The Gates Are Open


Making Sense of Glennon Doyle Melton and Elizabeth Gilbert

melton-and-gilbertI prefer to be late to an opinion party. Rather than reacting when something newsworthy happens, I savor ideas and questions for a long time. When I get to writing, most ideas have already been launched by other writers and perhaps forgotten. Sometimes out of the ashes of burned ideas come deeper  questions. Hopefully this article contains a few of them. I’m sure it doesn’t contain any answers.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of “Eat, Pray, Love”, announced she was divorcing her husband because she was in love with a woman. Her husband is the man who appears at the end of “Eat, Pray, Love” and then is featured in the next memoir, “Committed: A Love Story.” She realized she loved her long-time best friend Rayya Elias, an artist and recovering cancer patient.

A month later, renowned Christian blogger Glennon Doyle Melton (known affectionately to her readers as “G”) announced she was divorcing her husband. G’s announcement came just days before she was about to release her long-anticipated book “Love Warrior” which chronicles the four-year struggle she and her family went through to recover from her husband’s infidelity. G’s life has always been lived on the outside as she used her blog Momastery to show the world how God helped her recover from substance abuse and many other problems.

Though the timing of her announcement was inconvenient, coming days before she took her first victory lap for the publishing of this book about her marriage success, she realized she needed to tell the world about her divorce online.  She informed the world she had come to grips with not wanting to be married to her husband any longer.

They now live just a few houses down from each other. They make meals together and share the parenting duties. Other than a change of location, many things have stayed the same.
Except something has changed. A couple of weeks ago, G announced she is dating soccer star Abby Wombach and has fallen in love. She announced it on Facebook and then answered a few questions. Here is one of the quotes from that announcement:

Remember in Love Warrior how hard I struggled to understand what being in love meant?
I get it now.
I get it.
I am in love.
And I’m really, deeply happy.

Here are two seemingly straight women who have opted for a love relationship with another woman. Both of them are authors who have focused on their marriage relationships both in writing and speaking.
Both of them refused to identify if they are lesbian or bisexual, and have said the distinction is unimportant.

But is it? Oh, certainly they have a right to believe it is unimportant, and for them it is. They have the right to love whom they will. They also have the right not to over-analyze it. But I have the right to ask some questions about this trend. It is a trend for seemingly straight women to come out, admitting to being in love with a woman.

This is a trend you seldom see with men. Yes, there have been men who adopted women as “beards” (i.e. taking a straight partner so you appear straight yourself) in the days when homosexuality in the public eye was not contemplated or accepted.

But look at the roster of women who have been straight and then became bisexual: Katy Perry, Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Megan Fox, Anna Paquin, Megan Mulally, Evan Rachel Wood and many more. Most male celebrities who are bisexual have never been married, but almost all of these women have. So why are women seemingly more inclined to identify as bisexual than men?

There are many qualities which constitute some level of attraction in a woman’s sexual identity.  Respect, compassion, acceptance, safety, security, humor, kindness, and showing attention are all factors which help women feel more attraction. Some women endure marriages where these things are not given or shown. Is it possible some women eventually see beyond natural sexual barriers and desire some of these other qualities even if it is a woman who brings them?

On a physical level, women appreciate the beauty seen in other women. Observe when a woman posts a cute selfie on social media. All her female friends gush over it. I cannot imagine men doing that with another man. Is it possible women can be attracted to other women on a non-sexual level, and that given the right conditions this will translate to passion?

I wonder also how many women go through seasons of bisexuality after having years of difficult marriage relationships? There are no studies done to identify these, but several of my counseling clients who practice bisexuality certainly endured difficult marriages?

And how much do examples like Melton and Gilbert affect women who may be considering bisexuality?

These are trends to note and ponder. I am sure some of you will see spiritual forces at work here as well, and perhaps that is correct. Perhaps the spirit of this age is a “try new kinds of love out” type of spirit. I don’t know. Time will tell, but I wanted to pose a few questions. I’m not really looking for the definitive answer to all of this.

One final question. Gilbert and Melton have received a mostly warm reception to their announcements. I wonder if that would still be the case if they had left their husbands for men?

Phantom Affairs

Posted on June 10, 2016

phantomAuggie and Tami felt the emotional distance between them. They fought, made up, fought some more, made up less often, fought more vigorously, didn’t make up any more. They didn’t know what the other was angry about, but constantly replayed their own story of hurt in case anyone asked. No one did.

Tami filed for divorce first, but Auggie was willing too. They settled their legal differences amiably and spared the world the bother of having to listen to their public complaints. A year later and they legally didn’t have to contact each other for any reason.

Yet for some reason, they kept in close touch. They met for lunch and endlessly dissected the reasons why their marriage fell into the toilet. That’s when and why they came for counseling. They didn’t desire to resurrect their relationship, but they wanted me to do a post-mortem with them on the corpse that was their marriage.

After meeting three times, I discerned the basic reason for their marriage failure and I shared it with them. At first, they were both confused. Then they denied it was true. It was almost a year later Tami came back and admitted I was right. I don’t know if Auggie ever agreed with me.

Here was their problem. They both had someone else. They both had chosen another person over their partner.

Yet neither of them had a physical affair. Neither of them had met in clandestine circumstances to give their love to another person. But they had still chosen someone else. Once they began doing that, it was inevitable it would ruin their relationship.

We wrongly assume that affairs have to actually involve knowing and interacting with the other member of the tryst. Today, there are multiple warnings about emotional affairs, relationships between married people that do not result in sex. These can be devastating of course. As Laura Berman observes,

Emotional cheating (with an “office husband,” a chat room lover, or a newly appealing ex) steers clear of physical intimacy, but it does involve secrecy, deception, and therefore betrayal. People enmeshed in nonsexual affairs preserve their “deniability,” convincing themselves they don’t have to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong. If you think about it, it’s the breach of trust, more than the sex, that’s the most painful aspect of an affair and, I can tell you from my work as a psychiatrist, the most difficult to recover from.

However, neither Auggie nor Tami were enmeshed in emotional affairs. They did practice some of the alternative ways one can tie themselves to another person anonymously. Let me outline the most common ways this is done:

Old Flames: A healthy person continues to process their memories long after they have experienced the original event. This must be done to remain emotionally grounded. We need to understand what has taken place in our lives so we don’t develop the wrong ideas about our history. But when we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about past romances–and especially when we do this to replace time spent thinking about our spouse–we conclude that those days were better than these. The current troubles always pale in comparison with these idealistic memories.

Romantic Novels and Movies: One wouldn’t think you could form attachments with fictional characters, but psychology has proven that this is not only possible, but widespread. Yes, there are women who imagine themselves in the arena with Peeta, or men who see themselves as Danaerys’ companion. This explains the almost fanatical appeal of some fan-bases. This practice intrudes on a marriage when the spouse replaces their affection and admiration for their partner with the character they have obsessed upon. People can also imagine celebrities and read every article about them, taking time and mental energy away from their spouse and pouring it into a famous person.

Pornography: Most people assume porn is all about taking affection away from a spouse. Actually, that reason is not  as common as with the first two examples. Most men use porn as a mechanism to deal with relational pain, especially when they use porn to stimulate themselves.

But there are indeed some men and women who picture themselves with the people in the videos. This causes them to make constant mental comparisons between the porn stars and their partners. As I said, this is not the most common use of porn–it is most likely a pain manager–but it does exist. When a person uses porn to mentally replace their spouse, it can destroy a marriage.

Co-workers, neighbors and professional acquaintances: Throughout life, there are people who treat others well, affirm their value through words and deeds, and give  comfort to the emotionally distraught. A neglected or mistreated spouse will place great value on the person who is willing to give them these things.  Doctors, nurses, teachers, pastors,  therapists etc. all have to set careful and obvious boundaries so clients do not expect to have inappropriate relationships. But just because there are boundaries, the person receiving help can fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a deep intimate relationship with their help-giver. Perhaps neither party acts upon this and the two of them maintain a professional relationship. But the one person still wishes for a deeper bond. This also can be done with people at work, neighbors we have come to know more than casually, and family friends.

Horror stories are told of people who assumed someone else felt as strongly as they did in the relationship, only to find out the affection was completely one-sided. The mind has the ability to fill in both sides of the relationship, assuming the kind words and actions are proof of an intimate connection.

Auggie and Tami both had these phantom affairs and had maintained them for a long time. The upshot of this error is that every mistake their spouse made was compared to these phantom ideal people. In their minds, the phantoms would never have treated them this way.

In Auggie’s case, he obsessed about old girlfriends. Tami focused on a man who lived across the street who appeared to treat her with the respect she had always longed for from her husband. Neither of them sought out a romantic partner outside of their marriage, but the phantom partners provided the manure for all of their resentments to grow.

Strangely enough, a year after divorcing, Tami dated the man across the street. After the second date, she realized he was a jerk. Coming home that night, she cried over her lost marriage. She began to see how great a mistake she and Auggie had made.


The Secret Sins of Human Sexuality

Joanne has had sex many times with men that were not her husband.

Jimmy has drugged many women with date-rape substances and then sexually assaulted them.

Mark is a pastor who has slept with several of his parishioners.

Brian watches pornographic videos and acts them out with prostitutes.

Tom and Lucille have joined a Swing club and to date have switched partners dozens of times.

Each of these is a Christian I have counseled, and each is sinning against the God they have chosen to serve. Very few Christians would disagree with my assessment that every one of these people has violated some of God’s directives regarding human sexuality. As followers of Christ, we believe there are limitations and restrictions on the practice of sex. Though there are elements of our culture that believe that anything is allowable, this is not in alignment with the Bible. There are other cultures where certain actions are considered ungodly and sinful, but that list might disagree with the list compiled in other countries.

However, in the 40 years of giving people counsel on their sex lives, I’ve seen a number of sexual sins that hardly ever get mentioned by anyone. Yet these sins are alluded to in the Bible and we are warned about their dangers. Let me quickly outline each one, noting the different manifestations, what the Bible says about them, and what consequences  follow each one.

  1. The Judgmental Virgin:

    Definition: The attitude adopted by a person who has not ever had sexual intercourse, toward those who have had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. This attitude believes that there is a position of moral superiority by the virgin over the non-virgin.

    Description:  Virginity, or the state of never having had sex, is somehow prized in Christian culture. Some would say this is because the Bible places a high premium on saving sex for marriage, and I won’t disagree with that. But there is nothing in particular that makes someone righteous for abstaining from sex. Just because you haven’t done a deed doesn’t mean you have lived righteously. Righteousness is BOTH doing the right thing and resisting doing the wrong thing. And it is wrong to feel morally superior to anyone. This is something Jesus taught on more times than he did on sexuality.

    Scriptural Principle: Matthew 7:1-2 is pretty clear. We are told not to “judge” others. The Greek word means to be both judge and jury, looking down your nose at another person for their actions. Also, in many cases, Jesus warned the Pharisees that their judgmental and legalistic ways were making them fit for hell. When Jesus confronted a woman caught in adultery he told them all to examine their own lives first without casting a stone in judgment. He then also told her that he didn’t condemn her. Many virgins violate this and sin against non-virgins in this way.

    Long-term Effect:   We are told in Matthew 7:2 that the measure with which we judge (i.e. the intensity of our judgment) will be in line with how severe the consequences are. I have personally found that  judgmental virgins later have a good deal of trouble experiencing joy in their own sex lives.

  2.  Deceitful Daters:

    Definition:  This is the person who gives every indication they are deeply committed to another person so as to lure them into a sexual relationship. In reality, this person has no intention of making a long-term commitment and simply wants sex. They instinctively know they need to give some kind of promise that the relationship is going to go further in order to have intercourse.

    Description: It used to be that this was how many men approached sexuality. If you read Shakespearean comedies like “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet” (which is part comedy and part tragedy) you will see this has been around for a long time. But it is not just men practicing this any more. There are women who do it also. Groupies and predatory women who want to claim famous or well-known men among their sexual “prizes” have been known to do this. But the majority still are men. Some people have been known to do this just to score points with other people, almost like sexual conquests.

    Scriptural Principle: There are those who claim that anything that goes on between two consenting adults cannot be sin (apart from adultery). I disagree. One of the reasons that people in positions of authority are legally discouraged from having sex with their clients or students is because the authority relationship is hard to say no to. In the book of 1 Timothy 5, Paul instructs Timothy about the dangers of putting young women on a widows list. A widows list was a list of women whom the church financially cared for. In return, these women agreed to remain single and celibate,  and work out helping other women with their families. Paul warns Timothy that these women often go running after a man or are deceived by a man. A lot of deception happens in these relationships.

    As anyone in today’s online dating world knows, deception is practiced by many. If you are the one deceiving another person to gratify your sexual desires, this sin is grievous indeed.

    Effects of this sin: Any time you begin to deceive others, you find that you yourself are deceived inside. You begin to believe your own lies. At the very least, the Bible tells us the deceptive heart becomes calloused. You will find it harder and harder to hear God and obey God.

  3. Abstaining On Purpose:
    Definition: This is when a spouse deliberately pulls away sexually from their partner. Regardless of the reason, this puts an undue hardship on their partner.

    Description: Because God never condones adultery, and because a person does not stop being sexual just because their partner pulls away, this is the case of being doubly deprived: They cannot have sex with their chosen partner, nor with anyone else. Both men and women are capable of doing this, though traditionally, women do this more than men. Many women justify this by stating that they do not feel sexually attracted to their husbands because of how badly they have been treated. But this is not the way to deal with problems like criticism, neglect, violence, narcissism, workaholism, substance abuse etc. Instead of passively pulling away physically, address the problems in counseling or in conversation. In extreme cases, go to the police. But pulling away sexually solves nothing and creates another layer of problem.

    Scriptural Principle: Once again, Paul is pretty clear on this one. He says this in 1 Corinthians 6:3-5:

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

So, unless you agreed not to have sex for awhile to devote yourselves to prayer and intense study of the Word, you are disobeying the clear teaching of Scripture. Having said that, let me be clear that this does not stipulate how often you are to be sexual. That is something negotiated with every couple. But remember to be open about it with each other.

Effects of this Sin: For the most part, this sin causes a separation between two people that can often become permanent. In almost every case of divorce I have met, at some point, one or both people in the marriage stopped being sexual. And it was always one person to begin with. This sin violates the covenant promise you made to each other. When you do that, you are causing serious spiritual harm to your souls. You are open to the attack of the enemy constantly.


Creating Exchanges Between Teens and Parents

AexchangeA mother called me one afternoon all angry and confused. She got my name from her friend, one of my counseling clients. She agreed to meet me so she could discuss how to handle a disagreement between she and her daughter.

“Mike, I went into my daughter’s room and looked through all of her drawers. When she figured out I had done this, she became livid and won’t talk to me. It seems all year we’ve had this deteriorating relationship. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Maria, can I ask you some questions to help you work this through?”


“Why were you looking through your daughter’s private dresser?”

“Well, first, I don’t consider her dresser as her private space. I bought it, I brought it home, I own the house, I set the rules.” I let this one slip for the moment. She continued.

“But the real reason I was doing it was because her best friend Nicole’s mom called me concerned the girls were doing Ecstasy at a party last week. I wanted to find out if she was hiding drugs in her room.”

“To your knowledge, has your daughter ever used recreational drugs?”

“I smelled pot on her earlier this year, but she denied it.” I also wanted to bring up the issue of acting upon unwarranted suspicions without having dialogue first, but I left that issue to another time. “I didn’t find any drugs, but there was some stuff that really scared me. I found condoms in the bottom drawer. I found “Fifty Shades of Grey” in there as well. It just makes me sick to think about it.”

“Do you and your husband own your house outright or do you have a mortgage?”

“I don’t know why that’s important, but yes, we have a mortgage.”

“And Maria, if the bank sent over tellers and loan officers and began ransacking your house, looking through your financial statements and searching in all your drawers, how would you react?”

“Listen Mike, I know where you’re going with this. It’s not the same thing. My house is still mine, even if I have a mortgage. I’m protected by basic rights.”

“Of course you are. But don’t you think the attitude should be the same even if the laws governing our teens does not explicitly recognize their rights to the space they call their own? Shouldn’t we afford them certain levels of respect and dignity?” Maria didn’t know what to say to this, so I continued.

“Maria, the basic idea behind Respectful Parenting is that teens must be afforded the same level of respect we give other adults. And it teaches that they must be allowed to make mistakes and be held accountable for those mistakes without parents always jumping in to save them or head off the problems. Most of that overseer attitude is reserved for the time before children become teens. As they reach 13 or so, we must change the rules and recognize their rights as adults.”

This was a lot for Maria to take in. Since she had never really recognized her daughter’s adult status, she was still operating as if she was a taller more mouthy child. The daughter knew this and resented it. And the daughter was correct in resenting it. It is not appropriate.

If you treat a teen as an adult, there is a greater chance they will act like an adult sooner than their peers. And if they don’t, they were never going to act that way in the first place.

“Mike, what should I have done?”

“First, you start with some agreements between you and your daughter. I call these agreements “Exchanges” because they are not really rules. They are negotiated understandings and both sides have input on how they are to be worked out.

In the case of your daughter’s room, an Exchange might look like this: The room is her space even though you own the house The room is locked but parents have permission to enter it if they feel it is warranted. If the teen does not keep the room to a minimum level of tidiness, there would be consequences (these must be negotiated and agreed upon). The only exception to this is if a teen has a weapon in the room or if the parent suspects the teen is in trouble or is hurting themselves. If these exceptions occur then the parent must tell the teen either right before going in or immediately after.

I asked Maria if she could live with this kind of Exchange. She thought about it for awhile and said there were a few modifications she would like, but that it sounded fair. She brought it home to her daughter who made a few more modifications than Maria and I had worked out. By the end, they were both satisfied it was a workable Exchange.

The next time we met, Maria and I went into the deeper issue. I asked her why the condoms and the copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” upset her so much. “She’s only 17. She shouldn’t be sexually active yet. And I certainly don’t think she should be fooling around with that Bondage crap!” Maria’s complexion was a deeply disturbed umber by this point. “Tell me about your discussions with your daughter about sex.”

Maria shared that they had talked twice about sex and sexuality. The first time she had reviewed the basics of her daughter’s monthly cycle and how to care for that part of her life. The second time, she explained how intercourse worked and how petting almost always led up to it. That conversation took place two years before and they had not talked about sex since.

“Then Maria, I don’t think you should be surprised that your daughter has decided to find out more about sexuality without consulting you. I am not trying to make you feel bad, but the information you gave your daughter, though moderately helpful, is less than minimal. Think about this; you found condoms in her drawer. What does that tell you?”

“That she is sexually active.”

“Not necessarily. She may be, or she may just want to make sure she’s prepared if she does have sex. She owns these condoms herself, which means she is not relying on a boyfriend to have them. She is taking responsibility for her own life. If you had been having these conversations regularly, you would know her motivation for having the condom.”

I wasn’t trying to make Maria feel badly. I wanted her to wake up to the most important aspect of Respectful Parenting: There must be continual dialogue over issues both parties feel strongly about.

In the end, Maria went home and began the first of many discussions about sexuality with her daughter. She and her daughter read through several chapters of Fifty Shades and talked over what it meant. In the end, the daughter concluded on her own that this was not that interesting to her. And mom and daughter talked more about their own ideas of sexuality and what it implied to them.

Lo and behold, they stopped fighting.

It’s not rocket science.

In this article, I am outlining how any parents and teens can get to this place. It is all facilitated by Exchanges. An Exchange is an agreement a parent and teen enter into on a specific subject where certain compromises are made by both sides until everyone is satisfied about the issue.

To arrive at a successful Exchange, these are the basic understandings:

  1. This is not a contest. It is not a win-lose zero sum game. Either both parties get enough of what they want or you keep working at it.
  2. This is a compromise. Everyone needs to give up something. That is why it is called an Exchange
  3. This is negotiated. Parents can’t unilaterally determine all the parameters of the exchange. Neither can the teen.
  4. An Exchange is always open to change if it is not working for everyone concerned.


With these guidelines up front as the basis, let’s look at 7 common Exchanges and how a parent and teen can arrive at them.

Schoolwork Exchange

This is very complex concept. How well someone does in high school often determines what they will do with the rest of their lives. Parents often understand this better than teens. So parents come at the issue more intensely than their teens. Unfortunately, for teens, high school is a complex tangle of relationships, changing goals, victories and defeats, pressures, and competing allegiances. It is not as simple as just getting good grades.

A parent wants a teen to work hard. That is reasonable to expect. In a schoolwork exchange, the parent and the teen must decide what is expected by both parties. Most teens want their parents to give advice about school, provide resources, guidance and help. But they really resent being harped upon, criticized for doing poorly, checked up on, punished for bad grades.

I have told parents that good grades should be praised but not rewarded. Bad grades should be discussed but not punished. It is a very difficult thing to negotiate. But in this exchange, clearly spell out what a teen is responsible for and what the discussions will look like if the teen does not live up to their agreements.

The teen may want the parent to do certain things to help them. Teens with learning disabilities may want parents to attend 504 hearings or IEP meetings. Or the teen may want the parent to withdraw from scoping their grades for a quarter, just to see if the teen can manage it themselves.

In the end, the agreement must be revisited regularly to see if it is working. I warn parents that the teen ultimately has to care about achieving some success in schoolwork without being pushed. No one is going to push them when they’re at college or in the workforce, so teen years are a good place to start with self-motivation.

Future Predictions Exchange

The second most common complaint I hear from teens in counseling is their parents make continual dire predictions about their future.

If they experiment with marijuana, parents assume the teens are on the road to addiction. If the teen is sexually active they are going to get STD’s, AIDS, pregnant or will be living on the streets soon. If they get bad grades, they will have to work at Walmart.

The teen already fears an unknown future. They don’t need a parent to add gloom and doom to the picture. In this Exchange, the parent and the teen must negotiate how a parent can express concern about current actions. How much is the parent allowed to express their fears and how deeply can they analyze the current trends. Teens need to specify what issues can be discussed and which ones are off-limits. In the end, all parties need to be satisfied they have not given up more than they are comfortable with.

Solutions Exchange

Teens have problems. By definition, teens are beginning to face issues that never came up when they were children. And, they lack enough experience as adults to know how to act in every situation.

For example, teens don’t know how to manage money very well. There are exceptions to this rule, but generally they don’t spend money wisely. This often means they don’t have the money they need when they need it. At one point should a parent jump in with a solution? It is not as easy as it sounds. You are trying to balance respect with caring.

In this exchange, the parents and teens decide when and how a parent will enter into a problem the teen is having. This exchange must cover when parents must stay out and when they can enter in.

I have friends whose son had extremely bad body odor. They asked me if they should say something. I told them only one of them should approach this issue and should give solutions like showers, deodorant and laundry hampers. Unfortunately, dad went beyond these and constantly lectured his son every time the smell was slightly off. Dad and son reached a point of yelling because of this.

I helped them draw up an exchange about how often parents could suggest solutions to their son. On his side, the son agreed to ask more often (at least once a week) if his body odor was offensive. All sides agreed that parents would help by buying whatever the son needed to smell better. After agreeing upon this, there was no more yelling. And even though the smells did not get hugely better, they were tolerable.

Communication Exchange

We had a rule in our house “Nothing is not an answer”. We made that rule because two of our teens loved to give that as an answer to most questions. “What happened in your life today?” “Nothing”. “What’s bothering you?” “Nothing”. Is there anything you want to talk about?” “Nothing”.

Because we are seeking to parent with respect, we must respect the teen’s right to their own information. But the teen must also stretch and realize that a certain level of communication with others in the household is also respectful. In this exchange, parents and teens decide on some simple guidelines.

A teen is allowed to say “I don’t want to talk about it right now.” But if they say that, the parent has a right to ask “Why” and “Can you give me a time we can talk about it?” In this exchange, parents and teens spell out exactly how to handle situations where teens want to keep some information to themselves. But in the Exchange it should be spelled out the teen should come back to some of these issues when they’re ready.

Personal Space Exchange

This is the one we mentioned above. Every teen needs to have a space they can call their own. This is not just to protect the emotional center of their lives. They also need a break from younger siblings and nosy parents. We all need that. They need a place they can crash and contemplate where their life is going. If they choose to use that place as a storage unit and the mess offends others, they must be responsible for that.

Just as the owner of a house is allowed, with notice, to inspect their house when renters are present, so too a parent needs to specify in the contract how often inspections will be done. Consequences for messy bedrooms and toxic waste should be spelled out.

For the most part, parents are often concerned about drugs and alcohol in the room. This must be written into the exchange as well. Leave nothing out of the agreement.

At the very least, the teen’s room should have a lock on the door. They must have a key and so should the parent. But the parent must agree only to use it in the most dire situations.

Trust Exchanges

Few things hurt as badly as being accused of lying. We want our loved ones to trust us and when they do not, it causes us to doubt their love. At the same time, we all fail. And when we fail, it is harder for others to trust us.

This conundrum is experienced often between parents and teens. Teens often complain their parents do not believe them. Teens hate being told “you’re lying to me”.

Frequently, I have proposed an Exchange to solve this. In this agreement, the parent says they will not use the phrase “you’re lying”. Rather, they must tell the teen, “I have trouble believing that, and here is why.” The parent needs to take ownership of their skepticism without immediately jumping to a conclusion.

At the same time, the teen should not demand a parent believe everything they say. There must be a certain level of skepticism by all parties. At the heart of this Exchange is the agreement that no one will call anyone else a liar. It is no coincidence that in the British Parliamentary system, you can call other members of Parliament just about any name you want as long as it isn’t “Liar”.

Interrogation Exchange

Teens also want parents to leave an issue alone when all has been said. Most often, this doesn’t need to have a full Exchange. Parents and teens should just allow each other to say “we’ve talked about this enough. Let’s leave it alone”.

Russ and his girlfriend had unprotected sex and she thought she might be pregnant. At 7 weeks gestation, she miscarried. But they had already both told their parents about the pregnancy. During those early weeks, Russ’s parents had mercilessly lectured Russ on his irresponsible actions. A week before his girlfriend lost the baby, Russ ran away from home. They didn’t seem him for five years.

I know the parents very well and we have dissected all that happened. I have talked to Russ about it and asked him what would have helped in the situation. All of them agreed the best solution would have been to set a limit on how much discussion they could have on the issue. Russ needed a time-out from being interrogated. From the first discussion, he knew how foolish he had been to have unprotected sex. But mom and dad would not drop the issue. They saw it as a microcosm of all his other failures.

Soon, they were no longer talking about sex, but about grades, smoking, laziness and siblings. This one issue became the lightning rod for all their frustration.

In this Exchange, all parties have the right to say “You have ten more minutes to make your point and then we’re done for at least a _______ (a specified period of time). It is always appropriate to negotiate how long a time has to pass before discussing the issue again. At one point, all parties have to have the right to say “enough is enough” on certain issues.


One more thing about Exchanges. Write them down and have all parties agree to them and sign their names. My kids didn’t think this was funny…when they signed their names to our Exchanges, they also looked dead serious. i believe they knew I was both treating them like adults but also expecting they would now act like adults.

Posted on June 19, 2014

This is a good and thorough take on the concept of girls wearing “provocative” clothing. I think the discussion needs to be broadened to help everyone understand how sexuality is to be taught and mentored among followers of Christ.

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