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Marriage counselling - for men

Jacob Ninan

Statistically speaking, very few men are willing to go for counselling, compared to women. But that may be because men inherently have a desire to sort out things by themselves, and only if everything else fails will they go for help from someone else. You would have heard the now famous adage about how men would not ask for directions on the road even if they know they are lost! So here is some marriage counsel that men can read for themselves, and figure out what to do with it!

What is counsel, anyway? In its simplest form it is just some tips we can get on how to do things better. A counsellor is someone who has been trained to listen to the counselee, understand what is really going on behind all that is said, and point out some options a counselee can consider in order to deal with his issues. A famous scientist once mentioned that if a certain experiment did not produce the result we expected, we would be foolish to repeat the experiment in the same way and expect different results! We would need to change some of the parameters of the experiment, or, in other words, do some things differently.
If what we are doing doesn't work, don't we need to change the way we are going at it?
Actually all of us need 'counsel' at different times, since none of us knows it all, and it is good and time saving to ask for counsel when we don't know how to move forward. Since what we think is our problem ('the presenting case') may have more to it behind it, the counsellor can try and bring out the 'real problem' for us to understand and deal with. Counselling has very little to do with mental illness--and the counsellor will refer such people to psychiatrists--and it is for ordinary people who find themselves in unknown territory and who will appreciate some tips to find their way out.

Having said that, let me also encourage you to go for personal counselling, if after reading this you recognise that you have problems that need more help than you can provide yourself. "A stitch in time saves nine," says the proverb. Many problems become worse if unattended to, don't go away with time as many people imagine, and may become too complicated to handle later on.

Why marriage?
Marriage provides the most intimate and satisfying relationship between a man and woman. It is not just about sex, but the companionship of becoming so close to each other that you understand and cherish each other's friendship and company, you think alike, make your plans together, share your problems, worries and desires together, enjoy bringing up your own children together and see them settle into their own families, etc. Isn't this the real reason for getting married, rather than so many other things people have in mind? Of course if you get married for the wrong reasons it would be likely that you end up getting frustrated with marriage! You can read more about this in another article Why get married?

Why marriages become difficult
The straight answer is that usually it is because we enter marriage with a lot of unrealistic expectations and without being really prepared to face its challenges. We usually get married when we are young (and inexperienced), and our ignorance and lack of preparation show right from the beginning! Issues may come up even during the honeymoon and our own ways of trying to cope up with them actually seem to make things worse! Our parents may have trained us for eating, sleeping, dressing up and toilet habits, and put us in a good school, but most of them may have omitted to talk to us about boy-girl relationships in general and marriage in particular. Whatever we 'know' may have been picked up from watching our parents or from the media. Surely that is not enough preparation for a marriage for a lifetime with a person who is so different from you! Years of preparation and training prepare us to get into a profession, and there also we continue to get on the job training. But there is virtually no preparation or training for those who are getting married! With all the problems that are being faced in marriages these days, pre-marital counselling is slowly becoming recognised as a 'must' before marriage.

You may wonder how couples all through the centuries managed without marriage counselling! But you know things were very different those days. Compared to our ancestors, we now lead very high pressure lives which leave very little time for relaxation or sorting out issues through discussions. Issues that are ignored or 'swept under the carpet' have a tendency to blow up in our face later! We also live in nuclear families without the support of the extended family like our ancestors.
Anybody can give up, but it takes strong men and women to stand up to challenges and overcome them.
Usually nowadays both husband and wife are working with the wife having to handle the stress at work in addition to the stress at home, and this leads to more tension between the husband and wife. A working wife also becomes financially less dependent on her husband, leading to a feeling that she can afford to leave him in case of difficulty. Socially women have become more aware of their rights and will no longer tolerate any domineering treatment from their husbands. Divorce has become a more acceptable option to many people in view of the diminishing stigma associated with it. As a result of factors like these, marriage has generally become more stressful and fragile now than ever before, and this brings in the need for support from counsellors to preserve marriage. Anybody can give up, but it takes strong men and women to stand up to challenges and overcome them.

Two people get married who are so different from each other.

One is a man and the other is a woman! Men and women are so different from each other, not only physically, which everyone knows, but also psychologically. It is not just the 'hardware' that is different, but also the 'operating system'. Even though they both seem to do many similar functions, they do them somewhat differently because different programmes are running inside their minds! It takes time for both of them to understand each other.

Usually the husband and wife have different temperaments. One may be an introvert and the other and extrovert or different variations of these. Each temperament has its strengths and weaknesses, and it can be very difficult to figure out how the other person can be so weak in an area you have no problem with! Actually once you get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses both of you can learn how to complement and supplement each other in such a way that 1 + 1 can be greater than 2!

Perhaps you two grew up in different family backgrounds.
You will come to know that some of the 'faults' you see in your wife's behaviour are not really faults, but just differences from your ways!
A lot of our mental make up is what we have acquired by imitating our parents and learning coping mechanisms (or the lack of them) in our childhood. You will come to know that some of the 'faults' you see in your wife's behaviour are not really faults, but just differences from your ways! We all may not be even aware that we are doing certain things wrong, because that's the way we have always seen our parents do them.

You are really two different individuals, aren't you, with your special interests, ambitions, goals, skill sets, etc.? Two paths that had been going in different directions have been brought together at an intersection, in a sense, and now you both need to learn how to walk together. That is not going to be easy, but you shouldn't give up easily without putting in efforts to learn and make changes. Giving up is easy, but that way you will lose what you can come to experience if you just hang on! Most marriages take a few years to come to stability, and it would be disastrous to give up just because you face some difficulty along the way. In the heat of a moment of strife, or when you have been nurturing judgmental thoughts about your spouse for some time, it is easy to think that anything would be better than continuing with the marriage. But a counsellor may be able to give you insight into why problems have developed and point out how a few adjustments can prevent the catastrophe called separation. You should not forget the fact that divorce adds its own trauma which can affect you both for years, and more so your children who may carry its effects even to their marriages!

Do you get the impression that marriage is tough? Surely it is unrealistic to imagine that we get married to the one we love and from then onwards we will have heaven on earth. Yes, there are many challenges that will come across our way, as we make our transition from one phase of marriage to another. There may also come unexpected events that disturb the routines we have become used to. But remember that instead of a 'vicious cycle' there can also be a positive cycle that develops -- the lessons that the couple learns through the challenges of life make them stronger and also closer together, and then they are able to face greater challenges together without getting shaken up as before! As you understand each other better and are able to draw strength from each other, your own individual struggles become easier to handle too. Remember, giving up and going for a divorce is an easy option, but after that comes the pain, the trauma and several complications, for both of you and the children.
the lessons that the couple learns through the challenges of life make them stronger and also closer together
Statistics also show that one who has been divorced often gets divorced again. There are admittedly a few divorces where the fault was with the 'other spouse', but a far greater number of divorces happen because the spouses have not learned to make successful adjustments towards each other. So then they go on to make similar mistakes in their next marriage also. Whatever problem may come up in a marriage, the right way is to work towards a resolution of the issue and reconciliation.

One secret of a happy marriage
When two Christians get married, they make a covenant with each other. They individually agree to love each other, be faithful to each other and to stay together as husband and wife no matter what happens. This is a lifelong, exclusive commitment to each other without any conditions. One secret of a happy and successful marriage is to have the direction right. That is to understand that the big aim of marriage is to enjoy companionship with your wife and to become more and more one with her.
A great secret of a happy marriage is to work with a focus on becoming one with your spouse and to direct all your actions towards that.
And you must be committed to each other. Getting married without this commitment is like living in a house with no doors, allowing thieves to walk in any time, and not working to keep this commitment alive is like not bothering to lock up the house doors at night.

Every marriage will have its challenging moments. Those whose commitment to each other is strong will then try to resolve the issues and work towards a happier marriage. But those whose commitment is weak will give up easily. They look at the effort involved in making changes to their own attitudes, approaches and behaviour and conclude that it is too much, without realising that in deciding to give up they will be really asking for more trouble for themselves in a different way. What I would advise couples who are going through difficult times is to put aside even a theoretical consideration of the option for separation, and to decide only to work for resolution. You may not know how to work things out by yourself, but certainly there are others who can help.

Understanding your wife
Your wife is very different from you in many ways. You both come from different backgrounds, you both have different temperaments, and your wife is a woman! You may find in a short while after marriage that you can't figure her out, she seems to be so weird in her thinking, her reasoning seems to be all topsy turvy, she goes on talking, and that too jumping from subject to subject without any logical connection, she bursts out crying in all kinds of situations, she expects you to understand her before she even speaks, she doesn't always say what she later says she meant, and she is so surprised that you don't understand her! But it's not as bad as it looks.
If you understand a few tips about women, you will be able slowly to learn her language, and then you will find that she is really the best thing that could have happened to you!
If you understand a few tips about women, you will be able slowly to learn her language, and then you will find that she is really the best thing that could have happened to you! Handle her with care and she can give your life more meaning and fulfillment. On the contrary, if you take her for granted or don't pay much attention to getting to know her and showing her affection, she can become such a pain in the neck! It's your call!

One way to get to have a happy marriage is to make sure that you meet the love needs of your wife. When she is happy in marriage it is but natural that she becomes interested in making you happy by meeting your needs! Be clear about this, that what you look for in marriage is not what she looks for, and how you show love is not the way she expects love from you! But once you understand what your wife really needs and try to provide those for her in the way she wants (and it is not hard once you get the hang of things), you will have her eating out of your hands, figuratively speaking. You may wonder why, if it was as simple as I seem to make it out, many marriages are falling apart all around us. The reason is that husbands and wives don't make the effort to understand each other, and they find fault with their spouse for being different from themselves!

Psychologist Dr. Willard F. Harley Jr. has written a book called His needs, her needs where he mentions his findings on what men and women look for in marriage, based on the results of a large survey. You may be justly surprised when you understand what your wife is really eager to get from you, because it is very different from what you are looking for! And if you are like most people, and your really love your wife, you would be doing things for your wife based on what you would enjoy getting from your wife! Unfortunately that wouldn't click with her because she is different from you! Let us now look at five things your wife wants from you which would make marriage like heaven for her. Statistically speaking these are generally what every woman wants, even though you may want to remember that there could be deviations here and there.

#1. Affection. Most men will equate show of affection with 'sex' but that is not what women have in mind! (It is very important for you to know that your wife cannot enjoy sex unless it is preceded by an affectionate relationship and gone through with an abundant show of affection.) Your wife looks for 'small' demonstrations of affection in many ways and many times a day which essentially reassure her that she is important to you and that you are very much concerned about her happiness. You may think that your working hard in your job and providing her with a good life is a clear demonstration of these. She is surely happy with them, but they will become irrelevant to her if you don't show your love to her frequently through words and action. She longs to hear from you again and again how much you love her. She will feel assured of your concern for her if you enquire now and then about how she is getting on with the major occupations of her life. Small (especially unexpected) gifts of flowers, perfume, cards, etc., text messages, phone calls, light hugs and kisses will make a hit with her. Make it a point to remember her birthday and your wedding anniversary, and to make those days special for her in a way she would appreciate.

#2. Conversation. You know how women talk, on and on. But that is how they not only communicate, but build relationships, handle their problems, deal with stress, etc. In other words, they can't survive without conversation. When your wife wants you to be her best friend, she wants to share with you all that is exciting to her, all that is troubling her, all that she is debating in her mind, etc. When she talks about her problems, she is not always looking for a solution or discussion from you, but an understanding and empathetic heart. So you need first of all to learn to listen to her, with your ears and heart fully open, aiming to understand what she says and what she feels about it. It will make her happy if she finds you really interested in what she has to say, because that gives her a great feeling of security in your love for her. The second thing you need to learn is to share your thoughts with her, which may be something you may need to train yourself to do because it doesn't come naturally for men. But the dividends are worth the effort. More on conversation later.

#3. Transparency. If you want your marriage to thrive, one of the things you need to do is to help increase your wife's trust in you. You can do that when you keep her generally informed about your whereabouts, your friends, the things that are uppermost in your mind, etc. She will understand that you are open with her, and also that you care about her enough to share such information with her. This will prevent her from getting into fears and suspicions that can rise up if a husband is secretive or non-communicative. You could phone her if you are going to be held up at work or you are caught in a traffic jam so that you can avoid a lot of unnecessary worries. As a woman she is easily moved by emotions, and a wise husband will realise that it is not enough to tell her that she shouldn't get worried about such small things!

#4. Financial security. This may not be a very big issue if your wife has her own income to depend on, but usually wives worry about whether they would have enough money if different situations came up suddenly or their husbands passed away. In order to alleviate such fears, it is good to keep her informed about your income, bank accounts, insurance, investments, etc., and ensure that she will have no trouble accessing these funds after your death. This will also demonstrate to her how much you care for her. Some men are afraid that if they told their wives about how much money they had, the wives would spend it all away! But what they need to do is to improve their family money management strategy rather than allow their wives to develop insecurity feelings.

#5. Family support. The natural role of women is as wives, mothers, homemakers and caregivers. But they do need the support of their husbands even in these roles. It will be a foolish husband or father who completely leaves it to his wife to handle the children. A man's role is not simply to work hard to give a good living to his family, but also to give leadership in the family in every aspect. A good husband and father will share the responsibility of bringing up the children, playing with them, teaching them Biblical truths and giving leadership in practical discipline, and giving support to his wife as she deals with the children.

Women and multi-tasking
One typical scenario is when the husband is seriously pondering over some matter, trying to figure out what to do. His wife notices that something is bothering her husband, and quickly comes near him and tries to show her affection by asking what he is thinking about. But the husband will lose his focus if he tries to answer her, and so he brushes her off. The wife then interprets this to mean that he doesn't love her or appreciate her love! A little bit of explanation can ease misunderstanding on both sides.

Recent developments in CT and MRI techniques have brought out the fact that women use different parts of their brains almost simultaneously while men are essentially able to focus only on one conscious function at a time. This may explain why wives seem to flit back and forth from one subject to another with ease while their husbands get quite confused because they can't understand why their wives are switching subjects right in the middle of a discussion, and they become frustrated because they can't switch focus as fast! But women have a valid logic in their mind (remember their operating system is different) which connects those different subjects together. One subject is associated with another not on the basis of information content as men would think, but because they produce similar feelings! Men can't rewrite this logic in the minds of their wives. But they can be less quick to get upset or irritated, and gently guide their wives to the subject under discussion! You can also explain to your wife how she can help you by trying to stick to one subject at a time when talking to you.

Different ways of dealing with stress
When a man comes under stress he tries to think over it and find some solution by himself. He prefers to be left to himself at this time because otherwise he would lose his focus. On the other hand women would like to talk to someone about the problem she is stressed about, and her husband is obviously the best choice. Obviously these different strategies can cause their own conflict in a marriage! But once each spouse recognises this, they can make way for each other. The wife can refrain from intruding into her husband's private space if she notices that he is seriously mulling over something in his mind. Give him some time, and he will come out to meet her. On the other hand, if your wife comes and starts pouring out her fears, sorrows and other concerns to you, do give her time to let out her steam through words. Don't be quick to tell her what she ought to do or not to do. What she wants from you at this time is 'a shoulder to cry on' and not a solution. Chances are that she will find her solution by herself even as she talks, because, if you remember, other parts of her brain are also at work!

Conversing with women
Conversation presents a major area of difference between men and women, and a cause for lots of misunderstanding and quarrels. It is well known that on an average women talk much more than men. They are very vocal, and usually better communicators. They have a special knack of understanding and relating to children (because they are designed to be mothers) which men find comparatively difficult. Men talk mainly to exchange information, and tend to focus on one subject at a time. But women talk not only to exchange information, but also they have a higher agenda of building relationships with practically everyone they come across (even if they are not consciously aware of it). They would feel more 'secure' if they have more friends who would be there to help them if they need help.

Husbands usually get confused with the number of things their wives flit from one to another during a conversation and wonder why they can't just stick to the subject under discussion! It may help to realise that women have their own logical connection among all the things they talk about--usually they all are related to the same feeling(!). This also explains why they sometimes bring up something from the historic past which the husbands feel have been already dealt with and put away! Sometimes when they are trying to resolve some issue in their minds, they will keep on talking about many different things while they are also thinking in their mind about their problem! Men should learn to ignore this apparently disconnected train of thought, because ultimately the women will come around to their original subject. If you have enough of a relationship with your wife you can talk with her about these things so that she will also learn to avoid crowding out your mind with too many subjects.

Many women tend to talk around their feelings, using words such as 'always' and 'never' which the poor husbands take literally and get worked up! Many times wives will play hard to get, just for the satisfaction of seeing their husbands pursue them. It makes them feel wanted. At such times husbands should understand that their wives' "No" actually means, "Come on, persuade me."

Remember your wife will come to you and want to tell you everything that happened to her during the day. This is her way of making you her best friend (this comes from her childhood experience of best friends with whom she would exclusively share all her secrets) and also getting her pent up feelings and stress out of the way. She wants a shoulder to cry on. (If you don't give her that shoulder, don't get upset if she looks around for some other shoulder!) Usually a husband will figure out how her problems should be handled and tell her that straightaway, and cannot figure out why she is so upset with him instead of being thankful! Actually most of the time she knows the solution herself, and she was only looking for empathy from the husband.

The first thing in giving her an empathetic shoulder is to listen to her!
The first thing in giving her an empathetic shoulder is to listen to her!
Don't imagine that you can fool her with occasional grunts or un-huh while you are reading the paper or watching the TV. She wants to be sure that you are really interested in what she has to say. (Otherwise she will translate this as, "My husband doesn't love me.") Listen with a clear intention of understanding what she is telling you, along with what she feels about them. Occasionally ask her short questions to clarify your understanding (without interrogating her!). You can filter out in your mind a lot of unrelated stuff, but don't miss the main point--her feelings!

It can be difficult in the beginning to carry on a meaningful conversation without getting bored, upset or confused! But as you understand your wife better, you will find it easier to decipher all her codes! You must also remember that some investment of your time in spending with your wife listening to her will pay great dividends, especially later when you are sitting alone together after your children have moved out!

Enjoying sex with your wife
One of the most common complaints husbands have about their wives is that they are not cooperating enough in sex. (The most common complaint from the wives' side is that their husbands don't spend enough time with them to talk to them.) The usual reason is that men and women have different approaches to sex and they don't understand each other. Men get excited very easily and would like to get straightaway into a sexual intercourse. Husbands don't always realise that it is the emotional relationship that sets the mood for their wives for sex. Someone has rightly said that foreplay should start in the morning itself. Many husbands ignore this, and initiate sex in the night even when their wives are not in the mood, still insisting on getting a response from their wives. The wives don't enjoy it at all, and as a result the husbands put off their wives from having any further interest in sex! On the other hand, if husbands take care to build up a good, affectionate relationship with their wives and follow it up later with sex, both will enjoy it, and even the wives will want to have more of it! Read more about this at 'Sex with understanding'.

The sexual relationship is the ultimate expression of love between a husband and wife, and husbands should especially remember to use sex as a demonstration of their love for their wives, rather than a desire to get some thrill for themselves.
husbands should be conscious of wanting to make their wives happy at this time
This means that husbands should be conscious of wanting to make their wives happy at this time. A physiological fact that husbands and wives do not recognise many times is that men get excited much faster than women. As a result, husbands must 'slow down' and take more time to lead their wives to their excitement through loving words and various forms of foreplay before they actually start on the intercourse proper.

Since men are likely to be extra eager to have sex with their wives often that it may be necessary to remember that it would be very selfish to insist on having sex during certain times of their wives' periods, and also when they are tired, sick or out of sorts.

Remember that God has created sex to be enjoyed between husband and wife, and if you go about it in the right way, you can make it happen that way.

Families with working wives
It was after the Second World War when thousands of men lost their lives that women began in large numbers to take up the additional role as a breadwinner. The thrust of the so-called women's liberation movement also highlighted the rights of women who had been downtrodden by their husbands and society in general for centuries. However many women nowadays work outside their homes not out of necessity but as something that would give them additional meaning and value in life apart from the income. But what happens is that they are taking additional stress on themselves for which they are not naturally designed. It is no joke for a woman to shoulder (at least the major part of) the responsibility of running the home and bringing up children and then to also manage the stress of commuting and working in a (usually) male dominated workplace. The result of such a tightrope walk is physical exhaustion, less time than necessary for everything, tensions with the husband and the children, and finally a sense of guilt that she is not able to do a good job as a wife and mother. Husbands also get frustrated when their wives are usually not in a mood for sex because of their tiredness. It is a decision that families need to take, considering all the different aspects, whether wives need to go outside their homes to work. (Read more) If you decide that it is necessary for your family, then you, as a husband, should be willing to share a part of her burden at home so that she is not driven beyond her abilities and your family life does not suffer. If you think that she should take the additional role of part breadwinner, then you too must be willing to take an additional role of part homemaker! You can pitch in where your wife would need your help the most, whether it is in the kitchen, washing clothes, tidying up the house, taking care of the children, etc. If you can do this, you can minimise the possibility of your family life going haywire.

In laws
Some men are so possessive of their wives that they don't like their wives to spend any time with her parents. It is only natural that she feels great affection towards those with whom she has been close all these years. Of course it is also possible that husbands and wives have not learned how to move their loyalty from their parents to their spouse. The goal is for both to recognise that unless they make their marriage a higher priority than other relationships, it is going to invite many types of problems for them. One's spouse has to be given the highest priority over all other people in terms of closeness of relationship, sharing of heart, talking, planning and taking decisions together. You are now grown up people and you are not required to obey your parents, but you need to honour them by showing respect, providing for them and taking care of them if necessary, etc. What is needed is to discuss all such matters between husband and wife and come to a mutual plan and approach. This oneness of approach becomes all the more necessary if one or more of the old parents try to control your life or interfere in your decisions. You both have to stand together.

Children
Many marriages seem to go well till the first child comes along! Then many times the wife's whole attention is given to the baby, and the husband may feel out of place. Another problem is that parents begin to have favourites among the children, and create an unhealthy environment for them to grow up in.
A wise father will plan ahead, building up a friendly relationship with the children
It happens many times that the father and mother are divided in their approach to disciplining the children, one tending to be strict and the other lenient. (The kids are smart enough to notice this and take advantage!) When you know these things ahead of time, talk them over between yourselves at different times, and come to a common understanding. It can avoid a lot of unpleasant situations. As a father you should know that finally you are the head of the home, and even though your wife has a much greater share in dealing with the children, especially when they are young, you are ultimately responsible for their development. This means that you need to provide leadership for your wife and children by giving them a good model, planning for the things you need to do at different stages of their life, and providing them loving guidance at appropriate times. Many men make the mistake of handing over the entire responsibility of nurturing the children and teaching them godly values and behaviour to their wives, Sunday School, school teachers, etc., and wake up when teenage rebellion hits them on their face. Even then they blame the children for being the way they are. A wise father will plan ahead, building up a friendly relationship with the children by playing with them, encouraging them to talk to him, telling them stories, taking them out to teach them new concepts and skills, and coaching his children about the things they will face before they face them. Then they will feel like turning to him if and when they run into problems. Investing for children is not merely in terms of money, property or education, but also in a relationship that they will cherish, which will nourish, protect and guide them as they grown into maturity.

Finally, authority and submission
This can be a ticklish issue because there has been a lot of abuse and ignorance in this connection. Over the centuries many men have treated their wives practically like slaves or like second class human beings and on the other side there have been men who have handed over the leadership of the home to their wives. But God created human beings as men and women, not different from each other in worth or importance, but different in roles. Men and women are also created with capabilities suited for their roles. As husband and wife, there needs to be a companionship and partnership, where each fulfils some need in the other and both complement and supplement each other. In this way marriage becomes a partnership. God has appointed the husband as the head of the home simply because both husband and wife cannot be heads!

As a wise husband you need to remember that your wife is God's gift to you, not just as a physical person, but also as a psychological and spiritual companion.
Respect generates respect, and dictatorship generates rebellion.
She brings into your marriage a wealth of capabilities and experiences that can many times balance your outlook and decision making process. If you value her and consult with her to get her suggestions and viewpoints, you can be protected from many foolish decisions. If you respect her and show your affection and appreciation for her, she will in turn be helped to respect you and submit to you! (On the contrary if you flaunt your authority and demand unquestioning obedience you are setting yourself up for trouble!) Respect generates respect, and dictatorship generates rebellion. (Read Frequently Asked Questions on Authority and submission.)

You are the head of the home, but not for being a dictator but a guide, teacher and model who goes before the family.

Conclusion
Of course, these are only a few brief tips for you as a husband and a father. There are many more detailed write ups out there for you to read. If you have specific issues in your marriage, first try to discuss it with your wife--not wanting to pin the blame on her but trying to understand her and the things that hurt her. Then you could consider going for counselling. You can also write to me for clarifications on different aspects of your marriage. May the Lord bless you, your wife and children.

Please fill up a form if you would like to give me feedback or need counsel or prayer.

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