All posts by Jeff Olson

About Jeff Olson

Jeff is a licensed professional counselor in the State of Michigan and has worked for Our Daily Bread Ministries as a writer and editor since 1992. He’s authored and contributed to a number of Discovery Series booklets (discoveryseries.org) on such topics as addictions, grief, and depression. He also maintains a part-time private counseling practice in the West Michigan area. Jeff and his family live in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s an avid outdoorsman and loves to be out fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan.

Is a Man Harmed by Looking at Pornography?

There are many today who would suggest that viewing pornography is a harmless recreational activity. Many men, including many Christian men, openly and secretly try to justify looking at the smorgasbord of pornography available on the Internet and video tape. The actual truth, however, is that viewing pornography harms a man in several significant ways.

First, looking at pornography affects how a man views women. Nude pictures and videos of women are degrading and dehumanizing. It portrays women as little more than sex objects to be used and discarded. Any man hooked by pornography is likely to develop disrespectful attitudes towards women.

Second, viewing pornography can turn into a sexual addiction. While it’s true that almost anything can turn into an addiction, the lure of pornography pulls a man in like little else does. Not every man who looks at pornography becomes addicted, but everyone who looks runs the risk. And the cost of a sexual addiction is high. As the addiction grows more and more out of control, it can wipe out a man’s job, his financial assets, his testimony, his peace, his family, his health, and even his freedom (James 1:14-15).

If a man is married, there are at least two additional implications to consider. First, looking at pornography violates the marriage covenant. Jesus said that a man who lusts after a woman commits adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). Second, looking at pornography leads to an increasing distance between him and his wife. Lusting over sexually graphic images does not cause a married man to desire his wife more. It causes him to desire her less. He may not be drawn into an extramarital physical affair, but every time he fantasizes about having sex with other women, he creates distance from his wife in some way. His wife will sense the growing distance, which will cause problems. She may become angry or blame herself for the distance.

Rather than “spicing up” a married couple’s sex life and building intimacy, looking at pornography compromises the relationship and destroys intimacy. Viewing pornography will cause a man to crave more and more unrealistic sexual stimuli, which his wife won’t be willing or able to provide. Consequently, he will feel cheated and angry; she will feel used and inadequate, and they will grow further apart.

A single man is making a big mistake if he thinks that looking at pornography today will have no negative effect on his marriage in the future. Some single men even believe that getting married will end an affair with pornography, but it won’t. A man that is used to being sexually aroused by pornographic images often begins to crave it again once the novelty of marriage wears off. And the man who gives in to that craving not only violates the marital covenant, but also puts the marriage itself into serious jeopardy. To state it frankly, there are no redeeming attributes to pornography.

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Should This Cloud of Hopelessness Concern Me?

Hopelessness is a dreadful feeling. The Bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Many people go through times when they know something is terribly wrong, but they often can’t put their finger on it. All they can explain is a strong sense that nothing is going to work out.

It’s unwise to ignore chronic feelings of hopelessness. Our souls cannot live for long in a state of perceived hopelessness. Hope is the oxygen of the soul. Without a hopeful outlook, our souls will eventually suffocate.

Our dilemma is that a hopeful perspective is as fragile as it is indispensable. Situations beyond our control can delay the fulfillment of hope and leave us in a fog of uncertainty and despair. As hope seems to be collapsing all around us, the potential exists to lose heart and slip into a state of depression.

Depression is a troubled mood or state of the soul that has a dramatic effect on our bodies. We lose energy. Sleeping and eating patterns become abnormal. And we have difficulty concentrating.

Depression can be mild or major. The more depression interferes with a person’s ability to sleep, to eat, to work, to focus, and to enjoy life, the greater the severity of depression, and the greater need there is to be concerned.

Sometimes a depressive mood lifts for no apparent reason. Usually,however, depression doesn’t work itself out over time. Left to itself, it can linger on like an old injury that slowly wears a person down.Over time, it can grow into a severe debilitating problem. That’s why it’s important for those who are depressed to seek help.

An honest reflection of the following statements can alert a person to a potential problem with depression:

  • I feel sad or shut down nearly every day.
  • I have little or no interest in doing things I used to enjoy.
  • I’m sleeping too little or too much.
  • I’m eating too little or too much.
  • I feel tired most of the time.
  • I find it difficult to stay focused.
  • I’ve lost interest in physical intimacy with my spouse.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the burdens of life.
  • I don’t hold out much hope that my life will improve in the future.
  • I shift between feeling helpless and unworthy to feeling angry and cheated.
  • I think about death or killing myself.

Those who identify with two to four of the above statements should,at the very least, consider seeing a physician for a complete medical checkup. Sometimes these are symptoms of a pure medical condition. Those who identify with five or more of the above statements should consider seeking immediate professional help.

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What’s the Difference Between Normal Marital Conflict and Abuse?

Every marriage experiences some degree of conflict. Most marriages experience strong differences of opinion. Arguments are not uncommon. Spouses are occasionally grumpy and unkind to each other. Spouses lose their tempers and can sometimes blow up at each other. Everyone is capable of being hypercritical or falsely accusing his or her mate. Small skirmishes for control over a particular issue can break out from time to time. These are all a part of the normal tension and conflict that inevitably arise when an imperfect man and woman join their lives together in a marital relationship.

Marital abuse, whether or not it involves physical violence, is very different. One key difference is that marital abuse is a one-sided, oppressive relationship where one spouse establishes a pattern of unhealthy control. Even though there might seem to be times of peace and affection, these good times linger in the shadows of the subtle or not so subtle controlling tactics an abusive mate uses for the purpose of getting his or her own way.

For example, an abusive spouse may prevent his (or her) partner from seeing family members, going out with friends, or going back to college. He may try to regulate the people his spouse talks to, where his spouse goes, or how and when his spouse spends money. He may demand all of his mate’s attention. He may put his spouse on an irrational guilt trip for talking to or doing things with other people. He may consider his spouse’s needs as an infringement on or a betrayal of his own needs. He may act insanely jealous and falsely accuse his partner of cheating on him. He may constantly monitor and check up on the whereabouts of his spouse. Many are known to lash out and belittle their spouse when they don’t get their own way or when they feel betrayed or abandoned. Others threaten to divorce or to physically hurt their spouse or destroy a cherished possession, all in an effort to intimidate and punish their mate.

While normal marital conflict can at times seem far worse than what it really is, it tends to lessen in time because of the loving foundation of the relationship—“love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). That important foundation is painfully missing in a marriage marked by abuse. Because of the extreme levels of selfishness at work in the heart of the abusive spouse, marital abuse, if not confronted, will only escalate and get worse over time.

Another important difference is that normal marital conflict and marital abuse require different levels of intervention. While some married couples who experience normal conflict may require help from an objective and wise third party, many can eventually work through their differences by themselves within an atmosphere of mutual love, consideration, and forgiveness. Marital abuse, however, is a different story. Due to safety concerns and an abuser’s excessive self-focus and chronic complaints of being a victim, addressing marital abuse and restoring the relationship is a much more difficult and complicated process. It requires outside help from those who can provide guidance, support, and protection for an abused spouse as the abuser is confronted and held accountable.

While most abusive spouses will insist on joint-marital counseling once their pattern of domination and control is exposed, this is the last place to begin addressing marital abuse. For his or her own reasons, neither spouse is ready for the kind of honest and open conversation that is needed for marital counseling to be beneficial. Almost without exception, abusive spouses will derail the counseling process by trying to micromanage it. And most are far from being able to discuss their pattern of control without acting like a victim. On the other side, abused spouses will not feel safe enough to openly share their true thoughts and concerns, let alone admit to any faults they may have. They are understandably afraid that their partners will shut them down, twist their words, or later make them pay. Years of being controlled have also taught an abused spouse to see things mostly through the eyes of her (or his) spouse in order to avoid doing something “wrong.” Marriage counseling will not be beneficial until abused spouses recover the ability to think for themselves and the freedom to show up as a person in the relationship.

Abusive spouses who are truly serious about stopping their pattern of domestic abuse will agree to pursue a path of individual counseling (separate from their spouse). Their individual counseling is designed to increase their awareness and insight into how they try to control their spouse, the damage it has caused to their marital relationship, and why they feel such a deep and pressing need to dominate their partner and maintain a victim mentality. Joint-marital counseling is only possible once abusers stop playing the victim in the marriage, end all of their excuses, and consistently own up to their patterns of control and the harm it has caused. Only then are they ready to have honest conversations with their spouses and to continue their own journey of working through and finding healing and freedom from their own personal wounds and insecurities.

To read more about physical and non-physical abuse in marriage and what can be done to address it, please feel free to order our booklets When Violence Comes Home , When Words Hurt, and When Power Is Misused.

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Is the Wife Required to Submit to an Abusive Husband?

More than a few Christian wives endure years of terrible mistreatment at the hands of an abusive husband because they genuinely want to follow God’s calling to “submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). Many assume or have been taught to believe that submitting “in everything” includes submitting to abusive behavior.

It’s important to understand the setting in which Ephesians 5 calls for submission. Specifically, Paul urges wives to submit “as the church submits to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24). This qualification gives meaning to the kind of relationship and leadership that is in view. Just as Jesus expanded the definition of leadership to center around the heart of a servant (Luke 22:25-27), Paul actually spends most of this section emphasizing that husbands are to sacrificially look after their wives as Christ gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:23-33). Of course, no husband perfectly lives up to Christ’s example just as no wife perfectly submits to Christlike leadership, but the submission Paul speaks of in this passage presumes that a husband desires and strives to follow Christ’s example of loving, servant-heart leadership.

While Paul is clearly calling for women to submit to husbands who are committed to looking out for their well-being, we can safely say that Paul would not counsel a wife to submit to an abusive husband. A marriage that is marked by a pattern of abuse of power and control is altogether different from the kind of relationship and servant leadership Paul had in mind when he called wives to submit to their husbands.

Marital abuse is a harmful distortion of Christ’s leadership and a violation of the marital vows to “love, honor, and cherish” that calls for a radically different response than submission (See the ATQ article What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?). Perhaps that is one reason why, even in a time when women were not highly regarded, the book of Esther features Queen’s Vashti’s refusal to submit to her drunken husband’s command to parade around like a trophy in front of his intoxicated and lewd male guests (Esther 1:2-12).

To read more about physical and nonphysical abuse in marriage and some ways to deal with it in a biblical manner, please feel free to order our booklets When Violence Comes Home, When Words Hurt, and God’s Protection Of Women.

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Can a Wife Be the Abusive One in a Marriage?

Much has been written in recent decades about husbands abusing their wives, as it should. In more cases than we care to admit, husbands from a variety of backgrounds are physically and emotionally battering their wives with their fists and their words. This is a serious problem no one should take lightly (SEE When Violence Comes Home.).

Abuse in marriage, whatever form it takes, is ultimately about a pattern of exerting power and control over one one’s own way. When a marriage is marked by a one-sided pattern of control, the abusive spouse is not always the husband. Sometimes the abusive spouse is the wife.

While most wives are not able to control their husbands through physical threats and violence, some dominate their husbands through their words, looks, and other threatening actions. Similar to an abusive husband, an abusive wife may boss her husband around, talk down to him, call him humiliating names, and treat him in a very emasculating way. Generally speaking, her style of communication doesn’t invite open and free conversation. It tends to be intimidating or manipulative and is intended to shut her husband down. Whether it’s through a dirty look or a lecture, the point is unmistakable: He’s not there to think or share an opinion. He’s there to do not only what she tells him to do, but also how and when she wants it done.

Just as abusive men demand sexual intimacy without regard for their wives’ needs, abusive women can withhold affection or intimacy as a way of controlling their husbands. An abusive wife may also exert control by imposing arbitrary or erratic expectations. For instance, she may badger her husband to do something, but then get upset with him for doing it because he not’s doing something else for her instead. Imposing and then randomly shifting her demands keeps him off-balance. It leaves him second-guessing himself and her feeling superior. Other abusive women constantly harass their husbands for their recreational interests and even their deeper aspirations for life. If what he enjoys and feels passionate about doesn’t fit into what she deems important, she may ridicule him or look for reasons for him not to do it. If that doesn’t work, she can always find some way to make him feel guilty.

The bottom line is this: most things in the marital relationship have to be her way. She demands that her husband revolve most, if not all, of what he does completely around what is important to her, even though her demands are often unreasonable, inconsiderate, and constantly shifting. And when it doesn’t go her way, she feels “free” to let her husband know it. Whether she relentlessly grumbles and criticizes, threatens to leave, or turns cold and withholds attention and affection, the clear message to her husband is “things had better go my way or else.” It’s a message meant to intimidate her husband and wear him down to the point where he feels it’s not worth doing anything that would risk upsetting her again.

Of course, every marriage experiences painful moments of unreasonableness and control from both partners. But when those moments become the norm rather than the exception, it becomes abusive and denies a spouse the freedom to be who he or she is both within and outside of the marital relationship. Not unlike an abused wife, an abused husband feels coerced into being who his wife thinks he should be. Perhaps this is why the Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it states that “a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day” (Proverbs 27:15) and that it is “better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife” (Proverbs 21:19).

Any marital relationship that is characterized by such patterns of control is not really a relationship. It is more like a dictatorship, where one partner rules over the other. Unfortunately, because of their own insecurities, most husbands in this situation let themselves get walked on and are afraid to stand up to the patterns of control with courage and love. Others try to ignore the way they are mistreated, only to blow up and turn mean or abusive. Neither is a godly response and is nearly always a sign of a man who has lost his heart.

To read some general ideas about a better way that doesn’t take the abuse lightly yet still offers the opportunity for forgiveness, healing, and restoration both in the marriage and in each spouse’s heart, read When Words Hurt .

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