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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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A lover will outwork a worker every time.

In this third post on the issue of needs in marriage, I want to examine the issue of unmet needs a little further.

My last post, When Needs Go Unmet, I encouraged you to embrace the notion of loving your spouse radically by focusing mostly on what you can give rather than on what you are (or are not) getting. This is the very kind of radical, unconditional love Jesus gives to us.

Let me repeat myself. I'm not saying it's easy. It's not at all easy when you feel like you are the one doing most of the giving.

There is something that can help you keep on giving selflessly and hang on until the breakthrough comes in your marriage.

It's all in how you see yourself.

Which One Are You?

Are you mostly a lover or mostly a worker?

A worker usually does what he or she does in order to get something in return. In the job world that's called a paycheck (yes, I know people work for other reasons as well - that's not the point). In the marriage world you may work to get your spouse to change or to get them to give you what you need. It might be that you are working to get love. You may even be working because you know it's the right thing to do or so that you can win the badge of being the "good spouse."

The worker is motivated by external forces.

A lover does what he or she does for love's sake. A lover is compelled to surrender, sacrifice and serve by the love that burns inside. A lover does all for the sake of intimacy, not for the sake of gain.

The lover is motivated by internal forces.

More Than Emotion

Being a lover doesn't mean you allow your emotions to dictate. Love is more than an emotion. Emotions are fickle and fleeting. You can't rely on them.

The kind of genuine love I am talking about is deep conviction that drives daily choices.

Love looks through what appears to be true and chooses to stare into the truth. What are the truths a lover can look to?
  • The truth is that love, real love, is found in the face of Jesus
  • The truth is that as a believer, you have that very love inside of you
  • The truth is that you do not have to be ruled by your emotions, but can be ruled by the Holy Spirit
  • The truth is that you can take every thought captive, and can take it to trial by the discernment of the Holy Spirit
  • The truth is that the covenant you share with your spouse is a supernatural one
  • The truth is that God is for your marriage and he is by nature a restorer, a redeemer and a reconciler
  • The truth is that you and your spouse are one, and that makes your marriage different from every other relationship in your life
A Lover is First a Beloved

I mentioned this last time, but it bears repeating. The best way to allow your heart to be transformed into a lover is by first realizing that you are beloved.
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19 (NIV)
Allow your heart to be wrecked by the One who gave all to have you as his own.

Yes, eventually you still have to do the work. But if you can allow your heart and mind to be transformed from that of a worker to that of a lover, you will be able to work longer, harder and with more genuine joy than you can imagine.

And the truth is, a lover will outwork a worker every time.

If you haven't yet, please do me a favor by 
answering my poll.

image credit: mrpuen / 123rf.com

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What do you do when you've communicated your needs to your spouse, yet they remain unmet?

Several comments on my last post, What Do You Need?,  pointed to the same question. "What do I do when I've expressed my needs and my spouse still will not meet them?"

I love wrestling with the tough questions, and this certainly is one.

No Easy Answers

Responses are pouring in from my current marital needs survey (if you haven't yet, please take a minute and let me know what ONE THING you need most from your spouse). It's clear that a significant number of respondents are suffering from unmet needs. Somewhere around 40% say their husband or wife is not meeting their single most important need (rating them a 1, 2 or 3 on a 10 point scale).

I am certain that some of the respondents to my survey have tried, perhaps repeatedly, to express their needs to their spouse. Some may even have gone so far as to describe clearly what having that need met would look like, This is a vital first step to helping your spouse love you well.

But what if you've done all that, had numerous conversations about what you need and how you would like it to look, but your spouse either still doesn't get it or refuses to do the things you say you need.

Every Situation is Unique

Every marriage relationship is different. The personalities, histories and issues you face will be different from those of others. Likewise, the nature of your unmet needs is probably unique.

Is it that your spouse has withdrawn from the relationship altogether? Does it seem they have stopped trying? Is it that they continue to not "get it" that the needs you express are really important. Are they in denial of the depth of the pain you are in over this? Is it that they are trying but just aren't fulfilling your need in the way you need if fulfilled? Do they feel criticized and doomed to fail, so no longer wish to try?

The disharmony caused by key needs going unmet on a long-term basis is very real and very hard. The encouragement I offer below is in no way meant to downplay what can be a very difficult situation.

Please realize that I am not simply speaking platitudes into your pain. My goal is to offer you truth and hope.

Give First, Give Most

We all have a tendency to withhold love when we feel we aren't receiving love in the way we want. It's natural.

It's natural, but it's not Biblical. We are called to radical love by the One who loves us radically. Consider the verses that open Paul's famous chapter on marriage.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.
Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Ask yourself whether there are areas where you are withholding from your spouse. Is it possible that they are feeling exactly as you do about unmet major needs? I'm not accusing you. I'm asking you to lead the conversation by first seeking out the unmet needs of your spouse.  Are you willing to ask the hard questions and then listen in a non-defensive manner, without striking back in response or justifying yourself?

Are you willing to "win" by out-giving and out-loving your spouse?

What is Your Source?

Sometimes by overtly focusing on what you can give rather than what you are not getting, it will draw your spouse into a deeper awareness of their own lack of charity and generosity.

Sometimes it won't.

Some will say, “I've tried that. I've been giving and giving, but I'm tired of never getting anything back.” I get that.

If you are giving of your own human capacity for love, you are surely going to soon reach the end of your ability to love and keep on loving. The good news is that we have an Infinite Love available to us - the love of Christ.  And it's ours for the taking. It's simple, but not always easy.

That's why it's absolutely critical for us all to inhale deeply and daily of the love of Christ. I encourage you to first try to grasp the “unknowable love” that Christ has for you personally. This daily love injection will not only expand your capacity for love, it can also help you understand God's love for your husband or wife.

This is exactly what happened to me in the journey of my own marriage. When I began to more deeply understand and experience the love of Christ in my life, my understanding of marriage was transformed. As I discovered the passionate emotions and unstoppable love that God has for me, I was better able to love my wife in the same way.

Of course, there is no guarantee of love returned, but unconditional love is the Kingdom principle we are called to press into. It's the way Christ loved us and laid down His life for us - with no guarantee we would love Him back.

There are no easy answers to the issue of unmet needs. I will continue to share my thoughts over the next few posts. I would also love to hear your own ideas and struggles with this issue. Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

For the ladies:  Blogging friend Robyn Gibson of Up With Marriage is exploring this topic in the context of sex in her posts "Serving Through Sex" Part 1  and Part 2 . Really good stuff. Highly recommended reading.

For the guys:  Paul Byerly, aka The Generous Husband, has a post for men entitled "Your Needs," which I also highly recommend.

Be sure to take my 
What I Need Most

image credit: freedigitalphotos.net

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