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Monday, July 28, 2014

I have two primary passions: marriage and worship. The truth is I've been a worship leader and musician for much longer than I've been involved in marriage ministry, but I don't tend to touch on that here very often.

So when I found something on Facebook that brings music and marriage together, I just had to share it.

This video beautifully portrays the truth that, in marriage, two become one. Watch and be amazed.

Here are a few marriage lessons I can see:
  • Two can create something that one cannot hope to create alone.
  • Both parts are critical to the song's beauty and effectiveness. 
  • It's okay if, sometimes, one carries the song alone for a short time.
  • Staying in sync requires you to give as much attention to listening as to playing the song
  • Confidence and trust in one another is essential.
  • Sometimes you need to make room for one another.
What other lessons do you find in this marvelous metaphor?  Leave a comment

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five rules on public discourse for married couples 

Traveling for business this month, I saw a couple interacting in a way that was totally dismaying to me.  I felt it would be worth re-telling.

This actually happened. 

I took my customary aisle seat on my packed flight and pulled out my tablet to begin reading.

A couple who looked to be in their thirties boarded together. His seat was across the aisle from my right; hers against the window to my left.

He gallantly announced that he would take the middle seat next to me and offer his aisle seat to whomever was assigned to the middle - a noble gesture offered, I assumed, in an attempt to have them sit together. She smirked and said with a huff, "no way." She then proceeded to plunk herself into his aisle seat without so much as a glance in her husband's direction. I noticed a confused look on his face as I stood to allow him into the window seat that would otherwise have belonged to his wife.

As I settled back into my seat, I heard the wife justify her actions by muttering to no one in particular something about him just falling asleep anyway and snoring the whole way. (As a snorer myself I took particular offense at that statement.)

Just then a mother with a fussing (screaming actually) child pass down the aisle. The woman across from me muttered again, to no one in particular that she was going to need a strong drink to get through this. Her husband muttered in reply, also to no one in particular, "I hate kids. I have kids and I hate kids."

Turns out that their concern was in vain.  The screaming child ended up more than 20 rows behind us.

I suppose in response to her comment about needing a drink, the husband ask sheepishly across me, toward her, if he could also have a drink. "No way!" his wife barked in his direction without looking his way. "You're on water!"

As he settled into his magazine, she dug into her bag for her novel. Pulling it out, she announced, to no one in particular, "I'm gonna' have a drink and go off to France."  On the book she was waving I noticed something about Paris in the title.

As I shifted my attention back to my tablet I thought to myself, "There's definitely a post here."

I Know You Would Never, But...

I am sure that you and your spouse would never interact like this, especially not on a crowded airplane. But for the record, let me just draw a few lessons from this unhappy couple.
  1. Keep your private issues private - Maybe you've got stuff going on between you. Maybe you fought that morning or one of you said something harsh to the other, but don't drag your issues out in public. Either fix it in private or stuff it until you can. Ugly public displays are just that: ugly.

  2. Don't cut each other down in public - I honestly don't get this. How can you treat your spouse worse than you would treat a total stranger? Watch your words, and if you can't say something kind, keep it to yourself. You shouldn't cut each other down at all, but a public dissing cuts ten times deeper. At the same time public praise counts ten times more. It says to your spouse, "I'm proud to be married to you."

  3. If your spouse tries to make a kind gesture, respond in a like manner - None of us are going to bat 1000 when we try to do something kind or helpful, but acknowledge your spouse's effort when he or she tries to make a kind gesture but ends up annoying you instead. A kiss with bad breath, a shortcut that makes you late for the movie, or a bad choice of a new restaurant are all opportunities to smile and show some grace.

  4. Don't neglect each other in public - You probably see it all the time. A couple sitting in a restaurant both occupied with their cell phones. Do your best to focus on each other when you are out and about together. Chances are it doesn't happen that often, so take advantage of the time you have together.

  5. Lastly, if you have a passive-aggressive habit of speaking out loud to "no one in particular," please don't. Just don't. "No one in particular" does not want to hear what you have to say.
Maybe you aren't "that couple." But perhaps you can take this opportunity to consider how you treat your spouse in public. What would people say about your marriage from watching you interact with your spouse? Can you think of any areas where you might do better?

If "that couple" happens to read this post, thanks for giving us all a lesson in how not to interact in public.

What other rules of public engagement would you have to offer?  Leave a comment with your thoughts.

image credit: cluckva / 123rf.com

Friday, July 4, 2014

The wholesale abandonment of marriage in general and traditional marriage in particular is one of the greatest threats to our country. What can we do?

Apologies in advance to my readers outside the US. Chances are, however, that what I'm about to say probably has bearing on your own country. In fact, I'd love to hear how the state of marriage compares in your own country.

It is not popular to stand up for marriage in the US these days, especially if you take a more traditional and sacramental view of the institution. If fact, those who do so, especially if they have any kind of public profile, often face severe chastisement and abuse by those who disagree. There seems to no longer be space in our society for courteous public discourse about the important topic of marriage.

Here are just two recent examples of the kind of vitriol I'm talking about:
  • Brandon Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox browser, was forced to resign over outrageously insane reactions to the revelation that he donated money to support California's proposition to define marriage as between one man and one woman. What free speech?
  • In a recent Harper's Bazaar interview, actress Kirsten Dunst expressed her personal views that support more traditional gender roles in marriage. Her suggestion that females might actually be feminine prompted vicious and profane attacks from the left. Most of what I read is not fit to print.
I could offer more, but I'm sure you get my point.

Good News?

Is it really all that bad? Is marriage in the US really in trouble? I believe so.

Shaunti Feldhahn has a new book out called The Good News About Marriage. In it she debunks some common myths about divorce and marriage statistics, such as the oft-quoted 50% divorce rate. She counters that "according to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse." That is good news.

However, it's a definite good news/bad news story. One of the trends contributing to a lower divorce rate is that young people are delaying marriage or doing away with it altogether. According to the The National Marriage Project's (TNMP) Knot Yet report, the average age of marriage is higher than it has ever been (27 for women and 29 for men). In 2011, there were more unmarried females than married females for the first time in US history. Along with that, cohabitation has soared from about 1.6 million people in 1980 to 7.6 million in 2011.

Another alarming trend is fatherlessness.  In their State of our Unions 2012 report,  TNMP reports that the rate of out-of-wedlock births is now approaching 50% for low-to-moderately educated women, almost twice what it was in 1982.

If we ignore or try to whitewash these statistics, we do so at our own peril. In the foreword to The Good News About Marriage, pastor Andy Stanley states the following:
We have been both accepting and adding to a deep sense of cultural discouragement about marriage. A discouragement that instead of motivating people, leeches hope from marriages. A discouragement that, it turns out, is based more on myth than reality.
Admittedly, I haven't read the book yet - it's in my reader, but I've read enough of the promotional material to give me pause. I'm a little concerned with the apparent premise that marriage in our country really isn't in trouble. Yes, the divorce rate is down, but the underlying reason is that marriage is in an even deeper decline. And that's not good news at all.

Where is the Hope?

These trends are very disturbing to me as a marriage blogger and as an American, I'm an unashamedly patriotic individual, and I happen to think America is a unique force for good in the world. However, as I observe our steady slide away from marriage, I can't help but wonder what the future holds for my children.

Shaunti Feldhahn's book notwithstanding, I think we are in trouble. Yet we are not without hope. I agree with her statement in a recent article for Catalyst, Everything we Think We Know About Marriage is Wrong, which is obviously a book promo piece::
What marriages need today is hope. And of all people, we in the Body of Christ should be the most ready to offer hope – not just for our spiritual life but for our marriages. And now, we can.
We, as believers have the inside track on marriage. We hold the hope. We have a close, personal relationship with the One who created marriage before time began. We have also been given the relationship of Jesus and the church as a model for marriage. I often say that the marriages in the church should be so compellingly beautiful and strong that people should get save just by observing how we do marriage. Yeah, I'm a bit of an idealist.

The National Marriage Project supports a pro-marriage legislative agenda to reverse some of the deleterious trends in marriage. I don't think government policies are the answer, though they may help stem the tide.

Only the church can save marriage.

Happy Birthday from the Church

So here are the seven gifts I think the church should give to our country to help re-establish marriage as the strong central pillar of our society.
  1. Be more proactive in supporting and strengthening the vast number of okay marriages, and stop focusing so much on divorce/crisis intervention and divorce recovery. The goal should be for every marriage to be great, not just okay.
  2. Speak boldly about the sacred, holy and wondrous nature of marriage from the pulpit, not just to married folks in marriage seminars, but to everyone in the church. Often.
  3. Be willing to talk frankly about sex in a healthy and open manner. When we drive sex into the shadows, all kinds of unhealthy fruit grows in its place, such as porn use, extra-marital affairs, and sexless marriages.
  4. Begin giving young people encouraging messages about marriage, even in their teenage years. The media and society are speaking loudly and clearly to kids with false and counterfeit messages. We need to be louder and clearer.
  5. Hire more marriage pastors. Why do most churches have children's pastors, youth pastors, teaching pastors, outreach pastors and pastors of every kind except marriage pastors. What does a marriage pastor do? See number 1 above.
  6. Start and/or promote marriage small groups using excellent curriculum and strong, well-equipped leaders. Encourage organic marriage mentoring programs, where every married couple is connected with another couple or two.
  7. Every pastoral/leadership couple should work hard to make their marriages a stellar example to their congregations, but at the same time, should be transparent about the realities of married life. It is well known how the demands of pastoring often wreak havoc on these marriages. It may require a little less focus on their congregations and a little more focus on their marriages. 

What else do you think the church can give our country on behalf of marriage? Share your thoughts with a comment.

photo credit: a fabulous fruit flag treat made by my daughter

Sunday, June 22, 2014

[Men Only Monday]

Your wife's desire for a deeper emotional connection is actually a desire for more of you.

Last time I gave a sneak peak at the preliminary results of my current poll on husbands' and wives' number one need in marriage.  In that Wives only Wednesday post I told about the need the husbands chose most, chosen by almost half of husbands: having a satisfying sex life.

Today I'm writing a Men Only Monday post to husbands about the need the wives picked most: having a close emotional connection.

The Numbers

Emotional intimacy was chosen as the number one need by 40% of the wives who took my survey. If I include a number of "write in" answers that were very closely associated with emotional intimacy, that number rises to 46%.

The next closest need in the results for wives was "Feeling cared for," indicated as most important by 13% of wives.

So how are husbands doing at meeting this need? More than one in three wives who chose emotional intimacy as their most important need rated their husbands as failing to meet that need (37% of these wives gave their husbands a 1, 2, or 3 on a ten point scale.)  One in five husbands were doing well, given a 7-10 out of 10. The rest, 41% were somewhere in the middle.

Get Engaged (Again)

I asked in my survey for each person to describe what it would look like to have their number one marital need met. The wives' who chose emotional intimacy as their top need had answers that were remarkably similar.

Those who did not have good emotional intimacy in their marriages expressed wanting their husbands to be more engaged.

What kind of engagement? For most it came down to better communication:

  • listen more, listen better, really hear her
  • talk more, talk deeper, share on an emotional level
  • have real conversations about topics important to her
  • pay attention, eye contact, be attentive

I get it that for you as a man this may not be a natural thing. It doesn't matter if it's natural for you or not, you need to learn to do it and do it well, because it matters to your wife.

If your wife told you that she didn't naturally think about sex and wasn't naturally inclined to be sexual, would you let her of the hook when it comes to sexual intimacy? No way! It's not any different the other way around. (By the way, wives who use that excuse also have to learn to be more sexually engaged, because it matters a lot to most husbands, but that was last week's post.)

It's a little bit stereotypical to say that women are talkers and men are doers, or that women want emotional intimacy and men want sexual intimacy. But stereotypes are usually formed on the basis of some truth. While I know plenty of marriages where the husband is more into talking than the wife, the results of my poll indicate that a lot of wives don't feel like their husbands understand or care about their need for emotional connection. 

The bottom line here is that if your wife's most important need is going mostly or totally unmet, that is not a formula for a strong, sustainable marriage. Doing nothing about it is not an option.

She Wants More Of You

The fact is that whether you feel it or not, you and your wife are one. You became one when you got married (yeah it's a mystery). But here's the thing. Intimacy is about being fully known and yet fully loved. If you have only surface level intimacy because you are withholding yourself from your wife emotionally, the intimacy in other dimensions of your marriage will suffer. Yes, that includes sex.

The best marriages enjoy deep intimacy in every dimension: emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, intellectual, etc.  When one or more dimension are missing from the intimacy equation, you will feel a tear in the fabric of your oneness.

When you give more of yourself emotionally, you can expect that your wife will respond by giving more of herself sexually. But be careful that you aren't giving just to get something back. Give yourself emotionally out of the love you have for your wife and because she needs it in order to feel loved by you.

Your wife wants more engagement and deeper emotional intimacy because she wants more of you.

One Thing You Can Do

I can hear your excuses. "I am not a talker." "I'm no good at this sharing thing." "I have a hard time expressing emotions." "I often don't even know what I'm feeling."

I understand that for some of you communicating isn't your best skill, but here is one thing you can do.

Sit down with your wife, just the two of you where you won't be interrupted. Take her hand. Look her in the eyes.  Tell her you know that emotional connection is important to her and that you haven't done a great job in that area (assuming that is true).  Tell her you may not be great at it, but that you want to improve. Tell her it's important to you because she is important to you.

One thing that Jenni and I find is very important for us as we try to maintain emotional intimacy in our marriage is to have at least a few minutes every day to connect with each other. Sometimes on crazy-busy days it doesn't happen until we drop into bed. Even when we are dead tired, which seems to be often, we still try to talk and hold each other a little before we drift off to sleep. If your wife enjoys physical touch as one of her love languages, this connection time is a good opportunity to touch her in a non sexual way (hold her, snuggle together, stroke her hair or arm or thigh gently, etc.)

Guys, have a talk with your wife about the level of emotional connection in your marriage. Be brave and ask her how you are doing. Don't be defensive. Ask her what would make her feel emotionally connected to you. Really listen without defending. Tell her you want to work on it together and set it in your heart to spend at least ten minutes every day connecting in ways that are meaningful to her. 

PS  False Conclusions  -  Please note that in my survey I only gave people a chance to pick one need, their most important need. Just because a lot fewer husbands picked having a close emotional connection as their number one need does not mean that emotional intimacy is unimportant to most husbands. (Likewise, just because only 2% of wives picked sex as their number one need, doesn't mean that 98% of wives don't care about sex!). In fact , emotional closeness came in as the number three most reported key need for husbands.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You can move your sex life from "have to" to "want to."

With this post and the next one we are getting down to the nitty-gritty of marital needs.

Today is a Wives Only Wednesday post, so you guys can tune out. I'll deal with you next week in a follow up Men only Monday post.

People are still taking my marital needs poll, in which I asked husband and wives to answer this question: "What is the one thing you need most from your spouse?" (You can add your own answer by clicking here).

Though the final results aren't in yet, there are some pretty clear trends emerging. Today, I'm going to tell you, wives, about the need that more husbands chose than any other.

First the Facts

By a significant margin, more men reported needing "a satisfying sex life" as their number one need than any other need. Overall, 49% of husbands reported sex as their number one need, as compared to 2% of wives.

For comparison, the second most reported number one need for husbands was "being respected," which came in at 14%.

Here's the tough part. Of those 49% of husbands who stated sex was their most important need, 58% said their need was not being met very well at all, giving their wives a 1, 2 or 3 on a ten point scale. On a more positive note, 22% said their need for sex was being met well (7-10 score).  The other 20% fell in the middle.

Here's a question for you to consider: how enduring will a marriage be when a spouse's most important need is going almost completely unmet?

From "Have To" to "Want To"

I thought it would be best, considering the sensitive nature of sex in marriage, to get some assistance with this post from some of my female blogging friends who have recently written some excellent posts on the topic. So I contacted them and asked if I could use excerpts from their posts, and both graciously agreed.

Robyn Gibson of Up With Marriage did a couple of great posts on the issue of sex.  In her first post on this topic Serving Through Sex she examines the key distinction between "have to" and "want to." As she explains, in her own life moving from "have to" to "want to" was a matter of adapting her thinking to God's plan for sexual intimacy in her marriage.
Adapting enables the flesh to grow up. Adapting is what changes the stoic ‘have to’ in our flesh of obedience into the loving ‘want to’ in our spirit. 
She adds this scripture:
And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart.
Ezekiel 11:19
Her point here is that when women think of sex as simply "serving their husbands," it is more of an obligation - something only for his benefit. But that's not how God intends sex to be in the marriage relationship. She concludes her post with the example of a husband who "serves" his wife by reluctantly agreeing to dinner and a movie, but freely admits he would rather have just unplugged and read a book.
He is in the mindset of “I have to” not “I want to.” It feels deceitful and is an affront because when we read, "For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25), we know God didn’t mean for Christ to love the church through conciliatory gestures.  Have to is serving. Want to is loving. I don’t want my husband to have to love me; I want him to want to love me.
So, back to the sex of it … as long as I feel that I am serving my husband through sex, it will always be a conciliatory gesture and never authentic genuine love.
Did you catch that? Let me say it again: Have to is serving. Want to is loving. 

There's another great quote from Robyn in the part 2 of Serving Through Sex.
The reason many of us have of a hard time wrapping our minds around this juxtaposition is because we try to reason in our flesh that we need to understand what God is asking of us before we do it. We wrestle with thoughts like:  “If it would just make sense then I could adapt.” Or,“If I just knew how this was going to turn out.” Or,“If I do this, how can I be sure that it will be fair?” Or at the very least, we want to be assured that our spouse won’t take advantage of us in the slightest. It seems we want some kind of guarantee before stepping out in faith. 
Stepping out in faith requires that we relinquish our need for a guarantee that everything will work out in our favor.

As Robyn explains, Jesus' submission to the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane was not an act of service. It was an act of love.

Love says, my desire is to do what your will is. 
Serving through sex is a method for a wife to compartmentalize the act itself. She will be able to have sex and at the same time not be fully engaged: only as much as she has to be.
When I trust that God’s ways are excellent I will adapt to His plan for marriage. The submission of my whole self in marriage will demonstrate to God that I am all in. Nothing will be held back. I won’t be stuck in the mindset of having to serve my brother through sex. Instead, my transformed heart will want to have sex with my husband.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, Not Emotions

Chris, who writes the Forgiven Wife blog, encourages wives with the testimony of her marriage, and how God transformed her heart and her marriage after twenty years of sexual "gatekeeping."

In a recent series, Chris shares the story of Janna Allen, a wife whose marriage underwent a similar transformation, The series is titled Journey of Change and starts here.   In the third post of her story, Janna explains why she thinks this transformation will stick.
I believe it is because it is NOT based on what I am “feeling”, physically or emotionally.  It is based on conviction and love, love of my Lord and my husband.  No matter if my sexual desire dips (which it does), it’s not an option to do nothing.  Or no matter how I am feeling towards my husband at the time (which I have had hurt and anger to work through this past year), it’s not an option not to work through things and go back to a “self-protective” state where I build walls and harbor unforgiveness and /or bitterness.

I could never have done it without the conviction and power of the Holy Spirit, and I believe that it will only be through Him that this will be a forever change. Where I am concerned, all that’s dependent on me is a surrendering and obedience to Him, because by nature I am way too selfish, independent, rebellious, and prideful to keep up an act of serving and loving my husband without some supernatural help and empowerment.

As I explained in my last post, Are You A Love or a Worker, being guided by love doesn't mean you are guided by emotion. Rather, you can choose to focus on the truth, despite what your emotions might tell you. One of those truths is that, as a believer, you have the fullness of the Holy Spirit inside you - the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. That is power!

Practice allowing your spirit to rule over your soul (mind, will and emotions).

More of You

If you struggle in the area of sexual intimacy with your husband, here is a notion that might help you shift your mindset. Rather than thinking of your husband as simply wanting more sex, realize that what he really wants is more of you.

He wants the kind of intimacy with you that only a thriving sexual relationship can enable.

Let your love for God and your love for your husband, empowered by the Holy Spirit, transform your "have to" into a "want to." Who knows, maybe you might even end up at "get to."

Next time: The Number One Need of Wives

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