When We Did THIS in Bed It Changed Everything

Nope, that headline isn’t clickbait. This post from Juli at Intimacy in Marriage really is about sex. Enjoy!

When my beloved and I said our vows, we had never had sex with each other.

In those first few months (and even first few years, really) of our marriage, we had much desire (and much lovemaking), but little sexual variety.

I think we were just trying to figure out being naked together.

The idea of trying anything beyond the basics we had already mastered didn’t cross our minds.  Our sexual repertoire was narrow, and we settled into a pattern of predictable (albeit frequent) lovemaking.

Don’t get me wrong. We were definitely sexually satisfied. But we had not found true sexual freedom in our bed.

Do you know what changed everything and made sex better for us?

We became comfortable enough in our own skin to try new sexual techniques and talk about what we liked.

I know.

Sounds simple enough, all written out in one concise sentence, right? But wow is there a plethora of truth in that sentence.

Comfortable enough in our own skin to try new sexual techniques and talk about what we liked.

When we let go of the idea that there are only a few ways to please each other sexually, it transformed sexual intimacy in our marriage.

And we started having a lot of fun making love, and connecting with deeper oneness that I knew was different than we had experienced in our first few years of marriage.

It’s not that we haven’t had our share of sexually difficulty in our marriage, because we have.  BUT what has carried us through is that we have a deep understanding of what it takes to bring each other intense sexual pleasure and nurture closeness.

We are turned on by turning each other on.

That understanding in our bed is profound.

And we would have missed out on that level of sexual enjoyment and connection if we hadn’t embraced — even pursued — the freedom God gives a husband and wife in the exclusivity of their sexual intimacy.

Trying new ways to arouse each other and please each other sexually may be as simple as new ways of touching, new positions, undressing for each other or making love with more light in the room.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about doing anything that would compromise your exclusivity (there is no room nor need for third parties in your lovemaking, no pornography, no illicit behavior).  And certainly I’m not talking about one spouse demanding or forcing certain sexual acts.

Nope.

God has always intended sexual intimacy to be a place of respect, mutuality and sacred covenant.

What I am talking about is taking great liberty in exploring your husband’s body and inviting him to explore yours.

Our capacity to give and receive pleasure is multi-faceted because what appeals to our senses is multi-faceted.

Are you ever surprised by what you find arousing?

In that surprise, we can be tempted to downplay or even run from the arousal, overwhelmed by the exhilaration of maybe something we have never before felt. Don’t run from it. Believe instead that it is sweet privilege for a husband and wife to please each other and find mutual enjoyment in making love.

This is your marriage bed, after all.

Exclusive ground for the two of you alone to explore each other, share, talk, touch, climax.  Exclusive ground to feel valued, desired and enthralled with sexual connection.

What will it take for you to become comfortable enough in your own skin to try new sexual techniques and talk about what you like?

When you do that in bed, it just might change everything.

10 Ways to Avoid Being Married to a Stranger

One of the challenges in marriage is that you can’t say “okay, we’ve arrived, let’s coast from here on out!” Today’s post from Scott Kedersha is full of great advice on how to keep learning in to your marriage, giving it the fuel it needs to move forward. Hope you enjoy!
Bill and Nicole recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. They have three kids (girl, boy, girl) ages 6, 3, and nine months. They love each other and they love the Lord, but something’s not right.

Work has never been busier for Bill—he’s doing great at the company and making more money every year. He travels a few nights most weeks, but he’s on the path to becoming a partner in a few years. He has some good friendships, but as work gets busier, so does the rest of life. Between soccer and t-ball games, his weekends are shot along with the rest of the week.

Likewise, life’s never been busier for Nicole. Between responsibilities as the kindergarten homeroom mom, potty training their three-year-old, and occasional sleepless nights with their baby, she’s had it. She’s thankful for her community of friends (most of whom are also moms of young kids), but she knows there’s a growing gap in her marriage with Bill.

Change the names and change the details, but Bill and Nicole look like countless couples I’ve met over the last 12 years in marriage ministry. As the kids get older and life gets busier, many couples drift apart. Their once-adventurous lives are now marked by boredom, apathy, and complacency. They go from being best friends and setting records in the bedroom to roommates who pay bills and raise kids together. And by raising kids, what I really mean is that they take turns running carpool, driving kids around to activities, and doing their laundry and baths. They roll along from one week to the next, and the slow fade sets in, week after week drawing closer to divorce or a lifeless marriage.

On the outside, they look like they have it all together, but on the inside, they’re falling apart. The focus is no longer on the Lord or each other, but on their kids and maintaining an image. Sure, their marriage isn’t nearly as bad as some of their friends, but at the current drift, they’re not far behind.

We’d never guess this cautionary tale could become our story as well.

We need to stay engaged in our marriage

Last month I did a reader survey and asked the following question:

What would you ask me if you were sitting across the table from me?

One of my favorite responses/questions was this question: “How do you and your wife stay engaged?” Several others asked similar questions or expressed their challenges with staying connected with their spouse. It’s a whole lot easier when we first get married, but when you add kids, weekend soccer games, and birthday parties, the opportunities become much less prevalent. The tyranny of the urgent wins out, and the margin to connect with your spouse gets crowded out.

You may not have children but can still find yourself disengaged from your spouse in your marriage. You can either react down the road and try to fix your marriage, or you can be proactive. Today I want to share with you 10 ways to proactively stay engaged in your marriage. Nothing I share is new or different and it’s not rocket science. But, if you don’t stay engaged, you’re just a few small steps from the marriage you never wanted.

10 Ways to Stay Engaged in Your Marriage

1. Daily connection with your spouse.

Make time, every day, to connect with your spouse. Whether it’s intentional communication time, bible study together in the morning, or a walk around the neighborhood at night, find the time to be together with your spouse every single day.

Be curious. Ask your spouse questions. Be a student of your spouse. Here are a few fun questions/examples:

  • What movie do you want to see and why?
  • What are you reading right now for fun?
  • What’s your favorite part of the current season (i.e., spring)?
  • Where do we want to go on our next vacation (with kids or without)?
  • What made you smile or laugh today?
  • What’s God teaching you right now?
  • What’s one restaurant you really want to go to on our next date night?

2. Have a weekly meeting.

We’re such big advocates of the weekly meeting. Every Sunday, Kristen and I sit down together and go over our schedules for the week and make decisions about who’s bringing which kids when and where. We still connect every day, but the weekly meeting allows us to proactively get in tune with our schedules and marriages.

3. Engage with others.

Don’t do life alone. We’re in a community group with four other couples who we love and who love us. We challenge and encourage each other and ask each other hard questions. When we struggle in our marriage, we bring in our community group because we know they love and care for us. If you’re living life apart from community, you’re missing out on one of God’s greatest gifts (see Proverbs 13:20).

Check out this post I wrote on community about a year ago – 3 Questions to Ask Your Community Group Every Time You Meet.

4. Attend re|engage.

re|engage is an incredible marriage ministry we started at Watermark to help couples reconnect, reignite, or resurrect their marriages. Many couples come to re|engage after infidelity or other marriage crises. But, re|engage is also a safe place for any couple to improve and enrich their marriage. Why would you not take every opportunity possible to grow your marriage?

5. Pray with your spouse, as often as you can.

One of the most beneficial and healthy habits of happily married couples is they pray together, often. I know it’s tough and can sometimes be awkward, but one of the best ways to prevent your marriage from entering into the slow fade towards boredom and complacency is to pray together. When we pray, we engage each other’s hearts.

Check out the free ebook 5 Habits of a Healthy Marriage, by Ryan and Selena Frederick of Fierce Marriage. One of their top five habits is to pray for each other, out loud and together. Grab each other’s hands and face each other, praying for any and every or your spouse’s cares, concerns, and dreams.

6. Laugh, have fun, and date one another.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I love to talk about the importance of dating your spouse (see Ecclesiastes 9:9a). We’re all so serious and uptight. I’m the chief sinner in this regard! A regular date allows you time to have fun and enjoy the gift you have in your spouse.

Download my free date night, guide, 124 Killer Date Night Ideas.

Along these lines, make sure you’re not dominated by your cell phone. Create time and space for conversation and fun with your spouse, and pay attention to each other by putting those phones away (preaching to the choir here!).

7. Feed your marriage.

Just like you water your plants and feed your pets, you must tend to and feed your marriage. What are you doing to grow your marriage and to provide it with the fuel it so desperately needs?

You can read books (might I suggest something like Cherish by Gary Thomas or Fierce Marriage by Ryan & Selena Frederick – their book comes out April 17th and has some fantastic pre-order bonuses!), study the Bible together, or go to a marriage conference or take a class together as a couple. Find ways to strengthen and grow your marriage.

8. Have sex, or said in a better way, make love. Often.

One of the most effective ways to better engage with your spouse is to make love, often. We connect in such a unique way when we’re physically intimate with each other. There’s nothing like sexual intimacy in marriage. It may only take up 0.625% of married life, but it’s an integral part of the marriage relationship.

9. Serve together.

Use your gifts to serve, host, and care for others. We serve together in a few different ways, but our favorite is leading a small group of newlyweds. Every week, six newlywed couples come over our home and we talk about marriage, life, friendships, and so much more. It’s one of the highlights of our week and is a great way for us to pour into other couples. In the process, we’re forced to work on our marriage so we can help lead others well.

10. Be on mission together.

Our marriages are supposed to be a picture of God’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). One reliable way to stay engaged in your marriage is to have a united vision and mission in your marriage. As a couple, we seek to love others, raise our kids, engage neighbors, share our faith, and so much more. When we work together on a common mission, we realize life is about so much more than our selfish desires or comforts.

Now What?

You and I both know we don’t drift towards one another or towards engagement. Rather, in our laziness and lack of intentionality, we drift towards isolation and disengagement. What can you do, today, to move towards each other?

I’ve given you a list of 10 ways and I know there are more. Today, choose one way to engage your spouse. The last thing you want is to one day down the road realize you’ve drifted far from the Lord and far from your spouse.

How can you disengage from your spouse? Easy. Do nothing (or do the opposite of the 10 ways listed above).

Your Turn:

What else would you suggest? How do you and your spouse stay engaged with each other so that you don’t drift towards boredom and complacency?

Why You’re Overlooking Your Marriage’s Biggest Flaw

When we forget that evil exists within our own hearts; indeed, when we stop ordering our thinking and feeling around God and begin to live to please ourselves, we open the door to all kinds of evil in our marriage, especially the evil we are most likely to be unaware of or excuse: the evil of self-obsession.

We don’t like to talk about this evil as it pertains to us (though we’ll talk plenty about our spouse’s failures in this regard), but silence and ignorance is where evil grows. If we don’t recognize the existence of evil and guard against it we’ll never find a cure for it.

Instead, we’ll just explain it away or blame others for it.

Dallas Willard talks about how “We are like farmers who diligently plant crops but cannot admit the existence of weeds and insects and can only think to pour on more fertilizer. Similarly, the only solution we know to human problems today is ‘education.’”

Educating an evil person without regard to evil doesn’t remove the evil; it simply makes him or her cleverer in spreading their evil.

If I get all kinds of marital education and knowledge but never confront the evil self-obsession that lies within my heart, I’ll use that knowledge (my spouse’s love language, for instance) as a weapon rather than a blessing. I’ll employ her love language to get my way rather than to bless her.

Denial

The most popular path among Christians to deal with our evil self-obsession is to deny that it exists, or at least that it is motivating us. In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard warns that “denial—usually in some form of rationalization—is the primary device that humans use to deal with their own wrongness.”

This is universal. Every married person reading this is in some way a bit in denial about the evil lingering in their heart that is negatively affecting their marriage.

Personal evil is so painful and difficult to admit that we are tempted to transfer the evil to others. We don’t think of ourselves as angry spouses; we think our spouse is wrong in lighting the spark that makes us angry.

A man doesn’t think of himself as lustful and unfaithful. He thinks of his wife as cold or preoccupied or neglectful.

A woman doesn’t think of herself as critical. She just thinks of her husband as a doofus.

The Cure

Evil is best confronted by ordering our minds and hearts around the presence and will of God. Evil is coddled when we forget God is God and try to set ourselves up as God.

This is where self-obsession assumes its throne. It is nothing less than evil for me to try to turn my wife into a “love Gary as he likes to be loved” machine. That’s narcissism. God calls her to seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). Here’s the question to ask if you want to know how much you are directed by God and how much you are motivated by hidden selfish evil in your marriage: do you spend more time praying for your spouse’s relationship and service to God or more time praying about how they need to become a better spouse to you?

Edith Schaeffer wrote, “The philosophy of living with an underlying motive of doing everything for one’s own personal peace and comfort rapidly colors everything that might formerly have come under the heads of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’… If one’s peace, comfort, way of life, convenience, reputation, opportunities, job, happiness, or even ease is threatened, ‘just abort it.’”

When my life isn’t ordered around God, I fiercely resent being inconvenienced. I’m driven to do what I want to do, what I think is best for me, and my wife will pay the heaviest price for my evil self-obsession.

According to Dallas Willard, “Self-idolatry rearranges the entire spiritual and moral landscape. It sees the whole universe with different eyes…The fundamental pride of putting oneself at the center of the universe is the hinge upon which the entire world of the ruined self turns.” He quotes John Calvin, who said that “the surest source of destruction in men is to obey themselves.”

Husband and wife: will you realize that self-obsession may be the biggest threat to you and your marriage’s happiness? If we do not admit that this is evil, if we are not aware of and do not actively confront the evil of self-obsession, that evil will make us and our marriages miserable. It is so much easier and feels so much safer to talk about the evils of others rather than our own. Dallas Willard again: “It is common today to hear Christians talk of their ‘brokenness.’ But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them.”

When I understand how evil I am and how evil I can yet be, and that evil begins with self-obsession, I am more determined to order my life around God’s word and will and, just as importantly, release my wife to do the same. I will seek out the Scriptures to understand his heart. I will submit my thinking and actions in a way that proclaims in fact, not just in word, “You are my Lord and my God” and “You are my wife’s Lord and God.”

One of the best gifts you can give your spouse is to be ruthless about admitting and discarding the evil in your own heart, beginning with the evil of self-obsession.

 

[Note: this post could be harmful to men and women married to abusive spouses who have given themselves over to evil. While all of us need to explore and discharge the evil in our hearts, some spouses need to be saved from an evil, oppressive situation. If you suspect that may be the case with you, please seek other counsel. This teaching is for those who want to save their marriage, not for those who need to be saved from their marriage.]

What Christian Couples Can Learn From “Sleeping With Married Men”

Here at Thriving Marriages, we present marriage tips from a Christian worldview. But it’s really cool when we can look at what the world at large thinks about marriage and fidelity and turn it on it’s head and learn from it. That’s why I (Jenny) loved this article from Elizabeth Trotter, a wife, mom, and missionary. Elizabeth read a New York Times article by a self-proclaimed “other woman” and learned just how even Christians can cripple their relationships by not communicating about sex. Elizabeth’s  breakdown is eye-opening, and I hope, inspiring and motivating for all of us who read it.

The New York Times recently published an article by Karin Jones entitled, “What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity.” A friend shared it, and I read it. I found I had a lot to say about it, so I commented on my friend’s Facebook share, where it received so much positive feedback that I thought I’d share it here. But my response will make more sense if you take the time to read the article first.

My worldview obviously differs from the author’s – in fact I might say it diverges greatly – but I think she makes some important observations. My thoughts on this subject are influenced, of course, by nearly 18 years of marriage. But they are also greatly informed by my husband’s readings on relationships and sex.

sleeping with married men

Before you think that sounds too weird, let me explain why he reads extensively about these issues: he works with a lot of couples in his pastoral counseling ministry. For the record, I don’t know who any of his clients are; I only know about the ideas in his books. (The only exception to this would be when a client of his walks up to me and announces, “Your husband is my counselor.” This is not frequent but has occasionally been known to happen.)

And now that I’ve finished all my caveats, we can move on to my thoughts about the New York Times article.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What I learned from sleeping with married men (the article, ahem)

I know it might sound crazy to say this, but I think a lot of “Christian” wisdom is not super helpful to marriage and that we can learn from “secular” or research-based sources. First off, sex is more important to a marriage than we in Christian circles sometimes like to think. Dr. Barry McCarthy, author of the 2015 book Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, claims that a counselor simply cannot afford to treat only the communication/relationship aspect of a marriage and assume good sex will follow.

Rather, McCarthy claims, sex must be addressed separately and intentionally, in addition to other relationship needs. Sex is too important to the marriage for a counselor to be silent on the issue. And it’s highly complex and individual. This is part of the reason it needs purposeful addressing, though even many counselors are uncomfortable talking about it.

The research shows that couples in America are having less and less sex, with a good percentage (around 15%) being in what is considered a “sexless marriage” (sex 10 times a year or less). The research also shows that when a couple stops having sex, it’s more often the husband’s decision, not the wife’s (this information was also found in McCarthy’s book, where he quotes H. Feldman’s 1994 article in the Journal of Urology).

The fact that sexlessness was primarily dependent on the man was news to me as women often get slandered in culture for being “frigid.” This mischaracterization seems key to common “Christian” teaching that women want affection and connection, while men want sex. Research shows that this traditional approach is unhelpful in the sexual arena: women want good sex too. This is something the author of the New York Timesarticle touched on and something proponents of the traditional view often neglect. God made us all sexual beings, and satisfying sex is important for both spouses in a marriage.

Another aspect of relationships that the article’s author noted was that men do not just want sex. They want connection and affection as well. Maybe it’s modern American culture, or maybe it’s American “Christian” culture, or maybe it’s both, but men are sometimes expected to be emotionless and connectionless in favor of more “manly” behavior.

If you want support for that claim, you can listen to this radio program about the way men’s human needs are marginalized in modern American culture. I think the church needs to push back against this aspect of mainstream culture and show a better way — one based in our foundational beliefs of a relational Godhead and of humans created in God’s image. The Bible is actually good news for culture, even when culture accuses it of being otherwise.

This artificial differentiation between men’s needs and women’s needs is unhelpful for marriage and society in general. Men are images of God as well as women, and God is a relational God. Men and women both want loving, secure attachments, and men and women both want satisfying sex. I wish we didn’t have some of these stereotypes, stereotypes I learned before marriage as important for maintaining a happy marriage: a man should give his wife the affection she so desires, so that she will be more willing to give him the sex he so desires.

(In my mind this teaching is parallel to the teaching that women only need love and men need respect, which I believe is categorically untrue. Both men and women need both love and respect, and behaving otherwise treats human beings as too one-dimensional and cheats them both of intimacy and relational fulfillment. But I digress.)

The Bible does not even support this idea of “his needs, her needs” or “women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex.” The woman in Song of Solomon showed strong sexual desire and initiation. Paul, often accused of being misogynistic (though I no longer think he was), told married couples that sex goes both ways — the wife’s body belongs to her husband, and the husband’s body belongs to his wife’s. Meaning: the woman has desire too. Men aren’t the only ones who want sex. It seems to me that sex is actually a place in marriage where our theology gets worked out, but we rarely think about it that way.

I do appreciate the author’s note that even the urge to have an affair could be the beginning of an important conversation in marriage. Of course we as Christians believe this: temptation does not inevitably lead to sin. Temptation can be a wake-up moment and lead to increased marital intimacy, but only if we, like the author suggests, are willing to be honest with ourselves and with our spouses.

If we desire something we are not currently experiencing, we need to talk to our spouses about it, and not (if the Bible is our authority) seek out extramarital affairs. Research from the Gottman Institute indicates that being able to talk about sexual issues is essential to sexual satisfaction:  “Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.”

Meaning: if you can’t talk about sex with each other, the likelihood that you’re having mutually satisfying sex is pretty low. But, like Jones explains in her article, talking about sex can be risky. You might find out something about yourself that you don’t want to know. You might feel rejected. And that was apparently too high a risk for the married men she was sleeping with.

Esther Perel, who is referenced in the article, has a fascinating TED talk on the interplay and tension between love and desire. I’ve actually watched it several times as I believe its vocabulary is helpful. It may not be specifically Christian teaching, but there is nothing anti-biblical about it. It frames the monogamy conversation better than it has sometimes been framed, and I encourage you to watch it (TED talks are, after all, fairly short).

The Bible seems to indicate that the intimacy — including sexual intimacy — that we can experience in marriage is only a small picture of God’s love for us and what He intends for us to experience with Him for all eternity. So it only makes sense that Satan would attack our sexuality as it is intended to be lived out, both before marriage and in marriage.

Our cultures are obsessed with sex, but according to research, few people are actually having mutually emotionally and physically satisfying sex. So the ways we as a culture are seeking sexual fulfillment are not working. We’re seeking it in all the wrong ways. Sometimes because terrible things have been done to us, sometimes because we have simply believed the culture’s (Satan’s) lies. There are a myriad of reasons our sexuality gets broken in this world.

If we care about our own marriages and the marriages of our children, if we care about the marriages in the future Church, sex cannot be some taboo topic that we think will work itself out in silence. It won’t. It needs specific cultivating and sometimes outside help (in the form or medication or therapy), and there is absolutely no shame in seeking help and wholeness for a part of our lives that is not thriving.

But if we feel ashamed of needing help, we won’t seek it. So if this article can do any good in the world, I hope it can empower people in marriage whose sex life is less than they desire, to seek out help somewhere. I believe seeking healing is worth it.

References:

What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity, by Karin Jones for New York Times.

The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship, a 20-minute TED talk by Esther Perel

Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, by Barry McCarthy.

Couples That Talk About Sex Have Better Sex, by Kyle Benson for Gottman Institute.

How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men, a 48-minute program by Shankar Vedantam for NPR

From Jonathan: On Making Love (book recommendations about sex)

Other articles Jonathan and I have written about sex and marriage 

Running on Empty? Here’s How to Keep Your Marriage’s Fuel Tank Full

Today’s marriage tip comes from Patrick Schwenk as a guest blogger for Gary Thomas’s site. It leads to a great question: what’s one way you can make your spouse’s life easier today?  

I (Patrick) have a bit of a reputation for running out of gas, perhaps because I once read an article that said gas pumps have more germs than a toilet seat. I don’t know how many germs that is, but it’s enough for me not to want to touch either one too often. Or maybe it’s because it takes time to slow down, stop, and fill up. Whatever the reason, I don’t enjoy stopping for gas, which is why I run out so often.

Some experts say you can drive your car at least forty miles after your gas light comes on. My “research” would say that is fairly accurate—some cars more and others less. Normal people pull over and refuel long before the warning light comes on, but not me. I once pushed my motorcycle beyond the forty-mile test limit. I lost—again. If anything has come close to motivating me to change my ways, it was walking my Harley for just over a mile through our neighborhood and past our neighbor who hates Harleys and loves Yamahas. Exhausting and embarrassing!

My problem with running out of gas took on a whole new meaning once I became a dad fourteen years ago. I soon discovered and would learn over and over again that parenting is a gas guzzler. Surviving the transition from married couple to married with kids requires a lot of energy. Living out God’s purpose for marriage and family is exhausting. Trying to do it well often leaves us running on empty.

One of the biggest reasons we find ourselves running low on fuel is because of self-neglect.

Most couples who have been running on self-neglect for too long feel weary…they have pretty much run out of gas. So the encouragement in Galatians 6:2 to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” is a key principle for protecting each other during the season of being married with kids.

The Greek word translated as “carry” means to “put upon one’s self, to lift up, or carry what is burdensome.” It conveys the idea of coming alongside and lightening the load for another person. When we carry another’s burden, we take that burden on ourselves. We share the load so that the other person doesn’t suffer alone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who spoke out boldly against Hitler, wrote that Christians “must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.”

Bonhoeffer was saying that relationships in the real world, especially Christian relationships, come with responsibility. Jesus calls us to do some heavy lifting for one another. Marriage in particular comes with a charge to “carry each other’s burdens.” Our spouse is not “an object to be manipulated”; rather we are called to “endure” and even “suffer” for and with each other.

That is a convicting statement! We might not come out and say we see our spouse as “an object to be manipulated,” but how often do we look to get something from our spouse instead of looking out for our spouse?  One way we can love our spouse is by attempting to lighten the load when our spouse is running on empty.

Protecting our spouse requires that we provide strength when our spouse is weak or struggling.

In which areas of your marriage and parenting are you struggling most right now?

What specific things can you do to help your spouse carry the burden and avoid self-neglect?

5 Powerful Reasons to Suck it Up and Say “I Was Wrong”

No one likes admitting they’re wrong, but Juli’s post today @ Authentic Intimacy makes it a little bit easier. I especially like her point about “black and white thinking.” Hope you enjoy! 

If you are old enough to recall the sitcom Happy Days, you’ll remember “The Fonz.” Henry Winkler played the character of Arthur Fonzarelli, the coolest guy in town. The Fonz in his leather jacket and perfect hair could get all the ladies with the snap of his fingers. Despite his bad-boy persona, the Fonz was a warm-hearted guy who could surprise you with sage advice. But the Fonz had one fatal flaw: he could never admit that he was wrong. In those rare cases when he erred, Fonz would humorously try to say, “I was wwwrrrr . . . ” or “I’m sssoorr . . .” but couldn’t finish his statement.

Do you know anyone like that? At work, in marriage, and in friendship, they simply never own up to their mistakes. They may even be overly kind or generous for a period of time as an unspoken way of making up for faults, but the words, “I was wrong” will never cross their lips.

It never feels good to apologize or own up to our failings. Most of us can get the words “I’m sorry” out of our mouths, but we quickly follow with an explanation of why we were justified in our actions. Or we follow an apology with making the case that the other person has even more to apologize for.

Admitting your faults isn’t the same as giving into them. We all know people who excuse their destructive behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am. Deal with it!” This attitude actually discounts the harm their behavior causes and also neglects God’s call for us to pursue the perfection of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we are all called to embrace a humble spirit that seeks true reconciliation when we’ve done something wrong or hurtful.

Getting Past Black and White Thinking

The biggest barrier to being honest with our faults is destructive thinking that often plagues us. Admitting, “I was wrong” can be the first domino that triggers a downward spiral of negative thoughts. “I was wrong” leads to “I’m a terrible person,” which leads to “how can anyone love me,” which leads to “I hate myself,” which leads to “God must hate me.”

Although it’s illogical, admitting a mistake or fault can feel like accepting the blame for everything that’s wrong with your marriage, your children, or your workplace. A woman often believes that admitting her faults as a wife would mean letting her husband completely off the hook for his offenses. No wonder we don’t want to say, “I’m sorry” if it ends in conclusions like these! But why do logical, intelligent people fall into this trap?

I don’t mean this to sound patronizing, but the core of the issue is that we haven’t moved past the black and white reasoning of pre-adolescence. Think about the cartoon and movie characters represented in children’s shows. There are good guys and bad guys, villains and superheroes, cops and robbers. Pre-adolescent minds have great difficulty holding together the concept that people aren’t all good or all bad. A small child being disciplined feels incredible shame for his misbehavior. He goes beyond, “I did something bad” and believes “I am something bad.” For a while, he may fear that he has lost his parents’ love.

As we grow, we develop the intellectual capacity to accept that people are never all good or all bad. Your best friend is capable of doing something cruel, and a selfish person is capable of an act of kindness. While we have the intellectual ability to understand this, sometimes we lack the emotional maturity to apply it to ourselves. Even as full-grown adults, we can fall into black and white thinking. “I made a mistake” all of a sudden gets blown into “I must be a terrible employee. I can’t do anything right!”

Moving Toward Maturity

Like every other person on the planet, you are limited and sinful. So stop pretending that you’re not! I remember several years ago getting showered at the gym when I had my period. I was coyly trying to hide my tampon in the bundle of clothes I carried to the shower. A kind lady stopped me and pointed out that I had dropped the tampon. I was very embarrassed, but why? The irony of it hit me. I was in the women’s locker room surrounded by other women who have a period every month. Why was I ashamed to admit that I was normal?

We do the same thing, trying to hide the obvious fact that we are human, sinful, and fallen. Why am I embarrassed when I can’t remember someone’s name? Why do I deny the fact that I get grumpy and can be difficult to live with? Why am I offended when someone points out the negative qualities I know to be true about myself?

Maturity means accepting your faults and limitations but rejoicing in God’s grace that he loves you and uses you in spite of yourself. Learning to be honest with your faults and failures can impact your life in five significant ways.

1. You can only change what you are responsible for.

When you blame others for your circumstances, you are a victim of their choices. When you step up and own your contribution, you can do something to improve things. If the problems in your marriage are 100 percent your husband’s fault, you’re helpless. But if you own your piece of the dysfunction, guess what. You have the power to make an impactful change in your marriage.

2. God gets the glory for every success.

When you are open about your failings and limitations, others around you can give glory to God when good things happen. For example, the more aware I am of my failings as a mom, the more grateful I am for the Lord’s work in my children’s lives. When my children thrive, I know it’s not because I’m such a great mom; it’s because He is such a gracious God.

3. Confession is contagious.

We often avoid asking for forgiveness because we think it will give the other person a free pass for their part in the problem. Ironically, when we are truly honest and repentant, we allow room for the Holy Spirit to convict the other person. Defensiveness is contagious and so is confession. Like a game of tug-of-war, when you let go of the battle of blame, the other person is stuck holding the rope.

4. You don’t have to pretend anymore.

How much emotional energy do you spend trying to convince everyone (including yourself) that you have it all together? Just get it out there . . . “I’m an anxious person.” “I have a short temper.” “I’m forgetful.” “I’m a sinful, fallen human being, but I’m asking God to change me.”

5. You’re growing up.

David wrote, “Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine” (Psalm 141:5). Taking responsibility for your mistakes is not a sign of weakness but an indication of great inner-personal strength. A major benchmark of emotional and relational maturity is the ability to admit fault and even ask for constructive criticism.

I’m convinced that our unwillingness to acknowledge our faults is a serious illness within the body of Christ. Whether it is disagreements between denominations or within a marriage, a humble heart allows the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. Our stubbornness and defensiveness grieves the Holy Spirit and prevents his work from creating deep love and unity among God’s children.

5 Ways to Keep the Romance Alive and Thriving

I (Josh) have been working here at Thriving Marriages for awhile, which means I’ve read a LOOOT of blog posts about marriage. When I looked at today’s post from Rachel Lee at Be Thee Inspired, I thought “oh, another one of these,” but then Rachel went DEEP on this topic, including some really practical “how to” suggestions that I thought our TM community had to have! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Like many women today, my introduction to romance first came by way of the movies.

I recall watching the movie, Say Anything, for the first time as a teenager. You know the one.

The one where John Cusack’s character professes his love for his high school girlfriend by standing outside her bedroom window, holding up an 80’s size boom box, blaring Peter Gabriel’s famous love song, In Your Eyes…and every teenage girl across the world swooned.

Years later there was, Jerry McGuire. The movie where Tom Cruise’ character- on the brink of a divorce- finally comes to his senses, and in a desperate attempt to win back the heart of his wife, shows up at her house unannounced to a living room full of man-hating women, and whispers the infamous line repeated by sentimental’s a thousand times since- “you complete me.” There was not a dry eye left in the room.

And who could ever forget Nicholas Sparks’ movie, The Notebook? The captivating love story of Noah and Allie’s whirlwind romance that left discontented women from all walks of life, longing for something more.

As women, we are naturally bent towards romance. I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with that. We are made in the image of God after all, and I personally believe my romantic flare, helps me to experience a greater depth of intimacy with the Lord, that is uncommon to most men.

But if we are not careful, we can allow our desire for romance- and possibly the lack thereof in our marriage– to lead us into dangerous territory.

Thus why it is so important that we make the effort to cultivate and maintain, romance in our marriage.

If the romance in your marriage is feeling a little lackluster lately, try implementing the following ideas.

I call them my Top 5 for Keeping Romance Alive!

My Top 5 for Keeping Romance Alive

 

 Prayer.

How often do you pray for your marriage? As christians, we might assume that this is just a given. But let’s be honest with ourselves, and each other– when was the last time you prayed for your marriage? Really prayed?

I admit that I don’t do this as often as I should. But when I do, I notice a major- and almost instantaneous– difference! 

There is power in prayer!

James 5:16 exhorts,

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”

Don’t forego the practice of prayer in your marriage. It is the best possible thing you can do for one another.

Not sure what to pray for? Here are a few prompts that will help to get you started.

  • Pray that there will be mutual respect in your marriage.
  • Pray for grace to be lavishly extended, and forgiveness freely given.
  • Pray that your love for one another would continue to grow and not become stagnant.
  • Pray for God to protect the marriage bed, by guarding your heart’s and mind’s against temptation.
  • Pray for endurance to last until the end- in sickness and in health– through every trial that may come your way.

Dating.

Try making date night a regular part of your marriage. Life can be so full and so busy, that it’s easy to start overlooking the importance of this practice.

Every couple needs time to reconnect, otherwise it’s easy to merely become two ships that pass in the night. And nobody wants that.

Chances are when you first started dating your, (now spouse), you couldn’t wait to spend time together! You probably looked forward to seeing one another with great anticipation, and if it wasn’t possible to meet in person, you most likely spent time talking on the phone.

Why does the excitement have to wane once you’re married? It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. 

Make an effort to set aside time for just the two of you. You won’t regret it!

Give these ideas a go!

  • Learn something new together- take a cooking class, a pottery class, or a shooting class.
  • Be childlike- go to the arcade, or the carnival. Go bowling, or play putt putt golf.
  • Feeling adventurous? Why not go river rafting, or zip-lining, or play paintball.
  • Invite a few friends to join you at a restaurant with live music, dance, or sing karaoke.
  • If you can’t get a sitter, or if you’re on a tight budget, then stay in- have a candlelight dinner, put on some soft music and slow dance in the living room. Or better yet, have a camp out! Pitch a tent, roast some marshmellows, and stargaze in your backyard.

Get creative! Who ever said dating our spouse has to become monotonous and boring?

Intimacy.

At the start of wedded bliss, intimacy usually comes easily. Over time, however, intimacy in marriage can diminish dramatically. Especially if you’ve had children.

But intimacy is vital to keeping the romance in marriage alive. If this crucial aspect of your marriage is absent or unsatisfying, then you may find yourself being tempted to look for it elsewhere. This is dangerous ground, friend.

That is why Paul warns against this.

Do not deprive one another, except  perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again, so that satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5)

Intimacy provides a closeness that every marriage needs in order to protect against temptation, and to help it to thrive.

What’s more is that there are physical and psychological benefits of intimacy, to boot!

It is proven that intimacy reduces stress, encourages brain cell growth, improves immunity, creates deeper connection, boosts sense of well-being, burns calories, lowers blood pressure, and a multitude of other benefits.

Studies show that intimacy actually makes you look younger and it lengthens your overall lifespan.

The benefits of intimacy in marriage are not merely reduced to the act of intercourse itself, though it certainly is included, but any kind of healthy touch is beneficial.

A simple hug, a back rub, holding hands, kissing, snuggling. All of these are healthy ways to cultivate intimacy and increase the romance in marriage.

It may require intention and dedication, but taking the necessary steps toward reviving the romance in the marriage bed is worth every effort to enhance your love life.

Here are a few ideas to get you started-

Non-physical ways to enhance romance-

  • Cultivate a safe environment within the relationship to engage in meaningful conversation together, and listen with intent. Communication is key.
  • Dream together- dream of your first home, the prospect of children, vacation plans, life aspirations, retirement.
  • Study scripture together and pray with one another regularly.
  • Watch a romantic movie together. (One of my faves is, Dan in Real Life.)
  • Take care of yourself. Show your spouse that you care about him, by caring for yourself.

Physical ways to enhance romance-

  • Make a date on the calendar for love-making. Before you laugh- know that this can actually prove to be a lot of fun! As the anticipation of the night builds, so does the arousal. Treat it as your own little secret, flirt in the days leading up to “the night of,” and it will easily become something you regularly look forward to.
  • Spend some time snuggling together in bed before you fall asleep.
  • Exchange back massages- use some fun lotions or essential oils.
  • Public displays of affection- why keep it to yourself? Let others know how much you adore each other. (This is a  GREAT example to your kids).
  • Hold hands often. Never underestimate the power of this one simple act.

Laughter.

Laughter too, is good medicine, and it’s one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind.

A cheerful heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Did you know that laughter greatly decreases stress hormones while simultaneously increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies?

This process improves your resistance to disease. It also helps to trigger the release of endorphins- the body’s natural feel-good chemicals- which promote an overall sense of well-being, AND can temporarily relieve pain.

Plus, there is nothing that can diffuse the tension in a marriage quite like laughter can. Who is able to stay mad at a spouse who frequently makes them laugh? Not this girl.

Humor is a coping agent. It is important that we are able to laugh with one another. (And at ourselves).

Studies reveal that people who let out a hearty laugh on a regular basis are less likely to experience burnout and depression, and they are more likely to enjoy life in general. This includes within their marriage.

The next time you find yourself in a romantic rut, try spicing things up with a little laughter.

  • Rent a comedy movie to watch together at home.
  • Fork out the cash and actually go to a comedy show. (Tim Hawkins is always a crowd-pleaser!)
  • Play games together- Pictionary, Guesstures, and Taboo are a few fun interactive games that are sure to get you laughing.
  • Spend some time out together with friends. The more the merrier.
  • Get silly. Our family is known to break out into a spontaneous dance party from time to time. Always a hoot!

Love Language.

If you are unaware of what your spouse’s love language is, I highly recommend you take a moment and ask him/her. Don’t assume that you already know what it is. They may surprise you.

Once you know what their love language is, don’t just stop there. What good is it to simply knowhis/her language if you fail to speak it? No good at all.

That’s like having a friend who can only speak a specific language, but you neglect to speak it, even though you know it. Foolishness. How will they ever understand what you are trying to convey?

Knowing how to speak your spouse’s love language will help you to effectively communicate your love to them, and it will naturally improve their sense of feeling loved.

Bear in mind that it is possible to have an appreciation for all of the 5 love languages, but there are typically 1-2 languages that we resonate with more than the others. Those are the ones you’ll want to pay attention to.

Understanding then, that there are tremendous benefits to meeting the emotional needs of your spouse, let’s take a look at what the different languages are, and how we can implement them.

Words of Affirmation.

  • Encourage and uplift him- boost his confidence- with your words. Maybe even send a fun text message!
  • Tell him how much you appreciate him.
  • Let him know that you still find him physically attractive.
  • Write “I Love You” on the bathroom mirror in lipstick.
  • Hide a loving note in his lunch bag.

Acts of Service.

  • Have dinner prepared when he comes home from work.
  • Take his car in to be detailed, inside and out.
  • Run his errands for him.
  • Mow the grass before he gets around to it.
  • Allow him to sleep in on the weekends.

Receiving Gifts.

  • Give him some “guy time” with his friends.
  • Purchase tickets to his favorite concert.
  • Show up unexpectedly at work and treat him out to lunch.
  • Think of something he’s been wanting, and surprise him with it.
  • Prepare his favorite meal and dessert.

Quality Time.

  • Take a long drive together, just you and him.
  • Go for a hike or have a picnic.
  • Get a sitter and go out on the town.
  • Send the kids to bed early, and spend some time snuggling on the couch.
  • Plan a weekend away together, just the two of you.

Physical Touch.

  • Give him a shoulder massage.
  • Hold his hand while out shopping.
  • Unexpectedly pinch his rear end. (My hubby loves this)
  • Embrace him in a lengthy kiss when he walks in the front door.
  • Make love.

Cultivating and maintaining romance in marriage is a choice. It takes real effort, time, and dedication, but it IS do-able!

The amazing thing about initiating the romance in your marriage, is that it usually isn’t long before the romantic gestures are reciprocated. Before long you’ll notice the spark in your marriage being rekindled!

The challenge is learning to maintain it.

I’m rooting for you!

7 Rules for Fighting Fair

Today’s post is full of that “well yeah, of course” sort of practical advice that I immediately forget the moment things get tense at home. Hope you enjoy this post from Phil @ Connected Marriage about the 7 rules to fighting fair. 

I used to think that my marriage was great because we didn’t fight. Ok, maybe we would snap at each other once in a while, but then we’d apologize and move on.

Early in our marriage we heard someone talk about having rules for fair fighting. So, we agreed on a few guidelines:

  • No name calling
  • No hitting, throwing, etc.
  • No using “always” or “never”
  • Don’t raise your voice (I’ve come to think this is a bad rule, for us anyway)

These rules seemed to work for a little while. I still think the top three are good rules to have.

Most of my rules where about being able to avoid emotion. I wasn’t comfortable with emotion. I didn’t think that showing emotion was healthy.

The result? We didn’t fight. When Michelle would become upset, I would tell her to go off by herself and, when she was calm, we would discuss it rationally.

The problem was that my wife couldn’t process her emotions without becoming emotional. So, I ended up shutting her down. Our calm relationship was actually dying. Things didn’t get discussed, just buried. Resentment grew and conflict wasn’t dealt with.

It looked calm on the outside, but inside it was tearing us apart.

Now, we’ve worked with lots of couples and I recognize that there are different ways to manage conflict. Some couples yell and scream. Some couples silently withdraw. Either of those methods could be bad or they could be good. It depends.

I’ve come to recognize that what works for one couple won’t work for another couple. Each couple needs to create their own rules for fair fighting.

Here’s my 7 rules for fighting.

Rule 1: Connection Is First

The goal is to build connection in your relationship. Of course, you will have disagreements. You will fight with each other. How do you have conflict, but still build your connection?

Michelle grew up watching her parents fight. They would snap at each other and sometimes they would yell. Then, later that night, they would be sitting on the couch holding hands. Their fight would actually release tension and neither one of them took it very seriously.

I’ve known couples that work this way. They yell and scream, but then it’s over. They make up and their marriage bond is stronger than it was before.

One time Michelle and I were on a plane working on a talk about conflict management. There were three seats together and there was a woman sitting next to Michelle. That woman listened to us talking about managing conflict for about 3 hours. Finally, she spoke up. She told us that when she and husband would fight, they would silently retreat into their own worlds. Her husband would never bring it up again, but he would bring her a cup of tea. She came to realize that the tea was his way of apologizing and reestablishing connection in the relationship. It worked for them.

Rule 2: Don’t Ignore Issues

I’ve met lots of couples that stonewall in order to keep the peace. In other words, they don’t bring up an issue because they don’t want to fight about it.

Resentment grows. Distance increases.

It’s peaceful on the outside, but it’s not building connection.

When I would dismiss Michelle’s emotions, she would hold them in. I felt better about it, but she grew distant. That wasn’t healthy for our relationship.

She needed to learn that she had to talk about things that I didn’t want to hear. I needed to learn to let her talk about these things, even if it became emotional. We had to learn to fight.

True connection means that you have to talk about what’s bothering you.

Rule 3: Value Each Other

This one sounds so simple, but it’s very hard. It means to do anything you can do to show value and worth to your spouse, even when you are fighting.

The poor behaviors that tear apart couples contradict this simple statement. Any words that put yourself above your partner means that you are devaluing them.

These statements can be things like:

  • “You are such a tightwad.”
  • “Don’t be an idiot.”
  • “I can’t believe you just said that.”
  • “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
  • “Why can’t you do anything right?”
  • “I have to do everything around here.”
  • “Do you see what I put up with?”

How do any of those statements communicate value and respect? Each of them conveys the thought that I am better than you. That’s not valuing each other.

When I value someone, I want to hear their opinions and understand their feelings. I may not agree with their conclusions, but at least I’m demonstrating respect.

Rule 4: Be the First to Repair

The bible says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

Be the first to confess when you blow it.

We all say things in the heat of the moment that we know are wrong. I learned about repairs from marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman. His research found that doing the right kind of damage control helps couples to have a better resolution.

This means quickly apologizing and taking ownership of your poor behaviors.

It can be statements like:

  • “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
  • “Can I take that back?”
  • “I’m getting a little worked up. Can we start again?”
  • “I know this is a tough subject, but I want to work through it with you.”
  • “That was really hurtful, wasn’t it? I didn’t mean that.”

Anything that de-escalates an argument and helps to restore connection can help.

Rule 5: Take a Time Out

Taking a break can be very healthy. When your emotions become overwhelming, it is almost impossible to think straight. Our anger can cause us to strike out and say or do things that don’t demonstrate value.

When this happens, take a time out. A great rule for fair fighting is to agree that you will take a break when you get to this point.

Here’s the key – you HAVE to come back and talk about it. Otherwise, you risk disconnection.

Rule 6: Identify Your Patterns

Couple conflict tends to follow regular patterns. In other words, we fight the same way, regardless of the topic.

Michelle and I used to follow this pattern:

Michelle Phil
Michelle gets upset and criticizes. Phil gets defensive.
Michelle criticizes again. Phil dismisses her feelings or opinions and tells her why she’s wrong.
Michelle criticizes again. Phil tells her to talk calmly.
Michelle shuts down. Phil forgets about it and thinks it’s resolved.

We were able to recognize this pattern and understand that this was causing us to be distant from each other. When that happened, we started to change the pattern. I made sure to listen and treat her emotions as valuable, even when I disagreed. When she felt listened to, she was able to listen to my response. We were able to work things out.

We don’t always agree, but at least it doesn’t cause distance and disconnection.

Rule 7: Understand Your Emotional Triggers

In conflict, we often react to something that we hear. Often, our partner says something that triggers something deep inside of us.

These triggers are often based on assumptions and beliefs that come from our upbringing or from past relationships. They can include deep feelings inside of us such as abandonment, belonging, self-worth, etc.

My reaction to Michelle’s emotions was a trigger inside of me. Michelle’s emotions caused me to flip into logic in order to control my own feelings. The more emotions I felt inside, the more I tended to sooth them by reacting with analysis.

We often ask couples about their emotional triggers. What causes you react in that way?

The more I understood myself and the more I understood Michelle’s triggers, the better we were able to repair our fights, value each other and restore connection.

How Misunderstanding “Submission” Can Kill Your Marriage

Sheila at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum is one of my favorite marriage bloggers out there, and today’s post illustrates why. What starts as a post about legalism turns into something very different toward the end. Make sure you read it all. 

Is your view of marriage focused on relationship and intimacy, or rules and legalism?

This week we’re talking about the dangers of legalism. I shared my story of a summer missions trip with a legalistic organization, and yesterday for Top 10 Tuesday we looked at the 10 signs your church or Christian community may be legalistic.

Now, every Wednesday we always talk marriage, and so today I want to turn that discussion towards marriage and ask, “how do we know if we’re following a legalistic view of marriage?”

First, a few basic things. Something can be called legalistic when it judges success based on obedience to rules, rather than cultivating authentic wholeness. When outward appearance is stressed more than inward qualities, then the relationship is legalistic.

Let’s take a different example to show what I mean. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at whether your parenting practices border on legalistic or not. As I talked about recently in my post on whether we have to teach kids they’re sinners, if your main motivation is getting kids to obey you, rather than on teaching kids to learn what’s right on their own, then you may be veering into legalism. One approach focuses on making sure kids outwardly obey; the other approach focuses on raising kids who will have the discernment to choose what is right. It’s training the heart versus training the behaviour.

Can this translate into marriage?

I think it can. So let’s talk first principles for a second. God created marriage to be an intimate relationship where we share our bodies and souls with each other. We share a purpose. One of my favourite marriage verses doesn’t look like a marriage verse, but I pray it for my kids and their marriages all the time:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)

Isn’t that beautiful? And we also feel connected and loved!

The goal of marriage is to feel like you’re one.

You want to feel like you are truly intimate and connected, and with that connection, you want to glorify and serve God together. And as Gary Thomas said so well in his book Sacred Marriage, marriage is the vehicle that God uses to help us grow more like Him. We learn to be less selfish and more giving. Marriage refines us so that we learn to give, and in so doing, we grow in oneness.

That would be considered the “inward” condition that we want to achieve.

Now let’s work backwards for a minute.

If the goal is intimate oneness where we reflect Jesus and serve Him together, what is necessary to achieve that?

  • First, we need to be fully known and understood. You can’t feel like you’re one with someone who doesn’t know you. Thus, you both must be able to share your thoughts, feelings, and dreams freely.
  • Second, we need to feel loved.
  • Third, we need to be connecting regularly, emotionally, sexually and spiritually. We are three-fold beings, so to feel like we’re one involves cultivating all aspects of our relationship.
  • Fourth, when there are things that may hinder oneness, like conflicts, or hurts, these must be dealt with effectively so that we feel in unity once again. They can’t merely be swept under the rug. We must MAKE peace, not just KEEP peace, because, as I explained in detail in Thought 6 of 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, you can’t have oneness if you’re focusing on being a peacekeeper. You have to deal with problems.
  • Fifth, we need to serve one another. Both spouses must feel supported, because we both need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

All right. That’s what oneness looks like.

So how can this oneness go off track? 

If one person’s needs are deemed to be more important than another person’s needs, then oneness is impossible to achieve.

That’s it in a nutshell. You can’t have oneness if one person is doing all of the giving, and another all of the receiving. If the relationship is out of balance, then you can’t share your real needs, so you can’t be fully known. That also means you can’t truly make peace. All you can do is shove things under the rug and try to keep peace.

Every time we put things under the rug and refuse to deal with an issue, we are focusing on outward appearances at the expense of inward truth.

Do you understand that? When we are focused on keeping the marriage looking as if it is healthy, rather than taking the steps to actually make the marriage happy, then we are focusing on the outward.

Some of you may have had alarm bells go off already in reading that. Then here’s the next part. Focusing on the outward does not, in and of itself, make a marriage legalistic. However:

If what you believe about marriage results in you sweeping things under the rug rather than dealing with them, then you are likely following a legalistic view of marriage.

I’ve written a ton on submission on this blog, and I actually think I may take some of the most important posts and rerun them for a whole week later this month because it’s worth revisiting. And I wrote a lot about submission in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.

What I have seen in many Christian circles, though, is that the definition of submission that is taught is that the husband makes the decisions, and the wife follows. Here’s where things get especially tricky. If you believe that what God wants most is that the husband makes the decisions, then the biggest goal for marriage stops being oneness and starts being a particular way to live out the marriage partnership.

Then we may add more rules to it, too: He has to look after the finances while she stays at home with the kids. He has to work full time while she is at home full time. She has to do all the cooking and childcare; he has to mow the grass. It’s less about who has what interests or giftings and more about doing things in one particular way. Suddenly instead of trying to ask, “how can we best achieve oneness?”, we’re asking, “How can our marriage look like everyone’s telling us it should look like?”

So let me ask you this question: What is the goal of your marriage?

If the answer to that question focuses on roles, like “becoming the woman my husband needs” or “encouraging his leadership” or even “living out God’s model for marriage”, then you’re being legalistic. You’re focusing on the outward rules as goals, rather than the inward reality. You’re mixing up means with ends.

When we make them our goals, too often we sabotage oneness.

If your goal is to “become the wife your husband needs”, for instance, then you may sweep your own needs under the rug, and prevent him from really knowing who you are. That doesn’t build oneness.

If your goal is to submit to his leadership, you may stop praying together and wrestling to find God’s will, and you may start to equate following your husband’s will with following God’s will. That’s not going to bring proper oneness, either.

If your goals in marriage are to live out proper roles, then instead of learning how to resolve conflict and make peace and love one another as you need, you may focus on what marriage is supposed to look like. Then you’ll grow emotionally distant, even as you may look like the model couple in your church.

Let me leave you today with this prayer from Romans 15:5-6:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In marriage, may we be of the same mind with one another–having the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11).  May we be of one accord, because we have achieved real oneness. And may we use that oneness to then, with one voice, glorify our Lord and Saviour.

That’s what real marriage should look like. You serve each other, you love and respect each other, you look out for each other–so that you can have real oneness serving God. Please, don’t accept a cheap substitute that may look shiny, but that isn’t real.

My Spouse is Weird

Today’s post comes from Scott Kedersha, and is relevant to every marriage out there because let’s be honest, you’re all weird too. Enjoy! 

When my alarm goes off in the morning, I walk to our home office, turn on the lights, sit down at my desk, and start reading my Bible and writing in my journal.

When Kristen gets up, she does her quiet time in bed, with minimal light from her cell phone to guide her in reading and writing.

I shower with the lights on. She showers in the pitch black and dries her hair with the lights completely off.

I think she’s a vampire, she thinks I’m weird.

You know you’re different from each other as well.

  • You come from different families of origin.
  • You (probably) grew up in different towns and high schools and maybe went to different colleges.
  • Your personalities aren’t the same (maybe one of you is an introvert and the other an extrovert).
  • One is a male and the other is a female (enough said!).

How do you handle and work through differences between you and your spouse? Obviously my examples above are small things that don’t matter much. But how do you handle the big and little differences in marriage?

When you bring two sinners together with different backgrounds and temperaments, you’re going to differ from each other in countless ways. Hopefully you’re aligned in the most important things (spiritual beliefs, values), but differences exist in many small ways.

Peter provides great guidance in how to handle our differences. In 1 Peter 3:7 he says, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives…” (NIV). The ESV says it in a slightly different way: “…husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” The principle applies to both men and women, in that we are to live with our spouse in a way that shows we know and understand them.

In other words, love your quirky, unique spouse in a way that shows you understand your differences are normal. Then you adjust your life accordingly so that your unique traits do not cause problems.

Easier said than done.

How do you live with each in an understanding way?

1) Be a student of your spouse.

Ask them questions, spend time together, put your phones down, and communicate. Last week, Kristen and I had a great conversation about insecurities. I was feeling insecure in some realtionships with friends and we talked through it together as a couple. We asked each other questions, empathized, and asked each other for counsel. I was blessed by the ways she listened, cared, and lovingly rebuked me. I hope I do the same in the ways I listen and provide wisdom and counsel.

The process and opportunity to know your spouse never goes away. We change and there is so much we can learn from and about our spouse no longer how long we’ve been married.

To Do: What can you do today to become a better student of your spouse?

2) Seek to understand, not just talk.

Most of us like the sound of our own voice. In his song “I Wanna Talk About Me,” country singer Toby Keith says, “I want to talk about me, Want to talk about I, Want to talk about number one, Oh my me my.” Sure, sometimes we want to hear about others, but usually we want to talk about our favorite subject: ourselves.

I love Proverbs 18:2. It says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions.” When we look for opportunities to listen instead of talking, we can learn more about our spouse. This doesn’t mean you always just shut your mouth and only open it to ask questions, but it does mean you have a dialogue instead of just running your mouth.

To Do: Ask your spouse if they think you talk or listen more? Don’t be defensive when they respond. Thank them for sharing with you, and don’t be the Proverbs 18:2 fool.

3) Acknowledge the fact your way might not be right. Or, even more so, your way is not the only way.

I’ve read studies that show you should start your day with the lights on. Instead of gradually raising the light level, turn them on all the way from the moment you get up. For some reason it’s better for you.

Or at least some studies show. Others say the opposite: slowly turn the lights on so you don’t overwhelm your cones and rods (#throwback to elementary school science).

So who’s right?

I don’t know which is better for you, but I do know that my wife hates the bright light in the morning. Isn’t it possible that we’re made different from each other and what’s good for me might not be good for my wife? Instead of assuming my way is correct and her way is strange, what if I lived with her in an understanding way and appreciated our differences? This way requires humility, and we know God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). I’ll take all the grace I can get, and I sure don’t want to be opposed by God.

To Do: Ask your spouse if you tend to be prideful or humble. As above, don’t respond with defensiveness, but rather thank them for the feedback.

The key to living with each in an understanding way

I’d couch all the above in a verse I quote often on this site: Philippians 2:3-4. Paul writes:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Put the needs of the other (your spouse) before your own. Do not act like your way is always right and is the only way. Rather, in humility, live with your spouse in a way that shows you care for them and understand them.

I started this post by talking about a minor difference between me and Kristen. I know many of you wish your differences just amounted to differing lightbulb and shower preferences. Whatever your differences, the principles apply to your big differences as much as the minor ones. If you have trouble working through your differences, you may want to consider checking out re|engage, which is a marriage ministry designed to help couples just like you reconnect, reignite, or resurrect your marriage.

Either way, learn to live with each other in an understanding way. After all, you might be the quirky one!

Your Turn:

What is one step you can take from this post?

Which of the three ways to live with your spouse in an understanding way can best help you grow your marriage?

Should We Care About Celebrity Marriages?

I tend to be a little (a lot) cynical about celebrity marriages, and why we get so worked up about them. But this fantastic post from Mary and our sister site For Every Mom legitimately changed my point of view on the topic. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Yesterday a cry was heard ’round the Internet as news broke that Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum are divorcing. I know, I know. You thought that outrage and anguish was the result of another news report about ISIS or the devastating stories of black churches being burned.

Nope.

Settle down. I’m well aware a person can be upset about all of those things, all at once, because we are complex and compassionate people. But no matter what else is going on in our world and in the news, I am still shocked by our collective reaction to the personal lives of celebrities.

And I say “our” because I’m no different. For example, I’m afraid that no matter how much work she does for the United Nations and starving children (or whatever it is she does for the U.N. I don’t actually know!), I will never stop thinking of Angelina Jolie as The One Who Broke Up Brad and Jen. Even though that was TEN YEARS AGO. And, oh yeah, these are people I DO NOT KNOW.

Yet…I still care. Strangely enough. Why IS that? Why do we care so much about celebrity marriages?

We think we know what’s best for other people.

Just like when I decided that I’d found the perfect job for my best friend the other day (I’m serious. It would be PERFECT for her, and she should apply for it right now. No, I don’t know if they’re hiring. That is beside the point!), we tend to think we know what’s best for celebrities, too. We read tiny nuggets about their lives, see a few strategic photos, watch a late-night interview – and all of a sudden, we’re experts on a celeb’s personality, values and needs.

Obviously if he’d quit traveling so much or if she’d quit working with such handsome actors or if he’d ease up on the self-tanner or she’d stop hogging the camera or — Right? We can figure out exactly what’s going wrong and just how to fix it!

Probably because this is practically make-believe for us. These are real people we’re making assumptions about, but we make up our own realities for them and their lives and their relationships.

We can’t separate fiction from reality.
Which brings me to this. You know you do it, too. You saw them in that movie together, and they were so cute! And then they were interviewed together on Ellen, and oh my gosh, they were hilarious! Of course it’s no surprise that they’re a real-life couple now; it only makes sense. But we forget when our favorite actors meet cute on the set that they’re not actually the characters they portray on screen. And what we see as obvious chemistry and compatibility might just have been excellent writing or savvy marketing.

It’s easier to worry about someone else’s marriage than our own.
A writer for one of the entertainment sites I read is obsessed with Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. Rumors of a breakup earlier this year sent her into a GIF-filled tailspin. She was simply distraught at the mere mention of trouble in celebrity paradise. I agree Stone and Garfield seem adorable together, and the posts that writer published about her devotion to their relationship success were funny. But I had to wonder – when was the last time I got that worked up about my own marriage?

And that’s really what this comes down to for me. While it is fun to ‘ship characters in our favorite shows (Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt for the win!) or feel certain that you and your spouse would just have the most fun with a celebrity couple (Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd would TOTALLY be our BFFs…if only they met us.), it’s really not healthy to spend more time and energy focused on other people’s relationships than on your own.

Our addiction to celebrity relationship news isn’t completely removed from our own lives and concerns, though. Because, deep down, I think part of our fascination stems from our desire that fairy tales be true. We look at these beautiful, talented people who have all the advantages the world can offer and can’t imagine that their stories don’t have happy endings. After all, if THEY can’t make it work – with their personal chefs and nannies and maid services and makeup artists and personal shoppers – well, the rest of us might as well give up now.

We pin our hopes for marriage on these people who seem like shinier, prettier, betterversions of ourselves – but who are really just as human and flawed as us. We forget that fame and fortune don’t alleviate all the stresses of the world, and they don’t make us immune to temptation or pride or other struggles. We ignore the reality and focus on the illusion and believe these super-humans must have super-marriages, and we build up their shiny pedestals of People magazines and interviews with Fallon.

That’s why, when we hear that another famous couple is getting divorced, our reaction can be extreme – and more what we’d expect to be reserved for bad news about our actual friends and family members. It can feel like a personal blow, a twisted fairy tale – and a valid reason to give up hope that anyone can ever make marriage work.

Yikes.

If there’s one thing many of us need, it’s hope. We are desperate for hope, for a reason to keep believing – in marriage in general and in our own marriages. Marriage is hard, and sometimes it feels like the odds are stacked against us. Money is tight, jobs are stressful, kids are demanding, and dinner always needs to be fixed. We don’t have time for intensive therapy or weekend getaways or even a romantic dinner. So if the pretty people with charmed lives can’t figure this thing out, well, how could our relationships possibly survive?

If you know me at all, then you can probably guess that I don’t think all marriages are doomed now that Channing and Jenna are calling it quits. Just the opposite, actually.

Despite my commentary about the warped reasons we get so crazy about celebrity couples, I think it’s a good sign for marriage if the end of one breaks our hearts.Even if we are a little starry-eyed and impractical in our longing for “happily ever after,” the importance we place on marriage – both the ones we know personally and the ones we see from afar – is a good thing. It means we care, that we haven’t given up, that we value marriage itself.

It also means we’re longing for role models, for evidence that marriage can last, that happy marriages aren’t fantasy. So instead of peeking at the pictures on the magazines as we stand in line at the grocery store, why not search out an older couple at church? Spend time with them as friends and let them mentor you. Learn from their lives together, from the way they have fought for their marriage over decades.

And maybe, instead of winding down with E! News or your favorite entertainment site tonight, take a few minutes to connect with your spouse. Spend time focusing on your own marriage. Don’t drift apart. Put each other first. Keep learning what makes the other one tick. Dream together. Laugh together. Maybe watch a movie together.

Just…maybe not Step Up (You know, the one starring Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan? Too soon?)

What To Do When You Have Mismatched Sex Drives

Today’s post from Beth at Messy Marriages is a GREAT take on the “my spouse and I have different sexual needs” topic. If nothing else, it’ll make anyone in a “mismatched sex drive” marriage feel understood. Enjoy!

Mismatched sex drives in marriage is a term used when one spouse desires to engage in the bedroom more often than the other spouse. Over time, if a couple doesn’t address this discrepancy, tension and conflict can overtake your relationship.

Recently, I enjoyed a walking Food Tour of downtown Knoxville with 6 other people. I was reminded that the slowest walker controls the pace of the entire group.

When it comes to sex, the spouse with the lower need for sex, determines how many stops the love bus makes. It’s important to understand this because it means, in a mismatched marriage, one spouse has more control over something that is really important to the other spouse.

If this is something that exists in your marriage, then here are some …

Things to consider in order to align your mismatched sex drives:

1.  It’s OK for your spouse to be different from you.

To be able to understand the difference, it’s important for husband and wife to think outside of their own inner world. Just because you may find sexual experiences to be more important or less important than your spouse, still consider their position with respect and love. Then, go one step further and take their feelings seriously.

2.  Talk about it!

Letting sexual discord sit and fester will only lead to gangrene! Here’s the kicker. You both have to set aside your preconceived notions and really hear what your spouse has to say. The higher drive spouse often feels rejected and the lower drive often feels pressure and anxiety.

Don’t you seek agreement in other areas of our marriage, like how much money to spend on a car, how to discipline your kids, and how your spare time is spent?

Seeking agreement in the sexual arena of your marriage often goes unaddressed because we don’t know how to converse about this delicate subject without high emotions. But, for a mismatched marriage it is one of the most important areas to address. Here’s how to start the conversation.

3.  Learn about your spouse.

If your spouse is the lower drive, read articles and listen to podcasts about lower drive spouses. If your spouse is the higher drive, read articles and listen to podcasts geared toward them. In doing this, you will find compassion.

4.  The lower drive spouse builds sexual interest in a different way than the higher drive spouse.

For many years, we’ve been taught that husband and wife should respond sexually in the same 4 steps: arousal (feeling physical desire), plateau (building sexual tension through foreplay/intercourse), orgasm, and resolution. However, the scientific community is finding that this doesn’t necessarily reflect the experience of all wives.

Some women need to be emotionally connected on a deep level to build their “sexual interest.” (I would venture to say that the lower drive spouse, whether the husband or wife, probably needs their emotional tank filled by the higher drive spouse.) To learn more about the female sexual response click here.

5.  Schedule some “alone time.”

We make appointments for our teeth, for our cars, and for our hair. Why not make an appointment with your sweetie for some sex? 

I hear so many objections to the thought of scheduling sexual intimacy. But, like the old saying goes, “If you always do what you always do, you’ll always get what you always get.” Sometimes, you have to take a leap into something foreign to find the answer.

If you always do what you always do, you’ll always get what you always get.

Honestly, this concept transformed the sorrow in our marriage to laughter very quickly. Why? The simple acts of touching, hugging, and kissing release feel good chemicals into our brains and bodies.

Plus, remember #4 above? The lower drive spouse, typically the wife (not always!), becomes aroused AFTER beginning to engage in foreplay and other methods of arousal. As an added bonus, the moment of climax also floods the brain with great chemicals that help husband and wife bond.

Simple acts of touching, hugging, kissing release feel good chemicals in our brains and bodies.

Yes, it may feel stilted at first, but that doesn’t last very long if you have an open-heart. Here’s how to broach the topic of scheduling sexual intimacy: 5 Questions to Create a Sexual Encounter Schedule.

6. Create space for non-sexual touch.

In retrospect, during our years of mismatch, I craved non-sexual touch. For so long, every little brush was seen as an overture. I didn’t want any overtures, I just wanted a hug. He felt hurt at my avoidance.

So, we made an agreement that on certain days, when sex wasn’t on the table (because it was scheduled for the next day), all touch was non-sexual and would not lead to the bedroom. Knowing this took pressure off of me because he didn’t push the envelope. Knowing that day would be non-sexual, led me to be more flirty. It helped lighten the atmosphere of our marriage.

Final Thoughts

Sexual intimacy, in proportion to the rest of your marriage, is a very small part. However, it is a small part that has a huge impact.

As the low drive half of a formerly mismatched and miserable marriage, I can tell you that tending to this part of our relationship was one of the best things I ever did. When I took my higher drive spouse’s needs seriously, the tides of our discord changed into smooth, fun, and connected sailing.

We still ran into storms of conflict and arguments, but they were much easier to navigate. (And for the record, he began to give more attention to my needs, too. But, that’s a whole other post!)

Sometimes, sexual problems are just the symptom of much deeper issues between you and your spouse. If this is the case, this little article might not address the true problems. Please, seek professional Christian counseling.

The Danger of ‘Choice Paralysis’ When Your Marriage is Struggling

Today’s post comes from Gary Thomas and is an adaptation from his new book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Influencing Your Husband. While the post primarily addresses women and wives, men and husbands should feel free to change the genders and apply it accordingly. Nothing stated here isn’t also true for men.

When Your Marriage is Going in the Wrong Direction, Doing Nothing is Usually Your Worst Choice

When a marriage is going “south,” one of the worst things you can do is…nothing. People in panic often fear making the wrong move but sometimes “no move” is the worst move. Not doing anything will get you just what you’ve got.

The first thing so many women (and men, for that matter) in the Bible had to be told was to stop being afraid and become bold. When Hagar was abandoned by her husband and exiled to what looked like her and her son’s slow starvation and death, God’s angel encouraged her: “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 21:17). When the women who had been faithful to Jesus were beside themselves with grief, wondering what had happened to the body of their precious Jesus, an angel admonished them, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5).

Because of God’s Spirit within us, we are sometimes called to bold action. The “safe” path is sometimes a slow drift toward destruction. One of my favorite Christian philosophers, Elton Trueblood, put it so well:

“The person who never goes out on a limb will never, it is true, have the limb cut off while he is on it, but neither will he reach the best fruit. The best fruit which human life offers seems to come only within the reach of those who face life boldly . . . with no excessive concern over possible failure and personal danger. The good life is always the gambler’s choice, and comes to those who take sides. Neutrality is seldom a virtue.”

Fear gives birth to paralysis—and sometimes inaction is our greatest enemy. Marriages can slowly die from years of apathy. I’ve seen many relationships wilt from unhealthy patterns that one or both partners refused to address until they became “calcified” and thus were ten times more difficult to break. This is true of addictions, unhealthy communication, and disrespect. The longer a bad situation goes on, the more ingrained it becomes and the more difficult it is to fix.

If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is understanding who you already are in Christ.

The Spiritual Platform to Influence Your Spouse

Let’s apply some simple theology here. Who does the Bible say is your refuge — God or your husband? Deuteronomy 33:27 provides the answer: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

In whom does your hope lie? Your husband’s continuing affection? First Peter 1:21 says, “Your faith and hope are in God.”

Where will you find your security? You and your husband’s ability to earn a living and your husband’s commitment to stay married to you? Philippians 4:19 answers, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Where will you find supreme acceptance that will never fade or falter for all the days of your life? “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,” replies Isaiah 62:5, “so will your God rejoice over you.”

If you’re trying to find your primary refuge in your husband, if you’ve centered your hope on him, if your security depends on his approval, and if you will do almost anything to gain his acceptance, then you’ve just given to a man what rightfully belongs to God alone.

And that means you’ve turned marriage into idol worship.

When you do that, both you and your husband lose. How will you ever find the courage to confront someone whose acceptance so determines your sense of well-being that you believe you can’t exist without him? How will you ever take the risk to say what needs to be said if you think your future depends on your husband’s favor toward you?

Your future depends on God, not on a fallen man. Your security rests with your caring Creator’s providence, not with your husband’s paycheck. Your acceptance as a person became secure when God adopted you, not when your husband proposed to you. If you truly want to love, motivate, and influence your husband, your first step must be to stay connected with God. Find your refuge, security, comfort, strength, and hope in him.

Armed with this acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness? When you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them.

An Active God

The first thing God wants us to know in Genesis chapter 1 is that he is an extraordinarily active God. In Genesis chapter one, thirty-eight active verbs describe what God does: he creates, he speaks, he separates, he calls, he blesses, he gives, and much more—all in just one chapter. Then—and this is key—he tells the woman and the man to do the same: “God blessed them [male and female] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ ” (Genesis 1:28).

God made you, as a woman, to rule in this world, to subdue it, to act according to his image. Sin often drags us back toward sluggishness, despair, and despondency—giving in to life as it is rather than remaking life as it could be with God’s redeeming power unleashed. People give up on their marriages, give up on prayer, give up on their churches, give up on their kids, and eventually even give up on themselves. They say, “It’s no use,” and start to sulk instead of painstakingly remaking their marriage—simply because their first (or even tenth) attempt failed.

Initial romantic intensity is unearned; it seems to fall on us out of nowhere. But a solid, lasting marriage has to be built (and sometimes rebuilt) stone by stone. You married a fallen man and that means the time will come when you need to become an active woman to confront the weaknesses you see in yourself and your husband.

As daunting as this might seem, here’s the hope behind it: the current challenges in your marriage may well be God’s vehicle for you to become the strong woman he created you to be. Maybe you grew up with an overly passive view of being a woman. Maybe you’ve always let people run over you and allowed things to happen rather than to rise up and unleash the power that is yours as a woman not only created in the image of God, but filled with His Holy Spirit.

This challenge, as scary and painful as it might be, could be the doorway to new growth, new maturity and a new woman who more closely resembles the character of Jesus Christ.

For more teaching on this topic, check out Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband: http://www.garythomas.com/books/loving-him-well/

What To Do When Your Spouse is a Perfectionist

Today’s post comes from Beth Steffaniak and our friends at Homeword. Check out their site for tons of resources for your family. 

How to Handle a Perfectionistic Spouse

The desire to be perfect or to have a perfect mate and marriage is something I see a lot in the couples I counsel, as well as in the marriages of my friends. We all want things to go smoothly and believe the lie that aiming for perfection will bring us to a blissful state. However, in my experience, the more I try to pursue perfection in life and marriage, the more I invariably miss the mark and find myself discouraged and discontent.

Ironically, it’s really easy to spot our mate’s perfectionism, but not so easy to see it in our own lives. Allow me to pose some questions that might bring this tendency into clearer focus for us all.

  • Do you struggle with feeling like you can never satisfy your spouse? 
  • Do you tend to get into arguments with your mate over who’s right or how something should be done? 
  • Do you ever feel like you’re in competition with your spouse?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you might be married to or, even worse, “be the perfectionist” spouse in your marriage.

Heaven help you if you are like me—where both you and your spouse are perfectionists! In my marriage, our striving for perfection has caused more failures, especially in our efforts to communicate, than I can begin to tell you. It has left us feeling emotionally insecure—both when we’ve individually blown it, and when we’ve collectively caused a marriage meltdown.

Maybe you’re discouraged because your mate is the perfectionist who can’t accept you as you are. If you’re a perfectionist yourself, you’ve most likely felt the frustration and disappointment of a mate who has regularly failed to achieve your ideal standard. What’s even more paradoxical is that you probably were drawn to your spouse because of some very positive perfectionist traits, like the fact that your mate is …

  • Committed
  • Observant
  • Hard-working
  • Loyal
  • Conscientious
  • An achiever
  • Detail-oriented
  • A good leader/manager

So how do you deal with your spouse’s incessant need for perfection? Or if you are the one driving your spouse crazy with all of your rules and “oughts,” how do you change your overachieving ways? I have to say that even though I’m a perfectionist, I still haven’t “perfectly” figured out how to do this yet. But there’s one thing I do know—learning to accept the imperfect in both my spouse, as well as in myself points me in the right direction.

This means learning to daily grasp for God’s ever-available grace. For example, whenever I’m dealing with my spouse’s crazy-making criticalness, I look to God to help me extend grace to my husband. I also try to see and accept that my spouse is flawed and human, and won’t always see how his high standards are coming across to me. This also means forgiving him, even if he doesn’t see or admit his fault. And perhaps most importantly, I need to learn to be kind and loving—seeking to focus on the good in him, rather than becoming bitter because of the bad I’m momentarily experiencing in our relationship.

Now, when I’m the one doling out the A+ attitude, I need to turn to God again for perspective. I need to take on a sober view of my expectations, because what feels like a “need” is more than likely a “want” instead. Surrendering my sense of entitlement to God is a good beginning point. Recognizing just how flawed and human I am is yet another important step in the right direction. When I go further to apologize for being demanding or critical, I do even better. And as a perfectionist, I love doing better!

Finally, Paul’s words in Romans 12:3, offers all of us a template for finding the right balance and approach when perfectionism rears up in marriage…

“For by the grace given me I say to everyone one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

When we humbly place our imperfect hearts in the hands of the Lord, we can love our mates with Jesus’ perfect and powerful love that far outshines any perfectionistic effort we might ever hope to achieve in marriage.

My Spouse Watches Porn: Now What?

Today’s post involves a wife asking Juli Slattery @ Authentic Intimacy what she should do after catching her husband viewing pornography. A thought up front: Some statistics show 1 in 3 women regularly view pornography, so this isn’t a “men v. women” issue. Porn is a pandemic that is eroding our society. Today’s post is a grace-filled look at how to fight it in your marriage. 

“Last night I walked in on my husband viewing porn. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I feel so violated—like I could never share my body with him again. Why should I, anyway? I could never compete with porn!”

If your husband has been involved with pornography, you know the feeling of betrayal in discovery. You question everything: his love for you, your desirability, his credibility. Every sexual experience you’ve ever had with your husband is now viewed through a different lens.

The issue of porn has become increasingly common among women as well. It’s no longer “Every Man’s Battle” but is now “Every Marriage’s Battle.” Pornography is, unfortunately, a growing reality in our world. When meeting with a married couple, I no longer ask if it has played a role in the husband or wife’s life. Instead, I ask what role it has played in their lives. Even a man or woman who isn’t tempted by porn has seen it and been impacted by it.

In one respect, sexual intimacy between a husband and wife can’t compete with pornography. Porn is selfish sex, requiring no sacrifice and no effort to love another person. You can have what you want, when you want, how you want it. Sex with a real person requires patience, communication, delaying what you want to meet the needs of the other person.

A man whose sex drive is hyped up on porn will have great difficulty enjoying the beauty of sex with his wife. Research consistently demonstrates that men who regularly watch porn rate their sexual partners as less attractive than men who don’t view porn. Pornographic material fuels the illusion that fantasy and a sexual release will bring satisfaction. Instead of satisfying, it leads to an insatiable desire for more. If you are trying to compete with the pornographic images on a computer screen, you are out of luck. However, we must remember that porn is not intimacy; it’s a cheap counterfeit. Your husband needs more than sex; he was designed for intimacy.

Couples who experience true intimacy know how to fully share their sexuality—how to communicate the most intimate of experiences with and without words. Being emotionally naked makes you extremely vulnerable. Both you and your spouse have to feel completely safe to let go, to share thoughts, desires, and physical sensations. The journey toward authentic intimacy is one of creating the safest environment possible so that you can explore to­gether without fear of betrayal or humiliation. Porn does the exact opposite. It makes your bedroom an emotional landmine.

As rampant as pornography and sexual addictions have become, God is still in the business of healing. No one is beyond his redemption and restoration. As you seek authentic intimacy in your marriage, here are a few practical steps to take.

Have Empathy for Your Spouse’s Struggle

Although you may not understand your husband’s sexual temptations, you know what it feels like to battle against sin. Empathy begins with humility, the acknowledgment that you are just as flawed and broken as your spouse. If you’re honest, you struggle with sin just like he does. Your besetting sin could be anxiety, self-righteousness, the desire to be esteemed by others, gossip, bitterness, complaining, dishonesty, or even wishing you had a different husband.

Empathy also means understanding that good men are tempted by sexual sin. Christian men who struggle with sexual temptation carry an enormous amount of shame. Just the fact that they are tempted to look at porn or to think sexually about a coworker brings about thoughts like:

What’s wrong with me? No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop thinking this way!

I hate myself for the thoughts I have. If anyone knew what really went through my mind, they would be sickened.

I have met wonderful, Christian men who doubt their salvation because the fight against lust is so great. A godly husband is not a man who doesn’t struggle with sexual sin, but one who continually fights and refuses to give into temptation.

Call Your Husband to Purity

While some wives have a difficult time understanding why their husbands struggle sexually, others approach the issue as if it isn’t a big deal. This is particularly true with porn. I’ve heard wives buy into this thinking with statements like: “It’s not like he’s having an affair. Plus, it takes pressure off of me having to always satisfy him.”

While Jesus extends overwhelming grace and forgiveness to us in our sin, he also calls us to pursue purity. As a godly wife, you are called to help your husband set his eyes on a standard of holiness in your marriage. But how do you do this?

One of the primary ways you can help your husband is to link his behavior with the impact on your marriage. Satan deceives men into compartmentalizing their sexual sin. In other words, a man may believe that he can fantasize about another woman, flirt with someone at work, or look at sexual pictures on the Internet and that this has no impact on how deeply he loves his wife.

Sexual sin of any kind destroys the possibility of intimacy between you and your husband. You can help him make this link.

If your husband is open about his struggle, asking for forgiveness, and wanting help, do all that you can to support him. If however, he denies that it is a problem and refuses to address it, you must begin lovingly drawing boundaries and creating an atmosphere that does not enable sin to continue. These decisions require great discernment, which is why Jesus tells us to bring in a wise third party (pastor or counselor) to help us walk biblically.

Fight Like a Team

One of the most damaging aspects of sexual temptation is that it divides couples. Rarely will a husband and wife discuss how they are tempted sexually unless one of them catches the other in the act. Because of the shame and feelings of rejection associated with sexual temptations, most people keep it a secret from their spouse.

As much as Satan would love to have one or both of you fall into sexual sin, he is happy to use the temptation itself as a wedge between you. The last thing he wants is for you and your husband to work together in combating temptation.

Remember who the true enemy is. Regardless of which of you in the relationship struggles with sexual temptation, you must begin to see this as your problem as a couple. I don’t mean that a wife should take responsibility for her husband’s purity or vice versa. However, when sexual sin and temptation hits one of you, it impacts both of you. Satan will use pornography, inappropriate emotional attachments, and other forms of temptation to further divide you if he can define your spouse as “the problem” or “the enemy.” As long as you are fighting each other, you cannot stand together.

Mike and I have learned over the years what it means to fight temptation as a team. At first, it seemed like an invasion of privacy to ask each other about how we were tempted. Then we realized that it was actually a step toward deep intimacy to be so vulnerable with one another. Fighting together against the Enemy has deepened our trust in one another and profoundly impacted our intimacy.

Being a team doesn’t mean being each other’s primary accountability partners. Although it is healthy for a husband and wife to understand how and when the other is most tempted, you need a woman you trust to ask you the difficult questions, and he needs another man to do the same for him.

Mike and I have also learned that being a team means playing “offense,” not just defense. In other words, we want to have an exciting sexual relationship and enjoy each other as friends. Sexual temptations are not as powerful when intimacy in marriage is satisfying.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 can easily be applied to marriage:

Though one may be overpowered,

Two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (NIV).

This verse speaks of a cord of three strands. Remember that the Christian marriage is not made up of two, but of three. You and your spouse do not stand against the Enemy by yourselves. You stand with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ ready and able to fight with and for you. The Lord’s opinion of your marriage is not neutral. He says in Hebrews 13:4 that the marriage bed should be pure and marriage should be honored by all. The Almighty One also declares that whom he has joined together, let no one tear apart. Begin fighting the true enemy of your marriage as a team by reminding one another that, “If God is for us, who can be against us!” (Romans 8:31).

Author’s note: It is important to understand the difference between sexual temptation and a sexual addiction. Although the psychological community is still debating the symptoms of sexual addiction, we know that it typically involves compulsively thinking about sex, engaging in high-risk behavior (like looking at porn at work or paying for prostitution) and an inability to stop these behaviors despite repeated attempts. Please understand that a sexual addiction, like any addiction, isn’t going to go away with normal marriage interventions. If you or your husband have symptoms of a sexual addiction, please reach out to someone who is trained psychologically and spiritually to address this issue. Here are a few ministries to follow up with: StoneGateResources.org and PureLifeMinistries.org.

Something More Important than Spontaneity

My marriage is the reverse of what today’s article by Hannah at Authentic Intimacy describes: my wife is the planner, and I’m the one who craves spontaneity. In most marriages some form of this dynamic exists, which is what makes this post so great. Enjoy!

Want to watch a group of women swoon? Tell a story about a husband who was completely spontaneous. There is something about the mystery and surprise of impromptu romance that fills women with passion! Anything from randomly picking up flowers to a last minute road trip “just to get away together”. Romantic comedies and chick flicks have picked up on this desire in women- for a man to be so overwhelmed with love that he can’t help but do the outrageous and unexpected for his woman. Sometimes that even means having sex in the middle of cooking dinner!

Well, I didn’t marry a spontaneous man. He is a planner who loves a good schedule. He is intentional about every decision he makes, every meal he eats, and every pair of pants he buys. I learned very quickly that I cannot go clothes shopping with him because I will end up screaming after he tries on the 10th pair of work pants that “just don’t seem quite right.”

For the first few years of our marriage, I started to wonder if the passion and excitement other couples had just wasn’t what I would experience. Caleb would never randomly skip work to have a date, he isn’t much of an improviser, and he definitely doesn’t stand up in a crowded area and say “I LOVE THIS WOMAN!” (Although that does sound like something I would do). However, as we have gone through hard seasons and walked through challenges, I realized my husband has a quality far greater and more important than being spontaneous. He is intentional.

Caleb is intentional with conversations we have over dinner. Each year he sits down to ask what our goals are as a couple for the next year. He says “no” to other commitments and important opportunities because he knows we haven’t spent much time together. In every decision he makes, he is intentional about building our marriage.

The Lord has been slowly teaching me that what I am craving in my relationship (intimacy, passion, and closeness), doesn’t come with the impromptu decisions I’ve wanted Caleb to make, but with the sweet secret of being intentional. Caleb was right all along.  While an unscripted plan may feel a lot more fun at the moment, long-term growth comes from being intentional. As I have realized this important difference, it has given me a thirst and desire for things planned together on our calendar more than an impulsive night of sex before dinner.

While an unscripted plan may feel a lot more fun at the moment, long-term growth comes from being intentional.

Not quite sold on this idea? Here are a few things I’ve learned about the importance of being intentional.

Success Comes From Planning

Construction of a building, becoming a professional athlete or starting a business… Nothing grows and builds into something significant because of a spur-of-the-moment decision. Building require plans and measurements, athletes must be disciplined and train for years, and business requires sacrifice, projections, and goals.

I want to stay married, have a strong marriage, and hope to glorify Jesus through our relationship. So how do I do that? Previously in my “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of living, I would just have fun along the way and hope we would end up with something great. However, my planning husband has shown me the value of making goals and working towards them.

Just like a small business, take the time to sit down with your spouse and map out your goals. Where do you want your marriage to be in five, ten, or twenty-five years? What are you doing to get there, or are you just hoping growth will pop up along the way? The road to that relationship of sweetness, intimacy, and friendship is paved with planning.

Being Intentional Gives You Projects To Work On Together

When I have been hoping for my husband to be spontaneous, I find myself waiting. I’m not working toward something, but waiting for Caleb to romance me away.  When I instead crave intentionality, I feel like a player in the game. I’m talking WITH Caleb about decisions we are making, I’m planning date nights to get them on our calendar, and I’m a part of building something together.

Can you treat your marriage like a home project? Pull down the old wallpaper, get a new rug, or maybe even tear down an entire wall. View your relationship as something you have the honor and privilege of working on.

You Will Reap What You Sow

Biblical principals clearly teach that where you are is a direct result of the decisions you make. Here is just one verse that shows the concept that what whatever you plant is what you will harvest. It’s from Galatians chapter 6.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

For a while, I wasn’t sowing anything. I felt like marriage was just supposed to happen, our love was just going to grow on its own, and my prince charming would always know how to love me. I was walking around the field just looking for fruit to pop up, and was confused when I couldn’t find anything. In His grace, God saw my confusion and handed me some seeds. He said “Hannah, you can’t reap a strong marriage if you’re not intentionally doing the work. Throw those seeds down, water them, take care of them, and growth will come up from the ground.”

Plans, goals, and being intentional isn’t quite as sexy as the unplanned surprise, but over the past few years, I’ve been able to witness how beautiful it truly is to pursue a strong marriage together, on purpose. Instead of dreaming of an overly romantic, spontaneous spouse, start to grow your love through the work of intentionality.

What a Vacation Reveals About Your Marriage

Today’s post from Gary Thomas begins talking about vacations before transitioning to something way more universal … and convicting. There isn’t a marriage that can’t benefit from today’s advice. 

Lisa and I are about to embark on a Win Shape Sailboat Cruise where I’ll be speaking once every evening, and Lisa will be planning the play during the day. We’ll be out of the country, and I may not have the ability to interact with comments until we get back, but the thought of going on a cruise—with all the play during the day—reminds me of one of the unforeseen incompatibilities between Lisa and myself.

One of the advantages of being so broke the first decade of our marriage was that it kept Lisa and me from recognizing our “vacation incompatibility.”  When you can’t afford to go on one, you won’t ever find out that you can’t agree on what you’re supposed to do while you’re on one.

To me, “vacation” meant bringing along a half dozen books, not having a schedule, and spending most of my time (apart from daily runs) lying around and talking with the family.

To Lisa, “ vacation” meant exploring every last vestige of the city or island we happened to be visiting, with events scheduled pre-breakfast, post-breakfast, mid-morning, after lunch, a “special” dinner, and “just one or two things you need to see in the dark” after dinner.

Once we could afford the occasional vacation, it seemed like an impossible burden to overcome—we were living examples of James when he wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1–2).

The real problem was that both of us were using our own needs as the basis for what we thought the family should do. The subtitle of Sacred Marriage, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” made me think with a smile of a similar thought: “What if God also designed vacations to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

I thought I needed rest; Lisa thought she needed excitement, but what if what both of us needed was a bit of humility and a lot more Christlikeness? Maybe the purpose of any particular vacation wasn’t about me getting a certain amount of rest or my wife getting a certain amount of excitement. Maybe God’s agenda was to confront the pride that rules our hearts. God may not have been as concerned with what my wife and I deemed most important; He may well have been far more interested in both of us being shaped into the image of Christ: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 2:3–5).

It’s precisely because I so desperately wanted rest that I needed to be challenged not to make my wants the determining factor of how my family would spend its time. And it’s precisely because Lisa was so eager to do so much that the vacation afforded her such a powerful example of crucifying her own wants and learning to put someone else first. Isn’t it possible that God was more concerned about me growing in unselfishness than about me getting some rest? And isn’t also possible that God was more concerned that Lisa learned to think of the needs of someone else, even though she was so excited about seeing some new things?

If you don’t enter into these questions regarding so many marital situations (this goes way beyond vacations)—if, that is, you don’t see your pride as your greatest spiritual enemy, and Christlikeness as a worthy goal of your journey together—you’ll get lost in the give-and-take of conflicting personal desires. That will spawn nothing but resentment, frustration, and alienation.

When two people desire to grow spiritually, conflict acts like an X-ray. It shows the “doctor” where the problem lies, what needs to be cut, or what medicine needs to be applied. When two people just want to be happy, conflict becomes a battle—somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. That kills personal growth and it eventually erodes intimacy in the marriage.

It’s not until we crucify our pride and take on the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus that we can be freed to vacation with the ultimate purpose: enjoying ourselves immensely, but also allowing God to use a seemingly no-win situation in order to help two people both become more mature. In this sense, with neither of us getting exactly what we wanted, both of us won. God used a common event in life to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Every day we wake up in our marriages with a particular agenda: “Will I get what I want today?” This agenda may be deeply buried in our unconscious, but it drives us. When it’s frustrated, it can unleash a torrent of anger, bitterness, and resentment. How much better to choose to apply God’s agenda: “What does God want me to get out of my marriage today? Rest or service? Affirmation or greater humility? Fun or the chance to crucify my selfishness?”

Sometimes, the answers might well be rest, affirmation, and fun. But we should always be open to asking the question, “What does God think I need most this week?” and humbly submit to that.

But please don’t worry about us this week. We’ve learned how to navigate this and I am relatively confident we’re going to have a great time on this work/vacation. Fun and enjoyment are great blessings in marriage, and not every situation marriage calls us into needs to be thought of as a test. Sometimes we really can (and should) just have fun. But for both Lisa and I to get to the place where we can experience full enjoyment now, we had to first go through the above spiritual cleansing.

I share this just before we leave in case it might be relevant for one or two of you as well…

How to Protect Your Marriage from Temptation

Today’s post from our long-time friends at America’s Family Coaches is a great reminder that steering a marriage away from temptation takes intentionality. Which of the steps mentioned at the end of this article could your marriage use right now? 

Temptation is everywhere—on TV, at work, in the theaters, and on the front page of every magazine. Temptation to look at someone across the room lustfully, to watch a movie or look at a Web site loaded with sexual sin, to put your family second to your own desires or dreams, to rely on yourself instead of the strength of God. The biggest temptation we see today is the temptation to run from problems in marriage and find temporary satisfaction through a divorce, an affair, work, silence, busyness, or any other escape route.

The result? We fall fast and hard, and we usually hurt others as well. All sin has negative consequences that will spread through your life circle like ripples on the surface of a pool, touching your emotions, your relationships, and, most significantly, your intimacy with God.

Are you trying to find someone or something to fill your emptiness? Is your marriage in a rut? Are you held captive by a sin? Is your mate stuck in sin but refuses to recognize or confess it? How do you deal with temptation in your marriage?

By failing to walk or run from temptation, you lose. You lose strength, self-respect, health, security, and safety. You embrace a life of regret. You believe the lies, such as: Life is passing me by. I may not have this opportunity again. I deserve it. I won’t regret it. Others are doing it. Life is short; seize the day! Following God is dull. I’ll never experience life unless I do that.

Everyone has emotional needs. Unfortunately, if the needs aren’t met in the marriage, people often will then try to meet those needs in other ways, such as ministry, church work, and obsessions with appearance, food, and money, or even emotional or physical affairs.

So how can you guard your marriage? Seek to meet your spouse’s needs, realizing that only God can truly meet his or her deepest needs. You cannot be God to your spouse, but you should do what you can to be there when you’re needed. If you are finding that your spouse is not meeting your needs, realize that only God satisfies emotionally. God wants to reside in that deep place of  your soul. Ask God to meet your needs.

Remember, you are never alone in your temptations. You have a mighty God who has the transforming power to change you, make you godly, satisfy your deepest needs, be your greatest defense against the enemy, protect you, and deliver you from evil. Your victory has already been won through Christ.

Here are some ways to defend against temptation:

 Be Committed to the Task

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart.” Don’t let down your guard. The threats to your marriage are real. The dangers are even more dire for those who don’t realize they are under attack.  If you think you are wavering in your commitment to the task of guarding your heart, take a moment to catalog everything you stand to lose if you fail to protect your innermost heart.

Ask the Lord to Protect Your Heart

Spending time daily in God’s Word and in prayer are vital to keeping your connection to Christ. And by protecting your relationship with Christ first, you can avoid falling into traps. Daily obedience to Christ is the best defense you have against the enemy of your heart and your marriage.

Establish Openness with God

Do you have an open relationship with God that allows him to examine your heart and point out where it needs to be guarded? When you allow God to search your life daily for wrongdoing, and when you confess and turn from that wrong as soon as God brings it to your attention, you establish a habit that offers powerful protection to your heart.

Keep Short Accounts with Each Other

It is crucial to resolve all the hurts and anger in your marriage. When you hang on to hurt and withhold forgiveness, it makes you bitter—and the heart of a bitter person is exceedingly vulnerable to attack. Keeping short accounts is more important than your pride and ego. Just think how such an approach would keep the air clear in your marriage.

Stay Accountable

Gary has a close relationship with five men who ask him the tough questions. He has met with the same small group of men since 1979. These guys have carte blanche to ask him anything they want about his life. His accountability partners can pelt him with honest questions about guarding his heart in every area of life, including marriage. These guys are his trusted advisors. They encourage him to follow God’s best.

Your marriage and your legacy depend on winning this crucial battle for your heart in order to affair-proof your marriage.

Making Time for Making Love

Today’s post from Juli @ Authentic Intimacy post is a practical, honest look at the challenges of making sex a priority when you have young kids. Share this with your spouse, and use it as a springboard for a conversation (and maybe more?) this weekend. 

After a long day of taking care of three little boys, cooking, cleaning, and juggling work responsibilities, I had reached the “finish line.” It was my time to rest. I ignored the subtle flirtations of my husband, Mike, hoping he would get the hint that I was not in the mood. As we were getting ready for bed, I changed into my pj’s and he caught a “glimpse” of flesh.  He looked at me amorously as if the act of changing my clothes was an invitation. I faced a fork in the road: would I “do my wifely duty” or tell Mike what I was really thinking. I responded with a compromise, “We can do it as long as I don’t have to be awake.”

If this had only happened once in a blue moon, our marriage could weather the storm. However, scenes like this one were regular occurrences during the busy years of babies and toddlers. I began to dread sex. Although I loved my husband, I resented that he wanted my body and was encroaching on my rare moments of free time. I remembered hearing that sex was supposed to be a gift from God to a married couple. Frankly, I wanted a gift receipt so I could exchange it for something more useful.

I’m guessing that many young moms can relate to this scenario. The number one barrier to sexual enjoyment for women is a lack of time and energy. Men often don’t understand the mammoth endeavor it can be to switch from “mommy mode” to “lover,” especially when a screaming child is in the next room and dirty dishes are piled in the sink. Who has time for sex?

It was during these busy years that I wrote a book called, No More Headaches. How ironic that I could find time to write a book about sex, but not find the time to actually engage in it! I desperately wanted to discover the secret to getting past the barriers that kept our sex life at best mediocre.

My boys are now 20,18, and 15. There are still challenges, including the fact that teenagers NEVER go to bed and they don’t fall for the whole, “Mom and dad are just wrestling” line. But God has taught me a lot about the importance of sex in marriage and how to make it happen, even in the busiest stage of your life.

Why you can’t put sex on the back burner

Study after study shows that sexual satisfaction and a healthy marriage go together. From a woman’s perspective, we think, “Of course! If the marriage is good, so will the sex.” Men have a different approach, “How could marriage be good without great sex?” According to recent research, the guys actually have a point.

Oxytocin is the powerful bonding hormone that flows through your body in mass quantities when you have a baby. Oxytocin helps you to feel connected to your baby and helps you weather the crazy years of toddlerhood. The power of oxytocin makes your baby the most beautiful creature in the world to you. Women have varying levels of oxytocin running through their bodies at any given time. You may get a surge of it when you have an intimate conversation with a friend or when your husband gives you a backrub. Men are less endowed in the oxytocin department. Your husband will only have huge surges of the hormone at one time – after orgasm. Have you ever noticed that he acts more in love with you after sex? He thinks you are gorgeous with your hair sticking up and your morning breath. That’s oxytocin!

I need my husband to be bonded with me. I need his attention and his help with the demands of children and life. God has designed a way for this to happen through sexual intercourse. It truly is how many men feel the closest to their wives. Understanding the power of the chemicals involved in sex has given me a new appreciation for how critical it is to the health of our marriage. When I sense tension between my husband  and me I often think, “That man needs some oxytocin!”

I could give you many other reason why sex is so powerful, important and not to be neglected. A few of them include the positive impact oxytocin and endorphins (also released after sex) have on you. Regular sex lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, boosts immunity, burns calories, helps you sleep better, and even slows the aging process. Yet, with all this information, it may seem like a monumental task to make sex a priority in your marriage. You may have legitimate barriers to overcome like body image issues, deep conflict with your husband, broken trust, wounds from sexual trauma or physical pain during sex. I don’t want to make light of these painful circumstances. (If this describes your situation, please get in touch with us through our website www.authenticintimacy.com.) But often, great sex doesn’t happen because it’s simply not a priority.

Practical ways to make sex a reality during busy times

Although you may never feel as tired as you do as a young mom, there will always be some reason to neglect sex in your marriage. Like anything else, it won’t get better until you determine to change some things. Busy women find time to do what they deem important. They work out, go to Bible studies, volunteer in the classroom and create elaborate scrapbooks. Is it time for you to make sex a priority? If so, here are some ways to make that happen.

Schedule Sex

This might sound like the most unromantic idea on the planet, but spontaneous sex rarely happens in the busy years of raising kids. You need time to get your mind and body prepared to be intimate with your husband. If you simply wait until bedtime, the chances of you both being ready with energy at the same time are slim to none. Then sex becomes an act of service for one of you. The goal is for you both to enjoy the intimacy and pleasure of great sex.

Couples “schedule sex” in different ways. Some actually put it on the calendar one to three times a week. Other couples agree that each of them will initiate at least once a week. My husband and I had a code word that he would use meaning, “Let’s have sex sometime in the next 24 hours.” Then I had the freedom to initiate within that time frame when it was good for me.

Think about sex

The bestselling book series, Fifty Shades of Grey has proven one thing. Women want to think about sex and feel sexually stimulated. I’ve heard from scores of Christian women who are eating up erotic books like Fifty Shades because reading about sex helps their sex life.

I’ve read the book series (and written a book in response with Dannah Gresh Pulling Back the Shades: Revive more than your sex life – April 2014.) Please don’t fall into the trap of erotica. It is pornography for women. Although it will initially stimulate your sexuality, it will ultimately lead to distance between you and your husband. The greatest sex happens when we are naked in all ways. Porn and erotica cause you to share your body with your husband but stay “hidden” from him in your own secret fantasies.

A holy, erotic book called The Song of Solomon gives a Christian woman permission to fantasize and think about being sexual with her husband in a way that honors God. When you understand the symbolism of the book, you will be surprised by how specific, steamy and erotic this book is – and it’s in the Bible! If you are married, God wants you to think about sex, but to keep your fantasies and thoughts geared only toward your husband. The brain is the most powerful sex organ, especially for women. (Linda Dillow and I recently published a Bible study called Passion Pursuit for married women to help them think about sex in a biblical and holy way.)

Pray about Sex

Yes, you read right. God cares about your sex life. He understands the devastation of finding out your husband is looking at porn or has no interest in sex. He knows the pain of sexual trauma. He even cares about your exhaustion or depression. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve worked with many women through such barriers. While counseling can be a step in healing, God is the ultimate healer.

If your husband is willing, get on your knees together once a week and ask God to show you how to love each other sexually. Ask Him to help you work through the barriers that cause division between you.

There are a lot of great things you can give your kids. You may be sacrificing time and money to take them to play groups, sporting events, and music lessons. But remember this: none of these compare to the foundation of growing up in a home in which mom and dad love each other. Work hard at being a mom, but never at the expense of having a thriving marriage.

How to Be a Mom Without Losing Your Mind

We have a 3 and 1 year old in our family, and I’ve watched how hard it is for my wife to feel like a sane, functioning human/woman/wife. Hopefully this great post from To Love, Honor, and Vacuum helps all you moms of young kids who are out there! Guys, this is worth you reading too, if for no other reason than you can share it with your wife and she’ll think it’s sweet how you’re trying to understand her world. Win, win. 

When you’re a new mom, how do you keep “mommy” from taking over your identity?

We’re talking about loving your hubby this week at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and one of the best ways to do that is not to add ONE MORE THING to your to do list, but instead to do a mind shift where, even when you’re a mom, you still feel like a wife first.

And that’s so hard in the baby years!

Recently young mom Hannah Southerland sent me this awesome post about the transformation she went through as she became a mom, and I’m happy to share it with you today!

I’d been married for 8 blissful months when I was driving to work one day and thought: “It’s been awhile since I’ve had a period, maybe I should stop and get a pregnancy test.”

So there I turned into the Rite Aid I passed on my way to work and grabbed one. Holy options of pregnancy tests! I get to work and decide to put my mind at ease with a confirmed negative. But we all know how that goes, and 10 seconds later the most positive positive I could’ve ever imagined popped up on that little screen, and so began the craziest ride I have ever been on.

Here are 10 practical tips on how to keep that “new wife” feel even when you become a mom, ones I wish I would’ve known, and ones I learned along the way.

1. Realize early on that this transformation in your marriage is going to be tough.

Don’t freak yourself out about it, but you do need to realize that this is going to be the most challenging, difficult, exhausting, yet most wonderful thing you’ve ever done. Enjoy the process and the baby showers and the crazy middle of the night cravings, because you and your husband will look back on that with fondness even if you felt absolutely terrible.

2. Talk through the expectations you have of one another as parents.

If you’ve never discussed this, DO IT RIGHT AWAY, don’t assume you just know! Ask questions about his upbringing. What type of role did his mom have in the home, what did his dad take care of. Talk about your upbringing. What did you like, what do you want to change? Will you return to work, or is your dream to stay home? There is no better time than right now to discuss all of these things. But keep an open mind, some of the things you thought you were going to do may change dramatically once the baby is here. Not discussing expectations just opens the door to a lot of bitterness and resentment that totally could’ve been avoided.

3. Be intentional about date nights!

Louder for the people in the back. Be intentional about date nights! Every situation is different but I think at roughly 2 weeks post partum you should leave your baby with grandma and go out. For just 1 hour. Take a shower, put on semi normal clothes, and leave the house! It will be good for you, your marriage and ultimately good for your baby! We try to get out at least 3 times a month; if it is fewer than that we can feel the tension in our house. Date nights are rejuvenating to the soul. Go out, or you can stay home and send the baby to Grandma’s house for a few hours, just be together, uninterrupted.

4. Join a moms group.

Seriously. I had both of my boys in the dead of winter and the isolation is killer. I was overly confident at the beginning and thought my husband would be enough to fulfill all of my relational needs, and that is not the case. You need to find friends, and it’s a bonus if they are also moms that get you. Trust me. This is crucial.

5. Leave your baby with your husband and leave the house.

I get that at the beginning, especially breastfeeding moms, this is tough to do. Feed the baby, hand them over to your husband and go to the grocery store or TJ MAXX for 20 minutes! It may seem endearing at first to be the only one your baby wants, but that will be very exhausting on you and other family members who want to help out. Your husband was half of creating this precious little life and nothing is sexier than a man that can handle a poopy diaper and some spit up, amiright? If your husband texts and calls, tell him he can handle it. He’s a smart guy, he married you right? 😉

6. Routine, routine, routine.

At the 6 week age mark you should be in a pretty similar routine of bedtimes and wake up times. Bedtimes are important because when the baby goes to bed at a certain time, you and your husband are free to have a few moments to exchange some words that don’t involve, “she’s hungry, or did you remember wipes and the butt cream.” Those words aren’t sexy. Lay the baby down, and sit on the couch (not in bed or you will fall asleep) for even 15 minutes of conversation that isn’t revolving around your baby. This also includes no more chores. I exhausted myself with chore upon chore after the kids went to bed, and while I do have a few things I do in the evening, after 8pm I do not allow myself to do anymore chores. It is hubby and I time. Take a bath, read a book, or watch your guilty pleasure TV show!

7. Eat well.

Make sure you have good choices of food for yourself in the house. I took really bad of myself after my first baby and my recovery was a lot tougher, and the weight lingered on far longer than I expected it too. If you eat like junk, you’re going to feel like junk, and if you feel like junk you’re going to act like junk. It’s a bonus if you maneuver that stroller you HAD to have and get out and enjoy some fresh air and take a nice little walk. It’s good for the soul and a bonus if you drop some stubborn post baby weight!

8. Give grace freely.

This new journey you’re on is freakin’ hard! Its uncharted territory especially if this is your first baby. Kids put us in situations we never thought we’d be in, and stretch us in ways we never thought. You never realize how a 30 minute car ride could turn into a very large fight between the two of you because of the screaming and crying from the backseat. Lord help me. But don’t be overly picky and critical on your husband, he’s doing the best he can.

9. Communicate!

Communicating is more than just talking at each other. Everyone wants to be the couple that makes it. But it isn’t easy. You’ve got to keep talking, and listening and really trying to understand the other person. Moments of uninterrupted talking are going to be further and farther between now. Cherish them, and don’t take them for granted.

10. Be a wife first.

This will be the hardest thing to do as a new mom because the baby is so demanding and so very cute. If you stay home during the day try your hardest to greet your husband with a smile when he comes home, don’t bombard him with all of the things that went wrong that day. Some days I am awesome at this, but most days I fail. I am constantly trying to be better at this, but I can tell the tone of our house changes dramatically when I make sure my husband feels welcome when he comes home, and not like I just want to unload on him as soon as he walks through the door.

What A Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs

First off, yes that title is a reference to a Christina Aguilera song and no I don’t apologize for that. Second, to all you gentlemen out there: today’s post from America’s Family Coaches is a great, simple reminder on what our wives need from us. Think through the list at the end of this. Is there one of these you can improve on? What’s one way you can do that this week?

Every wife’s life story is different, but every wife shares the same need for unconditional love and acceptance. That became clear to us when a majority of our female survey respondents said that the need for unconditional love and acceptance was their number one love need.

That’s not surprising when you think about it. We all need love, but we need it most when we deserve it least. In these situations, ordinary love must become extraordinary love. Imagine your spouse loving you completely, without even hesitating over your mistakes. Sounds just like Christ, doesn’t it? It is. That’s the core of unconditional love, and he is the exclusive source of it.

I (Barb) remember when I first felt the power of God’s unconditional love for me. It was during my sophomore year in college when I realized that I was close to failing two classes. I had no one but myself to blame for the situation; I had simply spent more time with my friends than I had with my homework. But I couldn’t bear telling my parents, who were sacrificing financially to put me through school.

My brother, Barry, was a new Christian, and he encouraged me by telling me how God’s grace covers our worst mistakes and how his love for us is unconditional—he loves us even when we are guilty.

That night, as I wrestled with my inner feelings and Barry’s words of spiritual direction, I tasted God’s unconditional love. And in the years since then, God has reminded me again and again, in many ways, of his unconditional love for me—especially through the times my husband has loved me when I didn’t deserve it or when I was actually hurting him.

When you love your wife unconditionally, you reflect God’s love to her. That love will reap enormous rewards in your marriage.  It will, in fact, transform your marriage.

There are several common areas where women need unconditional love and acceptance.

Encourage Her

When your wife fails or disappoints you or others, your first response—your words—will determine whether she folds under the pressure or rises above her circumstances.

The power of unconditional acceptance during a time of hardship or failure can heal a woman’s wounded soul. Because these soulful messages connect your heart to hers, they can literally feed and nourish your wife… and your marriage. Such encouragement heals broken hearts. It soothes the aching aloneness that gnaws at a person’s spirit.

Stand with Her

Every woman struggles with insecurity from time to time. When that happens, she has to decide whether the problem she is struggling with will shake her up and hold her captive or whether she will get control of it.

The worst thing a husband can do is use this kind of situation to exert control over his wife. Instead, step closer to her and to find out what is going on inside her. As you do this, you gently and comfortingly express your unconditional love for her, assuring her that you will love her no matter what.

Compliment Her

 When your wife feels insecure and self-conscious, you can compliment and affirm her. All women want to look good and feel good about themselves, but when women look in the mirror, they tend to notice what’s wrong with them rather than what’s right. That tendency can rob your wife of joy.

So pay your wife a compliment! Tell her specifically what you love about her. Speak affirming words. Be sensitive to her. Compliment your wife on who she is – Her actions and character are as important as her looks.

Respect Her Opinion

When your wife is expressing her opinion, love her by listening. Validate what she says. Such positive statements reinforce and affirm the presence that she is in your life. When your wife says things that you may disagree with, before trying to “fix things,” express your unconditional love by being willing to hear her out and ask questions. That kind of acceptance and understanding will allow her to process her thoughts, unload her anxiety, and respond positively to your response.

Talk With Her—and Listen

When your wife needs to talk, it’s essential for you to create a safe environment for her. Don’t minimize how important your role is. Set the tone by turning off the TV, putting down your phone, or telling the kids you and Mom need few minutes to talk. Initiate discussion times between the two of you. Remember that practice makes perfect.

When your wife is confident that you are listening to her and that you understand her (or are trying to), she will have a soul-deep intimacy with you.

Be Tender with Her

Do you find it hard to love your wife when she is cranky and irritable? We realize it’s impossible for you to understand fully what women experience with their monthly mood swings and fluctuating energy level. All of the physiological factors cause most women to feel irritable. Some change personalities altogether! When “that time of the month” hits for your wife, stand back and let her express her feelings. Anticipate her menstrual cycle, and recognize that her hormones are affecting her emotions.

Don’t take her moodiness personally. After the inner storm has passed, she may even apologize if she acted in a manner that was not Christlike.

Spend Time with Her

When your wife’s days are full of hard work and the unending needs of family, when she is pouring out more than she is taking in, she needs time with the most familiar, trusted, comforting man in her life. You won’t believe how refreshing that can be for her. Make that time together happen.

Serve Her

Gary’s willingness to serve me— in big and small ways—convinces me on the deepest level that no matter what comes our way, no matter what flaws I have, no matter what I might do to disappoint him, he will love me unconditionally.

Take the risk. Ask God to help you love and accept your wife unconditionally—in the midst of her pain and vulnerability and weaknesses. Love her even if she annoys you, even if she disappoints you, even if she doesn’t deserve your love. Love her with the kind of love that Christ shows to you.

Abuse: More Than Just a Black Eye

A warning up front: today’s post is about the different kinds of abuse that happen in a marriage. Sadly, statistics show that in our Thriving Marriages community there are dozens, if not hundreds, of readers in emotionally, sexually, spiritually, or physically abusive marriages … and despite this article from Elisabeth Klein focusing on one gender, we know they’re not all women. We care too much about what God wants for ALL his children to not talk about this. Please read this: even if it doesn’t apply to your marriage, it might to a marriage you know. I (Josh) am praying for you, a member of our TM community, today and specifically that those of you in abusive marriages will find the freedom and safety God longs for you to experience.

I received a question from a reader lately: “I wish I had understood more about the other kinds of abuse. I thought the only thing truly considered abuse was if you were hit. What other kinds are there?”

I was a psych major in college.  I have half of my Master’s in Social Work.  I worked at a social service agency for eighteen months out of college as the good touch/bad touch lady.  And when someone talked about abuse in a marriage situation, I always thought of only three kinds: physical (getting hit), sexual (being raped), or emotional (being yelled at or maybe called names).

I liken it to the analogy of a frog who starts off in lukewarm water but because the water is heated so slowly, he doesn’t even realize he’s being boiled to death.  Sometimes, you’re just too close to the situation to know what you’re dealing with.  (Which is why it’s so important to get outside help.)

This is a list of some of the various kinds of abuse that can appear in a relationship.

Emotional/Psychological: Put-downs. Name-calling. Mind games. Mental coercion. Conditional affection. Dishonesty. Broken promises.

Threats: Threats to end relationship. Threats to do harm. Threats to life, to take the children, commit suicide, to report to the authorities.

Economic: Restrictions on employment. Making the abused ask for money. Giving the abused an allowance and taking any money the abused earns. Requirement to account for every penny spent while shopping.

Intimidation: Use of looks, actions, gestures, loud voice or cursing to generate fear. Continual arguing. Abused required to say what abuser wants to hear.

Property Violence: Punching walls, throwing things, destroying property. Breaking down doors, destroying personal property of the abused. Abuse of pets.

Passive/Aggressive: Use of silence as a weapon. Refuses to engage in problem solving, communication or intimacy.

Isolation: Controls what is done, who is seen, who is talked to. Limits or listens in on calls. Sabotages car. Restriction of outside interests. Frequent moves. Restricts access to mail. Deprived of friends.

Use of Children: Use of children to give messages. Use of visitation rights as a way to harass. Use of child support as leverage. Influencing children to side with abuser and/or pressure abused.

Humiliation: Hostile humor. Public humiliation and criticism. Denigrating appearance, parenting skills, housekeeping skills, cooking, and so on.

Responsibility: Making abused responsible for everything in life (bills, parenting, and so on). Making abused responsible for abuser’s feelings and behavior.

Spiritual: Use of scripture and words like “submission” and “obey” to dominate and control.

Sexual: Demanding unwanted or bizarre sexual acts. Physical attacks to sexual parts of the body. Treatment of the abused as a sex object. Interruption of sleep for sex. Forced sex.

Use of Male Privilege: Treatment of the abused like a servant. Unilateral decision-making. Expecting more privileges and having fewer responsibilities.

Physical: Beating, biting, choking, grabbing, hitting, kicking, pinching, pulling hair, punching, restraining, scratching, shaking, shoving, slapping, spanking, smothering, tripping.

Deprivation: Denial of basic rights. Deprivation of private or personal life. Controlling food, water, sleep. Denies access to medical care.

Stalking: Spying, following to activities (store, church, work, and so on). Extreme jealousy. Frequent calling. Sending unwanted presents or notes.

If you or your children are in physical danger, you need to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible and tell someone.  And if any of these on this list sound like the relationship you’re in, it’s time you get help and figure out what to do.  This is not what God intended for anyone, including your potential abuser.  Help can be found.

Nat’l Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out my coaching options and my e-book, “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.

Actually Nicholas Sparks, Marriage ISN’T About Compromise

There’s something about my personality that enjoys deconstructing clichés and today’s article from Tarah Avery at Start Marriage Right is a great example of why. This is such a helpful, accurate takedown of the idea that a good marriage involves neither partner getting all of what they want. Hope you enjoy!

Marriage is about compromise; it’s about doing something for the other person, even when you don’t want to.–Nicolas Sparks.

That sounds about right, doesn’t it? At least for many of our definitions of compromise.

Though there is truth to the statement above, I have learned from countless couples in trusting, committed, and passionate marriages is that marriage is not about compromise.

When I was a little girl I didn’t dream about my wedding much. I didn’t have the plans already in place and never played pretend “bride.” Little did I know my future husband was dreaming about and planning for his future wedding! He played “groom” and “wedding” and did all those things that little girls are supposed to do.

During the wedding planning season of our lives, Gordon and I worked tons to create a wedding we would both love. Of course I wanted something that I would love-just because I didn’t think about it growing up (I only ever concluded sunflowers) did not mean that it wasn’t important to me once it came, and it was definitely important to him after spending all those years thinking and dreaming of this day.

We actually had the vision of our wedding planned out before we were even engaged (thank you, Pinterest). We did this because we didn’t want all hell to break loose during our season of being engaged. I knew we had different visions of what our wedding might look like: big vs. small, inside vs. outside, formal vs. whimsical; so we made it a point to discover what we both loved, no compromises.

We had a “fun-classy” wedding – black and white with a little bit of gold sparkle, sunflowers, and stripes! It was beautiful. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The biggest piece of advice from many married couples is to compromise: “marriage is about compromise.” But what are they really saying?

They are most likely saying meet in the middle, or like the quote above – give a little, take a little.

For example: a husband and wife have a disagreement on what they want to do on their day off. The husband wants to sit and watch football all day while the wife wants to go on a long 7-mile hike. So they talk it out and meet in the middle of watching football for a couple hours and then going on a shorter 3-mile hike.

Now is either partner really happy? He had to cut the football game off at halftime and she didn’t get the nice long hiking workout she wanted.

What we need to do is learn what healthy compromise actually looks like.

Jeff Bethke puts it this way: “for us (Jeff & Alyssa), we’ve committed to compromise. And not compromising to appease the other person, but compromising to love the other person. In fact, we don’t even really like to call it compromise. In reality, it’s just serving. Learning to serve your significant other out of love.”

Isn’t that so true!?

Meeting in the middle is what most people would define as compromising, but truly it’s a selfish way to live your life and a selfish thing to bring to your marriage. But serving one another as Jeff puts it, is compromising to love the other person. It’s selfless. And if done with the right heart it becomes a beautiful cycle of “out-serving” the other person. The more Gordon is selfless towards me, the more I am towards him.

Now someone has to start. You may not be living in a serving relationship now, but I bet that if you took that first step to serve him, he would want to join in. And so the cycle begins.

You’ve just discovered what it truly means to “compromise.”

Ditch meeting in the middle and take on the challenge of viewing compromise as serving the other person. So the next time you have a differing opinion or preference, I challenge you to be selfless out of love for your spouse.

Bringing Sexy Back to Your Self-Image

Today’s post comes from Joy McMillan, author of XES: Why Church Girls Tend to Get it Backwards…And How to Get It Right, and Friend of the Newsletter™ Intimacy in MarriageIf you struggle with body image and trying to feel sexy and comfortable in your own skin, you’re going to want to read this. 

I stood at the door feeling quite lovely in my summer dress, giddy at the thought of dancing the night away with an older boy.

As his car rolled up, every googly-eyed, toe-popping kiss scene I’d ever watched scrolled dreamily through my mind.

Surely this would be the most perfect night.

But somewhere between the gate and the front door he stopped, glanced up and, without missing a beat, declared, “Seriously?!? You’re wearing…that?”.

He needn’t have said anything, though. His face clearly communicated his disgust.

Illusion shattered, my shoulders sank as a hot flush flooded my cheeks. Apparently I had missed the “formal wear” memo and was ridiculously underdressed for the event. Or else this guy was just a total jerk. The jury is still out.

While this confidence-shattering event may have been just a small smudge on the big picture of my life, the shame I felt in that moment embedded itself deeply in my soul. It further cemented what I had already suspected; that something about me was unacceptable.

Repulsive, even.

On occasion this shame beast comes out to play. And you should know, it doesn’t play well with others.

The unkind and critical things others have said – even in complete ignorance – have a way of bleeding over onto the lens through which we see ourselves. We can hear 10 positive things spoken over us, and yet one single negative comment will seed itself so securely in our memories that it overshadows every positive.

We can go through the motions and flesh out our lives, but when our self-image is broken or buried under the weight of how society says we should look, everything in our world feels the ache.

This is especially true in our bedrooms, when our clothes come off.

Never has our confidence been so under attack. And nowhere is that deficit felt more than in the tender underbelly of our sexuality.

A few years ago, as I slipped into bed after a quick shower, my hubby confronted me. “So, umm…why can’t I see you naked? I’ve got a license, you know. Why not show me a little skin?” His observance caught me off guard.

I pulled the duvet closer in, feeling exposed by his acknowledgment of my routine. You know how it goes…woman slips out of clothes while simultaneously slipping behind the shower curtain. It’s seamless. Shower on, shower off. Hand slips out, grabs towel, curtain opens to woman tightly encased.

From there I’d slip into the closet where I’d get dressed in private. Like a secret agent, I had it down pat.

My husband, on the other hand, would walk around completely uninhibited in his birthday suit for entire minutes before the shower was even turned on, and would linger afterwards, sans fig leaf, while shaving, brushing his teeth, and faffing.

It would seem he actually liked being naked.

And it would seem, I did not.

No, his body isn’t perfect, but he’s comfortable, and that’s sexy. No, my body isn’t perfect, but he finds me ravishing. Shouldn’t that be enough?

He loves me – all of me, including the parts that have grown and stretched. But as long as my critical eye shreds my confidence by lingering on every stretch-mark, or zeroing in on anything that sags, I deny him the gift of myself.

It’s a gift I long to offer, but never feel adequate enough to extend to him.

I buy into the lie that perfection is the only gift worth giving, and so I withhold the beauty that is mine to give. And nobody wins.

When we feel uncomfortable in our bodies, remodeled compliments of our children, or ashamed of the stretchier skin we’re in…we run for cover. We bundle up, we push away, and we hide.

But the good news is that the opposite is also true.

As women we were created to appreciate beautiful things, and when we feel beautiful ourselves, we’re more apt to offer our beauty to others. More specifically, to our husbands.

We have a choice, sweet friend.

We can choose to hold onto shame, and allow it to destroy our confidence – and our sex lives along with it – or we can step into grace and the freedom it gives birth to.

Shame says, “You’ll never be enough. Don’t waste your time trying.”

Grace says, “God gave that – all of that – to you…now enjoy it while you bless him with it.”

Even sexier than our girly figure in the bedroom, is our Godly confidence in the bedroom. The gray matter that sits between our ears is our most powerful sex organ.   The way we see ourselves  and then present ourselves  hugely affects our ability to intimately engage at all.

It also gives us the power to choose.

May we choose well, wisely and often.

Re-finding the Fun In Your Marriage

You know, sometimes it’s not complicated. Today’s post from Juli Slattery is a simple reminder that marriage needs to be – and CAN be – fun. What’s one way you and your spouse could inject some simple moments of fun into the craziness of day-to-day life?

Someone once asked my husband, Mike, “What’s it like being married to a psychologist?” Mike answered, “It’s great. I get to sleep with my therapist.”

In all seriousness, there are some very frustrating things about having a wife who is a psychologist. Probably the greatest drawback is that I always notice what is wrong. Remember the story of “The Princess and the Pea”? She could feel the slightest item under a pile of mattresses. That’s how I feel sometimes in family life. I notice when there is the tiniest hint of conflict, and I am super aware of how we should be improving our marriage and parenting efforts.

To be fair, this may be more the result of being a woman than of being a psychologist. Most women are far more sensitive to relational problems than their husbands are.

My marriage and family “perfectionism” went to a whole new level when I worked at Focus on the Family where my job was to interview marriage and family experts. Practically every day I’d come home with the latest strategy to improve our marriage or a new concern about how we were raising the boys. While Mike was interested to hear what I was learning, he was also realistic about living in the real world rather than in a marriage and parenting utopia. Some nights I’d lie awake worrying about all of the things we were doing wrong, frustrated that my husband wouldn’t “get with the program.”

I can become so uptight about all the things we should be working on that I forget one of the most important elements of family life: enjoying each other. Even with all of my sophisticated knowledge, my husband’s approach to marriage may be better than mine. He continually invites me to “play” with him. “Juli, it’s time to come out of the submarine and join the rest of us,” Mike playfully teases me when I’m deep in thought.

Mike loves vacation, laughing, and wrestling with our three boys. About once a week, he will remind me, “You are my favorite person in the world! I wouldn’t want to be spending time with anyone else but you.” Now that’s worth about 10,000 pages of advice in any marriage book.

If it weren’t for my fun-loving husband, I might work our marriage to death. When we were dating, I was so serious about our relationship that I often squelched the fun of it. One day, Mike was playfully kissing my face and I pushed him away and said, “Those kisses don’t mean anything!” It’s a wonder the guy stayed with me. Talk about a wet blanket!

Yes, there is a time to resolve conflict and learn about having a sacred marriage, but there is also a time to laugh. One of the most effective marriage counseling strategies is to help couples learn to have fun together again. Your brain chemistry actually changes when you and your husband can laugh and truly enjoy each other. Do you remember how to simply delight in each other’s company? Here are three simple things you can do to build fun back into your marriage:

1. Take a Trip Down Memory Lane

Rekindling love and romance sometimes begins with remembering. Get out some pictures from your dating days or watch your wedding video. Go out for dinner at a nostalgic place. Reminisce about your engagement, your honeymoon, or your favorite night together as newlyweds.

2. Try Something New

Your brain likes novelty. When you and your husband do something as simple as going to a restaurant you’ve never been to, your brain will release dopamine, which is how it “rewards” you with pleasure. Pursue a new hobby together, or do something random on a date like painting pottery or cooking a gourmet meal.

3. Create a Work-Free Zone

A few years ago, Mike and I got away for a romantic weekend alone. While he was excited to be with me without kids, I was planning how to bring up an issue I thought needed to be resolved. What better time than a weekend away to address difficult topics, right? While we were enjoying a leisurely stroll, I brought up the issue. Mike felt blindsided. His guard was down and we were supposed to be having fun.

I learned the hard way to separate fun from working on our marriage. There are times to talk and pray through difficult problems, but those times should be separate from recreational time together. If you need to address things in your marriage, have a “meeting”—don’t sneak it in on a date.

Your marriage isn’t a project to build; it’s a gift to enjoy. If God made one of you serious and one of you fun, thank him for the balance your husband brings to your life and your marriage.

The Past Doesn’t Stay in the Past

One of our biggest passion topics here at Thriving Marriages (other than, you know, passion) is the importance of your past. Just like today’s author, Lisa Brookes Kift claims, our experience is that most couples are running from the pain of their family of origin, previous relationships, or sexual abuse. This is a completely understandable defense mechanism that in the moment helped protect you from what was happening, but for a marriage to grow you eventually have to face the past’s role in your present. As you read today’s article we hope you lean into the discomfort, and ask some hard questions.

Consider sharing this with your spouse and having a conversation about it tonight. 

Do you believe things that happened in your past can impact how you function in your relationships?  If you don’t, you’re not alone.  Being a therapist who works with individuals and couples, I’ve heard countless time, “The past is done.  There’s no point in rehashing old stuff.”  It’s certainly not useful to get stuck on a topic and let it replay over and over like a broken record – but acknowledging the experience and working through it to free yourself is pretty important.

First, let’s look at what I mean by “emotional wounds” because they can come in many forms:

  • Lack of secure attachmentwith one or both parents or primary caregivers
  • Abuse or other physical/emotional trauma
  • Emotional or physical absence of one or both parents during childhood
  • High levels of criticism and lack of acceptance during childhood
  • Peer rejection or bullying during school years
  • Pattern of loss in friendships or love relationships
  • Pattern of betrayal in friendships or love relationships
  • Pattern of maltreatment in friendships or love relationships

There are many other ways people can experience pain that sticks with them down the line.  Keep in mind that some people are more vulnerable to these types of experiences than others due to factors of resilience and who they are.  Also, often the earlier the relational disappointments and pain (from birth to five) the more likely future issues will be more difficult to get through.

Now let’s look at ways emotional wounds can show up in your relationships:

  • Tendency to attract and be attracted to partners who mistreat you
  • Tendency to attract and be attracted to partners who are emotionally unavailable
  • Tendency towards self sabotage in relationships
  • Fear of getting close in relationships
  • Tendency to have high expectations of others, personalize their behavior and be easily disappointed when they fall short

A primary reason why much of the above happens for those who carry emotional wounds rests in their belief systems about themselves (lacking value and worth), others (lacking trust) and the world (lacking belief things will work out).  It actually makes good sense considering their earlier experiences!  For children who didn’t begin their earliest years in an environment of trust, security and love (during the most important time when the brain is developing and wiring at a fever pitch), it’s no wonder they can become adults who don’t necessarily believe that good can come – or that they deserve it!

Many blindly cycle through unhealthy relationships with no awareness of how their past has blocked them from achieving one of the most rewarding of human experiences, a loving relationship!  The good news is that change can occur.  What I’ve observed often working for people is a recipe of acknowledgment that they are operating in a way that isn’t ultimately serving them, awareness of why that is, desire to take steps to change and stepping outside of the box that they may have known their whole lives – to do something different!

It’s brave work to tackle your past.  But it can one of the most rewarding things you ever do for yourself.

4 Commitments I Made in Marriage (or: How I’m not the Hulk Anymore)

Today’s post is written by me (Josh), your friendly neighborhood Thriving Marriages editor. If you’d like to know more about me, well you’re about to in this post. But you can also check out a book I wrote here, or my website here.

“You’re a different person than you were three years ago,” my wife said recently, and since I’m only kind of a different person I semi-sarcastically responded “yeah, good thing you’re not married to that monster anymore.”

Here’s the deal, I don’t like admitting my wife is right (who does?!?), because that means admitting I wasn’t in a good place three years ago, but as usual, she’s totally right. We’re seven years in to marriage and we have never been better, in large part because I’ve never been healthier mentally, emotionally, and spiritually than I am right now. A wise friend of mine (and Friend of the Newsletter) once said “the person you’ll be in five years is based on the habits you form and the commitments you keep.” So in view of that here are three commitments I’ve made in my marriage that have transformed me into something resembling a good husband.

I committed to therapy

We’ve talked about this a lot here at Thriving Marriages, but a healthy, highly educated therapist is a gift from God. I’ve had the benefit of four of them over the past decade, and I am better for it. Like so many people sadly have been, I was sexually abused as a child. The shrapnel of that explosive moment ripped holes in the fabric of my emotional world, and while therapy has most certainly not been a quick-fix solution, it has given me a new way of understanding what happened, how I should feel about it, and how I can live in progressive amounts of freedom now. That freedom is so real that I literally just now realized a joke I was about to make of how I’m still intimacy-phobic isn’t really true. I’m not (which is too bad. I got a lot of miles out of that intimacy-phobic bit). That’s the first time I’ve realized that. It feels good, guys.

I committed to purity

I grew up in a Southern Baptist culture that sledgehammered sexual purity into my pubescent brain so frequently I developed a pretty strong shame complex about lustful feelings and behaviors. Because of that I am  quick to tell people that God’s grace is with them in the fight against pornography and sexual addiction. My generation is the first to grow up with the internet, and we have been fighting a war we were decimated by as children through not fault of our own. If you are someone struggling with a porn addiction, man or woman, there’s grace in the journey. You are loved, right where you’re at.

That being said …

Over the past year I have experienced more freedom from pornography and masturbation than ever. While the old habits, wounds, and temptations still lurk in the shadows, they don’t come out near as often as they used to. This is due to 1) the therapy I already mentioned healing the wounds that drove me to self-medicate through porn, and 2) me finally getting serious about inviting my wife into my struggle. After years of resistance (due to the aforementioned shame), I set up an accountability software program that alerts my wife whenever I visit a sketchy site (which, in this program, also means anytime I’m working on a sex-related Thriving Marriages post).

I cannot believe how this has changed my marital sex life. Because I’m not injecting images of naked female bodies that are literally impossibly perfect into my imagination, I’m rewiring my sex drive to be turned on by one thing: my wife. Porn trains the human brain to receive gratification without intimacy, which makes intimacy in the bedroom difficult. Removing that from my life has created a sex life with my wife that is better than I could have imagined.

Let me say that again, my sexual satisfaction is SO. MUCH. HIGHER.

I committed to a diet

Okay, this one is only kind of true. Generally I am in … not the best shape of my life. I work part time at an Italian restaurant where I get free food guys. I’m trying! But there is one food-related commitment I’ve made and, no joke, it has made a night-and-day difference in our marriage: I cut out dairy.

It took me a long time (like, 20 or so years) to figure it out, but dairy fuels my anxiety in a very specific way: it makes me irrationally irritable, and I’m using the word “irritable” in the way you might say Bruce Banner gets “irritated” when he turns into the Hulk. I’m not telling you to stop drinking milk, but I am saying that I know dozens of people who have realized when they consume certain foods it has an enormous impact on their mood.

For literally the first time in my marriage, I don’t feel like there’s a rage monster inside me just waiting to go off. The amount of energy I spent trying to repress that inner Hulk was exhausting, and I DO NOT MISS HIM. Neither does my wife.

I committed to my wife’s spiritual health

A few months back I told Christina that 8-8:30 every morning was her dedicated time to spend with God. I would be ready before then to hang out with the kids, and she could duck into the bedroom and pray/read her Bible/perform miracles/whatever it is she does in there. I wouldn’t know, because no one goes in the bedroom during that time.

The first thing I noticed from this is my wife was happier, less stressed, and more optimistic. Like, not all the time, but way more than she was. The second thing I noticed is that was way happier, less stressed, and more optimistic. Weird how that works. The third thing I noticed was that her commitment to a devotional time spurred me to do the same.

It turns out, when we’re both centered in God’s love, we have more love for each other. Who knew?

Now I commit to ending this article.

But before I do, I’ll say this: not all these commitments will apply to you, but what I am praying today is they’ve inspired you to make your own commitments. The marriage you’ll have in 5 years is based on the habits you form and commitments you keep. So get after it!

Understanding the Mind of the Man you Married

Did you know men and women think differently? I KNOW. Surprising. Turns out there’s a perfectly logical, scientific explanation, and today’s post from Gary Thomas explains what that means for your marriage. Men: this is a great article to share with your wife. Women: if your husband is a bit relationally tone deaf (or just plain deaf), this will help you understand why, and why that’s actually a BENEFIT to your marriage. Enjoy!

Many marital problems arise not because of an issue between a specific couple— say, Jack and Jill or Larry and Sherry— but because of a breakdown in understanding between a male and a female. In the next three posts, I hope to offer wives some insight into the intricacies of the male mind so you’ll learn how to better communicate and live with your husband. But there will be plenty of helpful information for husbands to understand themselves, so men, please stick around!

The last several decades of neuroscience have demonstrated that well before a baby comes into this world, while it remains safely tucked inside the mother’s womb, the brain of a male baby gets bombarded with testosterone, while a female baby receives greater quantities of female hormones. Between the third and sixth month of that unborn baby’s life, hormones begin to shape the tiny brain, influencing how that individual will interact with the world. Yes, males receive some female hormones, and females receive some testosterone, but the quantities of these hormones (males have up to twenty times more testosterone than females; females tend to have much more oxytocin than males) will stamp that child’s brain by the sixth month of pregnancy—three months before any mother or father has a chance to “socialize” it.

Admittedly, there exist what neuroscientists call “bridge brain” males and “bridge brain” females. Our tendency toward masculine or feminine brains occurs on a continuum, resulting in various degrees of stamping. But even here, a “bridge brain” male will have more testosterone than a “bridge brain” female.

The male brain therefore functions much differently than the female brain. Dr. Louann Brizendine, who studied at Yale and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center, states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”

While our brains are more “plastic” (that is, moldable) than we used to think and therefore susceptible to socialization, according to Dr. Brizendine, “male and female brains are different from the moment of conception.” Since brains develop by degrees, stereotyping can lead us astray, but certain things tend to be true. For example, male brains usually have less serotonin than female brains. Since serotonin calms people down, men are more likely to act explosively and compulsively. Surprised? Probably not.  (Of course, as I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, this doesn’t excuse or diminish abusive behavior by a husband. I’ve addressed this here: “Taking Non-Physical Marital Abuse More Seriously http://www.garythomas.com/marital-abuse/, here: “God Hates Domestic Violence” http://www.garythomas.com/god-hates-domestic-violence/ and here: “Enough is Enough” http://www.garythomas.com/enough-enough/, among other places.)

Here’s another example. Men also have less oxytocin in their brains. Oxytocin has been called the “cuddle chemical” as well as the primary generator of the “tend- and- befriend” instinct. In general, the more oxytocin someone has, the less aggressive he or she is likely to be. On the positive side, more oxytocin usually means more empathy, making the person more likely to notice how you’re feeling and more likely to inquire about it.

Why is your husband less likely to tune in to your emotional pain and verbalize his concern than, say, your sister or your best friend? His brain doesn’t work the same way a female brain does; it just doesn’t occur to him to connect his affection with verbal inquiry. The “mirror- neuron system” of your husband’s brain, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “ ‘I feel what you feel’ emotional empathy system”— the system that helps a person get “in sync with others’ emotions by reading facial expressions and interpreting tone of voice and other emotional cues”— “is larger and more active in the female brain.”

Remember, this is true not only of your husband in particular; it’s true of men in general. Be careful that you don’t fault or resent your husband for being a man!

If you want to motivate your husband and communicate with him, as well as enjoy a fulfilling marriage with him and raise healthy kids with him, stop expecting him to act or think like a woman. He can’t do that. Nor should he.  I’m not saying empathy doesn’t matter. As I write in Cherish, “Emotional abuse is also the withholding of love, encouragement, and support. It can be a sin of deprivation every bit as much as a sin of commission.” But as you’ll see in the next post, the way a man expresses empathy can be different than the way a woman often expresses it.

Rid yourself of every tactic and skill you use in talking to your sisters, best friends, and mother, and realize that a man’s mind functions very differently. Some similarities exist, of course, so a few things will interrelate. But if you expect him to talk to you like your lifelong best friend does or your sister does or your mother does, and evaluate him on that basis, you’re being unfair. And you’re going to be disappointed.

This post is all about understanding that your husband is biologically wired to relate to you differently than you relate to him or your female friends. Influence begins with understanding, and in the next two posts, we’ll seek to delve into how you can make this work in your marriage’s favor.

If you want that information sooner, this post is adapted from my most recent book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. Loving Him Well is a substantial rewrite of Sacred Influence, with about fifty percent of it being completely new. I’ve worked with many more couples over the last decade-plus that Sacred Influence has been out. For instance, there’s an entire chapter helping the church deal more appropriately with abusive marriages (though the book isn’t written for women in abusive marriages). Due to my own ignorance and lack of experience, I wasn’t sensitive enough to that issue when Sacred Influence first came out. And whereas Sacred Influence had a few paragraphs about wives dealing with porn-watching husbands, there’s now an entire chapter (in fact, now the longest chapter in the book) devoted to that subject. High speed Internet access has changed everything in this regard over the past decade and a couple paragraphs will no longer suffice.

I didn’t recommend any one buy revised editions of Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting or Sacred Pathways if they already had the originals, as these were rather light glosses, mostly tightening things up, clarifying a bit, and updating cultural references. But Loving Him Well is more than a rewrite—it’s a substantially different book (with about half the content being the same as its predecessor, however).

You can check it out here:

 http://www.garythomas.com/books/loving-him-well/

3 Ground Rules for Sexual Playfulness

Today’s great post from Julie at Intimacy in Marriage has some great thoughts on why turning your spouse on is great, and how to do it well. 

Are you and your spouse sexually playful?

Or do you wish you were sexually playful and just aren’t sure how to make all that fun sexy foolishness happen?

Well, good news. Sexual playfulness is one of the easiest sex skills to learn. I mean, it is way easier than learning the wheelbarrow position. Because that position is not easy.

It needs a warning label. And a physical therapist on standby.

But sexual playfulness has lots of possibilities that all of us average everyday people can do!

Here are 3 rules to live by:

1. Don’t tease unless you plan on following through.

I knew a guy in college who loved the chase. He was a master flirt. He had all these smooth ways to woo a girl, but then once he had her, he lost interest.  Sexually teasing in a marriage without following through is kind of like that.

It is making a promise that sounds good in the moment, but then when it comes time to show up, you either forget completely about the promise made earlier or you postpone it indefinitely.

So to make sexual playfulness genuinely mean something, it has to more often than not lead somewhere. And that somewhere better involve nakedness, sexual pleasure, sheets in disarray, and your kid possibly saying, “What on earth was going on in there? I swear I heard cat noises. Mom, why is shirt now on backwards?”

Does sexual playfulness have to lead somewhere immediately? No.

But you can’t joke around with your husband in a sexually suggestive way and think that he isn’t going to want you to take those suggestions to the next level within a reasonable amount of time. Maybe later that evening? Maybe the next night? You get the idea.

For more reading, check out Don’t Tease Unless You’re Going to Follow Through.

2. Tell each other what you find sexually playful.

If you have never been sexually playful with your spouse, you both may find it helpful to actually point this out. Maybe say, “I would love it if we could joke around more sexually. I just want us to be more playful with each other in that way.”

Now if this is totally out of character for both of you, you may also have to let your defenses down. Sexual playfulness at its best isn’t going to be scripted. Certainly, if there is something you absolutely do not find playful, express this. But as you both are finding your way to what you each do like, you will have to learn to not be so easily offended.

So when you’re making chocolate shakes for your kids and your husband looks at you playfully and says, “I know a better way we could use that ice cream and chocolate syrup,” don’t be so quick to discount his friskiness.

Instead, smile and say, “Well, if only we had some caramel sauce, too. You know how I like caramel sauce.”

For some husbands and wives, sexual playfulness comes in the form of inside jokes and innuendos that have shared meaning for only the two of them. Along these lines, this is why I always say that if you are going to do any sexting with your spouse, you’d be wise to use code words.

Imagine if you meant to text your husband and accidentally texted your neighbor something like, “You know what I really need? Some pineapples, that’s what.” Well, you can backtrack your way out of that embarrassment.

Not so easy to do if your text said something like, “Hey, it’s been awhile since you let me strip you down and check your fruit. Meet me in the produce aisle… uh, I mean our bedroom… at 10.”  Hmmm. The neighborhood barbecue just got awkward.

As is the case with any phenomenal sexual intimacy, couples who learn to give and receive feedback usually figure out what is sexually arousing and affirming. And what is not. Trybeing playful and you’ll find your way.

3. Maintain good exclusivity.

Sexually suggestive comments, good-natured sexual humor, and frisky hands all can be incredibly arousing — until one spouse feels the amusement has jeopardized the exclusivity of their intimacy.

If you are around other people or in a public place, you have to have discernment on what is appropriate exuberance versus what is embarrassing to your spouse.

If your playfulness becomes too descriptive and other people are privy to this, the desired outcome may ultimately be nixed. Suffice to say, you gotta know when too much is just too much. Especially if you’re in the middle of Home Depot or sitting at your kid’s basketball game.

And even if you and your spouse are not easily embarrassed, you still need to keep the sexual details to a minimum when being sexually playful in the presence of others.

Funny story along these lines.

Right now, neither my husband nor I are wearing our wedding rings. He actually hasn’t worn his since March 2017 because of a lawnmower accident where he cut off the tip of his ring finger.  I haven’t worn mine since just a few weeks ago (you can see that story here).

So we were sitting around laughing about our apparent “availability” and this led into a conversation about would either of us get married again if the other died.  My husband said he wouldn’t, but I said, “I think I probably would. I just love sex so much!”

My husband laughed and said, “Yup. This is true about you.”  Of course, our college-aged son was sitting there and shook his head in a way that clearly conveyed the last thing he really wanted to hear his mom say is how much she loves sex.

My husband smiled, glanced at our son and said, “See what I’m dealing with here?”

It was good-hearted playfulness.  Had I gone into detail about what exactly I love about sex — well, that would have been too much. At least for our son.

50 Shades of Silly: Why ‘Grey’ Sex Isn’t All That Great

I (Josh) tend to be a contrarian, which means when marriage blogs got on an anti-50 Shades of Grey kick I kinda rolled my eyes and thought “we’ll never run something like that at Thriving Marriages.” And yet here we are with today’s anti-50 Shades post from Gary Thomas, because 1) being a contrarian isn’t a super noble attribute in a human and 2) today’s post is really good. The core problem with the 50 Shades series isn’t the kink, but a fundamentally misguided understanding of what healthy, liberated pleasure actually is. Hope you enjoy, and are maybe even inspired to experience 50 vibrant shades of healthy, God-centric sex with your spouse tonight. (Share this with them: you never know!)

I’m not into creating lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” that aren’t in Scripture. If anything, the Bible is relatively silent about such lists within marriage. It’s not my intent to disparage any appropriate act that a husband and wife enjoy in their private moments.

Yet every once in a while, popular culture comes up with yet another—let’s be honest—silly expression of sexuality that is supposed to make the rest of us feel like perhaps we’re missing out on something. So, with a little bit of fun and just a little bit of insight, let’s rethink what is being so celebrated this week through a poorly written trilogy and a major Hollywood release.

1. A man or woman who gets pleasure by giving you pain isn’t really someone you want to fall asleep next to, is it?

2. The way our brains operate, if you need pain to get sexually excited, that level of pain becomes normative and routine, so you have to increase the level of pain to get the same excitement. In a long-term, lifelong marital sexual relationship, that’s a problem.

3. When sex recreates past abuse instead of providing a healing alternative, it cements the soul in dysfunction rather than releasing the soul into healthy intimacy.

4. If your sex life requires a secret “back” room and you have kids, you better not be raising your children in a studio apartment.

5. When sexual relations require a hardware store’s worth of product, it’s evidence that the couple hasn’t learned how to use what they already have: their hands, their hair, their lips, their fingertips.

6. A woman who has been pleased and sexually served by her husband for many years doesn’t need handcuffs to surrender. Memories of past pleasure will hold her to that bed with a much greater force.

7. If a couple ignores the spiritual side of sex, their satisfaction in the bedroom is living on borrowed time.

8. Just about every wife wants to occasionally be “taken”—but by a man who has her pleasure in the front of his mind, not her pain.

9. The husband in the Song of Songs compares his wife to a mare harnessed to the Pharaoh’s chariot (1:9), but he doesn’t actually try to harness his wife to the Pharaoh’s chariot.

10. It’s simply foolish to feel intimidated by or envious of the sexual relationship of a couple that requires a billionaire’s income and schedule to sexually excite each other.

11. Far more exciting than seeing a woman in a blindfold is when a man creatively pleasing his wife watches her eyes open wide in surprised ecstasy and then shut tight to enjoy the moment.

12. Daily kindness will get a woman in the mood far more certainly than sanitized metal.

13. A woman finds her “liberation” by being completely dominated by a man? Is this 2015 or 1815?

14. When a woman is psychologically healthy, knowing that her husband won’t hurt her if she surrenders will pleasure her far more than the thought that he might.

15. A spiritual connection—knowing each partner is supported in prayer, and that both husband and wife bow their knees to God before they touch each other, gives spouses the spiritual freedom to surrender their souls, not just their bodies.

16. For long-term sexual satisfaction, a woman is pleased far more by knowing any “yes” will lead to her being carried away by her husband’s touches, not used by his demands.

17. The “scandal” of pure marital sexuality is that the “tools of the trade” are in full view for all to see—nothing has to be hidden because everything is already celebrated in the biblical Song of Songs.

18. Soul-satisfying sex without commitment is as real as chocolate cake without calories.

19. An abused man who expresses his hurt with violent sexual acts against a woman is “healed” by his sexual partner being willing and submissive? The last time that happened in real life was never.

20. True surrender comes when a wife knows that she can slide into her husband’s arms with the full confidence that he’ll soon make her momentarily forget everything bad going on in her life and feel everything good, not vice versa.

21. Love isn’t expressed by accepting intentional pain; it’s built by giving and receiving unselfish pleasure.

22. While an occasional blindfold might be enticing, far more satisfying to a healthy wife is to see in her husband’s eyes how much he desires and adores her.

23. A sexually creative wife doesn’t need a whip when she knows how to use her hair. On second thought, a sexually creative wife doesn’t need a whip, period.

24. Healthy men and women want to be desired for who they are, not for the toys they can afford.

25. Watching or reading about an unmarried couple having aberrant sex doesn’t lead to a more exciting sex life; it leads to irrational dissatisfaction with normal marital sex.

26. Is this really how you want to define a fulfilling sexual encounter with your mate? “I survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought.” (Yes, that’s a direct quote)

27. When sex is at its best, the husband wants his wife and the wife wants her husband even more than they want pleasure, and infinitely more than they want pain.

28. It takes zero creativity to surprise a virgin; it takes an intentional, creative and thoughtful husband to surprise a wife.

29. The best mark of fulfilling sex isn’t a bruise or a scratch—it’s that special glance between husband and wife two hours later.

30. Before husbands wonder if there’s something “wrong” with their wives who are hesitant about this kind of sex, they would do well to ask themselves if there’s something a little dark about wanting to do these kinds of things to a wife.

31. It takes far more bravery to commit yourself to one partner for life than it does to commit yourself to a new sexual encounter.

32. If you think your “inner goddess” is found through sexual pain, you have a very tiny deity indeed.

33. What’s nobler? A married couple thinking up new ways to give pleasure or a dating couple thinking up new ways to give pain?

34. A strong man isn’t looking for a young woman to dominate; he’s looking for a woman who inspires him, a partner to share life with, and a fellow parent with whom he can build a family.

35. As my friend Deb Fileta states, why walk the fine line between pleasure and pain when as a married couple you can give yourselves up entirely to pleasure?

36. If a guy is “fifty shades of [messed] up,” he’ll bring you far more misery than pleasure as soon as you step out of the bedroom.

37. Let’s be honest. If your lover leads you into a place that looks like the “Spanish Inquisition,” you’re in a horror movie, not a romance.

38. A guy who has to control you in the bedroom won’t stop trying to control you in the living room… Or the kitchen, or the car, or anywhere else, for that matter.

39. The best marital sex doesn’t require one man “training” a woman; it requires sharing and learning and growing together.

40. A woman who is truly cherished doesn’t need the comfort of a helicopter on standby to take her away at a moment’s notice; she rests in the comfort of knowing there’s no there other place she’d rather be than in her husband’s bed.

41. A wife who has been married for twenty years and who gives her husband an anniversary “present” he’ll never forget has a far more inspiring book to write than a virgin who gave herself away to become a controlling boyfriend’s semi-violent fantasy.

42. You have to use rough leather on the back only when you haven’t discovered the exciting power of kind words softly delivered to the ears.

43. Explicit or violent sex may make some people overlook truly deplorable writing long enough to read three books, but it won’t allow most women to overlook a truly deplorable relationship or man for more than three years.

44. Sex needn’t always be about conception, but when it’s never looked at that way, that’s when the couple is truly missing out on something pleasurable, powerful, wonderful and fulfilling, all at the same time.

45. Sex for a few months with someone you barely know is about as much an accomplishment as rolling a ball downhill; sex for a few decades with someone you know inside out and have loved for twenty years is poetry put to music.

46. The most effective tools of lifelong marital intimacy and interest between two sinful people are grace, humility and kindness.

47. When a lover tells you there’s a “fine line between pleasure and pain,” he’s making excuses; he’s not planning to fulfill his promises.

48. Proverbs 5:19 prays that a man might be ever captivated by his wife’s love, not enraptured by her pain.

49. Would a man who truly cherishes a woman’s body ever want to leave a mark on it?

50. When the husband in Song of Songs declares that his bride’s “lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb,” (4:11) he found that out from kissing themnot from biting them.

5 Steps Toward Having that Hard Conversation

As someone who is both married and writes for a living, I found today’s post super relatable. Hope this content from our friends at The Romantic Vineyard is helpful to you as well!

I’m a member of a writer’s group that celebrates it’s 15th anniversary today. We jokingly call our group “Writer’s Block” because I’m sad to say that more often than not this is what we are experiencing.

Writer’s Block, in case you aren’t aware, is defined as the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

Sometimes the reason is we know what we want to say, we just aren’t sure how to say it. Sometimes we are struggling to know what to write. Or maybe we are skirting the truth like in this scene from You’ve Got Mail

Marriages go through a sort of block as well. We know we need to have a conversation, but we aren’t sure how to begin. Or we may start and then fumble from there, so we avoid it. The problem with avoiding those needed conversations is it doesn’t go dormant; It grows like an unattended weed. I’ve found that if one little issue is bothering me, it will become a bigger irritation the longer I try to ignore it.

If you’ve been married any length of time, this isn’t a new idea to you. Chances are high you have avoided many a conversation as well.

The question is what can we do to change?

  1. Humble yourself before God and ask Him to help you do what you can’t do in your own strength. He loves to show Himself strong through our weaknesses.
  2. Ask Him to help you see the situation from your spouse’s vantage point. This sounds easy to do, but usually we are convinced that we are right, so there is no need to consider any other perspective.
  3. Tell your spouse you want to talk about something, but you aren’t sure how. This will help your spouse realize your commitment to do something you need to do, even if it’s hard. And it will also help them find a way to draw it out of you. I have practiced this many times as a way to commit myself to talking when I’m am resisting it or afraid to begin. 😊
  4. Once you begin the conversation avoid saying always, and never, even if you believe it really is always or never. These are bridge breakers and wall builders. The object isn’t to prove your point, but to come to a place of mutual understanding and care.
  5. Work diligently to keep the lines of good communication open. That way when you have to have a more difficult conversation it won’t be as uncomfortable getting started.

Consider using our new book, Cherishing Us, to that end. This is what Julie Sibert with Intimacy In Marriage has to say about it…

Cherishing Us helps you unpack hidden treasures in your relationship, as well as build new adventures through countless specific FUN date night ideas. It is full of questions that will inspire you and equip you to better understand the person you fell in love with and to help them better understand you.”

Difficult conversations are a regular part of any marriage. The difference between a healthy marriage vs. a struggling marriage when it comes to marriage block is knowing how to keep talking when you are upset or disagree. If you have tried countless times and failed, then please, please, seek outside help. The cost is too high to give up. Those who know you are counting on your marriage to succeed, especially your children.

You Already Have What You’re Looking For in Your Marriage

Today’s post is a powerful reminder from Elisabeth Klein. If you like it, be sure to check out one of her books we’ve linked to at the end.

I recently heard this quote, “We all come into the world looking for someone who is looking for us.”

That utterly resonated with me. YES, I thought. My entire life has been one big long looking for that person looking for me.

But then I read something that did more than just nudge my heart. In Lifelong Marriage: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in Your Marriage, author Gary Thomas shared this concept, and I’m paraphrasing:

We believe our number one need as human beings is to be loved, because it is.

God, in his word and through his Son, tells us and shows us time and again that he loves us – completely, perfectly, intimately, no matter what, forever and ever.

So, technically, our number one need as human beings is met already. We come into the world loved.

And therefore, we can stop looking for someone to love us. (And, sidenote: we can stop performing and striving.) Because we already are loved.

Which means, our actual number one need as human beings is to learn how to love God and others, as that is what we are told time and again in Scripture to spend our lives doing – love God, love others, love, love, love.

(Thank you, thank you, Mr. Thomas.)

Do we understand what this means? (Because if we were to understand this, it would change everything. It might change who you choose to marry if you’re not yet married and it would hopefully change your perspective on your marriage if you already are.)

It means that marriage is not about finding someone to love you for the rest of your life. We’ve gotten it so wrong. (I’ve gotten it so wrong.) We’re not told in Scripture to get lovedfind someone to love youget affirmed for who you are. We are told to love, love, love.

(Sidenote: yes, “falling in love” is great and wonderful and all that. But every person who ever has “fallen in love” in the history of the world will tell you – if they’re honest – that the feelings fade and that you are then faced with the daily choice to stay with the person you committed to and to love the person you said you would love.)

Marriage is really about availing ourselves to the process of learning how to love someone else for the rest of your life.

If you are single or dating, let this view change what you’re looking for. You do not have to beg for affection or affirmation or attention. You are already adored and validated and seen. Instead, ask yourself: whose life could I make better, easier, richer by my presence, my prayer, my service, my kindness, my words?

If you are already married, let this view change how you see your spouse. This isn’t about what he hasn’t done for you or what he has done to you (though, if you are being physically, emotionally, relationally, sexually or spiritually hurt on a regular basis, I urge you to get real help). But it’s not about keeping track of the wrong done and the good withheld. Instead, ask yourself: what can I do today for my partner to make his life better, easier, richer by my presence, my prayer, my service, my kindness, my words?

It’s not about being loved, because you already are! It’s about loving.

God, help us understand to our core that you love us already, all the way through, no matter what, for the rest of our lives and into eternity. Help us receive and accept that love. Let that love shape our choices and our actions and words to others. Teach us to love you and others out of the love you have lavished on us. Help us love in humility, gentleness and unselfishness. Help us love in wisdom and truth. Protect our hearts but help us to live a life of love. Amen.

If you’d like help in learning to love in wholeness and truth, I have resources for those of you who are dating, in difficult marriages, or remarriages. Dating after DivorceSurviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage, and Second Time Around can all be found here.

Easy, Affordable Ideas for Your Next Date Night

Consistently dating your spouse is hard, and the longer you’re married the harder it is. Every once in a while we like to post a list of super practical date ideas – like today’s from For Your Marriage – just to help fuel your date creativity. Enjoy!

 

Although having a weekly date may seem like a no-brainer, many couples’ good intentions quickly get put off to some future time, when life is not so busy or there’s more money. Pretty soon the kids are grown and couples find they’ve grown apart. Make a commitment to a weekly date. It doesn’t have to always be on the same night, but it’s helpful to pencil in one night each week on your calendars; you can always change the night if a conflict comes up.

Below are some ideas that go beyond the usual dinner and a movie. Many involve little or no cost. Not all dates have to involve going out, but if you have young children, getting a break from the kids is a stress release in itself. Getting a babysitter, however, can be a burden. Alternate who gets the sitter and develop a pool of sitters.

Absolutely free

  • If you’re the responsible, conscientious type, do something together that’s whacky but legal. If you’re already the risk-taking type, do something responsible, for example, pick up litter around a park or volunteer at a soup kitchen together.
  • Try star gazing in your own back yard or out in the country. Just bring a blanket and gaze upwards together. If you’re the scientific type, you might get a star map and try to identify constellations.
  • Go to a public place (a train station, airport lobby, downtown gathering place) and people watch. Make up stories about the people who pass you, as if you’re writing a novel. If you see someone who looks sad or distressed say a prayer or lend a hand.
  • Each spouse privately creates a funny costume from what you have around the house. (No need to buy anything, just use pots, paraphernalia, jewelry, and even root through your spouse’s clothes to put items together in weird or scary ways.) Then come together and reveal.
  • Rake leaves together. Make a big pile and jump in them. Let go of any inhibitions about being neat and tidy. Don’t have any fallen leaves? Find someone who does and volunteer to rake theirs.
  • Find an empty, open church. Sit, kneel, explore, pray. Let peace and reverence seep into your being. Quietly pray for each other. If you like, discuss your deepest spiritual beliefs afterwards.
  • Waiter’s Night. Pick a night to “wait” on your spouse. You get the drinks, the snacks, his/her slippers, favorite game, etc. You can even dramatize your role as servant. Just make sure that you alternate the favor sometime soon.
  • Traditionally, parents fill their children’s shoes with treats on St. Nick’s eve. Try walking in your spouse’s shoes for an evening – perhaps more of a challenge for the husband. Try to understand life from your spouse’s perspective. Even if you don’t exchange shoes, at least change roles for the evening.
  • Commit to a “tech free” night. Turn off your cell phones, computer, the TV, and the lights. Use your imagination to see what’s left to do without electricity.

Cheap Dates

  • Go to an amusement park or arcade. It doesn’t have to be one of those fancy, expensive parks. Go without the kids and BE kids again. Do those silly arcade games like skee ball or whack-a-mole. Impress your spouse with your strength or cunning…or laugh at your ineptitude.
  • Play a game from your childhood – croquet, badminton, hide and seek, miniature golf. Reminisce and be playful together.
  • Pretend-You’re-a-Tourist date. Look around your city and do the things a tourist might do – go to an overlook, a quaint neighborhood, the botanical gardens, a museum, whatever is special about your hometown. Gawk if you like, after all you’re a tourist. (Inspired by Co-op America).
  • Build something together – ice cream sundaes, a pizza with your favorite toppings, a tower of blocks. Perhaps you will find a chuckle over the odd or weird combinations that reflect your different approaches to food, building, and life.
  • Plan a “Favorites Night” around your favorite food, clothes, games, sports, etc. Each spouse could choose a favorite activity which you then combine into one evening, or the wife could propose her favorite activities for one date and the husband plans the next date with his favorites.
  • Ride a city bus for the whole route. Reflect on the sights you see and the lives of the people who are your fellow passengers. Debrief your insights afterwards.
  • Wait for snow and give yourself permission to make snow angels or make a snowman. Don’t live in a snowy climate? Go roller blading or revisit your childhood by visiting a roller skating rink.
  • Visit a pet store together. This is usually good for stirring up warm fuzzy feelings. Restrain yourself from buying, however, unless you’re really ready for a new family member. Talk about any pets you had as a child.
  • Ever gone midnight bowling? It’s more than just bowling. Some places have special music, lighting, and gimmicks. Even without these, it can be a ball of fun if you don’t take it too seriously.
  • Look through old photo albums and tell each other stories of your childhood and families. If you feel really energetic, make it a time to put all those loose photos in albums or on a disc. It’s a big job but your children will appreciate it one day.
  • During Lent, go to a fish fry. The fish is not the point. Seeing a community work together to feed the multitudes is a miracle in itself. Are you a member of a faith community? You don’t have to like fish to check it out.
  • Hang out at a bookstore. Browse through your favorite sections. Many bookstores have cozy reading spots or a café connected with them. Assume an erudite persona for an evening.
  • Do something to nurture your spiritual life. Go to a church service, spend an hour in silence, pray the Way of the Cross in a church or walk in a poor neighborhood to seek Christ’s presence there.
  • Visit your local zoo. Spring is often an especially engaging time since your likely to see some endearing zoo babies and glorious flowers.
  • Try a theme date like one around “quarters.” Think of all the things you can do that use quarters like play a juke box, wash the car, take your picture together at a photo booth, play video games at an arcade. (Inspired by Co-op America)
  • Thrift Store Date. Pick a spending limit (like $5 each) and see what crazy gift(s) you can put together for your sweetheart. Try creating a crazy or luxurious outfit for each other and wear it home. It may be the only time you wear it (other than Halloween) before you donate it back to the store. (Inspired by Co-op America)
  • Volunteer somewhere together – a nursing home, a soup kitchen, clean up litter from a park or along your street. Pray a simple litany of thanks together, i.e. For our family, we thank you Lord. For a safe home, we thank you Lord. For our health, we thank you Lord…

Outdoorsy dates

  • Water and moonlight can be romantic. Is there a lake, a river, a fountain near your home? Take a walk along a body of water at night. Pause and gaze at the light shimmering on the water. Dream and imagine together.
  • Do something silly that reminds you of your childhood. Climb a tree together, catch lightning bugs, or feed some ducks.
  • Try an old fashioned picnic in a secluded spot. Lay out a table cloth, some snacks or a meal. Some wine might be a nice touch. Perhaps read some romantic poetry to each other. It need not be original, just something you took the effort to find.
  • Take an early morning or evening bike ride together. Explore your neighborhood or the countryside. Stop at a quaint café for breakfast or get an ice cream cone or other treat along the way. In fact stop whenever you feel the urge. It’s not a race, just a time to discover together.
  • If tent camping is a new experience for you, try it, you might like it. Borrow a tent, sleeping bags, and some advice from a veteran camper and spend a night in the woods – or at least a backyard. Snuggle, tell ghost stories, and roast marshmallows.
  • During the Fall, find a corn maze and wander through it. Night time is the most fun. Getting lost is part of the adventure. Ponder how your experience may mimic times in your life together when you felt lost, found each other, or found your way through a difficulty together. No corn mazes in your area? Search out a labyrinth. Many retreat centers have them.

At home dates

  • Curl up for an evening of reading. Find a book you both enjoy and take turns reading to each other, or each of you can read your own book in each other’s company. For fun you might want to randomly read a sentence from each of your respective books and see what bizarre combinations this makes.
  • The Bible may not seem like a date book but try sharing your favorite passage with each other. Don’t have a favorite passage? Explore the Song of Songs together. Share what you find physically attractive about your spouse.
  • During the dark of winter, make some light together. Build a fire in the fireplace. Don’t have a fireplace? Light a whole bunch of candles in a grouping. Lay out a blanket and have an indoor picnic – or at least some popcorn.
  • Rent a classic romantic move like Casablanca, Sense and SensibilityThe Princess BrideWhen Harry Met SallyNotting Hill, etc.

7 Steps to Get the Most out of Marriage Counseling

This isn’t the first time we’ve said this, but we’re a big fan of therapy (done well) here at Thriving Marriages. Today’s great post from Lisa Brookes Kift at The Love and Life Toolbox is a practical look at how to get the most out of therapy in your marriage. 

You are your partner are struggling.  Perhaps your disconnection is significant or maybe you feel committed to the relationship but see red flags that need addressing.  Couples therapy is not only for couples who can’t figure out how to make change on their own.  It can also be useful for insightful couples not feeling quite right and want some help identifying potential blind spots by someone trained in relationship dynamics.

The most successful couples therapy experiences often involve two people who are still invested in the relationship but not necessarily so.  Wherever you and your partner exist on the continuum, there are some important considerations to ponder to have the best chance of making couples therapy work for you.

  • Clarify your hopes.  Therapists will often ask you in the beginning what you hope to get from the therapy process.  Couples can have entirely different agendas and a good starting point is at the very least be clear on what you each hope to gain from the experience.  If you don’t know, that’s ok too.
  • Be clear on the role of the therapist.  It’s not uncommon for people to assume (or hope) that the therapist will “fix” the situation.  Unless he/she has a very special magic wand under their chair, this is not possible.  The therapist’s role is to guide, identify feelings and needs, find ways to alleviate distress, help create a more secure bond (if resolution is desired) and provide education for couples to carry the work outside the walls of the therapy office itself.
  • Get ready to look in the mirror.  How are you contributing to the dynamic of the relationship?  What are you doing that might be creating insecurity rather than stability?  The first step is ownership but willingness to do things differently is equally important.
  • Be clear of your job in therapy.  If it’s reconciliation and relationship strengthening you seek, effort is required at home to apply the tools learned in session.  It’s important to prioritize the relationship by making the time to do so.  This can be really challenging with busy lives but even a few minutes spent on attempting to connect and healing can begin to shift the dynamic between you.
  • Have a shovel standing by.  You might need to do some digging into your past.  When people struggle in their intimate relationships, there are usually significant clues in your family of origin experiences with parents or primary caregivers in what messages you received about how to “be” in relationship.  The past can’t be changed but it’s important to identify any unhelpful belief systems about self and others that might have been learned in your family of origin.
  • Be open to possibility of the need for individual growth.  If you or your partner are unhappy or have other issues not related to the relationship (depression, anxiety, other emotional health concerns), these issues are not the individual’s alone.  Your relationship will bear the brunt of the personal distress in some way.  Consider ways to alleviate the situation with the support of the other.
  • Plan to keep working on it.  If you’ve finished up your therapy work with a positive outcome, don’t let the lessons, new habits and improved connection slip away.  Healthy relationships require care and attention.  Continue to find ways to prioritize your relationship.

Couples therapy can be many things.  It can be healing, connecting, relieving, joy filling and peace giving.  It can also be frustrating, painful, exasperating and tense.  And yes, sometimes it’s not enough to save a marriage or relationship in a high level of distress.  But if this a path you would like to try, it’s helpful to be prepared by being as clear as possible about what to expect from all parties involved.

–> DIY Tip:  If getting into counseling is challenging for you at this time, whether it be cost, accessibility or other concerns, begin with my therapist created tool for couples, The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples, to help strengthen your relationship foundation.

 

God Never Meant Your Marriage to be Perfect

Don’t we all wish we could say the following? “We have such a good marriage. We hardly fight at all, if ever. We’re just so compatible.” And, in fact, if God said to me, “Gary I’m going to give you the easiest marriage and the easiest life, if you want it,” I don’t think I’d have the character to turn it down. While such a relationship might, at times feel like a pleasant marriage, it might also miss out on an entirely different dimension: the power of Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul speaks a fundamental Christian truth: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Three times, Paul pleaded with God to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” Three times God said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Finally—and this is what scares me—Paul got to the point where he said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What if, instead of telling everyone how “good” we have it, we honestly testified to God’s grace? “We’re really not compatible at all, but God has used those differences to build in us a humility we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“We’ve never been comfortable, financially, but that has kept us on our knees.”

“We got married young, and the fact is, we both want different things out of life, but God is giving us grace and power every day to unite our hearts and keep us together.”

Is there a “thorn” in your marriage relationship that you have pleaded with God to take away, many times? Is there something you wish He would heal, but He hasn’t?

“Really, God, we have to go through this issue again???”

In such circumstances, do we seek resolution, or do we seek Christ’s power? Do we seek the pathway to an easier life, or to a supernatural life?

It is in our weaknesses—as individuals, and perhaps as a couple—that Christ’s power comes to rest on us; often, it is only when we are at our end that we make way for God to begin. If God resolved every issue, every child’s problem, and every spouse’s annoyance with their first uttered prayer (“Presto! Everything is better!”), the reality is, we’d be weaker saints. We’d be weaker couples. We wouldn’t display the power of Christ. Or, at the least, we’d display it to a much lesser degree.

I don’t honestly know that I can go where Paul goes: “delighting” in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties. If there are any of those in my marriage and family, I want them gone, and I want them gone now.

Isn’t this our attitude? We pray, “Lord, fix this” instead of “let the power of Christ be made manifest in our lives.” We don’t want power; we want superficial peace. We don’t want witness. We want hassle-free lives. We don’t want the fierce force of weakness-generated-strength; we want an easy, fun, and care-free relationship.

Or at least I do.

Shame on me.

Can you thank God for that child who keeps you on your knees? Can you recognize why God may choose to allow the possibility of another addictive lapse to keep both of you living in dependence? Can you understand that God may not remove some difficulties that you hate because He wants you to rely on the supernatural power of Christ that He loves?

I’m sorry, friends, that this is such a sobering post. But I believe it will change our marriages and our walks with God if we stop expecting every problem to be fixed and instead expect every difficulty to help us learn Paul’s secret of strength in weakness.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

How can we look at the difficulties and trials of marriage in this new light?

When the Husband Has the “Headache”

Today’s post comes from new Friends of the Newsletter,™  the team over at Authentic Intimacy. I love how it flips the stereotype of “women don’t want sex” on its head. Enjoy!

Watch a movie or flip through some TV sitcoms and you will hear men always want sex. Men are portrayed as constantly turned on and trying to get their wives into bed while the women are typically shown rolling their eyes. Ask a group “What do men think about most often?” and their answer will no doubt be, “Sex!”

When you step into the Christian culture, this stereotype may be even worse.  There are books and articles talking to wives and encouraging them to love their husbands through sex, and women who are writing in saying “I have no desire but my husband wants it every day! What do I do?”

So what do you do when you’re a woman but YOU’RE the one desiring sex? What happens when your husband isn’t as interested as you? I see this question come through Authentic Intimacy’s email box at least 3 times a week, and it is always covered in shame and confusion. Women say things like “What is wrong with me? Why do I desire sex more than my husband?” and “How can I fix this? I know as a woman I shouldn’t have such a strong sex drive, but I do.”

If I’m being completely honest, this is something I have personally wrestled with at times. In a culture that screams MEN ARE THE ONE WANTING THE SEX, women aren’t sure what to do with their desires. While each couple is certainly unique, here are some tips to deal with the difference in sexual drive between you and your husband.

Drop the Stereotypes:

Believe it or not, it isn’t a rule or Biblical mandate that men have to be the ones with the stronger sex drive.That is just a stereotype! It is okay to be the wife and also have the stronger sex drive in your marriage. In fact, that’s exactly what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”

Did you notice that he listed the wife’s needs first? Paul doesn’t say “Listen, ladies, the men are going to want sex”. Instead, he says we both have needs and desires for our spouse. If you need more proof, crack open the Song of Solomon and read the passionate drive the bride had for her husband. She even took her groom outside in the vineyard for a sexual field trip. That sounds like a woman with a sex drive to me!

Take a deep breath and realize God’s freedom is for both of us to have a desire within marriage.

Pray About It:

We serve a God who cares deeply about our needs, our situation, and certainly our marriages. If this is an area that is causing you to struggle with your spouse, take it to our Lord! Ask Him for wisdom with how to deal with this and how to talk with your husband about it. As I have started to pray about the sexual relationship between my husband and me, I am reminded this is another area of my life I can surrender to the Lord.

Tell Your Husband:

Many women with a stronger sex drive than their husbands’ have so much shame that they have never brought the issue up with their spouse. One of the best secrets to a growing sexual union is communication.

If you are feeling rejected or confused due to your husband’s lack of desire, talk to him about it. For many men, sexuality is linked to their masculinity and plays into their confidence. So prayerfully share your words without being harmful. You can start with something like “I just want to talk to you a little bit about our sexual relationship. I very much enjoy the intimate times we have together, but I feel as though I have desired to have sex more often than we are. What do you think about that?”

In conversations I have had with my husband about this area, it has helped us to be more honest and open about my sexual desire and not view it as negative. In fact, many husbands would say having a wife who initiates more and is pleased during sex would be a home run!

Cut Down on Rejection

I remember talking to a wife who had a stronger desire sexually than her husband. She said “The ironic thing is during the first few years of marriage, he was the one who always wanted sex. I talked to him a few weeks ago and expressed how I often feel rejected by him sexually. He said ‘Now you know how I felt for so many years. I guess I have learned to shut it off’. I never realized it but we have just been in a pattern of rejecting each other. Somehow, I am going to break it”. While this wife admitted she hasn’t always handled their sexual relationship in the best way, she is now walking forward in healing. Is there a way you can build intimacy within your marriage without feeling rejected? Pray and talk with your husband about other ways to connected intimately that may not lead to sex.

For many wives with a strong sexual desire, this is a tough conversation. Like all different areas of our lives, how may the Lord be using this to teach you more about Him? How can you take this difference between your spouse and use it to build an intimate friendship instead of enemies?

May the Force Be With You(r marriage)

Just like Paul Gibson describes himself in his post today, we’re pretty big Star Wars nerds here at Thriving Marriages. So when we saw this post it was a foregone conclusion we had to run it. That being said, you don’t have to know a Wookie from a Womp rat for this post to make sense, so don’t be scared off. Hope you enjoy!

If you read my Start Marriage Right biography, you discover pretty quickly that I am a big Star Wars fan.

First, Star Wars connects me to my childhood. Secondly, Star Wars does a wonderful job showing that good is not achieved without struggle. Lastly, Star Wars provides heroes in an age when our society is confused about the difference between good and evil.

With the recent opening of Stars Wars: The Last Jedi, I want to share a few lessons about marriage that a couple can glean from Stars Wars (and Scripture, of course).

AN ANCIENT (TRUE) TALE

A powerful scene takes place in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Characters Rey and Finn are introduced to Han Solo and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon.  As Han Solo prepares to ditch Rey and Finn, they inform Han that they are on a mission to return BB-8 to the Resistance because BB-8 holds a map to Jedi Luke Skywalker. After hearing their mission and no-doubt being stirred by memories of his past, Han Solo tells Rey, “It is true. All of it. The Force. The Jedi. It’s all true.”

Up to that point, Rey and Finn had been wrestling the meaning of the map and their journey to return the map to the Resistance. Han Solo’s words begin the process of helping Rey and Finn understand that their journey was part of an ancient tale that was still being written; a tale of good vs evil, light vs dark, the good guys vs the bad guys.

A similar scene takes place in Acts 2. After the Holy Spirit falls upon the first church, many are left asking, “What does this mean?” Peter responds with a passionate testimony that ends with these words, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” In essence, Peter could have responded, “It is true. All of it. Jesus’ life. His death. His resurrection. It’s all true.”

Marriages shaped by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ purposely work to identify ways their marriages can share the Light of the Gospel.

I believe all married couples are like Rey and Finn; they must wrestle with the truth that they are part of an ancient tale that is still being written; a tale of good vs evil, but more specifically of eternal life versus eternal death, of the Messiah versus The Accuser.  Marriages shaped by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ purposely work to identify ways their marriages can share the Light of the Gospel. Such sharing could be through volunteering at a church, caring for a young college student, or even adopting a child or being foster parents. Regardless of the “how,” Christ-like marriages recognize they are part of an ancient tale that implores them to share the Light of Christ to a dark world. Don’t coast through marriage! Identify ways your marriage can make a tangible difference for the Light Side of Christ.

WHAT IF YOUR MARRIAGE TURNS TO THE DARK SIDE?

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” -Master Yoda

I believe Yoda was partly correct. Marriages that have symptoms of fear, anger, and hate are on the path to the marital Dark Side. However, I would slightly amend Yoda’s wise words to say that “fear leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to mistrust, and mistrust leads to an inability to connect, and not connecting leads to the Dark Side.” Proverbs says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life” and Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How’s your heart regarding your marriage? Is it full of fear, anger, or hate? Are you anxious in your marriage, not feeling accepted or loved? Do you trust your spouse? Do you feel as if you and your spouse are miles apart relationally?

HOW’S YOUR HEART REGARDING YOUR MARRIAGE?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, it’s time to get help. Help might not be an Old Jedi Warrior on Dagobah, but it very well could be a marriage therapist or pastoral counselor or even an older, wiser couple to seek out for help and wisdom. Please don’t allow your marriage to be seduced by the “Dark Side” because you and your spouse are too stubborn to reach out for help. The fate of the galaxy is in your hands! We all need an Obi Wan Kenobi or a Yoda to help our marriages when we are seduced by fear, anger, hate, mistrust, and disconnection.

Again, our marriages are part of a much larger, ancient tale that is still being written. As you navigate the light and dark, may the force, — er, I mean may the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the love of the Father be with you!

Want to Improve Your Marriage? Pray for Your Kids

This is one of my (Josh’s) favorite posts we’ve run in awhile (and I’ve written some of them!). I love praying for my two kids, but honestly struggle creating times of spiritual intimacy with my wife, which is another post for another time. Today’s post from Club 31 Women made me want to commit to this (hey babe, if you’re reading this, let’s talk about this). Hope you enjoy it to!

Years ago John and I began a tradition of praying together for our children that helped us move into the fall with vision, unity, and clarity in how to parent our five kids. We designated a block of time alone (an overnight was the best!) to discuss each of our kids in five areas of growth: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and social. We asked ourselves questions like:

  • How is this child doing spiritually? Can we begin to encourage personal Bible reading or teach him how to keep a personal prayer list? (spiritual)
  • Does a child need more discipline in study habits?  How can we ensure this happens? (mental)
  • Does one child need a close friend? (social)
  • How about better eating habits? (physical)
  • Is there a particular child that we feel isn’t getting enough attention from us or is struggling with his self-image? (emotional).

As we talked about each child, we wrote down what we perceived to be their needs for the coming year and any goals that we might have. These lists became our individual prayer lists for each child.

The children did not know what we were praying.

One of the surprising blessings of this tradition was its impact on our marriage.

Simply taking time to discuss each child together enabled us to be on the same page with regard to that child. One of us often articulated something about a child the other had not noticed. Because we did this at the end of each summer, we had usually had some family vacation time together so that we both felt more in touch with each child.

As the mom, I found this drew me closer to John because it was easy to feel like “I do the kids and he does work.”

I know that’s not true, but sometimes it sure did feel like it!  This exercise always made me feel more like we were partners in parenting.  After we discussed each child, we spent time praying together for that specific child’s needs.

The year our son Chris was 11, I felt that an emotional need for him was to “feel special.” He was caught in the middle of four siblings, and I was concerned that he needed to be assured of how special he was.

And so we began to pray that he would feel special.

Halfway through the year he had an accident and fractured his skull. His brain was swelling and the neurosurgeon really did not know how things would turn out. We were in the hospital for two weeks.

On the first day, John and I began to pray that God would use this for good in our lives and particularly in Chris’s life. Once he regained consciousness, we shared Romans 8:28 with him and prayed together.  During the hospital stay, many people sent cards, came and visited, and prayed for him.  We covered the walls of his hospital room with these love notes.

Just before he was released I asked, “Chris, can you think of any way God has used this for good in your life yet?”

As he looked at the walls of his room covered with cards, he responded, “Wow, Mom, I didn’t know how special I was.”

Yes, God answers our prayers! (Chris had no idea what was on our prayer list.)

Keep It Going

We continued this “needs and goals” tradition every year throughout the years of raising our kids.

When they reached college age, we shared the idea with them. We asked each child to e-mail us and their siblings their own needs and goals—using these five areas of growth as a guideline—for the coming year so that we could pray for each other. John and I sent each of ours to them as well. Of course, they groaned, but they did it!

Today those old e-mails are still a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness.

Now that the kids are grown, we take turns sharing needs and goals at adult dinners during our family week together in the summer. This gives us specific insights into each other’s lives, and as we pray for one another in the following months we are drawn closer together as a family.

Fight the Power … of your spouse’s halitosis (bad breath)

So many of our posts are tackling these massive, 35,000 feet topics about marriage. But marriage is also about the small moments and individual quirks that make a marriage both amazing and exasperating. Like, say your spouse has bad breath … [courtesy of To Love, Honor, and Vacuum]

Is your husband’s bad breath bothering you but you’re not sure how to handle it?

This can be a very sensitive topic because no one wants to find out their hygiene is affecting someone else. Don’t let bad breath get in the way of your intimacy and close interactions with your other half.

We’ve put together this article to help you conquer this issue with confidence. It’s not something you can ignore and being able to deal with these types of issues together in your marriage is an important part of being able to grow together as a couple.

What Causes Chronic Bad Breath?

Before we can give you some options for handling bad breath it’s important to understand the different between chronic bad breath and normal bad breath. Chronic bad breath is typically much more potent and stronger smelling than your average bad breath, and it stems from other issues.

That’s right… good oral hygiene isn’t enough to deal with this type of foul smell. The most common cause are other sicknesses with the throat or mouth. If your husband has had bronchitis for example chronic bad breath can accompany it. The unpleasant smell is a side effect of the bacteria that caused him to be sick.

Lucky for you, chronic bad breath usually goes away on its own. After your husband feels better you should expect things to return to normal in about a week.

If the bad breath doesn’t go away or it didn’t stem from a recent illness there may be other things at play. So here are 5 tips that can help you and your husband tackle the issue together.

5 Tips for Spouses with Bad Breath

Bad breath can be a sensitive subject to discuss in a marriage or any relationship. You love your husband and you don’t want to hurt his feelings or for some the topic can just be a little embarrassing in general.

What’s important to remember is you need to be able to talk with the person you’ve married about anything. Especially about something that can affect you to being together or getting intimate. So, bring up the subject gently but with confidence and above all be supportive and helpful.

1. Reanalyze Your Routine

Routines can become monotonous and we begin to not give any thought to what we are doing because we’ve done it so many times before. Spark a conversation on your morning and night bathroom routine and let it lead to talking about oral hygiene.

These daily activities we repeat can often reach a point where we’re not doing as good of a job because we’re not thinking about it. Ask a question like “do you count while you brush your teeth?”, because you’ve read you should be brushing each side for so many seconds before swapping sides.

Planting these small seeds in your spouse’s mind will get them thinking and they will likely improve their routine based on your conversations.

2. Review Sleeping Patterns

A big contributing factor to bad breath is dry mouth. When our mouth is dry and we’re not producing enough saliva, it makes for a better environment for bacteria. Is your partner snoring through the night, hang their mouth open, or possibly developed sleep apnea?

These night time issues can lead to bad breath more frequently. There are products available to help solve these issues you may want to consider. If you notice, there’s trouble breathing at night and that’s why your spouse is snoring or breathing through the mouth you should seek a professional medical opinion.

3. Don’t Forget the Tongue

If brushing your teeth 3 times a day isn’t solving your bad breath issue it could be the tongue. Does your spouses tongue have a white streak on it? If so it needs more attention during the hygiene routine.

Purchase tongue scrapers and use them religiously. They’re terrific for having better breath. A lot of people don’t realize their tongue could be the culprit, but it often is. Tongue scrapers are quick and easy to use so you can use it after any meal or snack.

Go out and buy yourself and your spouse one. This way you’re not just buying one for them which could be taken the wrong way. They’re very handy oral hygiene tools to keep around always.

4. Carry More Breath Fresheners

A temporary solution can be carrying around more chewing gum and breath mints. Sometimes we may be in a rush and can’t brush during our work lunch hour or maybe we wake up late for work. Whatever your reason is you can always carry these helpful items with you.

I personally know a couple who keep breath mints in their nightstand. They believe in starting every morning by holding each other in bed a couple minutes before beginning their daily routine. They both take the mints when they wake up and then they cuddle. They both contribute this routine to strengthening their marriage.

5 tips for what you can do when your spouse has bad breath:CLICK TO TWEET

5. Be Open and Honest

Being open and honest and telling someone they have a bad breath issue may be one of the hardest things to do. It’s not like you’re recommending ways your husband can grow a beard or talking to your teenage son about his first electric shaverYou’re talking about someone’s personal hygiene.

It may or may not be something within their control but either way you should bring it up. You’re doing them a favor by addressing the issue and helping them resolve it. It’s the equivalent of having food in your teeth all day and no one told you except with bad breath.

So just get the discussion going and your thoughts out in the open.

Primarily it’s important to know your spouse and how to approach them with these issues. The handsome groom you married and yourself will both go through many changes as you grow as a person with each passing year. One key to making it last is falling in love over and over again as you both grow together.

Is My Marriage Too Broken, Even for Counseling?

Today’s post comes from Andre and Timberly at livingourpriorities.com.

Do you feel like your marriage is so far gone that even counseling won’t work?

Well, we have three questions for you that we ask every couple who comes to us for marriage counseling. We use these three questions, as our qualifiers if we can even successfully counsel them or not.

It doesn’t matter what the couple is coming to counseling for, the only thing that matters is, can this couple answer yes to these three simple questions? If they can, then we can properly counsel them. It may take time, but their marriage can be saved.

 Question #1: Do You Love Each Other?

Sounds like a simple question. But you’d be surprised how many couples don’t say I love you that are quick to give up on the marriage and say; I fell out of love with him or her.

1 Corinthians 13:8 tells us that love never ends. Sure, we go through challenges but when we take an oath to enter a convent relationship, there should be nothing that causes us to love each other less. (The exception, to this according to scripture, would be infidelity. However, even in that, God can heal a marriage if there is true repentance, and the other spouse is willing to forgive and continue the marriage. But that’s another topic for another time.)

Our marriage is supposed to be a reflection of Christ and the Church. Christ does not fall out of love with us when we mess up. So why should we fall out of love with each other?

As mad as you are with your spouse, or even unhappy with them at this very moment, if there’s still love in your heart for them, then there is hope.

Question #2: Do You Want This Marriage To Work?

The unhappy marriages we see, or those  that end up in divorce; usually occurs because one or both spouses have no desire to want the marriage to work. As a result, they don’t participate in doing what it takes.

If you desire for your marriage to work, then that means you are prepared to do whatever it takes. You are prepared to do your part by doing what God expects of you, instead of what you feel like doing.

The reality of this question is most seen in couples who have had the same problems for years. That’s usually because, someone is not willing to lay down their way of doing things, to make the changes necessary for the marriage to work, in harmony with God’s plan.

Marriage is not about each person giving 50% / 50% of their effort; no! It’s about each person giving 100% of their effort.

Question #3: Is The Bible The Final Authority In Your Marriage?

Now this question is the determining factor for whether we can counsel a couple or not. What do we mean by that?

If a couple comes to us for counsel; since we’re believers; our counsel can only come from the Bible. So if a couple does not make the Bible, the final authority and has no desire to, then we are unable to move forward.

This does not mean a couple cannot continue seeking counsel somewhere else. It just means we are not able to counsel them; as we cannot successfully counsel them without pointing them to the Word of God.

However, if the answer is yes, then praise God! No matter how bad you think your marriage is, there is hope for your marriage. Especially if both spouses can honestly answer: yes, I love my spouse, yes; I want this marriage to work, and yes; the Bible is the final authority.

Now there is an exception to this rule, if a couple admits that the Bible is not the final authority, but they want it to be, then this is a couple we can work with. This means, they recognize they’re not living their marriage or treating each other, the way they are supposed to according to the Word; but they want to. And this shows us, that this couple, is ready to do what it takes to make the marriage work.

If you’re walking through some challenges in your marriage, we would encourage you to ask yourself these three questions.

Remember love never fails; NEVER! Regardless of wrong doing, hurt or disappointments, when we choose to walk in love, God’s love, we will find the strength to endure until the end.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” ~ Mark 10:9 (NKJV)

PS… For those of you, who are considering sitting down and talking with your spouse about your marriage, considering reading the blog: Fighting Fair which includes a FREE PDF download Guidelines For Positive Communication.

Don’t Be the Bubble-Buster in Your Marriage

Today’s post comes from new Friend of the Newsletter ™ Gary Thomas. Gary is a well-known author and speaker about marriage and when you read his thoughts today you’ll see why. You can buy Cherish – his new book referenced in this post – here.

Robert has an admittedly sordid history with pornography. He has been in recovery for years, has set up appropriate accountability and has gone out of his way to rebuild his marriage.

He has (in his words) “devoured” my book Cherish and has sought to apply every principle in every chapter. He knows he can never remove the hurt he has caused his wife in the past. He knows she will always feel a sense of betrayal, but he is working diligently to cherish her in the present in order to give her hope for the future. He has kept a “cherishing journal.” He makes the bed every day, praying that God would bring joy back into their intimacy. He keeps fresh flowers in the bedroom. And he has learned to make sex all about his wife’s pleasure. She is discovering, to her great delight, that it’s possible for a thoughtful middle-aged husband to help his wife experience two or more “standing ovations” during a single performance.

His efforts outside the bedroom are just as intense. On vacation, he plans for her enjoyment and fun. He tries to make the most of every birthday and anniversary (as well as Valentine’s Day).

On a recent birthday, he researched and purchased the perfect birthday present for her and couldn’t wait to give it to her (though he waited to let her sleep in). She was delighted when she opened it. He then had two options for breakfast—her favorite restaurant or her favorite meal at home. She opted for the restaurant.

Robert took great pains to get ready. His wife had scolded him for always wearing a “Jerry Seinfeld” outfit of jeans and running shoes, so he picked out an outfit that he thought would perhaps even impress her.

“Gary,” he told me, “I came out of the bedroom all dressed up, feeling like a boy who is looking at his mom before he goes to school, hoping she’d be impressed that I have listened and changed, and the only thing she said was, ‘Your shirt is wrinkled.’”

Robert didn’t respond the way he wishes he would have or should have. But this was not the first such “bubble busting” occurrence. He knows he has messed up. But he also knows he has changed and that there has been great improvement in virtually every aspect of their marriage. He doesn’t want his wife to pretend the past never happened, but he does want her to acknowledge that the present is very different.

“Our family knows her as a ‘bubble buster,’” Robert explained. “The family joke is that when one of her grandchildren is old enough to draw her a picture, she’s likely to say, ‘The leaves are the wrong color.’”

Forgiveness is difficult. It takes time to fight past resentment and contempt for a spouse’s past failings. But if you have decided to work through whatever the issue was, then part of working through it is learning to “reboot” your brain and acknowledge the progress your spouse has madeSometimes, we fear that acknowledging a new present might diminish the hurtful past. That’s not true. That’s a lie. But you punish yourself and your spouse if you keep acting like nothing has changed.

Robert remains committed to cherishing his spouse. I admitted to him that one of the potential weaknesses of Cherish is that marriage is much sweeter when both spouses embrace the message. Lisa and I are in the midst of our best marital years by far because we are bothcommitted to the idea and practice of cherishing each other. Doing so makes marriage very sweet, indeed.

“Unilateral” cherishing still makes marriage better, but it’s not the same and it won’t produce the same results. It can help, but the marriage will still have its weaknesses.

If your spouse is trying to grow, don’t hold her or him back by nailing them to the past.Acknowledge the growth. Don’t compare them to where you wish they would be, especially if your wish is a perfect spouse. Compare them to what they were, be thankful for the growth and encourage them.

My fear is that Robert may be tempted to give up. He has had many doors slammed in his face. My prayer for him and my counsel for him is to persevere, and to find creative ways to share with his spouse how this “bubble busting” is holding both of them back.

I wish his spouse would read Cherish. She’s of the mindset, however, that because Robert is the one who “messed up,” he’s the one who needs to experience all of the “fixing.” She’s missing out on some sweeter seasons of marriage, perhaps not realizing how far a husband will go to preserve a cherishing marriage once he tastes it.

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves, do we acknowledge our spouse’s growth? Are we comparing them with how much better they are now than they used to be, or are we downgrading them because they’re still not where we think they should be? Do we think discouragement fosters more change than encouragement? Wouldn’t you rather go out on a date with an enthusiastic and earnest husband who has a wrinkled shirt than blow up a date by essentially saying, “I know you tried really hard, but you still don’t quite measure up?”

Let’s not be bubble busters. Let’s learn to cherish each other as we are and as we grow into the people we yet want to be. After all, doing so is ultimately for our own good.

[As always with posts of this kind, I want to emphasize that I am not calling wives in abusive and violent marriages “bubble busters.” There are some marriages from which women need to be saved, and cherishing isn’t an appropriate strategy to confront violence.]

If you’re a wife reading this who recognizes a little bit of herself in Robert’s wife, I urge you to consider getting a copy of my newest book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Wives to Influence Their Husbands. It’s a substantial re-write of Sacred Influence. 

Don’t Say Everything You Think

I love this post for two reasons: one is because Doug Fields is a friend and mentor of mine and I think everything he writes is gold. The second is that my wife and I both tend to be verbal processors when it comes to our emotions and that is … good? Yeah, okay, yeah it’s good, usually … but not always. Anyway, I liked this post and hope you do too. Also, him and Jim Burns have a book on marriage you can check out here

 

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. —Proverbs 12:18

I have a buddy whose wife walked into the family room as he was watching TV and simply asked, “How do you like my new haircut?” He turned her way, scanned her new coif, and confidently replied, “It looks nice. Sorta like you’re back in high school.” She replied, “Hmmm. I’ll give you a do-over! Why don’t you try that again–how do you like my new haircut I spent $150 on?” He said, “I’m trying to tell you it looks great. I’m not sure it’s $150 worth of great though.” My friend slept on the couch that night.

I’m sure I’m not going to reveal anything new or surprising here, but without much work or premeditation, spouses can be quite nasty to one another.

Since it doesn’t take intelligence to be critical, let me suggest one marriage relationship principle that has helped me, I realize that this is easier said than done, but it is as simple as this: don’t say everything you think!

I understand that holding your tongue takes self-control and a degree of humility, but the results are amazing! When your spouse triggers an emotion in you and you want to react with a verbal dagger…don’t. When your spouse injures your pride and you want to say something that will be a zinger comeback and put your spouse in his or her place…don’t. When your spouse exhausts your patience and a strong reaction will make you feel better…don’t.

I have a quick wit and a propensity for sarcasm, and with this amazing combination of skills, I create some really strong statements…that Cathy never hears. Why? Because as a husband I’ve learned that I don’t need to say everything that I think. When I slip up and allow the statements to escape my mouth, I end up wounding my wife, triggering more reactions, demeaning the one I love most, heightening tension levels, and create negative memories.

Words are always powerful. But misguided words hurt and they hurt deeply. As Proverbs 12:18 points out, using reckless words is like stabbing another with a sword. In almost every instance, it’s best to keep the sword in its scabbard.

Remember, just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it. Not all words must be spoken.

FAITH CONVERSATIONS:
• Proverbs 21:23 [MSG] reads, “Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.” How have you seen the truth of this verse demonstrated in your marriage?

• What circumstances seem to trigger the likelihood of making a snarky remark to me?

• Is there a common element among these circumstances that triggers your vulnerability to say something to snarky to me? (For example: hunger, anger, feeling lonely or tired?) If so, how can we work together to minimize these triggers?

A STEP CLOSER:
Together, discuss potential action steps each spouse can take to work on not saying everything you think to your partner. Then, each spouse should verbally commit to work on one of these action steps in the coming week. Close your devotional time together in prayer and ask God to give you both wisdom and strength to follow through on your commitment. A week from now, check in with each other about how each spouse did with their commitment.

The 1 Thing Your Husband Needs Most

When America’s Family Coaches post something, they go for it. Today’s post is long, but it’s full of great content and well worth your time. Hope you enjoy it!

In our national survey of more than 700 couples, a majority of both men and women told us that unconditional love is their number one love need from their marriage partner. No doubt many would expect the number one need for men to be sex and the number one need for women to be communication, but that was not what we found. Instead, as different as men and women can be, both agreed on this one truth: We all need to be loved unconditionally by our spouses.

Unconditional love is the commitment that says, “I will stay with you no matter what. I will always love you. I will affirm you and support you.” Acceptance means, “I will receive you even in the midst of tough times.”

Barb and I have found that our love for each other is glorious in the good times But when our marriage comes under intense testing, we need unconditional love. Love that won’t quit. We need to know we are accepted even when we come up short, even when we can’t see beyond our own pain and failures.

When a husband receives that unconditional love and acceptance from his wife –  it doesn’t get any better than that for a man. When the wife God has given him reminds him that she will always be there for him, that’s when he knows the power of unconditional love and acceptance.

When I was dating Barb, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. What finally convinced me? It was the simple yet overwhelming truth that God loved me unconditionally. Completely. Without reservation. Unequivocally. Just as I was. No matter what. That describes agape love. His great love. His mercy. His grace. These words took on a whole new meaning as I began to come to a true understanding of just how much God really does love me. And that is the heart of Christ’s love for me: He truly loves me without limit.

The Power of Unconditional Love and Acceptance

Unconditional love is powerful stuff. After a particularly difficult situation at work, Barb showed me unconditional love.

Her response helped me feel safe in the midst of a lightning storm. Her love allowed me to be honest. It established a comfortable environment for open communication between us. Her love reminded me that I wasn’t ultimately in charge—the Lord was. It reminded me that her commitment truly was for bad times as well as good.

Don’t misunderstand. Barb certainly had to deal with her own share of fear and uncertainty during that time in our life. But if she had rejected me or, maybe even worse, been neutral and unresponsive to me, I would have felt lonely and isolated. Her rejection would have built a wall that would have weakened our intimacy and trust.

What You Can Do to Meet Your Husband’s Needs

Your response, initiative, and connection to your husband are crucial to the health of your marriage and family. Your expression of your unconditional love and acceptance is the very force that will drive you together in the midst of the testing times in your marriage. Your standing with him in the painful times, as well as the good times, is one of the primary elements of a great marriage.

At times this means putting aside your own needs in order to meet his. It means resisting your tendency to be selfish and self-protective. But if you love unconditionally in the hard times, you and your husband will become one in the kind of intimacy the Lord desires for you. If you don’t, you will end up living like two immature children, each trying to get your own way and resenting the other person when you don’t. You may still be married, but you will miss out on the joy of a great marriage.

Your husband desperately needs to know that you will accept him no matter what. Even when he fails or makes poor decisions. Even when he feels crummy about himself or disappoints you. Your love is a make-or-break reality. Your inability or refusal to love will cripple him and tear him apart. Your unconditional love and acceptance will build him up and free him to go on.

Okay, this all sounds good in theory, you may be saying, but how do I live this out in the nitty-gritty of real life? What does it look like?

Giving your husband the security of your unwavering love requires at least five elements: showing grace with his weaknesses; affirming him whenever you can; helping him feel safe; taking time to connect, and studying your husband.

1. Show Grace in His Weakness

All of us need grace. But we need it most when we are truly aware that we don’t deserve it—when we have failed, when we have made mistakes, when we have been selfish, when we have sinned.

If your husband has failed you or disappointed you or sinned against you, then he needs your grace. And when you express grace to your husband in his areas of weakness and sin, you love him as Jesus loves him.

2. Affirm Him Whenever You Can

Mark Twain once said, “I can live a whole month on one compliment.” Just think about the life we can bring to a marriage with an ever-flowing stream of affirmation. Strengthen your husband with comments such as

•   “I am proud of you, honey.”

•   “I love the way you love me when you …”

•   “You are one of God’s richest blessings to me.”

Hearty affirmation is a key ingredient in unconditional love. It’s like a magnet: It draws us in; it attracts us. If you have a hard time verbalizing your affirmation to your husband, think about when you first met him. What drew you to him? What opened your heart to him? Now, as you have matured in your marriage, what do you appreciate about your husband? Write your thoughts down on a piece of paper.

From your own responses, make a list of at least five statements that you can grab onto and begin to repeat to your husband.

3. Help Him Feel Safe

When I know that Barb understands me, I feel safe. When I don’t feel understood, my insecurity increases. Normally, a man won’t recognize it in these terms. And we husbands don’t know how to tell you this, so instead, we blow up. Or we bury ourselves in some excessive behavior. Or we search for something we can control.

If you see any of these negative patterns in your husband’s behavior, something is missing in your relationship. I am not saying you are responsible, although you may be contributing to the patterns, something definitely is missing and needs to be addressed.

Where do you start? Get alone with him and assure him that you are not intending to criticize but that you are committed to him and want to help him work through any patterns that could be undermining the security of your marriage. As you do this, you begin to lay the groundwork for healing to begin. At some point, couples or individuals who are struggling with excessive behavior may need to seek the outside help of a professional Christian counselor and/or a pastor. But first, you need to approach your husband to begin the process.

How do we husbands know we are beginning to be understood? In two ways:

1.      When you are truly interested in our mundane life to the point of fascination.

2.      When we try to “fix” something and we know that you understand that we are just exercising the part of our masculinity that needs to “make things better.”

Just as you feel understood when we listen to your feelings, we feel better when you listen to our ideas.

For a marriage to become a great marriage, husbands and wives need to learn to partner with each other, accentuating each other’s strengths and helping to compensate for each other’s weaknesses.

4. Take Time to Connect

As unbelievable as it may sound, the first few minutes you and your husband connect at the end of the workday is critical.

Barb and I have a tradition in our home. Within minutes of greeting each other at the end of the day, we are sitting and talking—just the two of us. We talk about the kids, we review Barb’s day and my day, we discuss the highs, the lows – everything! Sometimes these are deep discussions, but often they’re just newsy, connecting talks. This connection sets the tone for the rest of the evening. It reminds us we are teammates who are absolutely committed to the same game.

When this doesn’t happen consistently, the atmosphere can become colder than a Dairy Queen blizzard. We get out of sync, disconnected, and that leaves room for coolness and selfishness to grow.

Unconditional love occurs only in the context of communication and true connection. Think about your own relationship with God. When do you feel most secure, protected, loved, understood? It’s when you’ve had a rich time of prayer, when God has spoken to you personally through his Word, and when you’ve reached the heart of the Father in worship. And when this connection happens every day, not only do you feel secure as a Christian, but you also develop a mature relationship with God, where everything is possible. That’s the way marriage is designed to work

5. Study Your Husband

One of the best ways for you to know how to meet your husband’s need for unconditional love and acceptance is to know your husband. This means you must become a student, getting to know your husband inside and out.

As a man, I can’t figure out sometimes how Barb knows things, but she just knows. The kids may be hurting, hiding something, having problems with a friend, or isolating themselves a little because of some insecurity or conflict. And Barb just knows.

Our household isn’t unique in this. You need to use that same womanly sensitivity to pick up on what’s going on with your husband—which means not only reading his moves but also his moods.

Men often don’t know how to verbalize what they are feeling. So it’s essential for you to use your instincts when you’re trying to understand what’s going on in our heads. Timing is always important, even when dealing with the most even-tempered male. So learn to read our moods. If you do, you’ll soon find you’re learning more about your husband every day.

Grace. Affirmation. Safety. Time. Study. All are keys to unconditional love and acceptance.

Building a great marriage is not easy. As Barb says, true love doesn’t always take place on a romantic balcony. Sometimes it takes place on a battlefield.

Unconditional love is the real thing. The genuine article. It is the kind of love that is given when it isn’t deserved.  Jesus models it, Paul writes about it, and our Father gives it to us.Will you love your husband unconditionally? This is the number one love need men have in their marriages.  This is the way a great marriage is designed to work. God said so.

How 2 Minutes a Day Can Change Your Marriage

Today’s post comes from Gary Thomas, and our friends at Homeword.

While working on my book Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage, I interviewed a woman who told me about an amazing marital “exercise” she put into practice. She spent an entire year working on her husband’s Christmas present. What she did was write a journal that recorded something she was thankful for about her husband that particular day. These were very specific, day-by-day accounts of what the husband did and why she was thankful to be married to him: putting up the Christmas lights when it was very cold (December 7th), coming home and playing with the kids after a long business trip even though he was obviously tired (Sept. 22), that kind of thing.

When she gave her husband the journal he immediately sat down and read it in one sitting. Later, when recounting this gift to a friend, he told him, “Reading that journal makes me aspire to be the man she thinks I am.”

This wife thought she was giving a gift to her husband, but what she found was that by affirming him so specifically she was giving a gift to herself. She was motivating her husband to become even more of what she appreciated.

I recounted this story to a men’s Bible study that I attend, and one of the men said, “Why don’t we do that for our wives?” We all thought, “Yeah, that would be nice,” and then did what we men typically do—forget about it.

Except that this man went to an office supply store and bought six blank daily journals and brought them to our Bible study the very next week.

I began filling in the day-to-day account that very day. It was easiest for me to do it first thing in the morning. I’d wake up, and even before I prayed, I’d pick up the journal, reflect on the previous day, and write something nice about what Lisa had said or done. Occasionally, it might just be a reflection of who she is, but I wanted it to be very specific, not generic—something that couldn’t be written about any other woman.

After just one month of doing this, I noticed something curious—I hadn’t prayed once for God to change my wife. When you begin each day thanking God (and your wife, through writing) for who your wife is and what she has done, and you have a running account of her excellence that soon stretched over not just weeks, but months, it just seemed a bit picky to then say, “But God, could you also shape her to do more of this? Or a little less of that?”

There’s more to it than this, though. Because I had to find something new to write about every day, I had to scan my wife throughout the day, trying to “catch” her doing something wonderful, or making sure I remembered something positive that she said. So I was always on the lookout for the best, her most excellent qualities and characteristics. If I saw something displeasing, it wasn’t relevant to me. I couldn’t write about that! So I’d forget it and keep looking for the good.

It changed the way I thought about, looked at, acted toward, and spoke about my wife. During the summer I began to get paranoid about losing the journal. Because I was writing it in longhand, it couldn’t be replaced. But even if I had lost it, it still would have been a tremendous gift to both my wife and me. It was an early gift to my wife because it changed the way I treated her, appreciated her, and spoke to and about her. And it was a gift to me to be reminded and filled with such gratitude that I get to be married to a woman who gives me something new to praise every day.

Last December, that journal became one of my wife’s Christmas gifts. She was almost speechless, which is saying something for Lisa.

“You found 365 nice things to say about me?” she said. “Even on my not-so-nice days?”

Our oldest daughter said, “Sheez, Dad, that’s like something you see in a Hallmark movie that nobody ever actually does.”

Here’s the thing: I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my marriage, no doubt due in part to the fact that I spent the better part of a year looking for the positive in my wife every single day. My wife feels particularly cherished because she feels the effects of a husband who is mentally choosing to cherish her first thing in the morning every day.

Everybody wins.

And it took me no more than a couple minutes a day.

Why not give it a try?

3 Things You Think You Know About Your Spouse (but don’t)

The past couple weeks I’ve been learning (in therapy … because I see a therapist … because good therapy is awesome) about something called “cognitive distortion.” Basically, cognitive distortions are ways we think about the world – ourselves, our spouses, our children, our friends, our enemies, etc. – that are inaccurate. The belief of cognitive therapy is that our thoughts shape our emotions which shape our behaviors, so if we have a harmful way of thinking about the world we will eventually act in harmful ways.

If this sounds like a bunch of psychobabble mumbo jumbo, it’s worth considering how often the Apostle Paul focuses on the importance of how we think: we are to have the mind of Christ, to take every thought captive, to not think like the world, but to renew our minds. You could argue this what Jesus is getting at when he says “cool, you aren’t actually having an affair, but you lust about women in your heart” (paraphrase … Jesus didn’t actually use the word “cool”). Jesus’s point is that truly goodness isn’t behavioral, it’s cognitive. It’s how you think.

Still with me? I hope so, because understanding this concept can take your marriage to a whole new world. 

If I were to ask you what your spouse looks like you could (hopefully) give me a pretty accurate description; however, there’s a mental image you and I have of our spouses that isn’t accurate at all. Due to the families we were raised in, wounds we’ve received throughout life, and the months, years or decades of history we have with our spouse, we have all sorts of views of them that simply aren’t accurate. They are cognitive distortions. These distortions are what lead us into the same fights over and over again. They’re way you get so angry or insecure or hurt for seemingly no reason. The good news is once you see that this is all stemming from a cognitive distortion, you can get busy “renewing your mind” and letting God’s truth change your thoughts, which changes your emotions, which changes your behavior toward each other.

Sound good? Okay, so here are 3 common cognitive distortions we bring into our marriage.

ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING

What this sounds like: “he is NEVER on my side.” “She ALWAYS does this.” “It’s all her fault.” “I can NEVER do anything right.”

Do you feel like your marriage is either perfect or a complete trainwreck with nothing in between? Do you often feel like either you or your spouse can never do anything right? If so you probably tend toward an all-or-nothing cognitive filter. The truth that replaces this filter though is that the words “never” and “always” are always wrong and never right (these are the jokes guys).

When you find yourself thinking in all-or-nothing terms, replace those thoughts with moments that defy them. Your spouse isn’t ALWAYS against you, because remember that one time when ______. And is it true that your spouse is saying you NEVER do anything right? Didn’t he compliment you yesterday when ______.

MIND-READING

What this sounds like: “she did that because …” “He wasn’t thinking of me when …” “Sure he said this but really he …”

While it’s fair to be hurt by your spouse’s behavior, it’s not fair to assume you know why they did what they did. Whenever we mind-read we project the worst version of events into our spouses mind, presume that’s accurate, then emotionally respond. But here’s the deal: you can’t read your spouse’s mind. You can’t. I know I know you know them so well and blah blah blah but you don’t know yourself very well at all and you’re probably blind to how your projecting your own insecurities into their head.

SO when you find yourself mind-reading, try something radical: assume the best instead of the worst. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and then ask them from a calm, non-accusatory position.

EMOTIONAL REASONING

This one is huge for me. I often find myself going emotionally berserk over something my wife just did, even though a part of me knows “this probably isn’t proportional to what just happened.” Have you ever wondered why you get so angry, shut down so quickly, withdraw so rapidly, or try to please your spouse so desperately? Often this is because you’ve experienced a legit emotional trauma in your past – an emotionally absent parent, a deeply wounding relationship experience, or emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual abuse. It can be a “big T” Trauma – rape, assault, a tragic accident – or it can be a “little t” trauma – a painful breakup, being made fun of in junior high, a subtle message communicated by a parent for years. But whenever your spouse, say, laughs during sex, or looks at you a certain negative way, or seemingly ignores your needs, your emotional world goes nuclear.

To be honest, this cognitive distortion is best solved through a compassionate, highly-competent therapist who can help you identify the trauma and slowly unwind the emotional pain of it. However, what you CAN do is recognize in the moment that while you’re thinking “my spouse did ______” really that’s the emotional reasoning kicking in – your body is reminding you of something that happened long ago .

The good news for those of us who are Christians is that when we catch ourselves doing this, we can turn that emotion over to God and pray two things: 1) would you comfort this part of me that’s hurting and 2) would you bring people into my life who can help me understand where this is coming from.

One last thought on this: it will be helpful for your spouse to know that there are certain things he or she does that trigger this emotional reasoning in you. Don’t blame them for the response, just tell them that when ______ happens you _____ and you know it’s not their fault, and you want to get better, but as you work on that if they could avoid tripping on your emotional traumas, that would be helpful.

The Best Valentine’s Day Gift You Can Give Your Spouse

So much of a healthy marriage is about accepting who your spouse is, not who you want them to be. Today’s post might not seem very Valentine’s Day centric, but I’d argue the best gift you could give your spouse is the commitment to follow the advice in this post from Amberly at A Prioritized Marriage. 

Your Differences Make You a Powerhouse Team

Having differing opinions, unique interests and your own individual tastes makes your partnership that much greater! Your differences help maintain balance in your home and turns the two of you into a powerhouse couple. The key to making this work is embracing your differences and recognizing their ability to do good things for your marriage and your family.

One of mine and Joe’s differences is the way that we clean. For the first part of our marriage, cleaning was a constant topic of contention in our marriage. Then we realized that although we don’t necessarily clean the same way or to each other’s standards, we each have areas that are our strength and that we like to clean to perfection. Our weekly cleaning routine reflects those differences in a good way. For example, while I tackle the kitchen, Joe cleans the bathrooms.

Your Differences Provide You With a New View

“Two heads are better than one” right? I love that marriage gives you the opportunity to see things from another point of view. Your spouse loves you unconditionally, and has your best interests in mind. If you share your ideas and opinions with each other in a respectful way and listen with an open mind, your world could be opened to a whole new slew of possibilities.

When I’ve been humble enough to accept Joe’s suggestions, I’ve learned things that have made me a better person. I know that Joe is on my team and he wants me to succeed but he also wants me to be the best me that I can be. The things that he offers me in response to situations that I am in help me to see where I may not be using all of my strengths or giving someone the benefit of the doubt or being the best person that I can be. Be grateful for the opinions and view of situations that your spouse has!

Your Differences Introduce You to New Things

We all have our favorites; favorite restaurants, favorite movie genres, favorite hang outs, favorite hobbies, etc. While you and your spouse might have similarities in a lot of these areas, I’d bet that you a lot of your “favorites” are different from each other as well. The beauty of this is that you can share new things with each other and find new things that you enjoy. I’m grateful for the new things that Joe has introduced into my life. I never watched action/adventure movies on my own, and they’re still not my go to when I feel like watching a movie, but I always enjoy going to see the newest action movie with Joe for date night.

I remember the day that Joe and I went to Cafe Rio, I ordered my usual tostada and he ordered a sweet pork burrito. I’d never had the sweet pork burrito before, and he insisted that I try a bite. After that one bite, I’m pretty sure that I ate five or six more, it was so good. To this day, I still order salads because that burrito has too many calories for me to justify enjoying it, but I’ll always sneak a bite or two of his. Even when we’re going out for pizza, everyone’s favorite food, I’ve been encouraged to try new things and I’ve encouraged Joe to try new things, and we’ve both been introduced to flavors that we never would have thought to eat before.

Your Differences Keep Life Exciting

We all fall into our own routines based on our preferences and views in life. I have specific days that I clean the house, a specific order that I clean each room in and certain products that I like to try. I plan ahead and try to keep life very organized. Joe has brought spontaneity to my life and shown me new ways of doing things. I sometimes struggle when my routines are thrown off or my plans get thrown out the window, but it keeps life exciting and I’ve grown as a person because of it.

Your Differences Challenge You

You have the choice to let your differences divide you or bring  you together. You can choose to fight every single day over the way that your spouse chooses to do something or you can combine both of your preferences and make a better one! Joe and I have gotten into disagreements over things as simple as whether or not you put cinnamon in the French Toast dip or not. But like many couples, we’ve butted heads over bigger issues like money, parenting, or our relationships.

When I married Joe, he told me that one of his favorite meals was Broccoli Chicken Casserole. I made it for him one night and he liked it but later made the comment that his mom’s had rice in it. Instead of choosing to be upset that my casserole wasn’t as good as his mom’s or telling him that this was the way I was going to make it, I asked his mom for her recipe. Then I combined the two because there were things about my the recipe my mom made growing up that I liked. I added the rice, because it was something that Joe had mentioned and combined a few other parts. We have three recipes now, each of our mom’s recipes and the one that I created using our favorite parts of those recipes.

When we started talking marriage, Joe and I also started talking about finances. We quickly realized that there were some big differences between us in the money department; I am a spender and Joe is a saver. Joe was big believer in saving money and not spending on anything that you don’t absolutely need. He also believes in investing and saving for retirement. I remember once when I came home from Target with a cute new shirt and was so proud of the deal that I’d gotten on it, and his immediate response was, “If we invested that $12, it would be $XXX by the time we retire” (I obviously don’t remember the amount it would be or have any clue how he did that math, but it was a lot more money than $12). I smiled at him, let him know how happy that shirt was making me right that moment, and we dropped it. Friendly back-and-forth like this are a common occurrence in our marriage to this day, but that first one is an experience that I will always remember.

Fast forward a few years in our marriage and I had a realization in the middle of a conversation that Joe and I were having. We were sitting down to go over our monthly budget and were discussing the amount of money that we were spending at restaurants, which was higher than we wanted, resulting in us not being able to put as much into savings as we should. During our discussion, the number of times that Joe was stopping at the drive-thru for breakfast on his way to work came up. After Joe jokingly pleaded his case and told me how easy it was for him to stop and how delicious his breakfast was every morning, I piped in with my thoughts. I totaled up the amount that he’d spent on just his breakfast habit during the previous month, told him the number and then jokingly asked, “If we invested that money, how much would it be by the time we retire?” We both started laughing.

Not only were Joe and I balancing each other out in our marriage, we were picking up some of the other’s habits and making ourselves an even better team than we’d been before. I’ve never been as into saving and investing as Joe has, but because of his influence, I’ve developed a passion for looking for deals and finding ways to save money on the things that we need. I’ve also learned to consider purchases before I make them and decide whether they’re something that I really need/want and am willing to spend money on at the moment. All of the money that we save is money that we are able to save and invest, or with my influence, use to do something fun together in the future.

Your differences have the power to strengthen your marriage relationship, making you a better team and better as individuals. Or they can become a constant source of contention and upset and you’ll have the same arguments over and over again for the rest of your life. I think the key here is humility and team work. You have to be willing to say that your way might not be the only or even the best way to do things, and then the two of you have to be willing to work together to find what will benefit your family and your relationship the most. We embraced our differences instead of just accepting them and as a result, we were able to better ourselves as individuals and become a better team at the same time. We still have areas of our marriage to work on, but I like to think that we’re making good progress!

What differences do you and your spouse have that make you a great team and better your marriage?

10 Ways to Turn Up the Heat This Valentine’s Day

We’re decidedly pro-sex here at Thriving Marriages, just in case you were wondering. I say that because today’s post from Sheila at to love, honor, and vacuum is a lot of things – insightful, romantic, practical – but it’s also pretty sexy, especially toward the beginning. Hope it – ahem – inspires you this week. 

It’s Valentine’s Day month!

And I believe that we can make Valentine’s Day last ALL month, because this is a special February. This one has 29 days. So let’s do something different!

In fact, I’m doing something different today. Usually I have my “Top 10” posts on Tuesdays. But since today is the beginning of Valentine’s Day month, I decided that we should launch it today!

I’m a big believer in marriage, and so I want to share with you 10 ideas–all of them very different–that you can start TODAY and do for a whole 29 days. Why settle for just one day of love when you can make it last for 29?

So choose the idea that would work best in your marriage, and DO IT!

Sexy Ways to Connect for Valentine’s Month

1. Work through 29 Days to Great Sex!

Four years ago today this blog exploded. My traffic went up tenfold just over the course of the month because of my 29 Days to Great Sex series, which I wrote leading up to the release of my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.

If you never did that series, today’s a great day to start! Directed at wives, there are challenges everyday that will help you get to the point where sex really is awesome in your marriage.

I turned this series into a longer book, 31 Days to Great Sex, with challenges directed at couples. I turned some of the days in the original 29 into “time outs”, added several more challenges, and changed the slant so couples can work through it together. If you’d rather have it all in one place, with extra challenges and with things your husband can do, too, check out the book form(and best of all, the ebook version is only $4.99!)

2. Try a Different Position Each Time you Make Love–can’t repeat one this month!

Want to spice things up in the bedroom? Make a pledge that this month you won’t make love in the same position twice! That’s a fun way to try new things and add a bit of adventure (and a lot of laughs!) And who knows, you may even build your flexibility.

The rules: You have to START in a new position. You don’t have to FINISH in a new position. After all, many women have one or two “go to” positions that feel the best, so just use the new one as foreplay, if necessary, and then you can always switch around. But let him know that you want to keep things fresh, and even spontaneous!

3. Buy Some New Satin Sheets

Make your bedroom brand new! Buy some new romantic sheets or bedding that you can enjoy all throughout the month. Okay, you may have to do laundry, of course, but you can make it feel extra “special”.

4. Revel with the MELT Massage Course

I absolutely love the MELT Massage videos! It’s an online program where you get access to all of their step-by-step instructions on how to give a sensual–and therapeutic–massage.

Just touching each other can bring us so much closer together. And massage relaxes you, releases toxins, and helps you feel oh-so-wonderful.

Ever since I hit 40 I’ve found that if I don’t get a regular massage, I’m in pain. So massage has become a regular occurrence in our marriage. And Denis Merkas shows in these videos exactly how to give an amazing massage–with lots of tips to keep it romantic, too! Each video is just a few minutes in length–you watch it, and do it. By the time you’ve finished one series of videos, you’ll know how to give a half hour routine.

But if you’d rather just do a 15 minute routine, or if you only have time for a 5 minute routine–Denis shows you which strokes you should use for those, too!

When I watched the videos for the first time we learned a ton about what we were doing wrong. We were starting too hard–going right for the knots. We weren’t using the right kind of massage oil. And I wasn’t even positioned properly! With his tips it’s totally changed, and now Keith gives almost as good a massage as my massage therapist.

Romantic Ways to Connect for Valentine’s Day Month

5. Write a love note everyday–28 Things I Love About You

Everyday, give your husband a boost and tell him a NEW thing you love about him, or a memory that you enjoy with him. Write it on a note (you can even cut it into hearts) and stick it somewhere he’ll find it. Maybe in his lunch, or in his pocket, or with his keys. Try to pick a different place everyday so that he starts looking forward to finding them.

6. Everyday text or email a picture of 28 memories

Here’s a variation on the love note idea: instead of writing notes about what you love about him, send him a text or an email everyday with a different photo, and tell him why you love that particular memory. Celebrate the life you’ve made together!

“Build Your Relationship” Ways to Connect for Valentine’s Day Month

 

7. Start a Hi/Lo Marriage Daily Check In

As I shared in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, it’s DRIFTING that’s natural. Staying close takes work! So what are you doing to stay close?

Many couples only communicate about FACTS, the things that are going on in their lives, or about OPINIONS, or what they think about things. To really know each other we have to share our feelings and our vulnerabilities. Here’s a relatively easy way to do that: everyday, share what your highlight was and what your lowlight was.

But my husband and I put a little bit of a twist on it. We don’t just share when we were happiest or when we were most miserable; we think instead about when we were most “in the zone”–when we felt the most at peace, the most satisfied, the most like God was working through us. And then we share when we were troubled, or out of the zone.

It helps us reflect ourselves and see patterns of where God is working in our lives, but it also helps us to know what’s going on in each other’s hearts!

Read more about how to implement this new marriage habit.

8. Walk Every Day

Do you find that screens eat into your together time? Do you find that you don’t talk very much because of netflix or video games or television?

Take a walk everyday after dinner! It will give you time to talk, and you can even do it when you have young kids. Just stick them in the stroller and go outside. We started walking when our kids were small; we found they were much quieter when they were in a stroller. And it gave us time to connect.

Bonus: Combine walking with sharing your hi/lo for the day for added intimacy!

9. Start a Big Fun Game or Puzzle

Spending time together playing something rather than watching something creates shared memories in a much more tangible way–and gives you a chance to laugh together and talk, too!

So what about starting something that will take a LONG time to finish–and then challenging yourselves to finish it in February? Say a 5000 piece puzzle.

Then at the end of the month you can say–we did this together!

When my husband and I were traveling around in our RV this fall and winter we started a Medieval War campaign computer game (it’s more strategy than hacking off limbs, don’t worry!). We’re playing the Venetians, and we’re almost finished. But it’s been on ongoing game, and I’ll always remember this year as the year of the Venetians!

Don’t want to do ONE thing for a whole month? Then how about making February the “let’s play games” month, but trying new ones? I’ve got a list of 2-player board games here.

10. Bedtime Routine–Go to Bed Together (and at a Decent Time!)

What about making February the month of the 10:00 bedtime? Or the month that you decide, “after the kids are in bed, we don’t use any screens except for Friday night at home date night”?

With kids we have bedtime routines–we have a snack, take a bath, read a story, sing a song, say prayers, give kisses. It helps kids make the transition from daytime to nighttime.

Adults need bedtimes, too! Instead of staying up on screens until you’re tired, decide, “I’m going to go to bed in time to get 8 hours of sleep.” But that means going to bed even earlier! If you want 8 hours of sleep, and you have to get up at 6:30, that means going to sleep at 10:30. So this month, head to bed with your hubby at 9:45. Take the next 45 minutes to snuggle, to talk, to share your hi/los, to pray as a couple, and to read Scripture together. And, of course, you can always make love!

Go to bed early enough that you have time to connect. Spend that last hour together, rather than on screens. And get enough sleep. And you’ll find you don’t just feel more romantic. You feel more energetic!

There you go–10 ways to make Valentine’s Day last all month!

It doesn’t need to be just about flowers or chocolates. You can decide that this month you’ll prioritize your marriage and start something new to help you keep close, love each other a ton, and prevent that drift.

Happy February everyone!

That Bad News You Heard about Marriage Isn’t True

Sometimes it’s easy to be cynical about love, marriage, and happiness, but – with Valentine’s Day right around the corner – we figured it was time for some GOOD news about marriage, brought to you today by Christina Embree and Refocus Ministry.

Marriage is hard.

Half of all marriages end in divorce, and that’s true, even within the church. Second marriages are even more tenuous.

Happy marriages are treasures, but few and far between.

The reality is…the institution of marriage is falling apart in America.

Have you ever heard these things?  Ever shared them with someone else?  Ever heard it from the pulpit or shared in a small group or (gulp) read them in a blog post?

If you are like me, the answer to these questions is Yes. These are the messages we often hear about marriage in evangelical Christian circles.  At least these are the messages I’ve always heard.

Until this past week at D6 Family Ministry conference. I heard these things there too, but not in the way I’d ever heard them before.  This week, for the first time that I can remember, I heard the truth…the whole truth, shared by one of the foremost marriage researchers and analysts in the country, Shaunti Feldhahn.

In her session with us, Shaunti tackled each of these long-held beliefs one at a time and then challenged us with something so important: We NEED to tell our kids the truth about marriage.  Below are some thoughts from her about “marriage myths” and a challenge to us as parents and ministers to make sure our children and students know the truth, in an age where truth is relative and media driven, instead of found in God and based on reality.

Myths of Marriage that we tell our kids

#1 – 50% divorce rate (Half of all marriages end in divorce)

This statistic was based on a study where the demographers were looking at trends in divorce and concluded it would lead to a 50% divorce rate if it continued.. But THE TRUTH IS divorce rates peaked in 1980 and has been dropping since. They are currently down 30% from that time.

THE TRUTH IS that right now, according to U.S. Census Bureau, 71% of married Americans are still married to their first spouse. The 29% who aren’t still married to their first spouse includes everyone who had a spouse die, including those who were married to their first spouse for 50+ years.

No one knows what the actual rate of divorce rate but it’s probably closer to 25%. Most marriages last a lifetime.

#2 – Rate of Divorce is the same in the church

The study used for this came from George Barna who was actually studying belief systems and specifically excluded church attendance. THE TRUTH IS when church attendance was added in, the divorce rate drops 45-50% LOWER than the average.

Another myth that grew out of the same research is that  second marriages are doomed to fail. THE TRUTH IS actually 65% of second marriages make it for the remainder of the spouse’s lifetime.  (Since, according to Ron Deal, also speaking at D6 Conference, 100 million people are now in blended families, this is good news that we need to know and share with those we know and serve.)

#3 – Most Marriages are “Meh” (not great)

We say things like “Marriage is hard.” This is not the best advertisement for the institution of marriage.   What we mean is marriage takes hard work. We tell kids that marriage is complicated but clearest trend in research is most problems are not caused by the big ticket issues, but in small things that are miscommunicated.

For example things like: Husband isn’t good with words but works 70 hours a week to provide for his family while the wife is feeling abandoned (70% of women would give up the stuff to get more of him). Wife says I love you and does loving things but also criticizes a lot and that’s the most painful thing for a man.

Simple but critical miscommunication over a long period of time is the leading cause of divorce, not the “headliner” issues. 

In an informal survey, peopler were asked, “What percentage of marriages do you think are happy?” Usually 8 out of 10 responders guessed that 30% of marriages are happy.   THE TRUTH IS studies show that somewhere around 80% of marriages are happy, not perfect but happy.

Most people enjoy being married. Even people who were struggling in marriage, if they stuck it out for 5 years, rated their marriage as very happy after that time. It is so important to help people stick it out by telling them the truth.

Divorce looms really large in the eyes of a child, but that is the exception but not the rule. It is our job to make sure that they know that! We must pass along hope for marriages to our kids. Every kid needs to know that doing what the Bible says does matter. Every child needs to understand that marriage is a good thing, a blessed thing, and something that most people cherish, long for, enjoy, and are committed to.  They need to hear from us that marriage is a good thing, a gift from God and a blessing to us, so that they have hope. And frankly, so that we have hope.

We need to tell our children the truth.  

We need to share it from the pulpit, in our small groups, with our own kids, and with our friends.  We need to encourage those we know who are struggling.  We need to speak truth into second marriages and blended families. We need to not allow fear to frame our world and create a self-fulfilling prophecy in the next generation.

Being aware of our culture includes being aware when we’ve been duped…and I admit, I was.  I am excited to speak about marriage to my kids, to give them hope and anticipation of their own future marriages , and to do so with the truth on my side!

10 Easy Ways to Boost Intimacy in Your Marriage

Today’s post comes from Scott Kedersha. What I like about this post isn’t just the content, but the links to some GREAT resources for your marriage. Hope you enjoy!

No couple has ever said “I do” with dreams of sleeping in separate bedrooms. But a recent article in the Wall Street Journal claims the secret to a happy marriage is two master bedrooms.

“Build two master bedrooms and you get extra elbow room!”

Who gets married with dreams of having extra elbow room?!?!

Even if you don’t want two master bedrooms in your home, intimacy doesn’t happen accidentally. You must be intentional to increase intimacy in your marriage.

Most couples will only have one master bedroom, but few will experience intimacy in marriage like they desire and God intends.

Here’s the good news. A little bit of effort goes a long way. You can experience more intimacy in your marriage. Following are 10 ways to experience more intimacy with your spouse.

10 Ways to Increase Intimacy in Your Marriage

1. Spend quality time together as a couple.

This doesn’t merely mean you sit on the couch and watch TV. Try new activities, adventures, dates, and make your marriage your highest priority relationship. Try something creative—shared experiences allow you to grow in intimacy.

2. Ask insightful questions to each other.

Go beyond simple yes-no questions and learn to be a student of your spouse. Live with them in an understanding way by seeking to know them on a more personal level (1 Peter 3:7).

When Kristen and I go on date nights, we often fall into the rut of talking only about kids and work. I want to continue to know my wife and be known by her beyond parenting and work. Ask a combination of serious and fun questions. We all used to do this when we dated our spouse before marriage—recapture your curiosity.

Here are 12 questions you can ask your spouse. Or check out 88 Great Conversation Starters for Husbands and Wives.

3. Pray.

“God, please show me what it means to be intimate with my spouse. Please give me patience and understanding. I lack wisdom and discernment in this part of our marriage, so please help me to be an intimate spouse.” God will honor our prayers when we ask for wisdom (James 1:5).

Here’s a guide to help you pray for your marriage in 2018.

4. This one is a close cousin to prayer—ask God to help you discern where you fall short in intimacy.

Psalm 139:23 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” Ask God to search you and help you know what’s going on internally to help you grow in intimacy. This is usually more challenging for the men out there. When you’re one flesh with your spouse, you don’t need to fear being open about what you’re learning.

5. Create a safe place for more intimate and personal conversations.

This means you’re probably not seeking emotional intimacy in front of your TV, in a crowded Starbucks, or with a phone in your hand.

Can you and your spouse talk about sexual intimacy? I know this can be a challenge for couples. I wrote this post a few years back to help couples communicate about intimacy.

6. Find a rhythm.

Do all the above on a regular basis—daily conversation, weekly dinner dates, and annual getaways. If you’re only emotionally intimate once a year or even just monthly, you’re not going to grow in your marriage. Ted Cunningham and his book Fun Loving You have played a big role in helping us establish some patterns in our marriage.

Here are eight reasons why you need to get away with your spouse on an annual basis (Part 1 and Part 2)

7. Be honest and authentic with your spouse.

To be intimate with your spouse means you know them, and they fully know you without fear of rejection. You feel the safety and security to be yourself with your spouse. In a world that often screams out “FAKE!” intimacy provides the opportunity to keep things real in marriage.

8. Talk with community and friends and learn from them.

What are they doing in their marriage that you can learn? How can you spur each other on to grow in this part of your marriage (Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25, Proverbs 13:20)?

We spend a lot of time with four other married couples. They help us grow in every part of our lives-spiritually, as parents, as an employee, as a spouse, and so much more. We all need community.

9. Go to re|engage.

re|engage provides a safe place for you to grow in every aspect of your marriage. Whether you need to reconnect, reignite, or resurrect your marriage, check out re|engage and find a church near you who hosts this powerful ministry.

10. Be on mission together.

Every time you and your spouse do something to serve others, be scared together, or push yourselves into a position of dependence, you get the opportunity to grow in emotional intimacy.

Time to Get to Work (and to get intimate)

Imagine how much better your marriage would be if you even applied half of these 10 suggestions! What will you do to experience more intimacy in your marriage?

12 Ways to Steer Your Marriage Toward Divorce

Today’s post comes from homeword.com and Dave Willis.

Every married couple has exchanged vows which promise “til death do us part,” but for far too many marriages, their dreams of “forever” are crushed by divorce. According to government stats from the CDC, America averages one divorce every 36 seconds. That’s roughly 2,400 divorces each day, 16,800 divorces every week and 876,000 divorces per year.

So, how do we stop this epidemic of broken marriages? To bring it even closer to home, how should YOU protect YOUR marriage? I’m convinced that if you’ll avoid these 12 common bad “habits,” you’ll be well on your way to beating the divorce statistics and creating a healthy and happy marriage that will endure through every season of life. If you believe your marriage might be heading for divorce, please don’t lose hope! In addition to reading the list below, please check out our program designed to save struggling marriages at FightingForMyMarriage.com.

1. Constant Criticism

When you get a warning light on your car’s dashboard, it means there’s something wrong under the hood that needs immediate attention. One of the biggest “warning lights” in a marriage is a tone of constant criticism. When a husband and wife start being each other’s biggest critics instead of the biggest encouragers and when they start focusing only on the negative instead of the positive, it creates a downward spiral that often leads to divorce.

#2 IS SOMETHING MANY COUPLES DO AS SOON AS THEY GET MARRIED, BUT THEY DON’T REALIZE THEY’RE JUST PREPARING THEMSELVES FOR DIVORCE

2. Dividing Everything Into “His” and “Hers”

When a husband and wife have separate bank accounts, separate hobbies, separate friends and separate dreams, they’re running the risk of creating completely separate lives. Marriage is about combining; divorce is about dividing. The more you can share together, the stronger your marriage will be.

If your marriage is struggling right now, please check out our new online program at FightingForMyMarriage.com.

#3 IS THE REASON THERE’S AN EPIDEMIC OF DIVORCE AMONG COUPLES WHO HAVE BEEN MARRIED FOR 20 YEARS OR MORE…

3. Putting the Marriage “On Hold” While Raising Kids

I’ve seen too many marriages fall apart because two well-meaning people put so much focus on their kids that they forgot to keep investing in the marriage. Some couples reduce their relationship to a partnership in co-parenting, and when the kids finally grow up, they discover that they have created an empty nest and an empty marriage. Give your children the gift that comes from seeing their parents in a loving, thriving marriage. Model the kind of marriage that will make your kids excited to be married someday.

#4 MIGHT BE THE MOST COMMON (AND ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS) HABITS ON THE LIST

4. Giving Each Other Your “Leftovers”

Some couples have what I call a “cable company marriage.” Have you ever noticed how Cable TV companies seem to give you their very best deals and service at the beginning of the relationship but then after the “introductory period” ends, they give you as little as possible to still keep you around? Some married couples were great at giving their best at the beginning of the relationship, but as time goes on, they start giving the leftovers. Strive to keep giving your best to each other. Grow deeper in your love, your respect and your friendship through all the seasons of marriage.

#5 IS TOXIC AND WHEN IT HAPPENS, NEITHER SPOUSE IS GOING TO HAVE PEACE OR HAPPINESS...

5. Holding Grudges and “Keeping Score”

If you’ve been married longer than 15 minutes, chances are good that your spouse has done something to offend you and you’ve done something to offend him/her. When our words or actions cause harm, we need to be quick to admit fault and seek forgiveness. When your spouse has wronged you, you need to offer grace quickly so that trust can start being rebuilt and there’s no room for bitterness to take root in your heart. Don’t use past hurts as ammunition in arguments. Let grace flow freely in your marriage. No marriage can survive without it.

#6 REVEALS THE WORST THING TO TRUST TO ADVISE CHOICES IN YOUR MARRIAGE

6. Trusting Your “Feelings” More Than Your Commitments

There are going to be days when you might not “feel” like being married, but feelings are fickle and they were never intended to be our primary advisor in major decisions. “Feelings” often lead people into adultery. The healthiest couples have discovered that love is a commitment; not just a feeling. Their commitment to each other perseveres regardless of what they’re feeling. The strength of that commitment allows them to have a deeper intimacy, a stronger connection and a happier marriage.

#7 HAPPENS WITH PRIDE REPLACES THOUGHTFULNESS IN THE RELATIONSHIP

7. Making Decisions Without Consulting Your Spouse

Our pride can often convince us that we don’t have to answer to anyone, and we should be able to make decisions without consulting anyone. Pride has been the downfall of so many marriages. The healthiest couples have learned that EVERY decision they make as individuals will have some level of impact on each other, so they respectfully and thoughtfully consult each other in every decision.

#8 FRUSTRATES BOTH SPOUSES, BUT DOESN’T HELP EITHER ONE OF THEM

8. Trying to Change Each Other

When you try to “change” your spouse, you will BOTH end up frustrated. As you’ve probably learned already, you can’t change each other; you can only love each other. The only part of the marriage you have the power to change is the part you see when you look in the mirror. Be willing to change your responses to your spouse’s behavior. Look for ways to love and serve each other even when you have differences of perspective or preference. You’ll both probably end up “changing” for the better in the process.

#9 IS THE BIGGEST SINGLE STEP TOWARD AN EVENTUAL DIVORCE

9. Planning an Exit Strategy

The healthiest couples have removed the “D-Word” (Divorce) from their vocabularies. When we threaten divorce or when we silently start fantasizing about life with someone new, we’re ripping apart the foundation of the marriage. The couples who make it work aren’t the ones who never had a reason to get divorced; they’re simply the ones whose commitment to each other was always bigger than their differences and flaws.

#10 DOESN’T NECESSARILY INVOLVE SEX, BUT IT’S STILL AN ACT OF INFIDELITY...

10. Hiding the Fact That You’re Married

If you are intentionally hiding your status as a married person or you’re projecting “availability” through flirting, slipping off a wedding ring, acting single around your single friends or at bars, etc., then you’re WAY out of bounds. Those subtle acts of deceit are in themselves forms of infidelity even if they never lead to a sexual affair.

If you’re in a struggling marriage, please don’t lose hope. Check out our new program at http://www.fightingformymarriage.com

#11 IS EVERYWHERE, AND IT’S HAVING A TRAGIC IMPACT ON MARRIAGES.

11. Seeing Porn, Erotica or Graphic Romance Novels as “Harmless Entertainment”

When you’re acting out sexual fantasy apart from your spouse, it’s an act of mental infidelity. All true intimacy and all infidelity begins in the mind; not in the bedroom. If your eyes and your thoughts are wandering away from your spouse, then your heart is going to follow. Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught that “to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery with her in your heart.” Don’t just be physically monogamous. Strive to be mentally monogamous.

 I’m convinced that #12 is the #1 cause of divorce

12. Selfishness

We are ALL selfish by nature, but a marriage can only work when we put our selfishness aside and put the needs of our spouse ahead of our own needs. When BOTH spouses are willingly to selflessly love and serve each other in this way, the marriage will thrive. The hard part is that YOU must be willing to go first and be selfless even in those moments when he/she is not reciprocating. Your actions might turn the tide. Choose to be a thermostat; not a thermometer. A thermometer always adjusts to the climate in a room, but thermostat CHANGES the climate in the room. Be the change. You probably have more influence than you think!

For more tools to help you build a rock-solid relationship, check out our new 7-Day Marriage Challenge (by clicking HERE).