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Friday, December 30, 2016

Planning a change and making a change are two very different things!

I mentioned back in August my intention to launch a totally new website. I thought then I would have it done by October.

It didn't happen.

Then came November. Nope.  And the end of December is now at hand. Not yet.

What I've discovered is that it's much easier to plan a change than to actually make one. 

Do you make New Year's resolutions? I don't any more. One reason is that it is always easier for me to come up with great ideas for how I want things to be different next year than it is to actually follow through on those ideas.

When it comes to making changes in your marriage, do you find the same thing is true? It's much easier to think of what you want to be different than to actually do it.

I wonder why that is.

Comfort Zones Are So Comfortable

In his book A Million Miles and a Thousand Years Donald Miller says, "Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better."

It's so true. We like the familiar, even if we don't really like the thing we are familiar with.

I hate my current website. It's ugly and cluttered and hard to navigate. It's out of date compared with most of my marriage blogging peers, many of whom have remodeled multiple times since I've been blogging.  The thing is I know how everything works here, even if I don't necessarily like the way it works. I'm comfortable with it.

In the same way, many secretly dream of a better marriage, but they don't always want to step into the discomfort of daring to do what it takes to get one.

Change is Scary

I'm experiencing a lot of fear in moving to my new platform. I've got seven years worth of experience here, and everything pretty much works. I've been double posting here and there for a month or so, testing things out, getting the feel of the new systems. But I know that when I launch the new site stuff isn't going to work smoothly. Site launches are just like that.

I'm also afraid of losing people in the transition. I'll have a new web address, new RSS feed links, and be renaming and relocating my Facebook page to match the new site. I know I'm going to lose some subscribers and followers in the process.

Change in marriage is scary too. We worry over what we might lose in the process even when there is so much to gain. 

It's a Lot of Work

Sometimes we are naively optimistic about how hard change can be. Moving to a new website has been a lot more work than I thought it would be. I've got over 500 posts to move to the new website. It's a daunting task. There is a significant learning curve with the new site - more than I expected.

After starting on the new site I've put it aside several times, just feeling overwhelmed with the task.

We can do the same with changing our marriage. We start into it, and when we hit that first significant bit of resistance or struggle, we quit. It's too hard. It's too much work. And we revert to the old way of doing marriage.

Just Start

I don't have all my duck in a row for the new launch. I don't have 500 posts moved. I don't have everything created that I want to have yet.

But in January I'm going to launch anyway. I'm just going to start. It doesn't have to be perfect or how I want it to be in the end. It just has to be good enough to start.

I encourage you to do the same thing with changing your marriage. Figure out what you need to get started and do that. Just start. Focus on yourself and the little things you can do differently. Those little changes will lead to bigger changes. Those changes in you will lead to changes in your spouse and in your marriage.

And one day you'll realize that you've made it. Then you'll find the next thing to work on.

Just Keep Going

Here's another thing about my new website that is also true of marriage changes. You just have to keep going.

I know I'm not finished on the launch date. I'm only starting. There will be much more work ahead. I don't need to do it all at once, but I can slowly build on what I've done so far and keep making improvements. I'll keep my eyes open for what's working and what isn't. I'll be open to feedback and constructive criticism.

And I'll just keep going. I encourage you to do the same.

What kind of changes have you been hoping and planning for in your marriage but have been putting off because you are comfortable, because you're afraid of change or the amount of work it will take? Where will you start in 2017? What little changes can you begin with starting next week? Let's do this thing!

PS  Want a sneak peak at the new site? Click here to see this post on the new It's still a work in progress, but any feedback would be welcome!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent reminds you to expect great things in your marriage, but also to look for your spouse and for God to deliver in unexpected ways. 

Contrary to popular notion and the fact that stores have had their halls decked with red and green since October, we are not currently in the season of Christmas.  Technically, until December 25th, we are in the season of Advent. The church calendar observed by many Christians tells us that Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas.

Advent comes from a Latin word that means arrival. The season of Advent is all about expectancy and preparing to celebrate the arrival of Jesus on Christmas.

Advent helps us pause amidst all the shopping and decorating and cookie making to remember what Christmas is really all about: Jesus. In Advent we stir up our longing for Jesus and remember that he is the ultimate expression of God's love for us.

Longing, Waiting Yet Completely Missing It

The religious leaders of Jesus' day had been waiting more than 400 hundred years for the arrival of the Messiah. Yet because they had preconceived notions of the way in which he would come and how he would go about establishing his kingdom, they completely missed the fact that he was standing right before their eyes. Not only did they miss him, they went against him and killed the very one for whom they had been waiting.

Although Jesus came to Earth as a baby, his ultimate goal was to claim for himself an eternal bride. As is so often the case, there is a clear parallel between the spiritual and the marital as we think about Advent.

What are you longing and waiting for more of in your marriage? What preconceived ideas do you have of what that should look like when it comes?

I've written before about how expectations in marriage affect what we perceive (See my post Expectations: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) . Expectancy bias  can cause you not to see something that's right in front of you because you aren't expecting it or are expecting it in different form.
  • Do you miss your spouse's expressions of love because you are looking for them to express love the same way you do?
  • Do you miss your spouse's sexual initiatives because they aren't as overt as you would like?
  • Do you miss your spouse's small acts of kindness because you expect them to be grander? Or worse, because you don't expect him or her to be kind at all?
  • Do you miss small incremental changes in your spouse for the better because you have given up hoping for change or because you want bigger changes?
  • Do you discount efforts your spouse makes to help out with chores or errands because they don't do it exactly how you would?
I'm not saying you should settle. I'm saying you should look for and be thankful for every step in the right direction. Thankfulness, appreciation and recognition of the good things in your spouse and marriage will not only encourage your spouse in their efforts but will actually help you see them more easily.

Robyn of Up With Marriage has a great quote in her post this week "Desire to Please"
Whether you think positive or negative about your husband, either way you are right.
God Shows Up In Unexpected Ways

Advent and Christmas remind us of the lavish love, generosity and goodness of God toward us. It also reminds us that sometimes God shows up in ways we don't expect.

God is for you and for your marriage. But if he answers your prayers in ways you don't expect, will you miss it?
  • Maybe instead of changing your spouse, he may want to change you?
  • Maybe instead of improving your spouse's behavior to line up with your expectations, he may want you to grow in showing grace first?
  • Maybe instead of instead of getting your wife to submit, he may want you to get better at selfless love?
  • Maybe instead of causing your husband to lead in the way you think he should, he may want you to acknowledge your husband as head and to honor and respect him just as he is today?
  • Maybe instead of getting your spouse to apologize, he may want you to be the one to reach across the gap between you that was created by your last argument?
One thing Jesus clearly showed us is that the Kingdom of God is often upside down and backward from conventional or popular thinking (be the greatest by being a servant, the last shall be first, foolish things confound the wise, love your enemies, etc.). So when it comes to your marriage, you might just need to be open to some unconventional and even counter-cultural answers from the Lord.

In fact, I'd expect it.

These last days of Advent, consider where you might need to adjust your expectations of your spouse and marriage in ways to allow you to celebrate all that is good in your relationship. 

And as we wait to celebrate God showing up on Christmas, remember that God may also show up in your marriage in ways you don't expect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The best sex happens when you both start looking at sex as a wonderful privilege.
The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs.  The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
1 Cor 7:3-4 NLT
Have you ever heard anyone preach a sermon on this scripture? I would guess not.

Giving authority over your body to your spouse? Taking personal responsibility to see that your spouse's sexual needs are met? That's some pretty scary stuff Paul is laying out here.

Check out The Message version. I feel like it gets at the heart of what Paul is trying to say:
The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out.
Survey Says...

I did a survey a while back to find out what people thought about these verses. To my surprise, 93% of people said they agree or agree strongly that these verses still apply to marriages today. In the same survey, 88% agreed or agreed strongly that they were the one responsible for their spouse's sexual satisfaction, with very little difference between men and women respondents.

So why are so many marriage suffering from a lack of sexual fulfillment? Only half of the people who took my survey were satisfied with their sex lives. (Side note: people who take sex surveys are generally more sex positive than the population in general, so I suspect the real dissatisfaction numbers are significantly higher).

I think a lot of the dissatisfaction has to do with how we view our sexual relationship.

Most couples are not evenly matched when it comes to sex drive. My own poll found that less than 10% of couples see themselves as having equal drive. Depending on whether you are the higher drive or lower drive spouse you might be tempted toward one of two views of sex: right or duty.

Sex as a Right

A higher drive spouse might read 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 and say they have the right to obtain sexual fulfillment with his or her spouse. This right extends so far as to include husband and wife each having authority over the other's body. So does a high drive spouse have the right to demand sex?

Well, that may be technically true, but demanding sex because you have a right to it is not very likely to lead to sexual fulfillment. It certainly is not going to produce genuine sexual intimacy in your marriage. It is not an expression of love and will not lead to lovemaking.

Sex as a Duty

If you are a wife or husband with a lower sex drive than your spouse, and you have read the Scripture above, you might be tempted to look at sex as a duty. In fact, the NIV translation of this passage uses that exact phrasing. "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband." So is sex a duty?

Well, again, that may be semantically true. But viewing sex with your spouse simply as a duty is not going to provide much sexual satisfaction for your spouse - or for you. Duty sex is pretty easy to detect. In fact, many would rather forgo sex if their spouse is only going to give it to them out of obligation.

Sex as  a Privilege

So if we should not view sex either as a right or as a duty, how should we look at it?

Let me suggest instead that you think of sex a privilege.

A privilege is "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people... something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing particular pleasure."

For the spouse on the lower drive side of things, start to move from thinking "I have to" toward thinking "I get to." Take delight in the unique privilege you have to provide sexual pleasure to your spouse.

For the higher drive spouse, rather than focusing on the the sex your aren't having, start focusing on and finding enjoyment in the sex you are having. Rather than concentrating what your spouse is not doing for you sexually, consider ways to provide for his or her non-sexual needs; not in order to manipulate them into giving you more sex, but out of a heart of love and serving.

Think of sex as a celebration of your love and an area for finding creative ways to express your delight in one another. If you are all he/she gets, don't you want to be all he/she ever wants? It's your love life; make it a great one.

The best sex happens when you both start seeing sex as the wonderful privilege it is, designed by God to foster the deepest intimacy in your relationship. Sex is the only kind of intimacy that you can enjoy with your spouse alone.

How might you approach sex with your spouse differently this week in light of the beautiful privilege that it is designed to be?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

When life's challenges press in on your spouse, you can be the haven they need. 

I would rather spend time with my darling wife, Jenni, than anyone else on the planet. When life gets crazy, difficult, stressful or frustrating, she is a haven for me.

What does it mean to be a haven for your spouse? describes a haven as a place of shelter, safety, refuge, or asylum. A haven is also a safe harbor for a ship in distress.

Wouldn't you like to be a haven for your spouse when life gets challenging for him or her? You can be.

Here the ways in which my wife has been a haven for me recently through a stressful and difficult season.

Refuse to Withdraw

A natural response to a spouse whose stress comes out as what my wife calls "prickly" would be to withdraw. But Jenni has learned over the years that I actually need her during these times, despite my sometimes gruff disposition. She's gotten pretty good at hanging in there and maintaining connection, even when it isn't necessarily easy.

Show Affection

Although I may not act like it, I actually want affection from Jenni, even when I'm in a bad mood. Admittedly that can be difficult for her, because my prickliness is not at all attractive. Plus, I may not respond immediately to her attempts to show affection through kindness, concern, empathy and even physical affection. But when she shows me love and grace, it has a big impact on my mental and emotional state.

Speak Truth

Jenni will often remind me of who I am, what my strengths are and what God's calling on my life is. She helps me defeat the lies of the enemy by reminding me of the greater truth, despite what may be true in my current circumstances. She also is good at reminding me who God is, even when i can't necessarily see it for myself. She is great at calling me to "higher ground" when I might otherwise stay in the pit.

In addition to the things above, which I also try to do for her, I asked Jenni to describe other ways in which I provide a haven for her when she is having a hard time. These are the things she came up with.


Jenni described my efforts to guard and protect her from over-extending herself as "extreme watchfulness." Because she is naturally a tremendously giving person, she can have a tendency to pour herself out to the point of exhaustion. I try to make sure she doesn't get to that point by proactively helping her leave some margin in her life. And when she gets overwhelmed, I willingly step in to help her out in practical ways.

Soul Care

In addition to helping her not over-extend herself, I also make an effort to see that she prioritizes the things in her life that feed her soul. The most recent example is that I suggested she skip a church meeting that would have meant a late night when she has to get up before 5 am. It would also have meant driving in the dark, which she doesn't enjoy. But I encouraged her to go see Amahl and the Night Visitors, an operetta that delights her every Christmas. (Google it and find one in your area this year!)

Make a Refuge

Jenni reminded me of time I created a sitting room for her in our bedroom so that she would have a place of her own to rest and recharge. This was back in the day when my mother, who was suffering with Alzheimer's, was living with us, and when Jenni felt she had lost ownership of much of our home. She wrote a post about that called A Haven in Our Home. It doesn't need to be an entire room, but think about how you might provide a comfortable space that would be a place of refuge for your spouse.

What can/do you do to be a haven for your spouse? Share your ideas in a comment

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Use these four little words to put you and your spouse on the same team.
I posted last week about five ways to communicate effectively during marital conflicts. This week I'm offering you a simple strategy you can use to totally change the dynamic when you and your spouse are at odds with each other.

A couple from one of our marriage small groups offered their strategy when things get heated. One of them will stop and say:
I am for you.
Using these four simple words in the midst of a disagreement will remind your spouse that you are on the same team.  This little statement shifts the conversation in a way that invites collaborate on a solution.

When you work with each other rather than against each other it avoids accusation and makes it easier to maintain your connection.

Re-frame the Situation

In a similar way, you can convey the notion that "I am for you" when approaching a problem with your spouse simply by the way you describe the issue. Rather than taking a "me against you" posture, try taking an "us against the problem" stance.

For example, let's say the issue is that your husband is constantly late for dinner. You could use terms that accuse him, such as, "You don't seem to care that I work hard to prepare a nice meal for us after I put in a full day at work. You just show up whenever you want." If repeated offenses cause you to be really angry, you might even just eat without him and leave him to fend for himself when he shows up.  A more helpful  stance would be say something like, "I know you work hard and I want to support you in your efforts to take care of our family. Since I know it's often hard for you to know when you'll be able to leave work, can we come up with some way that makes it easier for me to plan dinner  to line up with your schedule? It's important to me that we find a solution that works for both of us."

Let's say your wife constantly makes social commitments for the two of you without consulting you or checking your schedule. You could angrily snap at her in an accusatory manner, "I'm tired of you signing me up for all these events that I don't care about. It's like my time counts for nothing to you." You could also flatly refuse to go with her as a way of retribution. Alternatively, you could say something like, "I know it's really important for you to get together with friends and family. You are super relational, and I know that people feed your soul. I want to support you in that, but is there a way we could make sure we align our schedules before making commitments? Maybe you could text or call me before saying yes? I'm open to other suggestions too."

In both of these examples, statements of support and understanding (conveying that "I am for you") precede the request to find a collaborative solution.

Who is the Real Enemy?

It's hugely important to remember that your spouse is not the enemy in any conflict. Rather, think of the situation as one where you and your spouse are on the same team, facing whatever the issue might be.

When you can keep in mind that your spouse is not the enemy, it allows you to approach him or her in a collaborative manner. It also reduces the likelihood that accusation and defensiveness enter the conversation. Finally, it allows you to maintain your connection, even in the midst of conflict.

Think back to your latest disagreement with your spouse.  Would him or her saying "I am for you" have positively impacted the course of the conversation?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Happiness in marriage is a by-product, not a goal.

I've been digging through some 450 posts for the big move to my new website (yes, it's coming!) and found a few gems that I'll be re-posting as Friday Favorites in the coming weeks.

Read on for why pushing responsibility for your happiness onto your spouse is a bad idea, and be sure to check out the insightful TEDTalk.

I’ve pondered before whether or not happiness is really the right goal for marriage.

Lately I’ve been rethinking the whole question of happiness. I’d like to share my thoughts and get yours.

The following three statements, which may seem at first blush to conflict with each other, are the three happiness axioms I’ve landed on:
  • The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
  • You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
  • Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you

Happiness Defined

What does it mean to be happy? Truthfully, for some reason I’ve never much liked that word; it has always seemed a bit shallow to me. I’ve typically thought of happiness as being controlled by external circumstances and therefore fickle and fleeting. I know, I’m weird like that.

But the dictionary says that to be happy is to be “delighted, pleased, or glad” over something or someone. Happiness is “characterized by pleasure, contentment, or joy” in response to the things going on around you. These actually all sound like pretty good things.

Goal vs. By-product

So after some consideration, I’ve resolved in my mind that happiness isn’t a bad thing at all, but I still don’t believe that we should look at marriage as primarily about our personal degree of happiness.

To me happiness is still best viewed as a by-product rather than a goal. A relationship that has personal happiness as its main goal is going to miss some deeper things that underlie a long-lasting marriage. Selflessness, surrender, intimacy, joy, peace and holiness all come to mind as worthy goals, but are things that also tend produce happiness as a result.

I Am Responsible For Me

I’ve often heard folks blame their spouse for their unhappiness. I’ve heard it used as a reason for divorce. I’ve heard it used to defend some pretty cruel behavior. “I deserve to be happy” is the common mantra.

That doesn’t cut it with me.

I have learned over time that I can’t hold my wife accountable for my happiness. I have to place the burden of my happiness squarely on my own shoulders and own up to the fact that if I’m unhappy, I’m the one that has to do something about it. It’s my choice. My happiness is my responsibility.

I Act Responsible for You

By extension, then, my wife is also responsible for her own happiness.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I should act that way. Instead I should purposefully try to make her happy, as best as I know how. I should love her, serve her, lead her and cherish her in ways I know delight her.

Her happiness should be important to me, because we are one, and I get to share in any happiness I bring to her life. How cool is that? Why wouldn’t I want to make her happy?

Our Ultimate Source of Happiness

Both my wife and I know that ultimately God is our only reliable source of happiness.

We find in Jesus all the things that make marriages truly happy and enduring: selflessness, surrender, strength, intimacy, joy, peace and holiness. All these he makes available to us and to our marriages.

So next time you are feeling unhappy with your spouse or with your marriage, realize that you have the power to choose happiness, regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do. Realize that love, joy and peace can all be yours by the Holy Spirit. Then turn things around and choose to do something purposefully just to make your spouse happy. I think you’ll be amazed at the good fruit it produces.

Happiness in Reverse

I shared this TEDtalk with our small group a few weeks ago (thanks to The Generous Husband). It’s a compelling and humorous case for the fact that we often look to outcomes in order to gain happiness. We say things like “If I work at it then my marriage will get better. And when my marriage gets better, then I’ll be happy.” But that is actually backwards.

Direct TEDTalk Link

Shawn Achor makes the case that by choosing to be happy now, we actually stand a better change of having a better marriage. Fascinating concept. I like it.

What’s do you think of my three axioms of happiness in marriage?
  • The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
  • You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
  • Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Key lessons in effective communication during conflict learned from the recent US presidential election.

We are all reeling from the massive amount of yelling, accusation, fear-mongering, personal attacks and one-sided pontificating suffered during this election season, and we are all glad it's over (well, mostly). Yet, I believe we can find valuable insights from it all for how to effectively communicate during disagreements in marriage.

Sadly, it seems our nation has completely lost the ability to have meaningful dialogue and respectful disagreement. People everywhere seem no longer able to listen, understand and thoughtfully respond. All too often I've seen this same kind of negative, destructive communication patterns used in marital conflicts. When this happens, dialogue ceases and the opportunity for understanding and growth disappears.

Here are my five lessons-learned regarding communication in conflict based on what I observed during the recent political season. By heeding these, you can maintain respect and honor in the midst of disagreement with your spouse (and anyone else for that matter).

1. Assume good intentions

What strikes me as the most toxic problem in the recent election is the way each side characterized the other side as having diabolical intentions and evil motives. I believe that the vast majority of people take their positions "for the greater good." Each side believes that their solutions will result in a better America, yet neither side is willing to admit that we are all trying to build something better but just disagree on the methodology.

In marriage, assuming the best is also important. If you start with the belief that you both are good-hearted and a better, stronger marriage is your joint goal, it will go a long way toward allowing you to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Assuming good intentions allows grace to enter the conversation.

2. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

It seems to me neither side of the political spectrum has had the least bit of interested in understanding the other side's point of view. When we assassinate the character of others en mass we almost always automatically discount whatever they have to say.

Similarly, in marriage, when getting our point across and defending our turf becomes our highest (and sometimes only) priority, we spend more time building our case and gathering our defenses than trying to genuinely listen and understand. If we don't tap into the "real story" underneath the disagreement by really listening to what each other is saying, we miss the chance for relationship growth. Remember, the goal is to understand as much as it is to be understood.

3. Stick to the Issue At Hand

A common tactic I observed this year was the frequent use of diversionary tactics. Rather than talking about issues and proposed solutions to our nation's very real troubles, people would instead drag up unrelated "dirt" on the other candidate. Both sides frequently employed such smear tactics.

How often,  in the midst of conflict, do you drag up unrelated issues or past mistakes that have,  at least in theory,  been dealt with or that have nothing to do with the issue at hand? Don't go there. Bringing in tangential issues only fuels your partner's defensiveness and stops progress on finding common solutions.  

4. Don't use accusation

It's amazing to me that so many people spew accusations in an attempt to convince others to join their side. Since when does telling someone they are stupid, crooked or deplorable actually convince them of anything,  except of your disdain?

In marriage conflicts, it's tempting to lash out with accusations against your partner, but it will not be at all useful in helping him or her understand your viewpoint. In fact it probably prevents or at least inhibits understanding. Accusation is a terrible change agent, so even if you feel hurt or angry, stop yourself from lashing out with personal attacks. If you have to remove yourself from the conversation until you can talk calmly, do so.

5. Relationship Matters Most

Many on either side of the political spectrum have failed miserably at valuing those on the other side. I honestly believe that God values people more than he values their political beliefs. He loves all people as individuals and longs to be in relationship with them. That's the whole reason Jesus came - to make a way for relationship.

In marriage, we must put relationship first. We need to understand that protecting connection is more important than being right. It's not that being right or wrong doesn't matter, it just matters less than maintaining the relationship and sustaining and growing intimacy. It is better to be love than to be right.

What other lessons in communication have you derived from the recent political season? Share your observations in a comment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Every emotional interaction with your spouse goes one of three ways. Only one way is helpful.

Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher, performed a study on newlywed couples a few years back. His team observed how the couple interacted with each other during what he calls "emotional bids." Dr. Gottman describes bids this way:
A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids show up in simple ways, a smile or wink, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help. In general, women make more bids than men, but in the healthiest relationships, both partners are comfortable making all kinds of bids.
Three Choices

There are actually three choices you have when our spouse makes an emotional bid:
  1. Turn away - ignore the bid and move on
  2. Turn against - respond negatively to the bid (disrespect, defensiveness, anger, accusation)
  3. Turn toward - respond with interest and affection
What the research showed was that after six years, the couples that were still married responded to bids by turning toward each other 86% of the time. Those who were divorced after six years only turned toward each other 33% of the time. That's an astounding difference.

Choose connection

The choice to respond to your spouse's emotional bid by turning toward him or her will often require a little bit (or a lot) of selflessness.

For example, say your wife exclaims how her feet hurt as she takes off her shoes. You could ignore her statement and continue scrolling through Facebook on your phone (turn away). You could tell her that her feet smell (turn against). Or you could move in and begin to rub her sore feet (turn toward).

As another example, say your husband comes through the door complaining about his tough day. You could pretend you didn't hear him or simply say, "Oh," and walk away (turn away). You could tell him you wish he would just leave that garbage at the office (turn against). Or you could give him a kiss, pour a couple glasses of wine, and ask him to join you on the couch while he tells you all about it.

In most cases, turning toward your partner is not the easiest choice. It might require a little of your time and a bit of emotional or physical effort. But the long-term benefit of building connection and trust is well worth the short term sacrifice.

Listening for Bids

The trickiest part to emotional bids, however, is not in the choice of how to respond. No, the hardest part is actually in realizing when they happen.

Some bids will be obvious but many may be really subtle.

Some examples of obvious bids:
  • How do I look in this?
  • Can we talk?
  • Do you want to come with me to the grocery store?
  • Let's go fool around.
Some examples of more subtle bids:
  • Wow, what a day I had.
  • A sigh, a frown or staring blankly into space
  • Your spouse comes and sits close to you on the couch
  • Silence
  • I don't know what to do
Whether obvious or subtle, your response is critical for building trust and intimacy in your relationship.

You might say to yourself, "If he/she really needs something from me, why doesn't he/she just ask me?" It's quite possible that your spouse isn't even aware that he or she needs something. Second, when you respond to an unspoken desire for connection, you tell your spouse that you are tuned into them and eager to make a meaningful connection.

Gottman's research seems to indicate that this choice is a big deal.

Make it a goal this week to be especially aware of emotional bids your spouse offers you, and make a commitment to respond by purposefully turning toward.

Share in a comment below about a time when your spouse responded to your own bid, and how it made you feel. We'd love to hear your story.

Further reading from the Gottman Institute:

Friday, October 28, 2016

When it comes to PDA, the real question is "How much is enough?"

I'm a member of Christian Marriage Bloggers Association, and this month CMBA is sponsoring a blog challenge based on this picture by Kate Aldrich Photography (titles added by me).
Kate and her husband Brad, blog at One Flesh Marriage.

I'm a little late to the party with this post, and my take on the photo is somewhat different than my fellow CMBA bloggers (check out the list of other challenge posts in the comments on this CMBA Newsletter post).

My immediate thought upon seeing the challenge photo went to public displays of affection, or PDA.

I realize there are cultural and contextual limits to PDA, but I personally err on the side of more not less. Let me explain.

Proclaim Your Love

I appreciate couples who are willing to show the world that they are happily married, still in love and show affection for each other. No, I don't want to see a public make-out session or blatant groping, but I see a whole lot more of the other extreme: couples who practically act like strangers in public.

What I like about this photo is the way this couple obviously has affection toward each other. Although their actions are moderated by the umbrella, their love shines through.

Publicly showing affection for your spouse not only demonstrates your love, but it is a great declaration in support of marriage in general. "Marriage rocks! And I'm not afraid to show it!"

Below you'll find 15 ways to give the world a glimpse of your affection for each other.

Affection Doesn't Mean Indecent

Of course your spouse needs to be comfortable with whatever form of PDA you engage in, but there are plenty of ways ways to show affection without being indecent or inappropriate. For example:
  • 1 - Hold hands while you walk through your neighborhood
  • 2 - Kiss hello and goodbye regardless of where you are
  • 3 - Put your arm around your wife in church
  • 4 - Lean your head on your husband's shoulder in the theater while waiting for the movie to start
  • 5 - Rest your hand on your spouse's knee while sitting on the same side of the booth in a restaurant (Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Tripplehorn, it is very much a married move).
I don't know of anyone who would find such actions offensive.

Non-Physical PDA

There are also tons of ways to show affection that don't involve physical contact. Here are just a few:
  • 6 - Open your wife's car door for her. (Take her hand to help her from the car)
  • 7 - Speak kindly (even brag) about your spouse to your friends and family
  • 8 - Bring your spouse a cup of tea or coffee at the church coffee hour
  • 9 - Send flowers to your wife at work
Public Secret

When you are away from home, there are other ways to show affection for each other that are for your eyes/ears only. Such acts of love add a sense of spice and adventure to your relationship while you are out and about. Some secrets that only the two of you will know:
  • 10 - Make eye contact with each other and smile warmly across a crowded room. Give an air kiss.
  • 11 - Let your husband know that you are wearing something special for him under your clothes (or that you aren't wearing anything!)
  • 12 - Whisper something romantic in your wife's ear
  • 13 - Steal a long, passionate kiss in a private hallway or dark parking lot
  • 14 - Write a slightly racy text message about your plans for the evening. (You can make it racier if you have a private, secure messaging app like Couple or Avacado.)
  • 15 - Leave a note where only your spouse will find it (wallet, purse, briefcase, etc). It can range from sweet to sexy.

What's your take on couples showing affection for each other in public? Would you like to see more of it in your own marriage? Leave a comment.
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.

Inside Out

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.
In just a few days my middle daughter, Lisa, is getting married. She and Otto are a wonderful match, and Jenni and I could not be more excited for their future.

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.

Dearest Lisa,

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.

5) Pray

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.

House Favorites

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.

Lighter Fare

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.

Daily Specials

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
No, this is not a post about creative uses for whipped cream and chocolate sauce in the bedroom (not that there would be anything wrong with that!).

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.)

4) Fasting

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.

5) Binging

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!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's finally going to happen. And I need your help!

I'm happy to announce that I'm in the process of building a completely new website. Okay it's been "in process" since the beginning of the year, and in planning even longer, but I'm finally hoping to launch in October. I've got a bunch of great things planned for the new site, but more than anything else I'm interested in serving my readers with stuff that can help their marriages right where they are.

What Are Your Longings?

If you are like many of my readers, you've been married for a while. Are there things you've always wanted to see in your marriage, but haven't yet experienced? Have you given up on them? I believe it's never too late to see your dreams come true. Maybe it's time to renew your dreams. Don't settle for the marriage you have now. Dust off those heart-longings, take them to the Lord, and start to work toward seeing them come true, one small step at a time.

Maybe you don't have unfulfilled longings. Maybe your marriage is pretty good, even great. The thing is there is always more. There is always room to grow in intimacy and passion and trust and freedom and grace and love... There is plenty of new territory to explore for the sake of growing your marriage. Don't let auto-pilot take over, even if, and especially if your marriage is on solid footing. Auto-pilot is a death sentence!

My sincere desire is to see every couple have the marriage they dream of and to continue to grow together. I believe that's not only possible, but that it's God's plan.

So my question is this: How can I help you do that? Here is your chance to tell me.

Here's Where You Come In

I have an ongoing survey on my blog called "Three Things." If you are an email subscriber or you get my blog via an RSS feed, chances are you've missed out on this survey. Simply put, it poses the question, "What three things do you long most to see more of in your marriage?"

Would you please help me be able to focus on the things that matter most to you and take 1 minute to answer this simple question? Click below now!

Stay Tuned

As part of the new website initiative, I'm moving to a new web address as well, so you'll want to watch this space in order to make sure you move with me!

In addition, I am working on some tremendously helpful resources for building intimacy and passion in your marriage. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, pray for me and my efforts to get the new website up and running. It's a daunting task!

If there are any other topics you'd like to see covered in the future or a specific question you'd like to see addressed here, please feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below.

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