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Monday, February 23, 2015

The strongest marriages are those that are lived in community.

My lovely wife and I are leading another marriage small group at our church. We purposefully targeted this particular session to be for those who are in or approaching their "empty nest" years, and we have a great group of couples who will be looking at the question, "What's next for our marriage in the season ahead?"

This is the fifth time we have led this same 12-week marriage curriculum, but each time has been totally unique because of there have been different marriages involved in each group. Each couple brought their unique history, perspective, insights and yes, problems, to our group. In addition to our current group of seasoned marriages, we've had a group of mostly newly-marrieds and several groups that spanned multiple life stages.

We've had a great deal of fun digging into what God has to say about marriage in His Word and applying it practically.

Marriage is Best Done in Community

In many ways, marriage is a very private affair. No one else can or needs to know the depths of any couple's relationship. Much of your relationship will remain just between the two of you.

Yet, I do believe that marriages benefit greatly when couples choose to place themselves in community. And I'm not talking about men's groups and women's groups, which have their place. I'm talking about making a habit of engaging with other married couples as a couple.

The sad truth is that many, if not most, churches don't have an official marriage ministry. But even if that is true in your church, there is nothing to stop you from getting together with other couples whose marriages you admire.

Finding Other Couples

Good, strong marriages are usually not that hard to spot. I'd suggest you start in your church. Look around for couples who show honor to one another, who support one another. Watch for those couples who speak to each other with admiration and respect. Watch how they look at each other.

Trust me, you'll be able to discern pretty quickly which marriages are filled with intimacy and passion and which ones are not.

Should you pick couples who are a little older and more experienced? Or should you get with others who are in a similar life stage to your own? There are good reasons to do both. It depends on what you hope to gain from the relationship. If you are wanting more of a mentoring relationship, look for a seasoned marriage. If you are wanting to develop mutual long term friendships, look for couples near your own age.

Anything you do to build your marriage is a great step forward.

Get Real

Regardless of whether you join a regular marriage group or just get together with another couple or two once in a while, you'll gain the most benefit by being honest about your marriage, the good and the not so good. This kind of vulnerability requires that you develop a certain level of trust.

I would suggest that you, your spouse and your new couple friends agree to a few ground rules in discussing your marriage:
  • Agree with your spouse ahead of time about what is okay to discuss with others.
  • Have a firm understanding of confidentiality. What is shared among you stays among you.
  • Invite the other couple(s) to speak into your marriage. They will be for forthright if they are given formal permission to do so.
  • Acknowledge that it is okay if you are not in agreement about everything, but agree to disagree respectfully and with honor.
Regardless of how you choose to go about it, be purposeful in seeking out a strong, marriage-positive community in which to live out your marriage. You'll be glad you did.

Now it's your turn. Do you have any advice to share with couples looking to grow their marriage in community? What have you and your spouse experienced along this line? Does your church have a marriage ministry? Have you participated? What benefits have you seen in your marriage from rubbing shoulders with other married couples? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Free intimacy building download, just in time for Valentine's Day!

That's right. I'm offering my popular 14-Day Intimacy Challenge for Husbands and Wives for free through Noisetrade. Thousands of couples have already downloaded these great eBooks and taken the challenge. Now is your chance. 

Get the Husbands Challenge Here.

Get the Wife's Challenge Here.

This is a limited time offer, so get them while you can!

Learn to Think, Act and Communicate in Ways That Cultivate Intimacy in Your Marriage!

What is the Intimacy Challenge?

If you aren’t satisfied with the intimacy level in your marriage (and I don’t think you ever should be), it’s time to challenge yourself to take a fresh approach. The Intimacy Challenge dares you to do things differently in order to get different results. By following each daily call to action you will begin to think, act and communicate in new ways that encourage intimacy to thrive.

Who should take the challenge?

For many couples, intimacy is an ever-elusive goal. Every couple wants more of it, though many can’t agree on what exactly it is. Few couples know how to get it, and even fewer actually attain it. If this describes your marriage, even a little, take this 14-day challenge and watch the intimacy level rise to new heights.

Why should I take the challenge?

Every couple will benefit from making intimacy a priority. The truth is there is always more intimacy available.

What real couples say

Here's what real couples have shared about their experience with The 14 Day Intimacy Challenge:
  • "Thank you for the helpful tips and advice. It has really helped us grow closer together!"
  • "Sometimes it is just the awareness that helps to make things work better, and you provided that for me."
  • "Thank you for so many great ideas that stretched me out of my comfort zone!"
  • "Thank you for your investment in marriage. Many need this type of encouragement and advice!"
  • "Thank you for such a wonderful marriage building exercise!"
How to Give It

This challenge makes the perfect gift for Valentine's day.

Here's one suggestion for how to give it. Print out the cover and wrap it or put it in card. When your spouse opens it, explain that every day for the next two weeks you'll be taking the challenge, which is designed to build more intimacy in your marriage. Each day has something to think about, something to do, and something to ask. You could leave it at that, or explain further, as you wish.

Another way to give the challenge is to not say anything about it until the challenge is over, or unless your spouse begins to suspect that something is "different" and asks.

The third way to give it is to decide to do the challenge together and take turns with each day, spreading the challenge out to 28 days. (He does his Day 1, then she does her Day 1, etc.)

However you decide to give it, please do make this investment in your marriage. You'll be glad you did.

Feel free to drop back by and tell us how it went with a comment below.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Helpful posts for marriages hurting from a lack of sexual intimacy

I promised in my last post, The Gift of Sex - When Your Spouse Won't Give It, to follow up with links to some great posts by fellow marriage bloggers on this important topic.

As I said in my last post, marriages fall into the sexual doldrums at a sad and alarming rate. Unfortunately there are no silver bullets, no magic answers. Every marriage that is struggling with sexual intimacy is as unique as the two individuals involved.

But don't give up. There is hope and healing. God is a redeemer and He is FOR your marriage.

Below you will find a lot of different posts written by different bloggers with different perspectives. Check them out.

The beginnings of your answer may be found in one of these great posts.

Posts for Husbands of Low-Drive Wives:

Why She Has a Low Sex Drive - from The Generous Husband
When a Wife Won't Have Sex - What Does the Bible Say?  from the Forgiven Wife
Want a Happier Marriage? Just Ask from Mission:Husband
Dealing With Anger Over Sex  from The Generous Husband
My Wife Hats Sex from Brad at One Flesh Marriage

Posts for Wives of Low-Drive Husbands:

When your Husband Has a Low Sex Drive from the Happy Wives Club
Confessions of a Higher-Drive Wife from J of Hot, Holy and Humorous
Help! My Husband Doesn't Want Sex l Kate at One Flesh Marriage

More Helpful Posts

One former withholding wife's story: Living in a Near Sexless Marriage  from Forgiven Wife.

Four posts encouraging wives regarding sex from the Generous Wife:
     You Have a Sex Drive
     It's All Connected
     A Loose Thought
     But What About

Some conversation-starting posts to share with your spouse:

Intentional Sex  Why it pays to be deliberate. From Do Not Disturb blog.

Has Your Husband Stopped Initiating Sex? from Julie at Intimacy in Marriage (Read the Comments)

Survey from The Marriage Bed regarding frequency - How Much Is Enough?  Pretty much lines up with my recent survey results.

image credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What do you do when your spouse refuses to give "The Gift of Sex?"

It's time for me to wrap up my Gift of Sex series.

For the most part, I've written this series to the lower-drive wife or husband, and yes, 20-25% of husbands have a lower sex drive than their wives. I've been encouraging those husbands and wives to help improve the atmosphere of their marriages by giving more sexually. If you have missed any of these posts, the series starts here, and contains a list to all the posts in the series.

Today, however, for the conclusion, I want to write to the high-drive spouse who is doing most or all of the giving in the sexual aspect of your marriage. Or maybe you feel like your spouse is doing nothing but taking.

In either case, this is for those who are longing for The Gift of Sex to fill your marriage.

You Aren't Alone

The number of sexless marriages (or almost so) astounds and saddens me. The numbers are bad, with somewhere around 5% not having had sex in more than a year and 20% not in the past month, and things are trending worse in recent years.

It may not be much consolation to know that many marriages suffer from mismatched sex drives and less-than-fulfilling sex lives, but the fact remains that this is a common issue. In my recent survey 70% of people reported a severe mismatch in sex drives in their marriage. True, dissatisfied lovers are more likely to click on a survey entitled "Sexual Satisfaction in Marriage," but even given that caveat, the bleak numbers surprised me. Only 12% said that their sex drive was pretty close to equal that of their spouse. These are the fortunate few.

Of those reporting a big mismatch in sex drives, 37% ranked their sex lives as "poor" (1 to 3 on a 10 point scale). Even if you include those with "slightly" mismatched drives, the number reporting unhappy sex lives is still 35%. That's over one in three. Think that unhappy sex lives are only for those long-married? Nope, not at all. Just looking at those married 5 years or less, 42% with strongly mis-matched drives rated their sex lives in the basement.

Bottom line, there are plenty of sexually unhappy people out there.

Never Give Up

For my wife and I, our sex life has only had a few rough seasons when frequency was an issue, and we've never had what I would call a "poor" sex life. So maybe you think me unqualified to offer advice on the topic.

Though I may not have walked in your shoes, I can still share truth with you:
  1. It's never too late - I've read plenty of stories of marriages (even sexless ones) restored after many years of sexual drought.  
  2. God is a redeemer - God is for your marriage and His nature is to redeem. His desire is to restore the years to you that the enemy has stolen. Ask Him to.
  3. You can only change you - You've no doubt read this before, but it is true. Work on you. Work on being the best husband or wife you can be. 
  4. Get help - every situation is different, so I'm not going to spout some universal answer here. Getting to root of sexual problems can be hard. It may require medical attention, a counselor, a pastor, close friends. Do what you have to do to fix this.
  5. Grow in Non-sexual intimacy - sex is a very important component of marital intimacy, but you can work on other forms of intimacy to strengthen your marriage as much as possible. Don't withdraw. Don't give up. 
  6. Communicate - I can hear you, "I've talked until I'm blue in the face." But how you communicate your sexual needs matters a lot. Don't demand. Don't berate. Don't whine. Make it clear that it's for the sake of your marriage, for the sake of being one, for the sake of drawing and staying close. Sexual intimacy is an essential ingredient. That's the way God made it. It's okay to be strong and persistent, but be sure that the overriding message is "I love you, and I want us to have a great marriage." Work on communication in general, not just regarding sex.
  7. Keep Giving - Keep doing what you know to be right in the area of sexual generosity. Be a willing partner, stay engaged during lovemaking, Turn about may be fair play, but it won't help heal your sex life. 
Called to Christlike Love

In the end you have a choice to love your spouse with selfless, Christlike love or not. Long seasons of unmet needs of any kind, but especially sexual needs, make that really, really hard. I understand. But it doesn't change the standard to which we are called. I'll remind you of a passage of scripture that is found just before Paul's famous teaching 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)
Christ died for us while we were still mired in our sin, with no guarantee that we'd ever come into intimate relationship with him, much less even acknowledge his sacrifice on our behalf.

There are no magic answers or absolute guarantees when it comes to dealing with sexual issues, but the truth is that love is always the better choice. Choose to love. Choose to love well.

And cling to Jesus.
And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time— an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold, and where Jesus, our Forerunner, has gone in before us.
Hebrews 6:18-20 (The Passion Translation)

As I said, this is a road I've had to walk on briefly.  So I would love to hear from those of you who have been through this.  If you  have a spouse who was withholding sexually or acting as a sexual gatekeeper and have seen a turnaround, please share your story to encourage those who are in the middle of it. 

PS  Many of my marriage blogging friends have written eloquently on this topic. In my next post I'll share some links to some of what they've written.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Get your sex life off the merry-go-round and ride the roller coaster once in a while.

As part of my Gift of Sex series, we have looked so far at giving more sexually, both in terms of frequency and engagement.

Today I'm concluding my Gift of More segment with one more area that comes into play for many in determining sexual satisfaction: variety.

Sexual boredom can hinder sexual fulfillment whenever couples fall into narrow routines that limit activities during lovemaking. It's easy to get comfortable and even lazy, because we humans tend to be creatures of habit. We tend to gravitate toward familiar patterns.

Competing Chemicals

There is an interesting tug of war going in your head, whether you realize it or not. Brain science has shown that these two competing forces are: 1) our desire for comfort and 2) our need for adventure.

Young love is dominated by the presence of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which act like a narcotic and give us that head-over-heels-in-love feeling. Over time, these chemicals lessens and are overtaken by oxytocin, which is important for bonding the long-term relationship and puts us in a more contented, even keel state.

What does all this have to do with sexual variety?

The excitement in our brains over new sexual experiences causes us to feel similar sensations to when we were in that early, head-over-heels, giddy-in-love stage of our relationships, aka the honeymoon phase.  At the same time, over the same set of experiences, we can also experience fear and be driven by a desire to seek “safer ground” for the relationship.

When it comes to sex, our desire for the security and safety of the familiar fights against our desire for the thrill of the new and different. Depending on your personalities, one or the other of these may have a stronger influence on you than on your spouse.

Where's the Line?

You see a lot of marital advice about "keeping things fresh" in the bedroom. Certainly changing things up from time to time and trying out new sexual territory together can keep your relationship from getting stale, but it's important to keep focused on the fact that sex is designed to build intimacy. Growing in intimacy should be at the heart of every discussion you have about new sexual experiences.

The goal of sexual exploration is not experiences for the sake of experiences, but experiences for the sake of building intimacy.

So where is the line between what's okay to explore and what isn't?

The fact is that the Bible doesn't draw many of those lines. If it stays between two married people and both agree, then it's probably not out of bounds from a biblical perspective. But just because it's permissible, doesn't mean it's a good idea.
'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Cor 10:23-24 NIV
Exploring new things together (whether in or out of the bedroom) can certainly yield increased excitement and intimacy, as long as it is done in a healthy and selfless manner.

The Merry-Go-Round and the Roller Coaster

Sex drive and personality both play a significant role in the level of sexual adventure you are comfortable with. A high drive spouse who is the adventurous type is going to want to do a lot more exploring than a lower drive spouse who tends to be more conservative in nature. In addition, you or your spouse may have some history or past baggage that causes you to consider certain erotic behavior as being "over the line."

In general, I think every relationship needs a balance between tried-and-true and new-and-different. If your sex life is mostly like a merry-go-round, get off it once in a while, step outside of your comfort zone, and take a spin on a roller-coaster. You might just find a roller-coaster or two that you actually enjoy.

Expressing sexual desires requires a degree of vulnerability. However, your spouse might be more interested in accommodating your interests than you realize. In my recent survey, 98% of husbands and 86% of wives agreed or agreed strongly that they should at least try to accommodate sexual requests made by their spouse. Even among wives who did not see their husband's sexual satisfaction as their responsibility (just 11% of all wives), greater than half agreed that accommodating requests was still a good idea.

My friend, Paul Byerly, of The Generous Husband, wrote an excellent post on his X-Y Code blog that explains sexual exploration using a playground analogy:
Bottom Line: Your husband probably wants to play in more of the playground than you do. Please do not blame this on his porn use or past sin. While those things do have an effect, men free of those influences also want to explore most of the playground. His desire to play on all the toys is part of being a man; it is part of how God made him. 
I strongly suggest you read Paul's entire post, He Wants to use the Entire Playground, which includes six specific steps you can take if you and your spouse aren't quite on the same page concerning sexual exploration.

Don't Settle

Society will try to feed you the lie of inevitable sexual decline. Don't buy it. Sure there are challenges to keeping your sex life exciting for the long haul, but there are plenty of things you can do to stoke the flames of desire and excitement if you are willing to take a little bit of risk once in a while.

Here's a specific challenge to prompt you to action: take turns with your spouse bringing something new to your sexual repertoire once each month for the next six months. (Work out between you whether or not you want to talk about it ahead of time or if you want it to be a surprise "in the moment.")

I'm curious to know. If you could choose between increasing sexual frequency and increasing the variety of your sexual repertoire, but not both, which would you choose? Leave a comment

image credit: analina / 123rf.com

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