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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Take time to consider what season your marriage is in.

A week ago my wife and I dropped off our youngest daughter to begin her college career. That's right, we are officially empty nesters.

The significance of this new season still has not sunk in fully, but it's a big milestone. I realized a few months ago, the more my wife and I talked about it, that this change would have an especially hard emotional impact on my wife, Jenni.

I knew it would be really important for us to spend some time processing and praying into the coming season, so I found a deal on a rustic cabin a few hours from our home and booked it for the weekend immediately after taking our daughter. I wanted us to get away from our normal routine in a beautiful surrounding.  The photos in this post give you a glimpse of some of that beauty we got to enjoy.

Discerning the Seasons

All marriages face different seasons. Some new seasons are triggered by significant life events, like a child being born or leaving home, a move to a new city, or caring for an aging parent. Other seasonal changes might be more subtle, like increased work stress, minor illness, changing churches or jobs.

Whatever the cause, it is important to discern the seasons.

Start by keeping an eye on changing circumstances. Realize that changes can often impact one spouse more than another. My wife's reaction to empty nest, for example, is quite different than my own.

Even small changes might trigger a need to examine where you are and where you are going. Keep your eyes open.  Be watchful over your spouse and your marriage. Maintain intimacy and watch for signs:
  • Do you or your spouse withdraw emotionally for long periods?
  • Has the frequency of your sexual interactions dropped off?
  • Are there seemingly unprompted emotional episodes (crying, anger, fear or anxiety)?
  • Have sleep patterns changed (excessive or inability to sleep)?

Even if there haven't been any changes in a while, it is a good idea to periodically spend time together prayerfully examining your life and marriage and asking important questions.

Responding to the Season

It is critical to be proactive in communicating about, responding to and adapting to each new season.

During our weekend getaway, there were a number of things we considered as part of your reflections. Here are just s few suggestions:
  • Ask your spouse, "What do you need from me in the coming season?"
  • Identify how needs and priorities may have changed from the past. Don't assume.
  • Get specific. Ask, "What would that look like to you?"
  • Consider how you can stay connected and maintain emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy.
  • Talk about lifestyle changes that might need to accompany the new season. For example, my wife and I have decided that getting healthier through diet and fitness is something we want to focus on.
Importantly, spend time praying and especially listening to discern God's heart for you, your spouse and your marriage. He is eager to guide you lovingly into your future.

Attention Husbands!

I am going to say something now that will likely ruffle a few feathers. I believe it is the husband's responsibility to lead this effort. I believe it is part of the leadership mantle God places on husbands.

Every husband should be continually watching over his wife and marriage (and children) to discern and respond to seasonal changes. He isn't to control or dictate the response but to lead the conversation.

Yes, I know that conversation isn't a strong suit for a lot of husbands. Do it anyway. You won't get better at it until you put forth effort in that direction. If you aren't sure where to start, use the questions above as a starting point.

I'm not saying that wives shouldn't also be watchful and aware of seasons. I think most women are naturally more attuned to such things anyway. What I am saying is that a husband who steps forward in this effort will make his wife feel loved and taken care of in a significant way.

What new seasons has your marriage faced lately? What have you and your spouse done to keep your marriage strong in response? I'm sure some of you have some insights for the rest of us. 

photo credits: scott means





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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is it time you started doing a little more with your lips?

In my last post I encouraged you to up your smooching game.

If you don't think kissing is that important, I suggest you reconsider. Try upping your game and see if maybe it just needs a boost. If you have intimacy issues with your spouse, work on those for sure, but maybe a little more kissing might help. If he or she eats too much garlic, try some breath mints.

Whatever the reason, if you've fallen into low-kiss a rut, stop settling and try a few of the ideas below.

You see, I believe God is a big fan of kissing.  Doubt me? Go read Song of Solomon! God is all about intimacy in all forms - including the kind that happens when two people press their lips together.

I actually think he designed us to really enjoy this wonderful form of intimacy between a man and a woman. It's just like Him to do that sort of thing for us.

Try Something New

Are you lacking confidence in your kissing game? Do you need a little inspiration or some fresh ideas. Check the list below, with kisses ranging from silly to sexy:

Kiss across a crowded room - Some enchanted evening, catch your spouse's eye across a room full of people. Smile, pucker your lips make a kissing gesture toward him or her.  It tells your partner that you are thinking of them and loving them despite the crush of humanity between you.

Nibble Kiss - Add a little variety by nibbling or gently biting your spouse's lower lip after a more tender kiss.

French Kiss - A famously promoted but seldom mastered kiss where your tongues dance together. The trick here is to go slowly and not simply thrust your tongue wildly (that's fine for later, after things heat up). Tease his or her lips with the tip of your tongue. Probe gently and wait for a response before taking things up a notch. 

Possessive Kiss - Catch your lover off guard by transforming a simple short kiss into a hot, deeply sensual kiss. Wrap your arms around him or her, hold them tightly and kiss like you mean it! This sends the message "you are mine!"

Earlobe Kiss - Not  everyone likes their ears messed with, but those who do would love to have their earlobes nibbled gently. Whisper a sweet nothing while your are there. Careful though, loud smacking kisses near the ear can really hurt!

Cold Kiss - Use and ice cube or mint to cool your mouth before you kiss. It provides an interesting sensation. If your partner is game it can be very sunsual to pass it between you with your tongue while you kiss.

Nuzzling Kiss - When things are heating up, leave a trail of gentle kisses down one side of your partner's neck and back up the other side. You'll be sure to send tingles through his or her body.

Show and Tell Kiss - Ask your partner to describe his or her favorite kiss, and then try to deliver it.

Upside-Down Kiss - Catch your partner laying down and approach him or her with your head opposite theirs for an interesting kissing sensation.

Almost Kiss - Bring your lips close together and see how long you can go without actually touching.

Take a Kissing Challenge

Kissing Challenge #1 - Makeout Session

See if you can spend ten minutes in a good old fashioned make-out session. Can you make it the full ten minutes with only kissing, nothing more? What you do after the ten minutes is up is totally up to you!

Kissing Challenge #2 - A Kiss to Remember All Day

I gave this idea as part of my 14 Day Intimacy Challenge for Wives. (You can get your copy here.)
When your husband leaves for work today (or some other opportune time) give him a kiss he’ll remember all day. Make it at least 10 or 15 seconds. Wrap your arms tightly around him and press your body into his. Your goal should be to see if you can make him dizzy. Later in the day, call him, text him or tell him in person that you have another kiss like that waiting for him. Make sure you follow up and give him that second kiss.
Husbands, you can do a modified form of this too!


My list of 10 ideas is only the tip of the iceberg. What fresh kissing ideas do you have to offer? Bring them on!



image credit: massonforstock / 123rf.com



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Sunday, August 18, 2013

If "a kiss is just a kiss" then you are doing it wrong.

I first saw that tweeted many months ago. I agree wholeheartedly!

In case you didn't catch the reference, it is from the 1942 classic movie Casablanca. The famous song "As Time Goes By" is prominently featured in the movie, the first few lines of which are:
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
You can catch one of the more famous scenes featuring the song by clicking below.

What Is a Kiss?

So if a kiss is not just a kiss, then what is it?

To me, a kiss is:
  • An intimate physical expression of the oneness you share
  • A publicly acceptable way of showing affection for your spouse
  • Eliminates emotional space between your by eliminating physical space
  • As close as you can get to each other without actually having sex
  • A great way to keep your physical relationship on simmer
  • A cheap, fat-free, sugar-free, guilt-free treat. It can, however, be habit forming
Kisses Speak Louder Than Words

I posted a while back about how your eyes speak volumes to your spouse (The Eyes Have It). Well, a kiss speaks even more loudly that your eyes.

It may sound strange, but I can typically tell pretty accurately where my wife is emotionally by how she kisses me. A little, tight-lipped peck says, "There is emotional distance between us right now" or "I'm distracted." A short, casual kiss says, "I love you." If she wraps her arms around me with the kiss, she is adding, "And I'm so glad you're mine." A nice long passionate kiss says, "I desire you."

What are your kisses saying to your spouse? Do you convey your love with your lips? Frequently?

If you aren't the kissing kind, I suggest you rethink that. Kissing is a really important way of connecting physically outside the bedroom. Challenge yourself to up get your lips engaged in your relationship.

Bonus: use your eyes AND your lips. Look lovingly into your spouses eyes as you approach for the kiss. Or afterward share a warm, lingering glance and a smile of appreciation. Sizzle.

Why We Kiss

Science Daily claims that a University of Albany study "found sex differences in the importance and type of kissing. Males tended to kiss as a means to an end -- to gain sexual favors or to reconcile. In contrast, females kiss to establish and monitor the status of their relationship, and to assess and periodically update the level of commitment on the part of a partner."  

Both of these point to what males and females are usually looking to get  when they kiss, but in truth, kissing should also be about giving. Giving your love. Giving your emotional vulnerability. Giving your self. Oh, and every once in a while it's okay to kiss your spouse in a way that says, "You are mine!"

Next time I'll be offering a kissing primer to encourage you to amp up your kissing prowess and infuse your marriage with a little more passion.

Let me leave you with this little scene from another movie. It's the ending of The Princess Bride, involving the best kiss since the invention of the kiss.

So what about you, are you a kisser? On a scale of 1-10 , how important is kissing in your marriage? What does kissing do for you and for your marriage? Let's hear it. Leave a comment.




Just Out

The August issue of "Pathways," my monthly newsletter completely focused on building the intimacy in your marriage. Go check out this issue, The Intersection of Intimacy and Technology.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Five tips for moving your marriage forward when disappointment strikes.

At times we all face bitter disappointments.

Marriage can be a place where disappointment leaves us shaken and feeling crushed. It may come from a decision your spouse has made or from something they  have done or failed to do.

Because true marital intimacy requires vulnerability and trust, it can also lead to deep disappointment.

But what do we do with the pain of the disappointment? How do we process through it in a way that leaves us stronger, more full of faith on the other side? How can we preserve the relationship when our spouse has inflicted disappointment on us?

My sister-in-law, Betty, works for Adventures in Missions, where she also writes a blog. I recently read a post she wrote regarding a workplace disappointment and immediately knew I had to re-post it here. The truths she shares so openly and sincerely below on how to deal with disappointment translate pretty directly into marriage.



1.  I take responsibility for my own baggage and my own reactions

There are reasons why it hit me so hard that are not the responsibility of the people who caused the disappointment.  If it triggers past hurts – that’s not their responsibility.  It is mine.  Does it bring back old lies?  I’m the one who needs to battle that.  If it was going to fill a hole in my life and now that won’t happen – it’s not their responsibility to fill the holes in my life.  Does it injure my pride?  That’s my issue, not theirs.  Do I have an inappropriate sense of entitlement?  If so, it’s my responsibility to take care of that.

It is also my responsibility to treat all involved with respect.  And to extend grace to those making hard decisions.  And to not gossip.  Some of the reasons for this decision make sense.  Others are still confusing to me.  But I am responsible for my own actions in response. If I act poorly, I can’t blame it on how disappointed I was or whether it should have happened the way it did.

2.  I allow myself to grieve

I think it is okay to grieve as long as the grieving moves in the direction of healing and not in the direction of bitterness.  And as long as I don’t get stuck in it.  I won’t get to do something that was already a hope deferred, something I wanted to do months ago and was told I needed to wait.  Because of this opportunity, I had made the hard decision to pass up another one - and the one I hated to say “no” to is now too late to jump into.  So my summer has a huge hole in it.  And there are legitimate things to grieve.

3.  I decide if this is something appropriate to fight for, or to ask for reconsideration.

There may be times when it is right to ask questions, to advocate for a different outcome, to appropriately ask for reconsideration.  This was one of those times.  It does involve something I’ve poured my heart into, a dream I’ve had for years.  There are legitimate reasons to discuss the situation and there are reasonable questions to ask about the decision.  And I’ve now had those discussions.  In this case, nothing changed.

4.  I decide when and why to stop asking for reconsideration.

Along with deciding there’s a time to push a bit, to advocate a bit, to hope a bit that the decision might be reversed – there’s another question.  When is it time to stop?  And what are the right reasons to stop?  I think sometimes you stop because it’s not the most important battle to be fighting - i.e., you choose your battles.  Other times, I think you stop when you make the decision to just be a good sport about something that didn’t go your way.  And then there are times you stop because you choose to trust that the Lord holds your heart and your dreams and your coming in and your going out.

5.  I choose not to stay stuck in disappointment and to make choices that move me forward.

How do I do that in practical terms?  I need to talk to people who can help me through it – while being careful to not cross the line to gossip.  But they can only take me so far.  And while it is tempting to continue to rehash it in front of supportive friends, I’ll get stuck if I don’t move beyond that.

There’s internal work that only I can do.  I remember the big picture.  I go back to the things that give me perspective.  I run toward those things and not away from them.  It’s part of choosing to move through disappointment rather than stewing in it.  So I make sure I spend extra time with the Lord rather than finding excuses to avoid it.  I know that time with Him brings peace.  So my choices point to whether I desire peace or self-pity.



Disappointment is never easy. When it comes from someone we are especially close to, like our spouse, it hurts even more. If you follow the tips above it will definitely keep you from getting stuck and allowing bitterness to take root. So if you are facing disappointment in your spouse or something they have done, reject the temptation to either strike back in anger or to simply push your pain down. Deal with it. Get past it. And come out of it on the other side with a better, stronger marriage.

Have your faced disappointment in your marriage? Do you have some additional tips on how you dealt with it? We'd love to hear. Leave a comment.


photo credit: tatyanagl / 123rf.com




Thursday, August 1, 2013

How does your own "marriage baggage" influence your thinking on roles in marriage?

It seems that few things spark a furor like the topic of male and female roles in marriage. I've read a lot of posts and comments on this topic, but I'm always amazed at the lack of grace shown on either side of the egalitarian vs. complementarian debate.

Many in the blogosphere hold strong positions  and vehemently defend them. I willingly admit that my own opinions are pretty firmly entrenched, and I'm sure there are times when I've lacked grace in my own writing. I am trying to change my ways.

I have to remind myself that we are (almost) all striving for the same goal: strong, intimate, passionate and enduring marriages. We are all just seeking what works best. That is a good thing! And it's a good thing to keep in mind as we debate the issue.

We All Have Marriage Baggage

A majority of those debating marriage roles write from their own personal experiences. The strongest opinions seem to be held by those with strongly negative experiences.
  • A wife whose first husband was an abusive authoritarian dictator will often argue strongly for equality and against any form of authority. 
  • A couple whose marriage was transformed from constant battle to peace and harmony through the path of submission and headship will sing the praises of such an arrangement. 
  • A husband whose sexless, passionless marriage was saved when his wife decided to no longer refuse sex, will swear that "never say no again" is the only way to go. 
  • A wife whose husband was "checked out" before embracing his role as a loving leader will champion the cause of strong leadership by husbands.
The same goes for what we observe first-hand in the marriages around us. The marriages of parents, family and friends will strongly influence our marriage paradigms.
  • Those whose parents are happily married for 30-40-50 years in a "traditional" marriage, will often lean in that direction. 
  • If your father was heavy-handed and uncaring in the exercise of his authority, chances are you'll swear that any form of authority (and therefore submission) is dangerous. 
  • Have some friends whose marriage fell apart due to a husband who abused his wife or a wife who openly disrespected her husband? Those failed marriages will no doubt weigh into your marriage paradigm.
The bottom line is that most of us will form our opinions by what we have experienced as working (or not) in our own marriage(s) or what we've seen work (or not) in the marriages around us.

What Seems to Work?

So is the whole discussion of roles in marriage simply a matter of figuring out what you think/observe/experience works best in your own marriage? If it's not a question of sin (which I believe it is not), why not just "do what seems good?"

As right and practical and tempting as that seems, what do we do with what the Bible says about marriage?

Of course scripture requires interpretation and application. I believe it's important for us to wrestle with some big, important questions:
  • What did God have in mind when he created the first marriage back in Eden? Does it matter today?
  • What does it mean that he created us male and female and declared it "very good."
  • What are the marital implications of the new covenant and grace?
  • What do words like "head" and "submit" and "respect" and "love" mean in the Apostle Paul's instructions on marriage?
Ultimately we need to come to terms with what the only valid metaphor for marriage, Christ and the church, implies about God's design for marriages - marriages like yours and mine.

I'm convinced that God's heart is for marriage. It's a huge deal to him - big enough that he framed our time-bound existence with marriages as described in Genesis and in Revelation. Long before he sent Jesus to be our bridegroom, even before the dawn of time, he knew he would win for himself an eternal bride. So he set up marriage to be a picture of his loving pursuit of a bride of his own.

In the next few parts of this series, I plan to dig a bit deeper into the issue of male and female marriage roles. I will be talking about things like what it means to be masculine and feminine and why that matters. I'll be talking about how we've screwed up God's original intent and how our counter-reaction to that hasn't really fixed the problem. I'll dig into the data on some current marriage trends and tie that back to the topic at hand. We will look at scripture and parse some Greek.

Over the space of this occasional series we'll look at the topic from many different angles.

As I embark on this far-ranging series, I hope this post will serve as a reminder for us all to be aware of how your own marriage "baggage" influences our perspectives. We should be aware that to more or less of a degree we are all the product of our own experiences, good and bad. But our experiences don't necessarily dictate truth.

Regardless of our past, let's agree together to look afresh at what the Bible says about marriage, to wrestle again with the difficult questions about gender and marriage. It's worth the effort. It matters.

image credit: ampak / 123rf.com
 

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