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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 It's out of date compared with most of my marriage blogging peers, many of whom have remodeled multiple times since I've been blogging.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 HeavenMadeMarriage.com. 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? Dictionary.com 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.

Watchfulness

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



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