The ‘How’ Of Romance

Steve Arterburn

Guys, when you’re romancing your wife, it must be on her terms in order to be effective. You have to do what she considers fun, what she considers romantic. That’s what shows your wife that you’ve listened to her, learned her, and you’re attentive to her desires and needs. This demonstrates love.

But there’s another’often overlooked’side of romantic expression: doing things for her that she hates doing herself. For instance, I know a woman who absolutely hates washing silverware after meals. Her husband knows this about her, and often steps in to wash silverware for her’even if he doesn’t have time to wash the sink full of dishes.

So why is doing for your wife what she hates doing romantic to her? Once again, it shows that you’ve taken the time to know her, and that you have the desire to serve her. In other words, it shows her your relationship’s an intimate one.

One woman named Cheryl shared this story: ‘Sometimes I don’t want to do the mundane things like grocery shopping alone. It’s not one of Rod’s favorite things either. But he goes with me if I ask, and he makes it fun just because we’re together. And there’s been more than one classical concert he’s suffered through with me.’

Do you sense that Cheryl feels romance in her marriage? I certainly do.

The Perfect-Mate Myth

Stephen Arterburn

Gentlemen, North American culture wields a tremendous influence upon Christians’ values in many areas. One in particular is the area of relationships where many of us have fallen for what I call the ‘Perfect-Mate Myth.’ This myth applies to single and married men, and goes something like this: ‘If I just had the right woman, my life would be all right.’

Let me be blunt: this belief is incredibly ignorant. First, because it assumes that our problems are all external’that our real problem is an imperfect spouse or the lack thereof. Second, because it assumes that there’s such a thing as a ‘perfect’ spouse.

This delusion keeps us from spiritual maturity. It prevents married men from doing the hard work and making the commitment necessary to build and repair their relationship with their wives, and it tempts single men to put their lives on hold until that ‘perfect’ woman appears.

Men, the perfect mate myth is an unhealthy fantasy. Focus your attention on your relationship with God. He wants a married man’s attitude to be, ‘I’m in this for the long haul. I’m going to dedicate myself to and work at making this marriage last.’ This is how an active and true faith comes alive in a marriage.

Similarly, God wants the attitude of every single Christian man to be, ‘God, I’m yours, with or without a spouse, and I will focus my attention on my relationship with you.”

Whatever your situation, God is sufficient to meet your needs.

The Mother Wound

Dan Jenkins

I like to tell a humorous story about my oldest daughter when she was somewhere between two and three years old. My wife had placed some figurines on a coffee table and she told our daughter not to touch them. I was reading on the couch the next day when I noticed that our daughter was standing in front of the coffee table, staring at the figurines. Her hand was poised, ready to snatch them up. I was about to say, ‘Melissa, don’t touch those,’ when to my surprise I heard her utter the very same words. ‘Don’t touch those.’ She said these words twice out loud and in a soft whisper. I could almost see the battle waging inside her mind when, unfortunately, her hand won the debate and I had to confirm the command to not touch the figurines. But it told me that she had internalized what her mother had said the day before.

Our daughter had internalized the command, even though she chose not to obey it.

Likewise, all children internalize very important aspects of the mother-child relationship. Mothers provide love, nurture, warmth, and the constant attention that all children need. Infants are born with constant recurring needs, and if those basic needs are met they grow up to understand what it means to build relationships based on trust. If the infant’s mother is largely emotionally absent, then the child does not learn to internalize a healthy representation of attachment to his mother, and later in life, to other people.

Picture a small infant, alone in a crib. Before long, the child is going to need attention, but for a variety of possible reasons, mother is not available. Maybe she is too preoccupied with other children, work, drugs, depression, etc., to give the child what he needs at that moment. If this becomes a pattern, the child will develop an internalized representation of mother that has actually been split into two opposite extremes. There will be the ‘Idealized Mother’ who is perfect and can meet all needs. This is an internalized mother image that can save the child from all the pain and anguish that comes from being isolated and alone.

On the other hand, there will also be the ‘Absent Mother.’ From the child’s perspective this other extreme internalized representation personifies all the negative aspects of the mother-child relationship. Mother is untrustworthy, hurtful, and very inconsistent in meeting the child’s needs. A child with this kind of internalized mother wound will grow up to idealize a relationship . . . until the first disruption, and then the idealized person will fall from the pedestal to turn into the person who is always absent.

You can see how a tremendous fear of abandonment would develop in a person with this kind of early attachment deficit.

Many men who have experienced this ‘splitting’ of their first relationship will find it hard to give up on the idea of an idealized woman who could meet all their emotional needs. They often feel cheated by women, who seem to change after the relationship becomes more emotionally intimate. They fail to see that this recurring pattern originates from within themselves rather than other people.

In more specific terms, they fail to see that it is not the woman who has changed as much as their perception of her. A woman who is a stranger can seem ideal, but as her humanity and frailties become known, she seems to become all that is personified in the ‘Absent Mother,’ along with the intolerable states of aloneness and the desire to find something to fill the void. This leaves the man with a deep sense of loss and abandonment, as well as vulnerability to use idealized sexual fantasy as a counterfeit for true attachment.

If the infant’s needs are largely met, then a different scenario unfolds. Around the age of three the child has internalized enough of the mother to start exploring around in the world without her. He may need to frequently return for attention or other needs, but he has internalized enough of the mother to be able to take her with him wherever he goes. He still feels loved even when she’s not in the same room. The good ‘love-object’ is constant and not going to go away. This also contributes to a stable and constant sense of self. It makes it possible to feel good about yourself, even when you fail.

The Hebrew word for ‘weaned’ actually means ‘satisfied.’ You are supposed to have it taken away after you have had enough. Unfortunately, many people have been left unsatisfied and still hungry from early bonding deficits. Searching for that ideal woman who will meet all our needs is a fruitless and hopeless endeavor based solely in a dysfunctional fantasy from the past.

The first woman you fell in love with was your mother. She set the stage for all subsequent relationships. It’s no wonder that those early wounds would impact your perception of women.

Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in San Diego, California. He is also a Professor of Psychology at Point Loma Nazarene University.