There is a natural progression in sexual stimulation and arousal. It develops from something as subtle as a smile to something as powerful as intercourse. Once you have moved from hand-holding to kissing, it is extremely difficult to return to only hand-holding. Our physiological sensations urge us toward intercourse (in other words, God designed our bodies to complete the process of sexual stimulation once it has been started). That’s not necessarily a bad thing; within the commitment of marriage it is an incredibly exciting and emotionally strengthening bond. Outside of that commitment it can be a lot like quicksand.
Emotional intimacy also emerges through identifiable stages of contact. Each of these steps is an essential component in the development toward the “emotional covenant” of becoming husband and wife. This sense of oneness is what gives a healthy marriage relationship its almost mystical uniqueness among all other relationships. These stages of contact nurture a special bond of companionship that draws two people together as no other relationship can.
It is impossible to emphasize enough the importance of moving through each of these stages slowly and systematically. True intimacy between a man and woman grows gradually and gently. Time and patience are essential — the two aspects of courtship that cannot be rushed. When a couple moves too quickly or skips a stage, the natural emotional bonding process is disrupted and something is lost in the development of the emotional partnership between them.
There are 12 stages of physical intimacy which God designed to correspond with the progress of similar emotional and intellectual intimacy. The behaviors we label “petting” involve steps nine through eleven. They are preliminary to intercourse and leave no room for further progression except intercourse. A couple who wants to avoid intercourse before marriage, who does not feel ready for a marriage commitment, and yet are involved in petting, have few options open besides failure or frustration. They are attempting to pursue and intensify a natural progression, only to abort it just prior to fulfillment.
Often the person who will have the most difficult time controlling this progression is the one with a deep need to be loved. This is a person who feels unloved, perhaps unlovable, and may be afraid, on a deep level, that he or she doesn’t have anything to contribute to a relationship. The person who is searching to fill a void left by an affection-starved past (or an affirmation-starved past) is extremely susceptible to misreading relationship signals and often translate another person’s selfish lust into a message of genuine love.
If petting is used to bolster a person’s poor self-esteem, then self-esteem will soon come to depend on petting. If petting is used to feel close to another person, it will be difficult to feel close without petting. We just can’t separate the phenomenon of conditioning from sexual arousal. We can only structure our sexual relationships so that we are conditioning appropriate arousal responses. We don’t do that in just one or two experiences, we do it over the long haul. We do it by thoughtfully developing a relationship to be consistent with our values and goals.
What is low self-esteem? We hear about it all the time, but how many people have actually thought about what it is, how you get it and how you get rid of it? Well a simple but perfectly functional definition for self-esteem is — are you ready for this? — low self-esteem is — I’m actually going to give you the definition, the correct definition, for low self-esteem, are you sure you’re ready? Low self-esteem is an unmet need to be loved (by God).
Since God is perfect, if a person has an unmet need to be loved by God the problem can’t be God’s. Right? Right. Now you need to understand something else before we move on. Beliefs engender Thoughts and thoughts engender Emotions and emotions engender Actions or Conditions (such as low self-esteem or the actions which evidence low self-esteem). It looks like this:
Beliefs => Thoughts => Emotions => Actions (or conditions/states)
Insecurity is a product or symptom of low self-esteem. Insecure people feel like they are always being rejected, and consequently are often looking to “collect” affirming rather than rejecting experiences in any way possible. Author Robert S. McGee, in his phenomenal book The Search for Significance expressed it this way:
“Our behavior is often a reflection of our beliefs about who we are, it is usually consistent with what we think to be true about ourselves. If we base our self worth solidly on the truths of God’s Word, then our behavior will often reflect His love, grace and power. But if we base our worth on our abilities or the fickle approval of others, then our behavior will reflect the insecurity, fear and anger that comes from such instability.”
So, what you believe determines what you think. What you think determines your emotions or how you feel. And your actions are rooted in your emotions. The reason that many of us can’t seem to do what we think or know is right, and have a sense of emptiness in our relationship with God and others is that we believe lies which Satan has woven throughout the very fabric of our society. We usually don’t even know what we believe about ourselves, about others or about God. I’ll write more about this in another letter. For now let’s move on.
Following is a quote from former professor and sometime philosopher, Dr. Philip Captain:
“Getting married will not transform an unhappy person into a happy person. The love of a husband or wife cannot make up for the love one failed to get while growing up.”
Remember that low self-esteem is an unmet need to be loved by God, but that if one does not realize the love which God has for them that same person will not be able to realize the love which their parents offered them either. It’s like this —
Everyone has a need to be loved; there are no exceptions to this universal need. Everyone in the world also deals with insecurity concerning their lovableness. Many people incorrectly believe that if a special someone would love them, they would feel lovable. These people have a, “What must I do to make you love me” mentality, and this will inevitably cause them grief.
The reality is that we can only get love from God and not from people. The idea that someone is giving you love is an illusion. Another person can only give you God’s love, therefore you are not dependent on any person to receive His love. Remember “love never fails” therefore it can not be a human thing, in order to never fail — to be perfect — love must be a God-thing. Love can be funneled, so to speak, through humans by the Holy Spirit, but love, all love, ultimately comes from God. Our focus ought not to be on getting love, but on giving love or “funneling” love. (We are to be “vessels” and/or “instruments”, no?)
A second misconception about love is the belief that if we find the “right” person marriage will be easy. Many people, upon running into marital problems wrongly assume that they must have picked the “wrong” person. The major assumption being that it is hard to find the right mate, but easy to love them once they have been discovered. God’s view is that it is easier to get married than to stay married.
The truth is that there are no perfect marriages nor any perfect spouses. Diligent effort is necessary in all cases. To reiterate, the idea that you will someday find your “one and only” and then live “happily ever after” is a fantasy.
Let me add something else in here. Always remember that human emotions cannot be trusted because they are fickle and undependable. We rarely contemplate the belief or the thought that is behind an emotion so how can we trust the emotion. Never make decisions based on how you feel. For example, what is the feeling that you feel, when you feel that you feel love? Or what is the emotion that you are actually experiencing when you feel those “butterflies” that so many people associate with love? The answer: anxiety. Now, do you think anxiety is a feeling you want to have when around the person who you are going to spend your life with?
Do you see what I’m saying? If you make a decision about a person based on how you feel, you will make a mistake — 99 out of a 100 times, I would guess. By the way, anxiety is the impetus behind illicit sex and sexual addiction.
Anxiety is prompted by either newness, wrongness, or insecurity. It is impossible to actually be in love with someone that you still feel anxiety about being with. Obviously this does not mean there will never be some anxiety since you will still experience new occasions with a person around whom you are comfortable. For example, the first time you have intercourse with the person you love, you will probably feel some anxiety. This is fine and normal. Although, if the process has been followed in the corect order with the appropiate time span the anxiety experienced will be considerably lessened.
I’m going to end this letter with a list of five things that love is not, just so that if you recognize any of these five things you will know that what you are experiencing is not love or that what someone is telling you is love is not love.
- Love is not physically harmful and does not result in the inflicting of physical pain.
- Love is not psychologically harmful and does not result in psychological sickness, e.g., suicide, substance abuse or guilt. Note: love never causes anyone to violate their conscience.
- Love is not spiritually harmful and will not cause one to move away from God nor hurt in the name of Christianity.
- Love is not manipulatory or conditional but must be given without strings attached. Love will never say, “I will love you if . . .” or, “If you loved me you . . .”. There are no conditions of worth.
- Love is not egocentric (self-centered) and does not focus on taking or getting love. Note: Love is never equated with getting one’s way.