. You were meant for more, and if you keep a healthy attitude, you’ll get there.
#5: Replacing a complaining spirit with a grateful one
I have quite a few friends in the caring industry (aged care workers, nurses, doctors etc.) and was introduced a few years ago to the concept of compassion fatigue. This is quite common in these sorts of professions where care is continually offered and given, with the caregiver eventually reaching a place of burnout. I read that one of the largest contributors to this condition is the negativity, complaining, or lack of gratitude being thrown at the person who is attempting to help. Our complaining and negativity can have a damaging effect not just on ourselves, but on the people around us.
Optimists see: A glass half full.Pessimists see: A glass half empty.
Chronic complainers see: A glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn’t cold enough, probably because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait, there’s a smudge on the rim, too, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?!
You know, I’ve seen in my own life times where I can feel myself going there. When work is hard and relationships get challenging and health things go up and down and life just goes for it, it can be so easy to become that last person, to adopt a victim mentality, to stay obsessed with a defeatist mindset.
But as soon as I allow my heart and then my mouth to go there, it just gets worse. You can’t worry and add a single hour to your life. It’s not from a place of wisdom that we become dominated by all the things that are going wrong at the expense of all the things that are going right.
In Becoming a People Person, John Maxwell says “If you don’t have peace, it isn’t because someone took it from you; you gave it away. You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control what happens in you”. We have a choice – we can either continually complain about life, or we can have a spirit of gratitude. I love this quote from theologian Karl Barth I read a few years ago for an assignment: “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth”.
#6: Eyes of peace
As a husband, there’s a piece of Scripture that drives almost every decision I make, that I hold as a standard in everything I do. From the Song of Solomon, the wife of the king says:
Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.
I think the concept of having eyes of peace is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, and such a high standard to try to live up to. But what a rich reward when we do. I absolutely love that this woman found freedom and peace in the sight of her husband, and I would love that to be true of me in how I live my life.
And I think when we start to become cynical, or we’re already there, we start to see others and even ourselves through eyes of hostility and contempt. Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone who sees you through eyes of contempt? It’s impossible. You can never measure up. Nothing they say registers correctly and it’s always put through a filter of doubt and negativity.
But when you see others through eyes of peace? Then people can do like what this woman did, and find great rest in our eyes. Are people freed when your perspective comes along? Granted, we can’t always get through to people, and some people have already made up their mind about how they’re going to be. But let that never stop us from seeing people through peace. And when you’re like that, watch how many people line up to try to talk to you. No one wants to hang out for a long period of time with Negative Nancy (sorry if your name is Nancy, it’s just an expression), but everyone wants to be the friend of the person with eyes of peace.
#7: Allowing joy to be our strength
The Hebrews finished an absolutely staggering task of rebuilding the long distraught Temple of Solomon. Following this construction, they were told that it wouldn’t be statutes that would be their strength. It wouldn’t be discipline. No, their strength would be found in joy.
I wonder what you think of joy? If this concept has become foreign or even one that causes you anger or discomfort, cynicism has likely already taken root in your heart.
Joy simply means my bad circumstances aren’t greater than the good news in my life. It means the damning views and cursing words of others aren’t more powerful than the great things that have been spoken about me. My troubled past isn’t greater than my brilliant future. That’s joy.
Guard your joy. Protect it with your greatest effort. Without it, you lose strength, and descend down the spiral of becoming bitter and senile.
One of my old pastors used to say that unforgiveness was like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. And while forgiveness can be ridiculously difficult, it’s necessary in order to allow your heart to move on.
What is forgiveness anyway? It’s simply releasing someone from their actions and future actions. It can come at great personal cost and doesn’t mean what happened was okay. It means you are released from what you will do, and you are released from what you won’t. That’s why you can forgive without an apology, because you are releasing them of their need to even ask.
Now, forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness only takes one person – reconciliation takes two. It doesn’t mean we allow abusers to get off the hook, it doesn’t mean we continually put ourselves in unsafe situations, it doesn’t mean we’ve instantly fixed the damage that has been done or the flow on consequences of people’s actions. But what it does mean is that within our own hearts, they have been released and we’re deciding not to hold on to what they’ve done any more. We’re going to let it go. It is definitely the platform for reconciliation, but it’s finding freedom without it.
Who do you need to release in your heart today? Is it an ex? A husband or wife? Is it a friend, a coworker, an important figure in your life, an old friend, a group of people? Do you need to forgive yourself? Or would you rather hold your grudges and eventually die alone of a broken and bitter heart? You’ve been forgiven so much, will you return the favour?
Becoming a cynical person doesn’t occur overnight, but gradually, over time, after repeated disappointments and setbacks, after thoughts we continually dwell on. But I think it’s up to all of us to own our own heart attitude.
Do you feel yourself becoming more cynical? Can you see in your own life maybe where you have allowed negativity to dominate your mind? I know in my own life I have had, do have, and will continue to have reasons to become a cynical person, to fail to see a positive future, to obsess over the bad things in life. I hope you’ll join me in moving beyond cynicism and living a long life with a positive and life giving attitude, for our own sake, and the sake of those around us.
How about you? How do you avoid becoming a cynical person?
Mother Teresa called feeling unloved and unwanted the greatest poverty. Whether with your spouse, partner, friends, anyone, or everyone, do you struggle to feel loved?
No matter how different we all are us people – in race, creed, faith, geography, history, whatever – we are all fundamentally the same in that we all want to feel like we are loved and wanted. There isn’t a single person out there who wakes up in the morning and says, “I can’t wait to feel like I don’t matter today”. We’re all looking for somewhere to belong and to find rest.
Oscar Wilde certainly wasn’t wrong when he said that a life without love is “like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead”. If you look around you, you’ll see that people will do all sorts of crazy things to try to find acceptance and love wherever they can find it. And when we can’t find out, we wither, we shrink, we die.
The struggle to feel loved is one that all of us are on the journey of. I’ve learned that there are so many factors involved in how loved we do or don’t feel. And it’s a terrible thing when you don’t feel loved in a marriage, a friendship, by God, or with any other person or group of people in your life. What can be done?
I thought I’d have a look at some of the factors involved in the struggle to feel loved, and what sort of things can so easily get in the way. At a high level, people in our lives either love us or they don’t. At a more detailed level, let’s have a look, as things may not really be as they seem. Here are some things that stop us from seeing the love in our lives, and reinforce the often incorrect view that we are unwanted and unloved. I would like to submit to you that nothing could be further from the truth.
#1: Unloving actions
The first thing that goes without saying that can make us feel unloved are the unloving actions of others. If you’ve been neglected, overlooked, trodden over, ignored, cut off, broken up with, or had someone be cruel or dismissive to you, you’re going to get the sense that you’re not loved. Dr David Augsburger in the book, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, said that “being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable”. When you’re not heard or received, it’s dreadful.
And perhaps the person or people who have hurt you the most truly don’t love you. Perhaps they genuinely have no sense of value for you. We see this all the time in the world of marriage and relationships, where people so frequently use and abuse people for their own gain, say and do awful things, then permanently leave. That can definitely leave scars that don’t heal easily.
The unfortunate reality is that we can do nothing about the actions of others. We can’t control what they will and won’t do. We can’t make a person stay, we can’t stop them from saying or doing what they will, any more than anyone could control us. All we can control is how we respond. John Maxwell says that “life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it “. How will you react?
#2: Unmet needs
I think all of us have had times where our needs have gone unmet. Whether it’s by well intentioned or malcontented people, we can’t always deliver to others what they need, nor can they always deliver to us what we need or want. You’re in a real dire situation, however, when you have absolutely no source in your life for having your needs met.
And this is where we can get stuck. What do you do when you’re married to someone who isn’t fulfilling all your needs? What happens when you’re not getting what you need from the friends you have? What happens when you get disappointed or let down by that person? If you have no other source for need fulfillment in your life, you’re going to feel like the person in question doesn’t love you, or even that no one loves you, because you always feel like you’re going without. It must be their fault somehow.
I’ve learned in life that you have to go after what you need. When I was a child, it was up to others to make sure I was fed. Now that I’m in my 30s, imagine if I was still sitting at home alone complaining that no one loved me because no one was trying to feed me. I’m a grown man, it’s now up to me to go after the sustenance I need.
In the same way, do you know what you need? And do you know how to go get it? Doctors Tim Clinton and John Trent in The Quick-Reference Guide to Marriage & Family Counselling urge people to consider across multiple situations and seasons of life what any individual is capable of doing themselves. Whilst we could be a victim of things that are happening, they encourage proactively going after support, fulfillment, and a multitude of healthy relationships. That is something you have full control over. With multiple sources of input in your life, you are less likely to feel like the world is ending when you reach the limitations in one person or a particular group of people.
#3: Expectations over effort
Doctor Gary Chapman famously wrote and put forward the notion of five love languages. His research which has been well received by the larger community suggests that people have a particular way of expressing love and of receiving love. He notes that we may not always be feeling loved because we’re expecting love in a certain way that other people may not be providing.
I have seen that we can very unhealthily apply this wisdom in a way that puts pressure on people and allows us to build contempt and resentment against others by expecting them to only ever speak in our language. The balance to our desire for what we want needs to be compared against whether or not a person is actually making an effort in the way that speaks the loudest to them.
Could you be in a struggle to feel loved by someone or a group of people simply because you’re obsessing over what they’re not doing, and failing to see what they are doing? The antidote is to live a life of gratitude for what you are being given, rather than bitterness over what isn’t. It’s amazing how much more obvious the love in your life becomes when you’re able to see it.
#4: Feelings over reality
I’ll always remember a time when I was in a men’s mentoring group where our mentor got us all to close our eyes. He asked us to think about the worst experience we ever had in our life. The tone of the room became somber and somewhat depressing, and some of the guys even started crying. He then asked us to think about the happiest time in our lives. Smiles appeared all round, and some of the guys even started laughing. He then said, “Look at that, you completely changed the way you feel in a span of a few seconds. Why do you let your feelings lead your life?”.
Feelings reflect our perception of our life, and they don’t always align with what is actually true. We may feel like a person hates us or those people don’t love us, but it may simply not be true. It may just be the perception based on unmet needs or our expectations not matching how things are. Do you have an accurate perception of reality? If you’re ever not sure, write down what you wish someone was doing, and write down what they are doing. You may even discover that they’re already doing all the things you wished they were, just perhaps not the way you were expecting.
#5: Failing to recognize or accept a season change
People are seasonal. Let me prove it to you with your own life. How many primary school friends did you see this week? How many people from high school? How about university? Your last church? Your old gym? Does that mean they don’t love you any more? Does that mean you don’t love them any more? Of course not – your seasons are now different.
And so, perhaps you’ve had a family member grow up and decide to move overseas for work. You may be tempted to think that means they don’t care for you anymore, but is that actually the case? Those friends you used to catch up with every week no longer see you because you’ve changed your weekly schedule. Does that mean you’re unloved? Of course not. You have a life, they have a life, we all have lives, and we all have things we are supposed to be doing with them that don’t always put us in the same place at the same time.
You can seriously damage your relationships when you expect them to be like a previous season, and especially if you start blaming people for that not being the case. But this is a failure to accept the reality of life that not everyone who comes into your life is going to stay, and everyone who does stay longer in life will maintain exactly the same relationship with you over longer periods of time. How you react to that reality is up to you.
#6: Dwelling on negative thoughts
Joyce Meyer rightly says that a negative mind will never build a positive life. You just can’t do it. When you expect that everyone in your life is working against you, when you obsess over that one moment of disappointment, when you stare at the rear-vision mirror instead of looking through the windscreen in front of you, you’re not going to enjoy your life, and you’re going to struggle with feeling loved in your relationships.
Once again, I think we need to focus on the truth. Does this person love me? Does this group care for my wellbeing? Am I looking for problems where they don’t exist?
This can be a tricky one. If you’ve lived your life expecting the worst, and especially when you’ve been proven right in that viewpoint more than once, this can be a hard habit to break. But if you don’t, nothing good will ever be able to compete with the view you have already decided on.
#7: A self-fulfilling prophecy
When you’re feeling unloved, you tend to push people away, isolate yourself, or dwell on the negative. A consequence of this can be that it makes it harder for people to love you successfully. This in turn can serve to reinforce your feeling that no one cares for you. This may lead you to decisions or behaviour that makes it even harder for people to reach your heart. This in turn…
Watch out for that cycle. Only you have the power to break it in your own life. Is there any reason a person may be or may have been finding it harder to demonstrate love for you? Is your husband closing off because you kept cutting him off? Is your wife unable to get through to you because you keep blaming her for things? Is that friend holding back from you because you always take their comments as negative? Is that group struggling to support you because you doubt every good thing they do?
Break the cycle.
#8: Failing to see all the love around you
Man, how many thousands of people are around you in your life? How many hundreds or thousands of people have you met? How many people have tried to be your friend? How many positive words have people spoken over your life? How many times have people come to see you, or tried? How many support groups and networks are around you, waiting for you to just say what’s going on in your life? How much stuff is your house filled with from birthdays, Christmases, graduations, celebrations, accolades and moments where someone has tried to express their gratitude that you’re alive? How many messages have come through your social media? How many cards have you got sitting around the house with encouragement from people?
You might not have all that you want, but have you looked around and seen just how much you have? Even if you don’t have the relationships you want, look at the potential that you’re surrounded with. Look at that brilliant woman or that strong man in your life who puts themselves in your world to the best of their ability. Look at all the people out there who open their homes and hearts to accept and hear you out. Look at all the tangible things that people have done for you that confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that you matter.
How wrong we are when we tell others or we tell ourselves that we’re not loved. We cry ourselves to sleep because we’re surrounded by thousands of people and hundreds of opportunities every week for connection and happiness, but don’t connect. It’s like going into Woolworths or Walmart and dying of starvation. The problem isn’t the lack of food, the problem is perhaps in how we partake in it.
You may have looked over your life and determined that no one loves you and that no one cares. I would urge you to look again. Allow yourself to receive the truth.
#9: Building a life on fallible love
I’ve talked a lot about the love we have for one another, and the struggle to feel loved in our human relationships. But no matter how perfect and wonderful our human relationships can be, there are going to be times when people let us down. They just will. They’ll lose their patience, they’ll say the wrong thing, they’ll be unrepentant, they’ll be closed off, they’ll steamroll you, they’ll brush you aside, they’ll fail to live up to their end of the bargain. And to base your life on such shifting sand can leave you extremely vulnerable.
Build your house on the rock. See the love in your life that has been there from the very beginning, and the love that will never leave you. The love of God is unchanging and unending. We all have an opportunity to respond to that love. We can be dismissive or ungrateful of it, or we can open our hearts and let it in.
When the unshakeable love of God is your foundation for life, what people do and don’t do won’t matter as much. Yes, it’s still important to have healthy relationships with others. Yes, it’ll still hurt when people betray us or let us down. But the strongest way that life and love can be experienced, shown, and received, is from a platform of living in God’s love.
Then it doesn’t destroy my world so much when you don’t love me, or I can’t see how those people care for me, or I don’t know if anyone really cares. Because I know I am always cared for and always accepted. And from a foundation of acceptance, I am much more empowered to see how others have accepted me, and also negotiate the difficulty of when they don’t.
What will be the foundation of your life? Will it be the fallacy and the frailty of human effort? Or will it be knowing that you are always accepted in the heart and the plans of God?
I look around in life and in all the reading and talking I do with people around the world of relationships, and I see how truly distraught we can be in the struggle to feel loved. I hope that some of these observations help you negotiate your current relationships and help you see that you’re more loved than you realize – perhaps even more loved than you’ll ever truly know.
How about you? Do you struggle to feel loved? Have you felt that way before? What have you done in that boat?
Everyone wants a great sex life, but not everyone would describe their sex life as great. Here are 9 obstacles to sexual utopia.
Mature written content warning, reader discretion advised.
Sex is a massive part of a person’s life. Whether it’s the sex they have or the sex they don’t, so many of our decisions and much of our life satisfaction is centered around how we’re feeling in this department. You don’t have to look very far to see how pervasive sexual issues and identity are in our world today, especially given the current political climate, the renewed discussions around gender and identity, and the state of the entertainment industry.
It makes up one of the most powerful and influential mechanisms we have for relating to one another. It makes us feel good, it relieves stress, can increase connection between two people, it can help you lose weight, it can allow you to communicate and reveal your deepest feelings, and it is the foundation on which all of society is built – no sex, no human race. You are most likely the product of a sexual encounter, or at the very least a sexual release.
For all the good things about sex, there sure are a lot of obstacles to sexual utopia. We all dream of relationships where the sex is amazing, fulfilling, sufficiently frequent, and only ever a source of joy. The truth is that it’s an area many people are frustrated, confused, confined and isolated about.
I’ve always had a keen interest in the topic, and being a married man, even moreso than ever. But I think that’s true of all of us. No matter what stage of life we’re at – young and old, single and not, contemplating the state and health of our relationships and personal wellbeing – sex is something we are readily open to look at and seek out. I mean, just look at how massive the sex industry is, how intricately “sex sells” is still ingrained in current marketing methodology, or even how quickly you clicked on this link.
I’m no expert, and I have much more to learn, but my current travels have led me to some fascinating and helpful material on the topic that I thought was worth sharing and discussing. I think if anyone were to become a true expert on the topic, they wouldn’t be for long since sexual experience changes as much as two lives do, minute to minute, week to week, decade to decade. So, how do you have that great sex life? Here are 9 obstacles to sexual utopia.
#1: Medical Issues
I would be remiss to write a blog about the obstacles to sexual utopia without first acknowledging just how many medical issues out there impact your sex life. There are multiple conditions which can make sex painful, such as vaginismus in women or phimosis in men. There are multiple drugs that impact libido or sexual performance, such as antidepressents. Periods of illness and mental health difficulties can also influence your ability to have a good time in the bedroom.
Hats off to our GPs out there who are so well versed in helping people deal with issues such as these. I think if you’ve been having any difficulties whatsoever, or even just for a general checkup or questions, your doctor is a good first point of call. I know 10 minutes with a doctor greatly helped me personally.
#2: An obsession with singleness
It’s amazing that our society is so sexualised, while at the same time, having such a preference for singleness. More than ever, concepts such as monogamy are old fashioned and old hat, with so many diverse new forms of sexual expression and experimentation around. You can even be asexual now!
The problem is that it’s very hard to be sexually fulfilled in the right ways without a partner, and yet so many people push the search and openness for a partner far out of their own reach. Career, busyness, and temporary relationships take up the place of something substantial and truly sexually fulfilling. And so, the sexual component of one’s life is often addressed in emotionless, mechanical, and empty ways. A recent peer-reviewed study showed that pornography use is more accurately represented at at least 60% of all people, meaning that a majority of people are trying to feel loved by a screen that could never love them back. In Japan, some experts believe the birth rate is declining due to the increase in use of sex robots over real partners.
The Gottman Institute produces some fantastic material and I would recommend their work to anyone who’s looking to make their marriage relationship better than it already is. I’ve particularly enjoyed their CardDecks phone app which has some really good single line ideas for a whole variety of aspects of your relationship.
They also have a lot of material on sex and have many success stories to back up their content. Dr John Gottman says that great sex can be summed up by doing two things: staying friends (love is friendship on fire after all), and making it a priority. “They don’t leave sex as the last item on a long to-do list of things they need to do”, he words it.
It’s the same as anything in life – if you make it a priority, you’ll get to it, and you don’t make it a priority, you either won’t do it, or you’ll do it with the scraps of energy you have left from your life.
#4: A lack of a definition of “normal”
How often does the average couple have sex? This is a question that has multiple answers. Dr Kevin Leman, author of Sheet Music, says that couples should at least try for two to three times a week. In Wanting Sex Again, sex therapist Laurie Watson cites that their industry thinks about once per week is typical (although not necessarily recommended by her). Others have differing definitions but a common enough defiition of a sexless marriage could be defined as two times a month or less.
So, the jury is kind of out on that one.
Next question, and more relevant to you and your life – how many times should you have sex? Twice a week? More often? Less often? Okay, and is that intercourse, or getting handsy, or just spooning naked for a while?
And what makes your sexual encounter successful? When the man gets off? Or the woman? What if neither does? Or both do?
And how long does that take? If a guy has premature or the rarer delayed ejaculation, it could be two to sixty minutes before he’s calling for recovery time. And what if she never gets there, or gets there first?
The point is, normal and success do not really have a common definition. The only common definition of sexual utopia you’re going to be happy with is the one that you and your partner settle on. And that’s going to change over time, but more on that later.
In the early chapters of Laurie Watson’s book, she points out that half the problem is that only sex therapists like her truly get an accurate sense of what normal may look like, or what the trends may be. In the average relationship, you’re only going off the “sense” you get from other people, or what the media portrays as passionate, hot and heavy, successful sexual encounters and frequency. And so, you may be feeling pressure or naive ignorant self-righteousness based on a feeling that you’re just vibing from out there somehow.
Gotta be careful where you get your view of normal from, because it may suppress or depress one or both of you.
#5: Commitment issues
I think it’s amazing that our “progressive” society has such a negative view of marriage nowadays. We say, “oh there’s commitment there”, “there’s love there”, and there likely is.
But the same people and the same world will spend inordinate amounts of money on fitness trackers and wear them proudly to convey their commitment to their health. They’ll spend thousands on looking after the appearance of their cars to demonstrate their level of commitment to their vehicle and image. There are so many flaming hoops and legal commitments you need to make before a bank will even consider you for a home loan to buy a house.
And yet we’ll get all weird about the idea of committing to someone for life before getting in the bedroom, even though sex is meant to be one of the highest levels of expression a person can make. You wouldn’t get the most out of a home that you didn’t fully commit to. Likewise, I’m a firm believer you’re not going to get the most out of your sex life until you do like Beyonce wants you to do cause if you liked it then you shouldda put a ring on it.
And commitment isn’t a one-off affair. It’s a daily decision. Are you committed every day, or just in convenient times when you want something from your spouse?
#6: Being unready for seasonal changes
Dr Kevin Leman and a number of other sexologists across various podcasts and resources highlight that a lot of sexual frustration can be resolved by simply being ready for the changes that are going to happen over the course of your sexual relationship.
Bodies change. The amount of sexual stimulation required changes. Vaginas stretch and penises need a lot more work to stay strong. The appearance of your partner will change over time as weight is added or lost, wrinkles form up, and life takes its toll, for better or worse.
More than the physical, your partner will change emotionally. She might not have wanted sex as much before, but her drive may increase and you’ll need to factor that in. He might start to want it less. The acrobatics may not be helping your partner feel so loved anymore and they just want to be close. Or further away.
Sexual utopia is definitely a moving target, and I think all of us need to be ready for it. What’s okay today might not be so okay tomorrow. Are you ready for when that happens?
#7: The Ghost of Christmas Past
In the same way Scrooge was haunted by memories of the past, so too our past sexual encounters or even non-sexual encounters may linger around while the two of you are in the bedroom.
It’s hard to be with your husband or wife when your ex is still in your head. Or the lack of support you’ve felt from your friends or family. Or the rejection you felt in that other relationship. Or what she said about the way you look. Or what he did about the way you felt.
I listened to a great podcast listing out all the ghosts that can float in during a sexual encounter, or may even be preventing one. And they said it well that we have a choice what to do when that happens – will we tolerate the ghosts, or will we deal with them before they ruin our sex lives? Only you have the answer.
#8: The pressure to perform and be accepted
Does she want me?
Does he love me?
Am I worthwhile?
Three of the biggest questions in the bedroom. You both want answers, and you’re both under a lot of pressure to find the answers, as well as to convey the answer to your partner with your body.
Whether it causes performance anxiety for men or a lack of libido for women, or vice versa, the challenge of sex is to answer the deepest questions of the heart in amidst all the other voices in life that have had things to say about those areas of your life.
One sex therapist said the trouble with these is that they can cause a snowballing effect in the relationship. As such, they need to be addressed as soon as they appear. You might need to swallow the pride and seek some help on a few of these issues, but it will definitely pay off in the long run.
#9: A spirit of withholding
Sexual rejection can have a profound impact on a person’s wellbeing, especially in a marriage relationship. It can make someone feel like their partner doesn’t want them or value them. You’re telling your partner that their needs aren’t important to you.
Remove the word “sex” from that previous paragraph, and you’ll have exactly what the marriage bed represents in physical form, which is an outworking of the attitudes you may hold towards your partner – negligence for the needs and desires of the one you say you love.
Scripture advises marrieds not to withhold (or deprive their partner) sexual relations, even for the most spiritual reason you can find. It’s not so someone can domineer and take whatever they want (and it shouldn’t be), it’s so that your attitude towards your partner isn’t doing the least you can do, but being generous with your life with the one you love.
And hey, I don’t blame some people. So many men especially but all sorts of people really complain about their partner withholding sex from them, but they in turn withhold love, safety, a listening ear, a coffee in the morning, a sense of value, the protection of their heart from their partner. And then they complain their partner has difficulty giving their body and being compliant when you haven’t considered his or her needs at all.
The power struggle that destroys so many sexual relationships is “what’s the least I can do for you?”. Instead, I love the attitude of the Shulamite woman and King Solomon in the Song of Songs. She says that she’s a garden that’s specially prepared for her husband, and wants the wind to blow through the garden and invite her lover in. She’s not talking what the minimal effort she can exert is, she’s open whenever he needs or wants it, enticing him to take and receive what he needs. He is generous with his words, his time, his body, and all he is. He’s not domineering or crass or demanding of his own rights (he knocks but doesn’t barge down the door), but is completely open to her. He even helps her see herself in a new light and gives her the confidence to stand up for her own sense of value.
I wonder if your husband or wife can say that you’ve done that for them.
You have what your partner needs. Whether it be sex, love, time, emotional support, whatever. The question is, do you have a withholding attitude towards your partner? Are you depriving them of what they need because of some reason that you think is more important? Your husband or wife needs sex to hear that they are valued by you. Your spouse needs your best support. They need your heart. They need your love. They need to see you regularly. They need you to not be behind a closed door all the time. Generously, not begrudgingly, not hesitantly, not “okay I guess if it’s really that bad let’s get it over with”.
You can’t control the generosity of your partner, but you can control your own. And it’s a heart attitude. What can I do for you? How can I serve you? With my body? How about my time? What do you need from me emotionally? The bedroom is just playing out what two hearts are really trying to find.
And then you find it. Sexual utopia. He is loved, and so is she, and they both know it oh so well.
This is obviously a very involved and layered topic. There are so many different opinions and other factors involved. Pornography use can help you get aroused but to someone who isn’t your spouse, so you’ve invited someone else to the bed at the expense of your partner. Sexual abuse can cause flashbacks and severely limit your comfort in the bedroom. Libido can go up and down like a yo-yo if you’re not giving it some proper consideration. Doing it by yourself at a time you could be doing it with your partner robs you of a shared experience.
I think finding sexual utopia is close to the heart of many of us, and hopefully you’ve found something in here that resonates that’s made you think, whether you agree or disagree.
How about you. What are some obstacles to sexual utopia you’ve found in your life or in your journey?
Engagement, marriage, new work, drastically different commitments, and a set up for a big future – 2018 was really a picture of life when everything changes.
I am writing this blog in week 51 out of 52 weeks in the year. Can you believe it’s already been another year? It can seem at times when all you have to do is blink and bam, you’re having to remember which number you’re supposed to write down in those date boxes again. A new year brings the hope of something new, whilst the end of the old year tails out on a somewhat sombre, reflective tone, as you remember the year that was.
For me, this year brought so many different new things and significant shifts, it was hard to keep up. It really was a year summed up by, “When Everything Changes”, or at least it will be when Universal approaches me for the working title of the movie they’re doing on my year this year.
But yes really to all the changes that took place in my life in 2018. I pretty much ticked off all the big milestones you’d ever want to do at the same time, and then some. This year:
I got engaged
I got married
I turned 30
I got a new job
I had my responsibility and role increase at the same job
I traveled to a country I’d never been to before
I finished up at a church I had been going to and leading at for 15 years
I made and deepened a whole bunch of new friendships this year
I got more involved in my new church
I got a hot new roomie (see #2)
I became a dog owner
My site is now approaching 500,000 visitors
…and that’s just a few of the things that happened this year.
Just for the record, this year has been an absolutely great year. It’s a far cry from the year I had last year. My wife is a wonderful woman, my dog is a crazy ball of happiness, my new job has been working out very well, New Zealand is gorgeous, and I feel like I’ve been set up for a lot of great things in the future.
I know I could easily sit here and tell you how much better my life is than yours at the moment, but really, there’s some serious work, effort, thought, and unfamiliarity that comes along when everything changes. It’s been great, but it’s been a real twisting journey with multiple things to consider at every turn.
And saying goodbye to some old commitments and ways of life wasn’t necessarily easily. My old normal is gone, and my new normal looks completely different. Whilst exciting and definitely the right step, everything looks new, and it really is uncharted water what happens from here. It was sad to say goodbye to a few of my past commitments in order to make room for some greater ones ahead.
It’s been a year of prominence. Things coming to fruition. Old things being replaced. And really, for anything new, old things do have to be replaced. As good as things were, as influential as the opportunities I have had in the past, as valid and rewarding as my previous work has been, as free and open as I maybe once was in certain ways, there really is much more I am now poised to be able to achieve in 2019 and onwards.
30 is a pretty prominent age. It sucks that so many people still feel like they’re a child by the time they hit 30 – still directionless, still wondering who they are, still trying to find regular routine and a place to call home – if you’ve done your 20s well, it really is a time of pronounced influence and to really ramp up the contribution to society. I look forward to being able to share my life in a more targeted and established manner based on all the experiences I’ve gone through, and to continue on addressing my Big 4 in everything I do (relationships, people finding purpose, Western poverty, and Christian leaders).
I think what’s really amazing about change, any change really, good or bad, certain or uncertain, happy or not sure about being happy, is that it takes a lot of it to make anything happen in life. One thing I really didn’t enjoy about change this year was that I needed to buy a new engine for my car. In my time of being sick, I had failed to look after my car properly, and it really was a process of trying to get it going. Man, if you’ve had car or any sort of maintenance issue, you’d know exactly how many moving parts those things have, and all it takes is one of them to be out of line to throw everything into jeopardy. And then once you’ve fixed one, you find the next little thing along. And the next. And the next. When you consider an engine is made of 30,000 little parts, you really get an appreciation for just how big a “little part” really is.
The human body is the same. Marriage is the same. Relationships are the same. My life is the same. It really was a year of remembering how many little changes need to happen for anything significant to ever take place.
And really, it’s amazing that anything of note ever happens at all. I wonder if you’ve thought about or appreciated just how many little things need to happen, how many tiny things needed to have taken place, for you to be the person you are today. If that person had said yes instead of no, if you hadn’t watched episode 13 on Tuesday of that week when you were 14 years old, if you hadn’t bumped into that person at the shop, if you hadn’t stopped for petrol last Friday, if you hadn’t been born into that family, if you hadn’t have made those friends, if you hadn’t have studied that course. Even your daily commute to work is multiple thousand people making multiple thousand little decisions based on multiple thousand little factors, and all of you still make it to work on time. Imagine all the factors that play into your life.
And what if you hadn’t made the choices that you did?
That’s a scary one. That’s a real two-edged sword that is your greatest source of happiness and the greatest source of despair in your life – the choices you make. I might be excited and happy with the choices I’ve made this year, but by the same token, when you think about your year, you may look back with utter regret and uncertainty. What on earth were you thinking? You knew better. Or maybe you didn’t. But if you had…
People talk a lot about change. Fortunately for me, 2018 was a year where everything changing meant things got a lot better. But I also had to make a lot of the right choices, and also choose to have the right perspective. There were a huge amount of changes this year that I could have perceived as a step backwards in life. Or a step over from where I could have been. But instead I have been able to understand that there is great strength in getting established in new seasons to be even more established as the seasons go on. I have seen that I couldn’t be the man I need to be without the people in my life who are in my life right now. I couldn’t reach the fulfillment I could without the commitments and the partnerships I’ve made.
I wonder if you can see your own life in the same way? That you can see how many little things have had to take place to get you to where you are now. And how many more little things it will take to get you to the place you want to go? That you could see the little choices that you’ve made along the way. And I think more humbling, that you can see the little things that took place in your life that were the hand of God preparing you to be the person you need to be.
A lot of people write in to me about how they’ve read something on one of my blogs about some paradigm changing piece of advice that’s changed their whole marriage or outlook on life. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. And yet the real truth is that the things that I reflect on and try to share aren’t my own idea. I am unashamedly a Christian, I unashamedly share the great wisdom that can only come from Scripture that consistently prove to epitomize the best way to live, and I can unashamedly say that this year, and the 30 that I’ve been alive for, prove and demonstrate the faithfulness of God.
When I look back on my life at the age of 30 and at the end of 2018, I could see how many horrible things have happened. I could be paralyzed and weighed down by things in my life you would possibly shudder at. And yet I can look at those things and say, it was good for me that I was afflicted.
I could look back on the good in my life and say that I wish it was even better. I could complain about my lot in life and wish that I got the income of Mr Zuckerberg or the fame of Mr Sinek or the good looks of Mr Jackman or have gotten married at a younger age or blah blah blah blah. And yet to do so would be to tarnish the brilliant gifts that have been given to me that I alone get to enjoy in the way they’ve been crafted for me.
And so I look back on my life and my year blown away by a verse I read during my birthday weekend when my wife took me away to Lake Baroon, one of my favourite places on earth, and these words spelled out exactly my story:
Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.
And indeed, all I can see and say about when everything changes, is that God will always stay faithful. I can see in the times in my life when it wasn’t great, that He was faithful in being there for me. I can see at the end of a year of great achievements and love and wonder like this one that He has indeed been faithful in being kind to me. I can see that the places I am and the opportunities I have set me up for something even greater than I ever thought. And I can see that the new year ahead is indeed a year of new wheat, new wine, and new oil, symbolic of all those great things I could never achieve on my own.
I’m not sure where you find yourself at the end of this year, or whatever point in time you’re reading this. I’m not sure if you actually enjoy it when everything changes, or if you’re still waiting for things to get better. I’m not sure if you’re happy with or unhappy with the decisions you’ve made this year. All I can say is that it’s going to take a lot of little things, and indeed it already has, to get you to where you are today, and it’s going to take billions more to get you where you need to be.
And so I hope that you can look at your life, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and really see the little significant things that are taking place and that you’re having the opportunity to respond to. In the same way that a great structure is built brick by brick, pipe by pipe, cable by cable, level by level, layer on layer, so is the way your life is being built.
And what has been built so far is already a great foundation. A foundation for what? I’m not sure. God knows. I’m sure if you had enough of a look at your life so far you’d be able to work it out. Why not go on the adventure of finding out what the purposes of heaven have in mind for you, and make the decision to build something greater than you’ve ever been before?
So, how about you? How was your year this 2018? How do you deal with life when everything changes around you?
When things don’t go the way you hoped, breaking it off with someone seems to be the most viable option. Here are 7 things to consider before throwing your relationship away.
Source: Focus Features (and a brilliant move on this topic!)
I’m writing this towards one of the most reflective times of the year – Christmas. Like birthdays and New Year’s Eve, it’s one of those repeated items of the calendar that make you think about this time last year. It’s one of those times you reconsider everything in your life – your work life, how close you are to achieving your dreams, the decisions you’ve made this year, and – yes, of course – your relationships. David McCandless did a study for a Ted Talk whereby he found that one of the most common times of the year to breakup is the two weeks leading up to and including Christmas. Continue reading
Have you already missed the best person for your life? Have you missed ‘the one”? Or is your soulmate still out there?
If you know me, you know I always take note when someone mentions a greater struggle taking place in their lives. I seem to have some sort of a fascination with the bigger reasons behind why people do things, and some people have learned not to mention certain things around me because I’m likely to ask a lot about it. I’m also interested in why people don’t do things. I really find it hard at times to shake certain comments people make long after I’ve finished conversing with them. I tend to feel people’s thoughts, their fears, their regrets deep within my heart.
Case and point, today I was reminded of a few people who had talked to me on the topic of whether or not they had already missed “The One”. No, not that Jet Li movie (although I still really enjoy that one) – the ever elusive soulmate. Does such a perfect person exist for each person in the world, and if so, is it possible that I may have already missed my chances with them?
I remember such a conversation where one of my friends was looking visually distraught. “What’s wrong?”, I asked. “Well”, she said, “my ex is getting married today, and I’m finding it really hard”. I was trying to be comforting and was saying how hard it is when you have to watch someone who broke things off with you enter into a new relationship. She said, “No, I was the one who broke it off with him, and now I’m sad he’s getting married to someone else”. Continue reading