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Wednesday, October 19, 2016
If you want an rich harvest of intimacy in your marriage, make sure there is an abundance of trust in the soil of your relationship.
Trust is critical to any meaningful relationship, and it's especially important in marriage. Intimacy requires being known, and revealing your genuine self requires an atmosphere of trust. The level of intimacy you have with your spouse will be capped by the level of trust you share.
Trust, or lack of it, provides good insight into what you actually believe about your spouse. (Note: it works the same in our relationship with Jesus.) Trust is faith in action. Trust says I believe in you, and I believe that love is at the center of your intentions toward me.
Generally speaking, the need to feel trusted is significantly higher for men than for women, though certainly everyone wants to feel that their partner trusts them. Men typically want to be trusted for what they do (like being a good provider and a capable leader). Women, on the other hand, tend to want to be trusted for who they are (the goodness of their hearts and intentions).
Despite these differences between the sexes, there are some actions both can take to build trust in their relationship.
1) Do what you say you will do - Be reliable. Don't require your spouse to follow up a dozen times before you get around to doing what you committed to. Everyone forgets sometimes, but if you want your spouse to trust your word, be consistent about making good on it.
2) Be real - It's very difficult to trust what you do not know. That means that openness, truthfulness and vulnerability are necessary prerequisites to establishing trust. If you make a habit of hiding your faults or being closed off from your spouse emotionally out of fear or shame, don't expect to earn their trust.
3) Empathize (don’t criticize) - in times of struggle . Getting your spouse to open up to you about their struggles requires that you don't use what they tell you against them. Being critical or judgmental over exposed weaknesses will make your spouse feel they can't trust you in their times of need.
4) Speak Kindly and Affectionately - An atmosphere of kindness is conducive to trust and vulnerability in your relationship. Speak kindly to each other. Show affection often. In addition, never speak negatively about your spouse to others, including close friends and family members. Even if your spouse never learns of it, it creates an atmosphere of distrust in your marriage.
5) Forgive quickly (and forget) - Apologize when you've done wrong and be quick to accept an apology when you have been wronged. Don't rehash past issues that supposedly have been dealt with or use past mistakes as a weapon. That sends the message that you haven't really granted the forgiveness you said you gave.
6) Put your relationship above your rights - We live in a country founded on rights, and there is a strong societal message that says you have to stand up for and assert your rights. But, in marriage, when your insistence on your rights comes at the cost of the relationship, it sends the message that your spouse can't trust you to take care of the relationship. As my wife says, it's not about being right, it's about being love.
7) Value freedom (vs. control) - When you try to assert control over your spouse, it sends a pretty clear message to your spouse that you don't trust them (whether you feel it's actually true or not). Conversely, when you allow each other freedom, it helps to build an atmosphere of trust.
How many of these trust builders are commonplace in your marriage? Are there other trust-building habits you can think of? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
If you don't have the marriage you want, maybe you've been asking the wrong question.
Of course you want to have a great marriage. Who doesn't? But perhaps you feel like you've struggled for years to get there, yet with only limited success. If so, then this post is for you.
If you don't have the marriage you want, you might need to start by asking a different question. Let me explain using a lesson from the business world.
Start with Why
Leadership and management guru Simon Sinek wrote a book a while back called, "Start With Why." His "Golden Circle" theory is summarized in the following graphic.
Bear with me as I summarize, or you can see Sinek explain it in this TedxTalk.
The basic premise, according to Sinek, is that conventional companies work the gloden circle from the outside in. They focus first on the What - their product or service. Then they spend a lot of time talking about How - the process of delivering that product or service. They rarely talk about Why.
Great companies, Sinek explains, do it backwards. They focus really hard on the Why. Who are we? What are our core values? Why is our Mission important? What do we believe?
From there they move on to the How, which is best examined in light of the Why - the core mission. How do we walk out our core values in light of who we are? The What (product or service) then flows most effectively out of a well-defined Why and How.
Marriage From Inside Out
Conventional marriage thinking goes a lot like conventional business thinking: outside in.
In that case, most couples would say their What is to have a good, strong marriage that lasts a lifetime (or something similar).
The How of marriage is made up of the things we do that we hope will help accomplish our What - that will help ensure a good marriage. Date nights. Good communication. Regular sex. Shared financial goals. Etc.
Now there's nothing wrong with date nights and good communication. And having a great marriage is a good What. The problem is, as is the case in business, it's the wrong question to start with.
It's best to start with the question, "Why?"
The Why of Your Marriage
Sinek equates your Why with your purpose or mission. Consider this question: "Our marriage exists for the purpose of __________."
Here are a few possible Why examples:
- To enjoy maximum intimacy (my personal belief is that intimacy, in every form, is the ultimate goal of marriage)
- To fulfilled our destinies - to ensure that each of us reaches the destiny God has for us
- To walk in oneness - to fully explore and apprehend the benefits of two living as one
- To be an accurate portrayal of Christ and the church - for our marriage to reflect as closely as possible the bridal paradigm
What is the ultimate purpose or mission of your marriage? Have you thought about it? Have you talked about it? It's a great topic for your next date night.
There are also some Why's I would definitley NOT recommend:
- To make me happy
- To complete me
- To have my emotional needs met
- To have as much sex as possible
- To benefit financially
Although these might be an outgrowth of your legitimate Why, they aren't a good place to start.
Rethinking Your Hows
Consider your Hows in light of your Why (once you have established what it is). Do the things you are doing, thinking and saying line up with your mission? What do you need to eliminate or what should you add to your marriage in order to realize your Why?
For example, if intimacy is your ultimate goal, consider whether you are experiencing intimacy in every area of your life. If spiritual intimacy is lacking, make a plan to nurture it. If sexual intimacy hasn't been a priority, make a plan to change that. If you've been living separate financial lives, consider how to join together in your handling of money.
Re-imagine Your What
If your What is to have a great marriage, talk with your spouse specifically about what it would look like if you were to fully live according to your Why.
Using the intimacy Why, what would a marriage with maximum intimacy look like? What characteristics would your marriage have? How would it impact your children or your community? What would be the visible signs that intimacy is at the forefront of your marriage?
Marriage is not a business. It's a unique God-crafted covenant-bearing institution. But I think Sinek's Why-How-What actually applies directly. Get the Why of your marriage right, fill your marriage with the right Hows, and you have a much better chance of a successful What - a great and lasting marriage.
What do you think of applying the Golden Circle to marriage? Does it work for you? Would you like to share your Why with us? Let us hear from you in a comment.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
A letter to my daughter on her wedding day - five keys to a great marriage.
Lisa has no doubt received all kinds of marriage advice from many people, but as her father and a champion of strong marriages I wanted to offer my own thoughts. I've struggled to condense down all I've written and read about marriage over the years to identify the essential keys that lead to an intimate, passionate and enduring marriage.
Here's what I came up with.
The big day is approaching quickly! Amidst all the excitement and celebration I wanted to take a moment to share a few thoughts with you as you and Otto begin your marriage journey together. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but if you get these things right, it will go a long way to ensure you have a happy, healthy, intimate, passionate and enduring marriage.
1) Learn What Says "I Love You"
You and Otto have gotten to know each other pretty well through your dating years, but there is so much more you'll discover as you become one in marriage. The most important thing for each of you to learn is what says "I love you" to the other. Trust me when I say that each of you will likely answer this question very differently. You may not "get" each other's love needs, especially at first, but you don't have to get them to do them.
It's important to revisit this question regularly. You'll want to be students of one another. It's important to keep asking, especially in seasons of change or stress, "How can I best show you how much I love you?"
For this to work, you'll both need to be transparent with your needs. Not in a demanding or selfish way, but in a way that helps each of you to love the other well.
2) Show Love Daily
Do something every day to communicate your love for each other. Be intentional about speaking and demonstrating love in ways that matter to the other. These don't need to be grand or dramatic gestures. Small love expressions, given daily, will do more to sustain your marriage than big ones that only happen infrequently.
This means being intentional and watchful. It means keeping your marriage off of auto-pilot. Keep your eyes wide open and your hearts wide awake toward each other.
3) Practice Selflessness and Generosity
One amazing aspect of the two of you becoming one is that any time you bless the other, you also get to share in the benefit of that blessing. Learn to take delight in delighting each other with your love. Practice generosity and selflessness.
Give your love without condition and without the expectation of getting something in return. This is God's kind of love. Practice giving love for love's sake and for the sake of your marriage, rather than what you may get in return. But you will find that when you do this, the blessing does flow back to you.
4) Manage Your Expectations
It's likely that you both carry many expectations into your marriage. For the most part it's best to hold those expectations loosely. But there are two expectations that I encourage you to hold to steadfastly.
First is the expectation that this is a lifelong covenant you have together. It's hard to imagine now, but there will likely be times ahead when you will need to be tenacious about this commitment you've made to each other.
Second, always believe and expect that the best days of your marriage are ahead of you. Regardless of how good (or how bad) things are, there is always more ahead. Deeper intimacy, more to know about each other, a stronger bond of trust, and grand new adventures are in front of you.
Always believe that God is for your marriage. He loves love. He is love. Press into him in prayer, both separately and together, for all you need to sustain and grow your marriage is found in him. Prayer for your marriage is a prayer he is eager to answer. And pray for each other, that you will walk in your true identities and that you will each fulfill your destiny in Christ.
There you have it. My short list of the essentials for a successful marriage. Just remember that, in the end, success in marriage isn't about how many things you did right or wrong, but the level of intimacy (emotional, spiritual and physical) you share, because intimacy should be the ultimate goal of every marriage.
I Love You,
What "keys to a great marriage" would you add to my list if it were your daughter getting married? I'd love you to add your thoughts in a comment.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Creating a sexual menu together is a great way to talk openly about your sexual wishes.
Continuing with last week's culinary theme (6 Ways Food and Sex Go Together), this week we'll use the analogy of a menu to examine your sexual repertoire.
It's not unusual for couples to struggle in the bedroom. Conflicts arise over what's okay and what's not, when one or both partners feel stuck in a rut, and when opinions differ about exploring new sexual territory.
The menu concept is a helpful way to discuss these issues with your spouse in a non-confrontational and collaborative way. Let's take a look at how that might work.
Think of the various activities in your sexual repertoire as a menu. You and your spouse can discuss the various menu sections listed below in order to come to mutual agreement. My suggestion is that you actually create your sexual menu on paper or computer or phone and store it in a private and secure location that is password protected, but where you can both get to it easily.
These are the tried and true sexual activities you both enjoy. These trusty house favorites are your go to menu items when you don't feel like trying something different and you just want to connect in a deep and pleasurable way that's sure to leave you both feeling satisfied. Talk about what's on your favorites list and write them down. His favorite and hers may not be the same, and that's okay, but limit it to a maximum of about 10 items in total.
Foreplay is like the appetizers on your sexual menu. It's an often neglected yet important dimension of your sex life that should get the same level of attention and consideration as the main course. Good foreplay takes time and requires you to be intentional in pursuing and wooing your spouse. One useful way to talk about foreplay is for each of you to complete the sentence, "It really gets me turned on when you/we ______." And remember that foreplay can and should happen throughout the day and not just in the minutes immediately preceding intercourse. Your appetizer list should contain 10-15 items that get your motor running.
Last week I likened quickie sex to fast food, noting that it's okay once in a while, but it's not healthy if your diet consists of nothing but fast food. Quickies are also like the "lighter fare" section of the menu. Lighter fare choices are a great choice when your appetite for sex isn't strong but your partner desires the physical connection that sustains the emotional intimacy in your relationship. If quickies are on your lighter fare menu, talk about the how and where you would like these encounters to happen. Just because these encounters are quick, doesn't mean you can't be creative. In addition to quickies, manual or oral stimulation to orgasm of the desiring person can help sustain the sexual momentum in your relationship until you have time, energy and the desire for something from the "heavier" main course menu items.
The daily specials section of your sexual menu is where you make room for experimentation. On this list go the new ideas that either of you might want to try out sometime, assuming you are both comfortable with it. Joint willingness is essential! Keep in mind that after trying a "new dish" a time or two, you may decide to move it to the favorites menu, keep it on the daily specials menu, or remove it from the menu altogether. That's okay! It's also okay for a specials item to remain on the menu for an extended time before you finally decide to try it out.
The sexual equivalent of the dessert menu are those things that you add on top of your normal routine that make a sexual encounter extra special. This could includes things like using a sexual toy, a challenging but pleasurable intercourse position, different methods of orgasm, or sex in a new/special location. The point of this list is to have ideas at hand that you wouldn't necessarily want to include all the time, but that add just a bit of extra spice to your sex life.
The menu metaphor might be just the tool to give you and your spouse an easy way to talk about your sexual desires and wishes in a non-threatening and cooperative way. Do your best to be open to one another's menu suggestions. When you don't agree on something (and there will be things you don't agree on) keep in mind that just because you don't want something to go on the menu, it doesn't mean your spouse is a bad person for wanting it. In the same way, just because your spouse doesn't agree to put something you want on the menu, it doesn't make him or her a prude.
Approach this discussion with grace and an open mind!
And remember to revisit your menu from time to time. Just like a restaurant, you will want to make adjustments as preferences change over time.
Do you think the menu metaphor would work in your marriage? What other menu metaphors would you add to my list? Leave a comment.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Valuable culinary lessons to help your marriage grow in sexual intimacy
Rather, I've listed below six dining metaphors that are useful for considering and improving the sexual intimacy in your marriage.
1) Fast Food
Amid the chaos and demands of daily life, sometimes quickie sex is all you’ll have the time and energy for, but you can’t live on that alone. It’s unhealthy and costly in the intimacy department. Sometimes you need to set aside an hour or two just to focus on finding pleasure in one another. When it comes to sexual intimacy, there is no substitute for time.
2) Fine Dining
Upscale restaurants pay a lot of attention to the way your meal looks on the plate. Appearances do matter and can leave a lasting impression. How much effort do you put into your “presentation” at bed time? Brush your teeth, comb your hair, strategically add a dab of perfume or cologne, wear something to bed your spouse finds appealing and that makes you feel sexy. Make your bedroom appealing with candles, nice music, and luxurious sheets. Going the extra mile in preparation tells your spouse that you love them and desire them.
3) A New Cuisine
It’s fun and exciting to experience a great new restaurant. Similarly, there’s a new kind of sexual energy and focus that is available with a change of venue. If you haven’t done so recently, book a hotel room or a mountain cabin for a weekend. It will give you time to focus exclusively on each other, without the normal pressures of home, and allows you plenty of time to enjoy each other sexually. And the change of scenery can help break you out of a sexual rut, giving you the freedom to experiment and change things up a little. I don’t know exactly why, but there’s just something different about sex when there is a number on the door. (If a hotel is out of the question for budgetary or child care reasons, pick a new room of the house as a change of venue.)
While regular and frequent sex is an important part of a healthy marriage, it's possible to use prescribed periods of abstinence (5, 7, 10 days or whatever you mutually decide would not be unhealthy) to create and build sexual anticipation. The idea is to rev up non-sexual intimacy, to give all your attention to expressing love and desire without sex. Go ahead and tease and flirt. Talk about how much you miss the pleasure, and plan what you will do when it’s all over – it’s all part of the build up to breaking your fast.
In the opposite vein, I have also seen regular “sex challenges” on various marriage websites that dare couples to go for 3, 7, 10 or even 30 days of sex in a row. However long you choose to binge on each other, the goal is to make sex a priority and then to use the time to learn about your self and each other sexually. I have seen many testimonies of the positive, rejuvenating impact such a challenge have on marriages.
6) Junk Food
Face it, we are surrounded by things that are sexually unhealthy. The media and entertainment industries rarely portray married sex as fulfilling and exciting. Instead they glamorize randomly “hooking up,” sensationalize and normalize extramarital affairs, and portray marriage as an out of date and irrelevant institution. Modern technology grant easy access to things like pornography, chat rooms and a vast array of other marriage-destroying opportunities. Just don’t. Even things as “harmless” as Facebook and romance novels can do damage. When it comes to your marriage, keep the sexual junk food out!
What other dining metaphors can you come up with? Share them in a comment.
Do you want to improve your sex life further but have a hard time talking about sex with your spouse? You can get my ebook How to Have a Succ-Sex-Full Marriage for free when you sign up for my monthly newsletter and blog digest. Sign up now!
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