Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, podcaster and an author of several relationship books. Her popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaches millions of people each year. She and Gary Thomas recently coauthored “Married Sex: A Christian Couple’s Guide to Reimagining Your Love Life.” She and her husband, John, have four children and live in Pennsylvania.
How did you become someone who specializes in romantic relationship issues?
Fileta has seen God use her to help couples navigate their relationships.
“You find that a certain niche finds you. It’s almost like God brings you certain types of people,” Fileta said. “I was seeing so much marriage, relationship and singleness issues, like so many toxic relationships, and I’m talking about working primarily with believers.”
Fileta said a healthy marriage starts long before your wedding vows.
“God just put on my heart the importance of really zooming in on healthy relationships, starting with singles, because I feel like if you want to create healthy marriages, you have to start with healthy singles,” Fileta added. “We tend to focus so much on marriage ministry, but we fail to realize the importance of singles ministry and helping singles stand alone. Healthy people make healthy relationships.”
Fileta wants to help others experience how God has worked in her marriage.
“I had an unhealthy dating history, but mostly because I didn’t know who I was while standing alone. It wasn’t toxic; it just wasn’t the right guy,” she said. “I feel like my husband and I had such a rich dating season. When two people are actually healthy and following God, it just makes it so much better in the long haul. My passion came from my own positive experience.”
You’ve counseled thousands of couples over the years. What have you learned?
“So much of our problems in the present are actually rooted in pain from our past,” Fileta said. “We assume that when we come to Jesus all of those things are going to disappear—our wounds, hurts, trauma—but we don’t make that assumption with our physical health. When we come to Jesus, we don’t assume that all of the sudden our cholesterol is just right, but we make that assumption with our emotional health.”
Fileta finds that issues between couples aren’t marital problems per se.
“I think the health of our relationship reflects our individual health,” Fileta added. “Nobody likes to hear that. They just want to focus on ‘fix this marriage.’ There are two people that need to take some sort of ownership. I’m not saying it’s an even split every time, sometimes it’s a 90-10 split, but if you don’t have a role in the situation—whether it’s a small role or a big one—then you don’t have any control to change it. You could acknowledge, ‘I could have changed my tone, been more encouraging, set better boundaries, said no, expressed what I needed,’ otherwise you just get stuck.”
Talk about your new book, “Married Sex.”
Fileta said Song of Solomon, which is dedicated to marital intimacy, is unlike any other book in the Bible and shows how significant a healthy sex life is.
“On the one hand, in many religious cultures, we tend to underestimate sex as far as its intended good in marriage,” Fileta said. “We spend so much time in the church talking about the dangers and harms of sex before marriage, what not to do. It’s almost like this cloud of shame over the conversation with such little time talking about the joy and blessing of a healthy sex life in marriage.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Fileta said the world defines sex differently.
“The world uses sex as this power symbol, taking it out of the context of a healthy marriage and just kind of flaunting it,” Fileta added. “They’re taking away the holiness of sex and saying sex is for all. It doesn’t have much meaning, just do what feels good like any other appetite and fill it.”
Fileta said because many Christian couples don’t know where to turn to learn about healthy sex, she hopes “Married Sex” serves as a handbook for couples with questions.
“I always tell people just because you wait doesn’t make it great,” she said. “You wait because of what it does in you—the character that God’s creating in you—but that’s not a promise that sex is just going to automatically be great. It’s a learning process. I don’t think there are enough resources out there to help Christians have a thriving sex life.”
What are some indications that a couple has a healthy sex life?
Though every marriage is unique, Fileta said there are a few points of reference for each couple.
1. “Sexpectations”: The beliefs we have entering marriage can cause problems in the bedroom, such as you won’t have any problems because you waited until your wedding day.
2. Emotional and spiritual connection: Struggles with sex are often a symptom of a deeper relational problem, like an unaddressed conflict, a lack of transparency or no emotional intimacy. “I think sometimes we expect our sex life to look the same in every season and that’s not realistic, but what is realistic is that our connection stays strong and grows over time,” Fileta said.
3. Anatomy: “If you think about it, how many couples have gotten a decent primer about the physical anatomy of the opposite sex before marriage?” Fileta added. “There’s a lack of understanding and awareness for how our bodies work and what we need that prevents us from having a healthy sex life.”