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Friday, August 31, 2012

In my post yesterday, I gave a few important “vital signs” that can be used to monitor the health of your marriage: communication and selfless giving. Just as doctors use our physical vital signs to look for signs of trouble, you can use these key indicators to keep your marriage strong and fit for the long haul.

Here are two more important marriage health factors:

Total Intimacy

As with your total cholesterol reading, the total intimacy reading in your marriage is made up of multiple types of intimacy. The key to marital health is to keep the components in balance. As our wellness literature put it, “An incorrect balance of cholesterol may indicate elevated disease risk.” So too are spiritual, emotional and physical intimacy all needed, in good balance, to maintain optimum marital health.

Intimacy is organic, a living organism, and so it is either growing or dying. Your marriage is on one of two paths: The Path of Intimacy or the Path of Separation. If you don’t keep a watchful eye on the intimacy level between you, it’s easy to slip unknowingly onto the path of separation. 

  • Spiritual Intimacy
    • Do you pray together regularly?
    • Are you on the same page spiritually?
    • Are you comfortable talking about your faith with your spouse? Do you?
  • Emotional Intimacy
    • Do you attend to the romantic needs and desires of your spouse, regardless of your own needs in this area?
    • Are you emotionally engaged and present the majority of the time?
    • Do you withdraw emotionally either in retribution or in reaction to stress?
    • Do you avoid emotional reactivity in the midst of conflict or do you let your emotions run away.
  • Physical Intimacy
    • Do you make sex a priority, settings aside time and energy for lovemaking?
    • Do you maintain a healthy dose of non-sexual physical contact throughout the day?
    • Do you kiss a lot?
    • Lastly, a question that leads to the next vital sign: What is your…
Sexual Temperature

The truth is, just like your body temperature is a good indicator of the presence of infection, your sex life can reveal the existence of “disease” in some part of your marriage. The difference is this case is that a hot sex life is actually good sign.

When things grow cold in the bedroom, it’s often because there is a problem somewhere else. Examine the other areas of intimacy in your relationship (spiritual and emotional) for signs of strain or pain.  Pain, frustration and resentment from unresolved issues have a way of finding their way into your bedroom and infecting your sex life.

Here are a few ways to take your sexual temperature:
  • How often do you make love? Frequency isn’t everything, but it is important to regularly set aside time and energy for this unique kind of intimacy. Do you know each other’s expectations of “normal frequency?”
  • How comfortable are you discussing your sex life with each other? When’s the last time you asked your partner, “How satisfied are you with the ways things have been going?”
  • Do either of you struggle with sexual shame? How comfortable are you to be naked with each other? Are there any hidden sexual sins that need to be dealt with?
  • When was the last time either of you brought a new idea to the bedroom (or wherever)? Would you say you are stuck in a sexual rut?
  • How often do you think and act sexually outside the bedroom? Do you flirt, plan your encounters, daydream of your spouse, send each other sexy notes or texts?
How are your marriage’s intimacy vital signs? Do you check them regularly? Is your sex life telegraphing issues elsewhere in your marriage? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that sex isn’t that important. It is.

That’s four vital signs so far:
  1. Communication
  2. Selflessness
  3. Intimacy
  4. Sex

I have just a few more to share tomorrow. In the mean time, I’d love to hear your vital sign ideas.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Last week I had my annual health screening, as required for my company insurance plan. It got me thinking about the vital signs we watch for our physical health and wondering about what the vital signs might be for marriage.

Here are two from my list.

Communication

Communication is the lifeblood of your marriage. Good communication keeps the (blood) pressure in your marriage low.  Poor communication, like high blood pressure, taxes your heart.

The truth is that you can’t NOT communicate with your spouse. You are both sending messages all the time, either through what you say, what you don’t say and how you choose to say it. The real question is whether the messages you are sending are helping or hurting your marriage.

Here are some key indicators:
  • Is there a safe atmosphere of transparency? Can you share your feelings without fear of judgment or retribution? 
  • Are you both good listeners who value each other’s input? 
  • Are you careful with your tone and body language? 
  • Is respect and honor the top rule for communication? 
  • Do you ever use guilt and shame to get your way in a discussion? 
  • How well do you handle stress and conflict? The question isn’t whether you have struggles and difficulties, but how you resolve them. 
  • Are there any “off-limit” topics that you don’t feel you can discuss openly?
GGR – Give/Get Ratio

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a general indicator of the difference between how much we put into our bodies in the form of food, compared to how much effort we give out in the form of exercise (yes there are other factors like genetics involved, but I’m keeping it simple here).  The equivalent for marriage I call the Give/Get Ratio, a measure of the degree of selflessness in your relationship.

In a healthy, fit marriage, both husband and wife are focused more on what they give to each other than on what they get from each other. In that way both get plenty of relational nourishment, but don’t get plump and lazy because they are giving out in equal or greater measure.

Give some thought to these GGR measures:

  • When was the last time you did something for no other reason than to make your spouse happy – not to get her to have sex or to get him to do the dishes?
  • Do you work more on changing your spouse or on changing yourself?
  • Do you know what your spouse’s key love languages are? What most says, "I love you" to him or her.
  • Would you say you are generous toward your spouse? What would your spouse say?
  • Do you know what you can do or say that would truly delight your husband or wife? Do you do or say them with some degree of regularity?
  • Do you withhold the kind of affection your spouse wants in order to get (or until you get) the kind of affection you want?

In your own marriage, how would you rate the vital signs of communication and selfless giving? Could you stand to get a little healthier with them? What can you do differently this week get in better marital shape?

I’ve got a few more marriage vital signs cued up for the next few posts.  In the meantime, what would you say are the most important vital signs of a healthy marriage?


Next in the series:  More Marriage Vital Signs


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Many of you already know that I have a few regular writing gigs on some other sites. Those of you who don't yet follow me on Twitter or Facebook (you really should, you know! Go on, click and follow or like) probably aren't aware of my other endeavors. For you, here are two recent articles I'd like to bring to your attention.

Striving For An Equal Marriage? That May Be Why It's Failing



I was born toward the tail end of the baby-boomer generation, which makes me part of the "me generation." Supposedly my generation was the first to put self-awareness and self-fulfillment ahead of work ethic and social responsibility.

Although we got the self-centered moniker, subsequent generations (Gen-X, Gen-Y and Millennials) have each carried on the proud tradition, with self-absorption becoming normalized and institutionalized as a core value in our country.

You hear it everywhere these days: Express yourself. Be yourself. Find yourself.
 
The comments on this article are interest and almost humorous in the way they support the very premise of the article - selfishness is rampant and it's killing marriages.

Three Truths for Tough Times

 


At some point we will all have seasons when we aren’t sure we can face the tough challenges in front of us. Such times of great stress are inevitable. I’m sure the adoptive and foster parents reading this blog are nodding their heads in agreement.

The source of my current stress is some especially tough challenges I’m facing at work. I know that difficulties with family and children have a more severe emotional impact than job issues, but the things I want to share with you are universal – they apply no matter the source of your troubles.

What follows are three truths that have helped me recently. I pray they do the same for you...

Keep Reading @ Hope at Home...

If you are an adoptive parent and in need of some encouragement and refreshing as you walk out this important calling on your life and marriage, please consider attending this year's Hope at Home Conference. My wife and I will both be doing breakout sessions that are sure to bless your marriage, your kids and yourself.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

This is the second half of my reflections on web searches that landed people on my blog over the past 8 weeks. I’m using these search results to explore what’s up with marriages by looking at what married folks are looking for on the web.

You might want to read about the top 5 search terms before you read this post.  

Top Searches (Part 2)

The topics below round out the top ten web searches

6.  Dictator Husband – You’ll recall from my previous post that “husband refuses to lead” was number two, but historically has always been number one. This is the other half of the leadership dynamic that is causing marriage stress these days. A husband is called to walk in Christ’s image in his marriage and home by being both strong and good – the two are not mutually exclusive. That means leading with love. When a husband leads without love, does the strong without the good, that’s when a wife begins to feel she is married to a dictator. 

Almost every one of the many searches related to this topic landed people on the post “What if My Husband Acts Like a Dictator?”  

7. A Wife’s Submission – I categorized these searches separately from those searching in general about “submission and surrender,” which was number 4 overall. From the nature of these searches, I could tell that these were wives looking for teaching on how to surrender/submit to their husbands.  These were searches like, “letting my husband lead,” and “surrender to my husband.” I’ll point out here, as I did in my last post, that husbands searching for “how to lead my wife” barely made it onto the search radar. The contrast is a bit sad and startling, because I write more about leadership than I do submission.

Searchers ended up on many different posts, depending on the exact terms used in the search.  Among the more popular search destinations were “Respect, Submission and Trust” and  A Wife’s Sexual Surrender.” Also popular were “What if My Wife Won’t Let me Lead” and “What if My Husband Won’t Lead.”

8) Romantic Ideas – I haven’t been posting on this theme much lately, and based on the number of people looking for help in this area, I should get back to posting more romantic ideas soon. For a complete list of posts with romantic ideas, click here.

9) My Wife Won’t Submit – Just so you get an idea of the relative scale of this search compared to two for husbands, for every 10 searches for “my husband won’t lead” there were 7 searches for “my husband acts like a dictator” and less than 2 for “my wife won’t submit.” This isn’t a scientific analysis, but the comparison tells me that there are many more wives looking online for help understanding their biblical roles than there are husbands. Again, to me this is at least a mild indication that men are failing to step up much more than women are failing to walk in submission to their husbands.

Husbands looking for help with this were all directed to my post “What if My Wife Won’t Let me Lead,” in which I basically tell them that you can’t “make” your wife submit and that you shouldn’t even try. That’s not what you are called to. You are simply called to love your wife like Jesus loves the church.

10) Porn Searches – I’ve always had the occasional hit from people obviously looking for pornographic material, although recently the number seems to be on the increase. No, I’m not sharing details here, though some of them make me laugh out loud when I imagine the utter disappointment the searcher experienced when landing on my blog. I only mention it as significant because about half of these searches had themes consistent with the “Shades of Gray” phenomena that caused “sexual surrender” to rank number one this time. 

If you’ve been living in a vacuum and wonder what all the “shades of gray” talk is about, I’m referring to the sado-masochistic erotica that has been on the number one best seller list for months now, 50 Shades of Gray.

Other than in this post and my previous one, I haven’t mentioned it on my blog, but because it seems to have figured so prominently in my search findings I decided I would point you to some of the many thoughtful posts fellow marriage bloggers have written about it. Check out these blog posts from Intimacy in Marriage, To Love Honor and Vacuum, The Generous Husband, The Generous Wife, The Romantic Vineyard, Mystery 32, and Hot Holy and Humorous. 

What do you make of this list of most-searched topics? Any surprises for you? How do you interpret it all?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Every so often I check my blog stats to see what kind of searches land people on my blog.  It’s always interesting, and the results from the past eight weeks are no less so. 

I like to look at the results as a kind of snapshot of what’s on the heart of married people today. Granted, most people who come to my blog via web search are looking for answers to a problem or dilemma, so the results are skewed in that direction. Still, I think it’s helpful in identifying what issues folks are facing these days. 

Top Searches (Part 1)

In this post and my next one, I’ll be reviewing the top ten searches, in order, and discussing what they say about the state of marriages today. Because exact search terms vary, I did my best to group like searches together to get the summary statistics.

  1. Sexual Surrender/Sexual Submission – What’s fascinating about this search it is the first time it has appeared with any significance. It jumped out of nowhere to number one. I can only attribute it to the“50 Shades of Gray” phenomena. The funny thing is that I only have ever addressed this topic in one short series, and none of the posts included anything about ropes or floggers. 

If you want to learn more about REAL sexual surrender, the series starts with an Introduction to Sexual Surrender, followed by separate posts on sexual surrender for Wives and Husbands, and ends with some Concluding Thoughts.

  1. My Husbands Won’t Lead – This is the first time since I started checking search results (almost two years ago now) that this search term was not number one, dethroned by the “Gray” factor. I am still convinced that this is the number one issue holding marriages back today. Men have been conditioned not to dare “step up” yet many wives are desperate for them to do just that.

Pretty much every search landed people on “What if My Husband Won’t Lead?”

  1. Sex – I don’t write a lot specifically about sex, though I do address it periodically in the context of discussing many other topics. The interesting and sad thing about the people finding my blog through a sincere search about sex (I threw out the obvious porn searches!) is that two thirds of the searches were related to sexual shame.  I think sexual shame is a particular problem in the Christian community, due in part to the church’s failure to deal candidly and openly with the topic. I also wonder whether or not there is a lot of shame associated with the recent explosion in popularity of erotica, particularly BDSM erotica.
Most searchers found this post:  Shame and Sexual Intimacy.  I have a terrific series on shame, which I claim is the biggest intimacy killer, together with its evil twin sister, fear.  The series starts here: Shame and Intimacy, which includes a fantastic TED Talk video.

  1. Surrender/Submission – Off and on, I have written a lot about biblical roles in marriage, and I’ve given pretty equal treatment to the topic of a husband's headship or leadership, and a wife's submission. Consistently, however, submission gets the lion’s share of the search hits. My theory goes like this. There are a lot more wives trying to figure out how to walk out biblical submission than there are husbands looking for information on how to lead in a biblical manner (See #2 above.)
I also think there is a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation about the term submission and what exactly it is. Those looking to gain clarity on what submission really is all about mostly ended up on one of two posts.  The fist is part of my “What I Believe About Marriage” Series, “Love,Respect and Submission.” The second, somewhat older but ever popular post is, “Respect,Submission and Trust.   
  1. Intimacy/Oneness – The popularity of these search terms fall right in line with my New Reader Survey (take it now if you never have by clicking the link). Since I started the survey a few years back, the number one item people say they want to hear more about is “How to Grow in Intimacy.” What they are ultimately seeking is how to live the “one flesh” reality that the Bible describes, which includes spiritual, emotional and physical intimacy.
A significant number of the searches pointed people to two post from my very early series “On Being One Flesh:” Sexual Oneness  and “Unity and Individuality.”  Also popular is a similar, more recent (and I think better) post on When Two Become One - Unity and Individuality.

What do you think about the marriage topics that people are searching for?  What do they tell you about the state of marriage today? Leave your thoughts below.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Last time I challenged you to spend some time thinking about the purpose of your marriage.  Thanks to those who shared their thoughts on the purpose of their marriages via Facebook, Twitter and comments. 

Honesty time.  Did you think about and write down your marriage purpose statement?  If not, take some time to do it now.  I’ll wait. 

Now What?

As I said in my previous post, chances are that your actions pretty much already fall in line with whatever you think the purpose of your marriage is.  For example:
  • If you think your marriage is mostly about raising children, then your relationship as husband and wife will generally take a back seat to your roles as father and mother.
  • If you think your marriage is mostly for the sake of your own personal happiness, then chances are you hold your spouse responsible for making you happy.
  • If you think your marriage is to help each other fulfill your destiny in Christ, then God probably takes a central role in your marriage.
You get the idea.

Now that you’ve taken the time to explicitly state what you think the purpose of your marriage is (you have, right? Just checking), I encourage you to consider the ways in which your current actions and attitudes are actually working toward your purpose.

Identify Cross-Purposes

I don’t have any interest in judging your purpose statement. If you’ve worked at it, prayed over it and really believe in it, good for you. I say go for it!

Regardless of what your purpose is, there will be things in your life and marriage that push against it. Identify the activities, attitudes and actions that fill your daily life that aren’t helping you live your marriage purpose.

My marriage purpose statement is: “To have my marriage be a true reflection of the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church.”  That means I want to be Christ-like in my love for my wife. I want her to know that she has my love no matter what. I want my every thought of her to be full of grace and truth. I want to be generous and sacrificial toward her in all that I do and say.

But of course, despite my desire to the contrary, I often fall short of my goal.

I’m up against some pretty tough stuff at work right now. It’s more than just the usual stress and busyness; the specifics aren’t that important. But I’ve realized that this week I’ve let my work challenges interfere with my relationship with Jenni. I’ve been distant at times, absorbed in my circumstances. I’ve carried home some of the anger and resentment I feel at work and let it out on her, while at the same time not fully sharing my work burden with her (sometimes I don’t feel like rehashing it all for her). When this happens it creates a space between that we both feel.  It colors everything with a negative light. It shifts the atmosphere in our home, and not in a good way.   

In short, it’s not good for us. It doesn't line up with my purpose.

Align Your Thoughts and Actions with Your Purpose

So I’ve realized that if I want to walk in a manner consistent with what I say my marriage is about, I have to find a better way to deal with the difficult season I face in my job.  I have to seek ways to keep us connected, no matter what I’m up against at work.  I have to not carry my negative emotions home with me, and yet be transparent with my wife about what I’m facing. And I need the power of the Holy Spirit to do this.

Whatever your purpose is, you should seek to infuse your life with thoughts and actions that support it. Feed your thought life with truth. How you think drives what you do, so make sure your thought life lines up with your purpose. For me, in my purpose of being Christ-like in loving my wife, it means getting to know the love of Jesus intimately. It means letting his love and grace wash continually over my life, so that I may know the kind of love I am to give to my bride. 

I also know that I have to be intentional about my priorities. I can’t let anything be higher on my priority list (other than my relationship with Jesus) than my wife and my marriage. I am one with Jenni, and only with Jenni.  No other relationship in my life, no other endeavor, holds that distinction. That has to show up in the amount of time and energy I spend with her and on our marriage.
 
So I encourage you to take some time this week to examine your life through the lens of the purpose of your marriage.  See what fits and what doesn’t.  Make adjustments that better line up your life with your stated purpose.

Live your marriage according to its purpose!

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