Category: Boundaries

Coming Out With Quotes That Got Me Pregnant

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If you already saw this post and then the link didn’t work… sorry about that, this is the real one this time!

I am so grateful to you guys for being with me the past few months as I took the first stumbling steps towards being honest with my writing.

Sharing my fear-of-pregnancy story has been unbelievably empowering, healing, and inspiring. And your comments and re-tweets are at least 80% of that.

So, it’s time for the story to get it’s next step in evolution: I’m coming out! I’d like to invite you guys to visit my “real-life” blog, which I’ve been writing for several years, as I start to come out about my experience being afraid of pregnancy and aligning my life with the amazing Catholic teachings on sex and sexuality.

This isn’t just about pregnancy, though. I’m also coming out as a believing Catholic and conservative to my readers and real-life friends over there, so I’m pretty nervous. There’s not a lot of non-liberal information on the Internet, but I figure I can be one more blogger fighting the good fight with my real name and my real picture.

Here’s my first post in this topic, and I’d love it if you felt it was good enough to follow my journey on this new URL!

http://lifecommaetc.com/4-catholic-quotes-got-pregnant/

And I hope to continue the Twitter gabbing at my real handle, @LifeCommaEtc. I’ll be following you all shortly!

 

Since When Is It Brave to Get Divorced? (#RealBravery)

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills and living on Mars. I’ve ready my second article in so many days about a woman who “bravely” left the man she promised to love forever. Both hit home to me: the first is a celebrity with millions of people who consider who a role model (and gave 56K Facebook likes to her “brave” decision). The second is a fellow online entrepreneur who grew a large blog at the price of her 2-year marriage.

Abuse and annulments aside, I just can’t deal with this!

When did it become brave to be selfish?

When did it become brave to lift up the, “Me, Me, Me” banner and wave it over your entire life like a magic wand, undoing all of the promises you’ve ever made?

I can see a few roots. Liberalism, for one, that puts “you do you” on a pedestal. But also the damage we’ve all had done to us by others. In a world without boundaries, where no one stands up for the truth, standing up for something selfish starts to look an awful lot like “taking things into your own hands” and “finally living your real life.”

Ugh!

My heart breaks!

My skin crawls!

Can we turn the angle, friends? Let’s call out some of the #RealBravery we see day in and day out but don’t stop to appreciate.

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I’d like to commend the bravery of my parents, for staying married 30+ years despite 6-month military deployments (with my mom alone with four kids at home), serious communication and compatibility issues, and computer addictions.

I’d like to commend the bravery of my husband’s parents, for staying married 30+ years despite infidelity and health and mental health issues.

I’d like to commend the bravery of my husband for staying with me and supporting me through 2 years of therapy and (it turns out) possibly self-imposed infertility even when he wanted children (and countless other flaws I have).

I’d like to commend the bravery of famous actors who put their career on pause to be supportive spouses and parents (Angela Landsbury’s 2nd marriage and Greg Kinnear’s marriage come to mind, but only because I looked them up on Wikipedia recently).

…That’s all I’ve got for now, but I really want to know:

Who do you want to commend for showing #RealBravery?

P.S. Before we get into this big Internet fight, please know one of my closest friends is divorced and going through the annulment process. I’m not saying it’s never okay to end a marriage (especially when it comes to situations of abuse and mental health issues). I’m saying it’s not brave to end a marriage because you aren’t willing to sacrifice your idea of what you want for your life for your spouse. 

Ignorance Will Always Need a Safe Space From Me

Okay, I’m really not all that excited about picking fights on the Internet (since that’s what we’re calling disagreeing nowadays) but today I got the greatest compliment I have ever received:

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This is just a quick note to let the world know that yes, ignorance and a lack of common sense will always need a safe space from me and from every Catholic.

Ignorance and emotional relativism is dangerous, and it’s up to all of us to make it uncomfortable until it leaves.

Laws are not ambiguous. Physiology and biology are not ambiguous. And neither is the Truth. If you need a safe space from reality and consequences, I’m afraid you’ll never find one safe enough!

When You Suffer For Your Mother

This isn’t your typical dysfunctional family post (though I have plenty of those). Instead, this is a post dedicated to all of the hard-working, beautiful-but-you-don’t-see-it, self-sacrificing Catholic Moms out there. And I have just one message for you:

You are God’s gift to your children. Act like it. 

I don’t mean this in a mean, scolding way. Because moms of all ages and of all family sizes need our support and encouragement over everything else.

I only mean this to help you see that no matter who you are or what your flaws are, God has decided that you are the absolute best parent possible for your children. 

So no matter what you think you’re bad at or what you think you’ll regret later… it’s so, so worth it now to stop and reflect on whether or not what you’re teaching your children accurately reflects God’s plan for your life… and God’s definition of godly men and woman.

My mother is a beautiful and lively mother of four. But there’s just one thing — she grew up in a family that was cruel to her about her looks and in a city and state that is particularly superficial. As long as I can remember, she has been negative and critical about her body — even when she looked absolutely beautiful to me, my father, and my brothers.

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I am 31, and this week I spent my EMDR counseling session processing a lot of the messages I received about my body through how my mom perceived her body.

Her small comments about how “Everything would look better on her if she were thinner,” and her exclamations that we delete every photo of her that she didn’t find flattering (and guess how many photos she found to be flattering?) were a few pieces of a million-part puzzle that taught me how to measure the worth and beauty of my own body.

Growing up, this quickly transitioned to a fear that her daughter might be fat, so she put a lot of emphasis on what it meant to be a lady and how ladies shouldn’t have too big an appetite (while my brothers were free to hork seconds and thirds at every meal).

And then, you know what, I got fat.

All I felt when I looked at my mom, my food, or my body was pressure. Everything I ate, said, and wore spoke to me about whether or not I was the ideal, normal woman. And as a girl child destined to be 6 foot tall, there wasn’t much I could do to avoid being bigger than most people (and being out-sized at all your normal clothes providers).

Body image aside, the real damage here (and the real power Catholic moms of the world have) is understanding what it means to be a woman. A biblical woman. A Catholic woman.

Because pant size somehow doesn’t come up in the bible. Neither does plastic surgery or height or the ability to have children. None of these things define our womanhood. You know what does (and what was a refreshing realization late last night?)? Our hearts.

Our hearts! A womanly heart. Not a womanly size 12, a womanly svelte-looking arm, or a perfectly crafted face of make-up. A woman is measured by her godliness, her desire to dress herself in good works, and her fear for the Lord.

… and so many families (including my own) didn’t pass that message along.

A woman’s husband has every right to take pleasure in her God-given good looks, but the rest of us (including her father and mother and family members) should be working hard to see what’s in her heart and cultivate a peaceable, tender nature in her soul.

And those are the very things we destroy when we exclusively focus on outward appearance, physical size, and attractiveness.

If the only message your daughter or son ever gets about womanhood is the best way to figure out if she’s hot or not, then you’re setting her up for her own bad decisions and counseling sessions 30 years from now and you’re depriving her of the peace and love that flows from our God.

There’s your message for today: before you consider yourself in the mirror (or look at your overweight or otherwise imperfect child), try to look beyond the surface to see what you see in your and your child’s heart.

PS If you want to figure out what it means to be a godly woman and how you can have an impact on how your children see their femininity in God, What Christians Want to Know has a great Top-10 post.

Things To Remember When You Find Out Your 15-Year Old Niece Is Having Sex

My husband is on the phone with his sister right now, trying to convince her that she has the right to tell her two daughters “No.”

In this case, it’s about the mother finding prescription drugs and a pipe in 17-year-old Kid A’s purse (“No, you cannot work at that bar anymore.”) and finding out that 15-year-old Kid B is having sex with her older boyfriend (“No, you cannot see that boy anymore”).

I want to give my sister-in-law some credit; she is an alcoholic and we suspect that she was sexually molested as a child. She is also married to an alcoholic who is dying of liver failure, but who won’t stop drinking. She has a household full of challenges, and I am sure it is easier to feel powerless than it is to feel powerful when she faces what she faces every day.

This time, my husband’s weird family dynamics hit me right where it hurts.

If you’re following along with my own drama, you know that I engaged in a sexual relationship with an older guy at 15 and it’s lead to countless problems in my current (married and Catholic) love life.

Because of the growing drama over the last few years, we haven’t seen the nieces much. The last I really remember hanging out with them we played a care-free game of basketball. And now we’re watching — what feels like helplessly — as they both grow up in all the wrong ways.

I know it’s not all about me, but learning that my 15-year-old niece in law is having sex with her older boyfriend (and that her older sister was given condoms by her mother) activates a lot of anxiety for me.

It’s hard to describe the feelings that come up from this perspective, watching the cycle repeat itself with someone we watched grow up.

This struggle is only unfolding now, but here are some things to keep in mind to lower your blood pressure if you ever find yourself in a situation like this one:

1. You could say everything right, and this still might be meant to be.

My husband and I both want to be life-changers. But even if we gave a 100 percent, primo, amazing speech about Catholicism and premarital sex and anti-drug use…. it still might be out of our hands. You have to do everything you reasonably can, but then you HAVE to let go and let God.

2. Stress is thinking you’re in control; peace is knowing God’s in control.

Thanks to Scott Hahn’s Facebook feed for this one:

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But honestly, I really struggle with this because I know what the consequences of my niece’s sexual activity could be. I want to save her from all of this pain and what’s to come, but I have to accept that it’s not my right to do that. God will find a lesson in here for her, and he will make this right because that’s what he does. The rest is up to her and God.

3. Boundaries protect you from yourself.

The impulse to help is powerful, and sometimes we can’t control it when it comes to our families. Thankfully, my husband and I are well-versed in the Boundaries book and we know to evaluate our behavior from a biblical perspective.

In this situation, we’ve tried to reach out to our nieces several times and they don’t respond or engage (to the extent that one of them blocked me on Twitter several years ago).

We can try to stay in touch and let them know we’re here for them if they ever want to talk about things, but we can’t drive over to their house, pick them up, and take them to a convent. It’s out of our hands, and God made it that way so that we all would have free will to choose him. My husband and I need to find peace with that.

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I’m sure there’s more to learn from this situation, but I’m exhausted and stressed out about the whole thing (especially considering I was in counseling for my own sexual relationship as a 15-year-old this afternoon!!).

What would you do in this situation? Have you dealt with a similar experience?

An Open Letter to My Friends Living Together Before Marriage: Don’t Do It!

Are you ready for some Catholic hypocrisy?

I had sex with boyfriends before marriage (unfortunately). I also lived with my husband before we got married (before we converted).

And… it’s something I deeply regret.

Living together before marriage didn’t ruin our lives. In fact, it made some things easier.

We put off “the big day,” which was expensive, embarassing (for me), and stressful.

We put off questions about kids, because no one asks about that until after you’re married.

We also had a free pass to focus on our education and our careers. After all, you don’t have to “work on your marriage” if you don’t have one, right? You just get to spend time with the person you love. You’re two people who choose to be together every day you wake up, and there’s no pressure other than that. You’ve got all the benefits of marriage without the politics and statistics of broken homes or social stereotypes.

What’s not to love?

As it turns out, plenty of things.

Here’s my case against living together before you’re married, and if anyone has a time machine, let me know so I can go back to my 15-year-old self and read this aloud to her:

What’s the Big Problem?

Contrary to what my parents implied while I was growing up, living together before marriage wasn’t a guild-ridden and shameful experience. It felt really liberating and modern. It didn’t cause us to be shunned by everyone we knew because everyone we knew would give us the slow, understanding nod about how old fashioned it was to NOT live together.

But do you know what it did do? It caused major delays.

Looking back, I can see how damaging it was to go through the relationship steps without the grace of the sacrament of marriage.

As an unmarried couple living together before marraige, we were broken individuals trying to love each other how we had learned to love. For me, that meant relying on sexual behavior as a barometer of our relationship (which lead to a lot of miscommunication), and for my husband that meant doing his best and hoping it would work out (and being bewildered when it got uncomfortable).

We also kept secrets from each other, thought and acted selfishly, and experienced incredible stress anytime something went wrong in our relationship or in our lives (AKA “Things aren’t perfect right now but we have a right to things being perfect — ACK!”.

Unlike our marriage now, there was no third person, no Holy Spirit, no sense of grace to carry us through the inevitable tough times.

When you live together before marriage, you aren’t getting away with something; you’re missing out on something.

You aren’t avoiding a bad decision; you’re delaying the best decision you’ll ever make.

You’re also depriving yourself and your partner of an infinite source of love and support.

The sacrament of marriage is a gift straight from Jesus. That means that A) it’s important, so hey, maybe you need it even if you think you don’t? and B) Why would you pass up the opportunity to have that player on your team?

Why Is This Happening?

The heart of the epidemic of people living together is not:

  • The old fashioned institution of marriage
  • The sexual revolution, modern feminism, or social justice
  • Religious hypocrites

The heart of the epidemic of people living together is due to each of our individual experiences of brokenness, shame, abuse, and selfishness.

When I considered living together with my husband, I was escaping a traditional patriarchal view of marriage in which I was to be saddled down with kids and used and abused as a mother for the rest of my life. I was taking love and sex (what society told me were “the best parts”) and leaving behind all the baggage.

When my friends live with their partners (and buy houses with them and go on vacations and join finances), they are taking as much good as they can and avoiding as much of the perceived downside as they can. They are leaving the baby and taking the bathwater, with no idea what joy that (poopy, smelly, screaming) baby can bring into their lives.

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The List Goes On

My basic thoughts laid out, here’s a list of the common arguments I hear from cohabitating couples paired with what I’d like to say to them:

  • “I don’t want someone to be forced to stay with me if they want to leave.” Will your partner leaving you now hurt any less 30 years from now? If anything I think it will hurt more. You can’t escape pain or betrayal by hiding your feelings. If anything, marriage is a way to clearly communicate the expectations you have for your relationship, thus establishing the boundaries that will help it succeed. You have to re-learn that it’s okay to trust someone and to expect things from someone. You have to learn to forgive and be forgiven within your relationships.
  • “We’re already married in our life, so why get married just for the piece of paper?” Clearly if it was just a piece of paper, it wouldn’t be a big deal to you. In this case, it seems like people who don’t get married don’t do so “because they don’t think it’s important,” but because it’s important beyond belief and they don’t think they deserve it.
  • “I just want to have fun.” Then you’re too immature to be a functioning member of society, let alone have sex with another human being. Go play laser tag.
  • “Sex is about pleasure.” Look at your partner deep in the eyes. Is the purpose of their existence to give you physical pleasure? If someone else was dating your partner and they whispered that phrase to you in a bar, would you stand for it? Or would it sound like they were using your partner as a selfish tool for their own gain. Beyond that, do you ignore or otherwise not care for your partner when you’re not having sex? If you’re trying to make this argument, it’s more likely that you have some commitment and  honesty issues than that you don’t think marriage is worthwhile.
  • “We’re not ready for it.” You’re a wuss. You’re putting something off. You’re afraid of something in your future, and you don’t want to get started. Here’s a thought: whatever’s coming, wouldn’t you want to face it with this person legally, socially, and spiritually committed to you? And vice versa?
  • “We want to make sure we’re compatible.” Ah, the most practical answer of all. How much sense this made to me 10 years ago! But all I can say to this is that if you love someone, if you want to sacrifice the rest of your life to their best health, if you would sleep in the hospital bed with them to tend them when they’re ill, and if you want to help them get into heaven… does it matter if it takes you a year to figure out who takes out the trash? Does it matter if you aren’t “good at sex” and you have to learn about it together? And would it really change everything to learn that they have a weird habit or preference that they need to go to counseling for? Looking back on my excuse, this is the same as “We’re not ready for it.” You’re just a wimp and there’s something you’re hiding from. Embrace it, grow, and make the plunge to either separate or get married!

I say these things as lovingly as possible (though I’m sure I’ll get some sass in the comments about being rigid or encouraging people to marry willy-nilly). I say these things as I wish someone had said to me when I signed my first lease with my now-husband and snuck around the adults in our lives. I say this with love and compassion for how much people are suffering (acknowledged or not) when they choose to live together before they get married.

Attention: Major Delays Ahead

As my husband is fond of saying, if we could go back in time we would never stop slapping ourselves for things we said, did, and thought during college and shortly after. Maturity has a way of replaying events in your life back to you and it’s frustrating to think of how right it felt to you at the time.

To all couples who are living together, I have to ask: if you aren’t ready to make this commitment… then why are you letting your body, finances, brain, and emotions make a commitment?

You’re setting yourself up for a lowercase-d “divorce” by not getting married, because eventually you will separate the family unit you have made and you never even gave it the support it deserved through the sacrament of marriage. Or, you’ll stay together in a perpetual twilight state of “two individuals who decide to have sex every now and then,” and that’s kind of like trying to behave like a toddler through your tweens.

While our culture (including myself at age 24 and many many of my friends now) are content to stop with “What feels right,” I think we all need to take a look at anything that comes to us easily. Today, it’s all too likely it comes straight from Screwtape under the label “modernity” and “getting with the times,” and it leads straight to a personal hell of your own making.

Sarcastic Catholic on Twitter (Are You?)

I forgot to mention that I’ve been active on Twitter lately. Perhaps you’re active there, too? If so, we should connect. Come find me @HannahJeanKahn for awesome tweets like this:

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Retweets like this:

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And general GIF-goodness like this:

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In general, it’s just a thoughtful and hilarious old time. You’d be amazed how insightful and laugh-out-loud the Catholic community can be online, and I hope to see you there! (PS Follow on Twitter and/or leave your handle in the comments so we can all link up!).

Disagree With the Catholic Church? Figure Out Why

If everybody who disagreed with the Church about something in their lifetime stayed home, no one would ever be in church. There would be no Catholics. There might not even be any priests.

This is not to say the Church is wrong. It’s to say that we all experience emotional, psychological, ethical, moral, physical, you-name-it undulations throughout our lives. Our moods change. Our feelings change. Our lifestyles and interactions and personal experiences change. To cut yourself off from something wonderful, or to decide that an entire body of possibility is wrong based on fleeting thoughts, prejudices, and disagreements would be incredibly short-sighted.

Let me depart from my regularly scheduled sex-related posts to share this thoughtful quote from Matthew Kelly that perfectly dovetails this topic with the Theology of the Body book:

Catholic Digest: What advice would you give to a Catholic struggling with the Church today?
Matthew Kelly: Explore it. Most people don’t understand what it is. If there’s any issue that you massively disagree with, delve into that. There are answers there. Our personal biases and prejudices get in the way. Most of the time when we’re saying the Church is wrong, we’re just saying it’s inconvenient. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. (Catholic Digest Article)

Then, consider this:

“[When we ask for and receive grace from Christ,] we no longer need the law because we no longer desire to break it. What laws do you still need? What teachings of the Church feel like a burden or imposition to you? Perhaps the problem is not with the law or the Church, but with your own “hardness of heart.” Don’t throw away the law; surrender your disordered desires to Christ and let him transform them.” (Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body)

I say this to my 15-year-old self that saw the Church as a hive of hypocrites, my college-aged self that saw the Church as a senior citizen home of shame and boring-ness, and to my present day self who loves the Church but struggles to feel in communion with other people.

(I also struggle with feeling merciful, avoiding anger, and judging others, classic symptoms of trying to follow all of the rules without the help of Christ’s grace***).

I also say this to you if you disagree about same-sex unions, contraception, Mary, premarital sex, or anything else controversial. Take a minute and google the Catholic side of the story. Read a book (just one book!) explaining why the Church sides the way it does. Consider how your life might have set you up to disagree with the Church’s truth and and how Screwtape benefits from the world’s view of the matter now. Consider the Catholic perspective of how it could change your life if you tried out another way.

There’s a world of possibility there that ends with everything working “for your good.”

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***Christopher West’s Introduction to Theology of the Body: “Trying to follow all of the rules without seeking Christ’s grace is futile. Those who do will either become self-righteous hypocrites or they will abandon God’s law for a rationalized, watered-down version of the Gospel.”

What It Feels Like When Your Boyfriend Looks At Porn

When I was 15, I dated a guy who was into some really weird stuff.

The first time he introduced the concept that he was into porn was kind of neutral. I didn’t know what to think. This was a guy I really liked. Was  porn a big deal? Isn’t that what the world told me was true, anyway? So really this was just confirming that he was normal.

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Oh, that word. Normal. As if I wanted to date a normal guy. Or be a normal girl in a relationship with a normal guy. 

Anyway, the less I thought about it, the more okay with it I was, so I stuffed it down. He still liked me, right? He wanted me AND these anonymous women. Besides, the women were fictional. And this is just his thing. How could something as individual or singular as me possibly be enough for a man?

Of course, that made me a little less neutral and a little more sad.

 

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And that’s the moment it started. The thought process that encouraged me to continue my bad behavior in all of the rest of my relationships and into the psychological infertility of my 30s:

I could never be “enough” for a man. I’m one of many “things” he needs to be satisfied. That is my role in a relationship.

Note: I am responsible for my own behavior. I don’t mean to say this thought process or this person’s actions caused my own. Only that this thought process encouraged me to make bad decision after bad decision. 

Which lead to the final emotional stage of dating a guy who is into pornography:

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It didn’t help that this particular first boyfriend had sexual issues of his own. He couldn’t “finish” with me, that part was solo. It was also often “solo” in an abusive way toward me (more on that in the future maybe).

When I asked him what he thought about when we had sex, he said “It’s probably better if I don’t tell you.” The affection between us was more like a science experiment than not (maybe to see if he had feelings? Which he didn’t). And for some strange reason that would never fly now, I let it continue.

The Argument Begins

This scenario inspires my most basic argument against premarital sex, especially for young adults. God designed sex to be giving. Life-giving. Love-giving. Intimacy-giving. But how many teenagers do you know are capable of giving life, love, or intimacy to anyone, let alone a member of the opposite sex that they find attractive?

As a former sexually active teenager and later-in-life middle school teacher, I can confidently say “Nope, nope, nope.”

Teenagers are confused. Teenagers are experimental. Teenagers are not in a giving state (and if they are, it’s a self-sacrificing, unhealthy, “give you all of me so you can rescue me” kind of giving).

When you have sex with someone because you’re excited, you’re lonely, or you’re curious, you aren’t taking  into account that person’s humanity. You’re only factoring in how a person (who quickly becomes a resource to you rather than a person) can help you meet your needs. The feelings of love are closer to feelings of obsession. The things you do are out of obsession and extreme desire…. not love.

In my case as an overweight young person in elementary school and middle school, my newly attractive 9th grader self was primed for being grateful for male attention. Any kind of attention. And so when it finally came (in the form of a screwed up but funny and attractive guy), there was little that I wouldn’t put up with.

Later Effects In Life

Can porn really do all this damage? Not alone. Clearly a lot of my issues come from being tied up with this person for several years and creative formative relationship habits with a person who did not have my best interests in mind.

But porn is a serious threat to having a reciprocal relationship between a man and a woman and it does a lot of damage on its own. It made me question my worth in a relationship, and it made me feel that even though “real sex” was pretty okay, it’s not quite as good or as attractive as pornographic sex.

For more scientific reasoning, I’ll point you to Fight the New Drug, a wonderful organization that helps promote the truth about pornography in relationships and in society.

My Message

Wives, sisters, girlfriends: speak up. Porn is not okay. Porn is not acceptable. A porn addiction is to be treated like any other addition, with compassion and intolerance. It’s not “a little something” or “his thing.” It’s a destructive force in your relationship and it’s got to go. Porn creates unresponsive and unreciprocal relationships, and the continued use leads to even more unresponsiveness and unreciprocity. Stop the pattern.

Husbands, brothers, boyfriends: you’re here to love and protect the women in your life from emotional, physical, and psychological harm. Who is protecting the women in pornography? Who is protecting your wife, girlfriend, or sister from guys like this? Which side do you want to be on?

My heart goes out to any man who was exposed to pornography at a young age and developed an attraction to it. That’s got to be impossibly hard to face up to. But at some point it’s up to you to evaluate your habits, decide if they’re healthy for you and your loved ones, and make an effort to change. Please consider changing. Please be one more guy on this planet who will try to avoid letting what happened to me (a 15 year old girl with several older brothers and a loving father) happen to a woman in your life that you love.

Setting Up Boundaries With Dysfunctional Families for the Holidays: How We Did It

The first time we emailed my in-laws to say that we wouldn’t be joining them for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we hit “send” and literally ducked for cover. We calculated how long it would take his family to drive to us (about 4 hours) and played through a few scenarios for what to do if they showed up to beat down the door or something more sinister.

Of course, none of that happened. His family was politely confused (and likely grumbled among themselves). Which just goes to show how off-the-wall dysfunctional families can be: whatever you expect, they’ll likely do the opposite. And whenever you think it can’t get worse, they go off the deep end.

Family Function Then & Now

When we first started dating, my husband’s family seemed normal to him. Unmarried couples slept together under the family roof because that’s just what they did. All of the kid’s “best friend” was their mother, because that’s just what they did (and you called her every day… and God help you if you did not pick up your phone every time).

His sister and brother-in-law drank nonstop (finding beer cans in the bathroom trash and the car cup holder) because that’s just what they did. On Thanksgiving night, the tween daughters were driven over an hour to the nearest Victoria’s Secret to buy things because that’s just what they did.

When I started coming around, my husband changed. He went to bed at a normal time (not 3AM every night of his holiday). He ate healthy foods at reasonable hours (forgoing the 10PM fast food dinnertime). He exercised. He sometimes said things that… dun dun dun… disagreed with his family. Eventually, he converted to Catholicism (before I came back tot he Church). Very quickly, these changes were attributed to me and I was person non gratis.

At first, being person non gratis was incredibly stressful. I felt controlled and pushed aside. I felt like I had no right to an opinion, and that the only way to participate was to smile and agree to everything everyone said (because in a dysfunctional family, disagreeing is the #1 sign that you hate everyone and reject them completely.)

Over the months of our initial courtship when we went to visit his family or his family came to our town, I would frequently play it off as “not feeling well” and hide in our room alone. When I did have to see them, I would end the night in tears and we’d stay up late rehashing everything that happened.

Catholic Marriage: Two Are One

But that’s the thing about Catholic spouses. It’s kind of hard to accept one but not the other, love one but not the other, or have a relationship with one but not the other.

In this case, my husband’s first instinct was to please both sides. He would sympathize and cater to his family when I wasn’t around (staying up late, eating crazy food, and passively agreeing to whatever was said or done), then sympathize and cater to me when we were on our own again (complaining about the family, spreading gossip about who was making bad decisions).

Can you see where this is going?

That quickly lead to a strain between the two of us as I interpreted this appeasing, duplicative behavior as two-faced. In my family, these things simply were not done. In my family, we valued good decisions. In my family, you speak up when you have a crisis of conscience.

Fortunately, we came across the book Boundaries by Dr Townsend and Dr Cloud and it got us on the path to a normal, healthy relationship between the two of us and then between us and his family.

 Catholicism Calls You To Guard Your Heart And Love

The true beauty of the Boundaries book is that it gives us Biblical permission to guard our hearts and defend emotional territory from family members.

God did not design Christmas to be a horrible, stressful, and self-loathing holiday. God did not make us to be pushovers. God did not make us to be the constant companions and servants of our parents or family members.

God designed us to be peaceful, happy, and loving. God designed us to respect our parents (not to be enslaved by them or guilted by them). And the very first step in having love to give is closing off a place in your life and in your heart for peacefulness and God’s presence.

Strong fences make good neighbors, right?

Do my in-laws still annoy me now, or make me uncomfortable sometimes? And do we have to have a 10PM dinner every once in a while? Definitely.

But now that my husband and I are on the same page about what we think is healthy, what is tolerable, and how we will act when things go wrong (including when and how he will speak up for his thoughts or feelings), it is much easier to make decisions about spending time with his family and feel confident that we’ll be able to do and say the right thing when things go downhill.