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Sunday, September 30, 2012
I’m excited! Tomorrow I am launching my 13-Day Intimacy Challenge!
I want to welcome the hundreds of you who recently signed up to get my posts via email in response to the challenge. I am so glad you are taking steps to grow the level of intimacy in your marriage over the next few weeks. I think you’ll be glad you did.
To my existing readers and subscribers, I would encourage you to join in as much of the Intimacy Challenge as you can. You won’t regret it.
Each day, for the next 13 days, I am going to be blogging specific ideas on how to increase intimacy in your relationship. Each day there will be separate posts for husbands and wives. (Note: email subscribers will get both emails, since I have no way to determine the gender of my subscribers, so just open the one for you!)
As I said in my other posts leading up to the challenge, you will be focusing exclusively on meeting the intimacy needs of your spouse. Make the commitment right now in your mind to lay aside your own needs and expectations for these two weeks. If you can do that for this short period of time, you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. In learning to love your spouse more selflessly and generously, you will begin to see a shift in the atmosphere of your marriage.
Each daily post will contain three intimacy initiatives: Think. Do. Ask.
Think - Something to consider that may challenge the way you think about your marriage. How you think about your marriage is what keeps you on the Path of Intimacy for the long haul.
Do - Specific actions you can take that day to immediately enhance intimacy in a way your spouse most desires. Some of these actions might push your boundaries a little. You can do them exactly as I give them to you or modify to suit your spouse’s unique preferences, but I encourage you to challenge the status quo and be bold in your actions.
Ask – Because intimacy is really about being “naked and unashamed” in the entirety of your marriage, I will give you a daily question to ask your spouse. Some of these questions might make you a bit uncomfortable, but as with the actions, be willing to stretch yourself for the sake of growing in intimacy.
Of course you can choose to do all three initiatives or just one or two. It’s totally up to you. The more of it you do, the more you will get out of the challenge.
One suggestion before we jump off with the challenge tomorrow morning: if you have to miss a day or two or even a whole week, don’t drop out! Just skim the posts you missed, or skip them altogether, and jump back in wherever we are.
Lastly, I know many of you are taking part by email subscription to my blog, but I would really love it if you would stop by Journey to Surrender and leave a comment on how the challenge is going for you. As always, respectful anonymous comments are welcome. And of course you can always leave me feedback by email or on my Journey to Surrender Facebook Page.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
On Monday I challenged husbands to take my 13-day Intimacy Challenge, starting on October 1st and running for 13 consecutive days.
Today it’s the ladies’ turn.
If I asked you whether you have all the intimacy in your marriage that you want, what would you say? Chances are most of you will say “no,” “not really,” or “in some areas and not others.” You see, no matter what the level of intimacy is today, there is always more.
As I pointed out to husbands, according to my new reader survey (available at the top left of my blog), intimacy is the most sought-after topic here at Journey to Surrender. It doesn’t matter how I slice the answers: by gender, years of marriage or whether previously married, the top answer is always “how to grow in intimacy.”
Of course it is likely that men and women have differing intimacy goals, because men and women tend to be wired differently in terms of intimacy needs. To a significant extent, though by no means universally, women are looking for more emotional intimacy or romance, whereas many men are looking for increased sexual intimacy.
Admit it, how many of you read that headline and thought “I will read this and learn how to make my husband more romantic?”
Three Truths About Wives and Intimacy
A while ago I asked wives and husbands to identify the one thing they need most from their spouse. (click here for a graphic of the results). The polarity of the answers between men and women were pretty astounding. Whereas more than 70% of wives most wanted to feel cared for and a sense of emotional closeness, almost that same percentage of husbands most wanted to feel respected and admired.
What the survey doesn’t explicitly show is that these needs expressed by husbands and wives, though very different in nature, both point to a desire for emotional intimacy. The first truth about emotional intimacy is that your desire for emotional intimacy with your husband is similar in nature to his, but the expression of it is very different. In fact you probably wouldn’t even recognize respect and admiration as components of emotional intimacy at all. But for your husband they probably are.
The next truth about wives and emotional intimacy is that most women completely separate romance and sex. Whereas women see these two types of intimacy as totally different realms of their marriage, men don’t see it that way at all. It is true that many women see emotional connection as a pre-requisite for sexual intimacy, yet they clearly separate the two in their minds. For many men, on the other hand, sexual intimacy is inextricably linked to feeling emotionally close. The romantic and the sexual are not so far apart for your husband.
I see this truth as analogous to the way men totally separate spiritual intimacy from emotional and sexual intimacy, whereas women do not. That leads me to my third truth about wives and intimacy: women tend to find that spiritual intimacy fuels both emotional and sexual intimacy. Spiritual intimacy builds a sense of trust and safety for women that in a way that it doesn’t for most men.
Starting October 1st I’m challenging you to spend 13 consecutive days focused on increasing the intimacy in your marriage. What’s not to love about that?
But I’m going to challenge you to take a different approach than you might think. Just as I told husbands a few days ago, I am challenging you to spend those days focused totally on giving your husband the kind of intimacy he most desires rather than fighting for the kind of intimacy you want. It seems backwards, I know, but I believe the results will astound you.
If you really want to get your marriage on the Path of Intimacy and off the Path of Separation, it requires laying down your rights and your agenda and stepping into the way of selfless love. No, it’s not easy or natural, but by lavishly giving your husband the kinds of things that fuel intimacy for him, you will likely see him being much more attentive toward your intimacy needs. It just works that way.
Most of us are pretty good at giving in ways that mean the most to us. We naturally gravitate toward love expressions that we want most and understand best. The thing is that because men and women are so different, this really doesn’t do much to move you down the Path of Intimacy.
So to help you out, in each of my posts over the Intimacy Challenge 13 day period I’m going to give you daily specific ideas on just how to take the intimacy in your marriage to the next level, regardless of where it is at today. However, I’m going to do that by telling you how to build intimacy your husband’s way.
A Few Warnings
My first warning is to be careful of your motivation. While it is quite possible and even likely that giving generously to your husband in this way will make it easier and more likely that he will return the favor, don’t go into this challenge with a “give to get” mentality. Make your central purpose blessing your husband and strengthening your marriage, not getting what you want out of the challenge.
Second, you will need to use your unique knowledge of your husband. By that I mean you will need to fit my daily suggestions into the context of your own marriage. Think about your husband’s personality and preferences and adapt my ideas as necessary. But let me give you a warning about this warning: don’t be too quick to dismiss my suggestions by claiming “that would never work for my husband” or thinking “He doesn’t think that way.” He just might, so don’t assume you know him and his needs that completely. Be willing to take a chance.
Like I told husbands, if you don’t change the way you have been doing intimacy, you aren’t going to get different results.
Are You In?
Are you ready to step outside your own intimacy comfort zone? I strongly encourage you to take the challenge! You won’t regret it.
You can make it easy by simply filling in your email address below and clicking the “Subscribe” button to get my posts delivered right to your inbox. (Your email address will never be shared with anyone, ever.)
I hope you will seriously consider taking this intimacy challenge. You have nothing to lose and a stronger, more intimate marriage to gain. If you are in, I would appreciate a short comment letting me know (anonymously if you wish).
Monday, September 24, 2012
If you were man enough to read beyond the title to this post, chances are you are hoping I’m going to tell you how to get your wife to have more sex with you. Often, though certainly not always, people use “intimacy” is a euphemism for sex. Intimacy Challenge = Sex Challenge = More Sex, right?
I pointed out in my previous post, which you really should read before reading this one, that my new reader survey tells me people are more interested in intimacy than any other topic. The stereotype would predict that the men who answer as such are looking for more sex, whereas the women who tick the “very interested” box next to the “How to grow in intimacy” topic are looking for more romance.
But of course, it’s not really quite that simple.
Three Truths About Men and Intimacy
It’s probably safe to say that many men are looking for a better sex life. Whether better means more frequency, less routine, more passion or a more mutual interest level, the first truth about men and intimacy is that men tend to be more biologically driven than women when it comes to sex. (Yes, I know there are also plenty of wives who are the higher drive spouse.)
But the second truth about men and intimacy is that it takes more than sex, even frequent sex, to fulfill their desire for connection – a desire that is innate to both males and females. Men need emotional intimacy too, although the path to and composition of emotional intimacy for men is often substantially different than it is for women.
For your wife, emotional intimacy (romance and emotional connection) is a prerequisite for sexual intimacy. For you it’s probably the other way around. Whereas emotional intimacy for you may come through words and actions that lead to you feeling respected, admired and trusted, for your wife, emotional intimacy means feeling loved and cared for, being given your time and attention, and knowing she is safe and secure.
The third truth about men and intimacy is that they often totally miss the significance of spiritual intimacy in fuelling the other two kinds of intimacy (sexual/physical and emotional).In their minds, men tend to completely separate the spiritual realm from physical and emotional realm, but for most women, there is an acknowledged spiritual thread that runs through the other two. Honestly, this is true for men as well, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.
Starting October 1st for 13 consecutive days I’m challenging you to 13 days of increased intimacy. Sounds good, right? But there is a catch.
Rather than spending those days pushing for the kind of intimacy you think you lack, I’m challenging you to focus on giving your wife the kind of intimacy she most desires. If you really want to get your marriage on the Path of Intimacy and off the Path of Separation, it requires laying down your rights and your agenda and stepping into the way of selfless love.
Are you man enough for the challenge? Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and give selflessly to your wife in the ways that are important to her? Are you willing to change your game and do things a little differently than you’ve done them in the past?
Maybe you are a little unsure of what loving your wife in that way looks like? Well, fortunately I’m here to help you. In each of my posts over the 13 day period I’m going to give you daily specific ideas on just how to take the intimacy in your marriage to the next level, regardless of where it is at today.
A Few Warnings
My first warning is to be careful of your motivation. While it is quite possible and even likely that giving generously to your wife in this way will make it easier and more likely that she will return the favor, don’t go into this challenge with a “give to get” mentality. Make your central purpose blessing your wife and strengthening your marriage, not getting what you want out of it.
Second, you will need to use your brain. By that I mean you will need to fit the daily suggestions into the context of your own marriage. Think about your wife’s own unique personality and preferences and adapt my ideas as necessary. But let me give you a warning about this warning: don’t be too quick to dismiss my suggestions by claiming “that would never work for my wife.” Don’t assume you know her that completely. Like I said last time, if you don’t change the way you have been doing intimacy, you aren’t going to get different results.
Are You In?
It’s time to ante up and commit. Take the challenge! You won’t regret it. You can make it easy by simply filling in your email address below and clicking the “Subscribe” button to get my posts delivered right to your inbox. (Your email address will never be shared with anyone, ever.)
And I'm offering a similar challenge to wives in this week's Wives Only Wednesday post. Watch for it!
second image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
We humans are creatures of habit.
We like the familiar. We tend to take the well-worn paths. We tend to get things set in our minds and have a hard time thinking differently. We take the path of least resistance and the option of least change.
This quirk of human nature contributes to several marital difficulties. It puts us in a sexual rut, it causes us to take our spouse for granted, and it keeps us on the Path of Separation. It’s that last one I want to unpack in today’s post.
Couples get on the Path of Separation, as I explain further in this post, when they simply let nature take its course – when they let their marriage go on autopilot. This path goes by various names: “drifting apart,” “falling out of love,” or “becoming more like roommates.”
It’s a path that doesn’t end well.
It’s a path that doesn’t end well.
The antithesis is what I call the Path of Intimacy. You don’t get on this path by default; you have to choose to go down it. It requires paying attention to your relationship, which I describe as watchfulness. It takes a commitment to your spouse and your marriage. It means tending all areas of intimacy in your relationship: spiritual, emotional, sexual, intellectual, and financial.
Getting Back on the Right Path
I’ve heard a saying that goes like this:
If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you are going to keep getting what you’ve been getting.
Sadly many couples don’t even realize they are on the Path of Separation until they are miles apart or until some big blow up happens to open their eyes. They keep doing the same things, year after year, stuck in their familiar patterns, wondering why the intimacy has evaporated from their marriage and vaguely wishing it would get better.
Intimacy continues to be the holy grail for my readers who take the survey (available at the top left of my blog). It has always been the number one topic of interest, probably because so many don’t have the intimacy they want, because so many are on the Path of Separation and don’t know what to do to get onto the Path of Intimacy.
Choose to Do Something Different
If you sense that your marriage is on the Path of Separation and want to get it onto the Path of Intimacy, I’m going to issue you a challenge:
Make a decision to change something!
If whatever pattern you are in isn’t bringing you the intimacy you want, decide to do something else.
Now if you immediately began thinking of the five things you want to change about your spouse, you need to think again. You can only change you. You can’t change your husband or wife and you normally can’t change your circumstances. What you can change is yourself.
What’s amazing is that it often doesn’t take huge steps to change course and move toward deeper intimacy. Often times it is a lot of little steps that make the biggest impact.
The most important first step is to change your thinking. Get it settled in your mind and in your spirit that you are going to get your marriage on a different path, on the Path of Intimacy. Decide that you are going to do what it takes, that you are going to be open to changing your behavior and attitudes, and that you not going to settle for the way things have been.
The next little step is to begin to pray for your marriage. Pray specifically for the intimacy in your marriage. This is a prayer that God is eager to answer. He loves passionate and intimate marriages. He designed them to be that way. He is FOR your marriage.
As I mentioned above, intimacy is the number one topic of interest in my new reader survey. A close second is those seeking “practical marriage tips.”
The good news is that very soon I’ve got the perfect opportunity to do offer a bunch of practical tips. Starting October 1st the Christian Marriage Blogger’s Association (CMBA) is sponsoring a bloggers half-marathon challenge. Over the course of 13 days, I’m going to give you 13 specific, practical ideas on how you can get your marriage onto the Path of Intimacy.
Some of these ideas are going to challenge your idea of what's normal for your marriage. Some of them will inspire you. Some of them will probably stretch you outside of your comfort zone. Some of them will lead you to create ideas of your own.
Don’t miss a single post!
If you want to be sure to get all these great intimacy ideas, sign up to get my blog posts delivered right to your email inbox. Just enter your email address below (it will never be shared with anyone).
What if you already have a decent level of intimacy in your marriage? Well, no matter where your intimacy is at right now, there is ALWAYS more. You can have as much intimacy as you want; as much as you are willing to go after.
Who is with me? Who is going to choose to make a change for the sake of their marriage?
photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
I explained in my last post how shame damages the intimacy in your marriage. It can hurt your sex life, inhibit your ability to receive love, reduce the emotional connection between you and your spouse and more.
Shame causes you to hide yourself, to cover over what you feel are your deficiencies, or to pretend you are something you are not. Shame produces a deep sense of unworthiness. And because true intimacy requires you be vulnerable and expose your genuine self, it cannot exist when you are living in shame.
Shame Solution #1 – The Love of Jesus
Dealing with the shame in your life starts with recognition that you have come to believe a lie about your identity. The voices of accusation scream at you that you can’t let people see who you are, because if they do, they surely will not love you.
I believe strongly that the number one way to overcome the shame that is blocking intimacy in your marriage is a revelation of the love of God for you. What I’m talking about goes way beyond a vague “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” kind of understanding.
I’m talking about a personal and powerful revelation of just how deeply and passionately Jesus loves you. When you genuinely encounter the love and grace of Jesus, shame melts away.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3, explains that our journey into discovering “the length, height, width and depth” of the love of Christ is the key to a life of fullness. I agree! Spend your life getting to know this unknowable love. Never stop pursuing it. Get to know His voice and hear how he feels about you, just as you are. It will completely rock your world.
Shame Solution #2 – The Love of Your Spouse
If shame and intimacy cannot coexist, then it makes sense that intimacy makes a terrific antidote for shame.
And since intimacy is “being fully known and yet completely loved,” then it starts with getting real with your spouse, especially in the areas where shame exists. Getting back to being “naked without shame,” like it was in the beginning, starts with getting naked. By that I mean being willing to be vulnerable and transparent with your spouse about your perceived weaknesses and failings.
Yeah, that kind of transparency is scary business, but it’s completely necessary if you want intimacy. Fake intimacy is an oxymoron – it doesn’t exist.
Sure, I hear your fears, “What if I show my real self and my spouse doesn’t respond with grace and love?” First of all, assuming your spouse loves you and has your best interest at heart, chances are good that they will respond by helping you see that your shame is unfounded. They probably see you more clearly than you see yourself. That’s part of being one-flesh.
Embracing and accepting the love of your spouse can go along way toward dispelling shame. But you have to be willing to let them love you and hear what they have to say.
- When your husband tells you that you are beautiful, don’t deflect his compliment with a list of the physical flaws you see in yourself. Instead thank him, believe him and kiss him.
- When your wife thanks you for working so hard to take care of the family, even in the face of the shame you feel over the extra hours you’ve had to work, accept her gracious and understanding attitude.
- When your spouse tells you how much they enjoy and need a sexual connection with you, believe them and let down your sexual guard. Push past your shame and fear and realize that sex is the glue that holds your marriage together.
- When you really screw up and confess your mess to your spouse, receive their forgiveness fully and permanently. Don’t let residual shame allow you to stay stuck in the past and continue to block intimacy in your marriage.
And what if your spouse doesn’t give you the love and grace that is needed to get you past your shame? I point you back to solution #1. Regardless of what your spouse says, your identity has to come first and foremost from who God says you are.
Do you have a shame solution beyond the two I’ve shared here? Have you overcome shame in your marriage using one of these two solutions? It’s OK with me if you want to get naked here in the comments. This is a shame-free zone!
Saturday, September 8, 2012
What do you think of when you hear the word shame? Embarrassment? A guilt-ridden conscience? Disgrace? Modesty? Humility? Self-restraint?
The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the early root of the word shame as meaning “to cover.”
Indeed, the idea of shame is as old as creation – or almost. If you flip to the front of your Bible, you'll find God's ideal state for marriage:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.Genesis 2:24-25
Now, just an apple later Adam and Eve come to this:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.Genesis 3:7
Shame crashes into our human existence for the first time and they immediately cover up. Yeah, I’d say shame and covering are pretty closely linked, and not just etymologically.
The thing with shame is that it cannot coexist with intimacy. It’s just not possible. That’s because shame causes you to cover up. It causes you to try to run away from who you think you are or who you think you are not. Shame’s accusations say you are defined by your failings, your weaknesses and your inadequacies.
I say that intimacy is “being fully known and yet completely loved.” Intimacy is being naked without shame. That’s how it was always meant to be – with God – and in your marriage. That's why shame destroys and blocks intimacy.
Shame’s ugly tentacles can reach into every corner of your marriage:
- Shame over aspects of your physical appearance will cause you to reject your lover’s fawning compliments, to hide your body from him or her, to lower your self-confidence and to steel the freedom we should have to fully enjoy each other’s bodies.
- Sexual shame can come from a wrong mindset about sex (“sex is bad or evil”) or from past sin or abuse. Shame over sex will hinder the physical intimacy in your marriage and make it a wedge between you and your spouse instead of the deep expression of being one flesh that it is meant to be. (Incidentally, I get a huge number of search engine hits from people searching sexual shame.)
- Shame over financial or career or other mistakes will greatly damage the emotional intimacy in your marriage. It can drive you to withdraw emotionally and even lead to depression. The generalized sense of worthlessness that your mistakes can bring about blocks out the love your spouse is offering you.
- Shame over aspects of your personality or intelligence is often brought about by past hurtful words or actions from friends, family or others close to you. “I am stupid.” “I am loud.” “I am a wallflower.” They all ultimately say the same thing. “I am unlovable.” "I am not good enough."
Do you see why I HATE shame? It’s a marriage killer like few other things are!
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in shame of one kind or another?
Well, think about it, and leave a comment with your suggestions. Then come back for my next post where I’ll try to answer that very question myself.
Well, think about it, and leave a comment with your suggestions. Then come back for my next post where I’ll try to answer that very question myself.
In the meantime, check out this video. It is a follow up to Dr Brown’s famous TED Talk that I’ve shared here before on vulnerability. Check that one out too if you haven’t seen it. (Thanks to Gina Parris for making me aware of this newer one.)
Saturday, September 1, 2012
I’ve been addressing the topic of vital signs of a strong and healthy marriage in my last two posts. Today I'm concluding with my last two vital signs and offering a challenge.
If you missed the two previous posts, go back and check them out. I started with Communication and Selflessness and yesterday covered Intimacy and Sex (and no they aren’t the same thing).
Time together, alone, to totally focus on each other, is like the heartbeat of your marriage. It’s a steady, strong heartbeat that keeps the blood flowing through your body; it’s a regular rhythm of time together that keeps your marriage alive and thriving.
Alone time can be hard to come by, especially when you have young children. But I encourage you not to “wait until later” when you have more time. There will always be something competing for your time and attention, regardless of your life stage. Make and keep time together a high priority.
It is face-to-face time that allows you to maintain excellent and open communication, which I called “the lifeblood of marriage” in my first vital sign post. As such, be purposeful in how you spend your precious alone time. Don’t make it all about the calendar, to-do lists, and the kids. Talk about your marriage, each other, and how things are going.
- Do you spend time along together every day? It doesn’t have to be a long time, even ten minutes of one-on-one is helpful, but it should be daily.
- What do you talk about when you have time alone with each other? Is it mostly functional, or do dig into the heart of things?
- Do you sometimes talk about your marriage?
- Do you regularly take some of you time together to pray or talk about spiritual things?
- Do you every take time to dream together?
- How often do you get alone time away from home, like a regular or semi-regular date night? Do you make the effort to get out twice a month? Does one of you always have to do the planning for your dates or do you share the responsibility?
- When was the last time you went away together over night? I’m telling you, there is something different about sex when there is a number on the door.
I couldn’t come up with a good physical analogy for grace (blood glucose? Do you have a better one?), but it’s such an important vital sign that I decided I needed to include it anyway.
What is grace? Grace is more than forgiveness, although that’s a component. Grace is undeserved favor, kindness and blessing. At its core, grace is an invitation to intimacy. Grace in marriage is really all about building and maintaining intimacy in all forms.
Grace is the pathway to unconditional love and respect in your relationship. Grace says, “I know who you are and how God made you, regardless of what I see in the natural.” Grace substitutes mercy for judgment, kindness for retribution, and blessing for disfavor. Grace is not easy. Grace in marriage requires supernatural strength that can only come from God by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Here are some ways to measure the grace factor in your marriage:
- Do you expect the best of each other? Do you give the benefit of the doubt?
- When offenses occur, are you able to forgive and forget, quickly and completely?
- Do you hold past mistakes over each other or pull them out as weapons in a fight?
- Are you able to love your spouse “as if,” meaning are you able to see past their shortcomings and mistakes and into the heart of who they really are?
We all know how important vital signs are to our physical health. We all know we should have them checked regularly. Very few of us actually do it.
I want to challenge you to take some time in the next week to take your marriage vital signs. You can start with the list that I’ve shared here in this little series, or you can decide on your own set of vital signs.
No matter, I’m asking you to sit down with your list of vital signs, ask yourself what a healthy “reading” would look like, and then take a good, prayerful look at your marriage.
The next step is to make a plan for how you are going to improve the health and strength of your marriage in the weaker/unhealthy areas. Pick one thing to focus on at a time. Don’t try to do too much all at once or you’ll become overwhelmed and frustrated and want to give up. Make small changes and keep at them until they become habit.
Maybe your assessment is that your marriage is doing fine. Don’t let that lull you into complacency.
I have always had great check-ups and considered myself healthy as a horse. Sure I could have stood to lose a few pounds, but I wasn’t overweight enough to cause serious concern. So I allowed these relatively good checkups to be an excuse for not taking proper care of my body. Sugary sweets and good beer were my main weaknesses, but I convinced myself that since I ate 4-5 pieces of fruit every day, it would all even out. I never exercised, but I let being “too busy” be a lame excuse for my sedentary lifestyle.
My point is that you can always justify putting off working on your marriage or overlooking small issues, but that is dangerous. Don’t wait to work on your marriage health until some really bad happens. Watch over your marriage daily! Be vigilant!
It may sound a bit extreme, but learning to be watchful over the vital signs of your marriage can be the difference between a long, strong, happy and healthy marriage and one that comes to a tragically early end.
Take your marriage check-up now!
- A glowing smile when we meet
- Two hearts beating as one
- Easy with one another
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