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Thursday, July 28, 2011
I am sometimes astounded by what qualifies as news. But once in a while I come across an obscure news tidbit that speaks directly to something I feel strongly about.

Such is the case with this story.  Apparently, according to the story, during a NASCAR pre-race prayer a Nashville pastor raised some eyebrows when, a la Ricky Bobby and "Talladega Nights," he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife.”

I’m not going to argue the merits of making such a statement during a public prayer or whether using a quote from pop culture was the best choice of words, but I do want to commend the man for publicly praising his wife.

This leads me to ask a tough question. And it’s one that I hope you will consider honestly.
If I were to ask your friends, family and co-workers how you feel about your spouse, what would they say?

Does the thought make you cringe a bit? It shouldn’t.

Speaking Appreciation Behind Their Back

What do you say about your spouse when he or she isn’t around? Are you careful to always show him or her honor, respect and admiration or do you join in the complaints and criticisms that so many are prone to engage in?

Do you tend to complain to your family about your spouse’s habits or behaviors? Do you do so hoping to prove that you have a “right” to be unhappy about them? Are you looking for weapons to use against your spouse? “My mother agrees that you really should be doing the dishes more.” “My brother’s wife is always refusing to have sex too. We just don’t think that’s fair.” If you have issues in your marriage (and what marriage doesn’t) you owe it to your spouse to deal with them directly and not the court of public opinion. Complaining to others in an attempt to sooth your own conscience or make your case will only make the problems worse.

Even if you only sit quietly by during spouse-deriding banter at your office, you are doing your husband or wife a disservice. Are you willing to be the one to throw a wet blanket on the jesting and publicly make statements of appreciation about your spouse? Eyes may roll and you may endure some derision yourself, but realize that these responses only come from jealousy.

Let Them Hear You

You can probably pick a better moment than a public prayer at a car racing event, but I encourage you to watch for appropriate opportunities to praise your spouse when they are within earshot. It is important not only to speak positively about your spouse and marriage when your husband or wife is not around, but also make a point to praise your spouse to others when they can hear it.

Let your words of affirmation be genuine and appropriate for the context. Don’t be too over-the-top – even subtle statements can work wonders for making your spouse feel loved, and that’s really the point. It’s OK if your publicly expressed sentiments make your introverted or demurring spouse a little uncomfortable with the attention, but also be sensitive to his or her personality. Regardless of personality, I promise it will greatly bless your spouse to hear you sing their praises.

Of course you should also show appreciation to your spouse in private - the praises you offer in public certainly should come as no surprise. But in my opinion, private praises alone aren’t enough.  Let your love be known!

Friday, July 22, 2011
Most families go through times of stress. For families who chose to grow their families through adoption, that stress can come in many forms and be a long lasting source of struggle and contention.

Our friends Beth and Stephen Templeton run a ministry and blog called Hope at Home, which is “dedicated to help adoptive and foster parents encounter the Father’s heart for their families, partnering with God to transform orphans into sons and daughters.“

Today on their blog I have a guest post on the importance of maintaining marital intimacy in times of stress. Most adoptions ministries focus heavily on healing and building the parent-child relationship, but not many address the important topic of maintaining your marriage in the midst of the stress of adoption. But the truth is that the best thing you can do for your children is to have a strong, thriving marriage.

Since my wife and I have not experienced adoption, I asked our marriage blogger friends Brad and Kate Aldrich of One Flesh Marriage to give me some insight on their own adoption experience. I think you’ll find their insights and experience helpful, so I encourage you to check it out.

PhotobucketOne other thing to bring your attention to: Hope at Home is sponsoring a two day conference,  September 23-24, to refresh and equip adoptive parents. If you have adopted children I encourage you to make your way to Atlanta for the conference.

And if you know some other adoptive families who could benefit from some encouragement, click on the envelope icon at the bottom of this post and email the this article to let them know about the Hope at Home Blog.  I'd appreciate it if you would post this on Facebook or Tweet it using the buttons below.  And if you know an adoptive couple able to travel to Atlanta for the conference, encourage them to do so!

Finally, as long as we are talking stress and the toll it takes on intimacy, please take a second to let me know what things have created the most significant of stress in your own marriage by completing the poll question below.

Email/RSS readers:  here's a direct link to the poll:  
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
It was unbearably hot this morning as I sat on the beach. The strong shore breeze brought no relief from the oppressive heat. Then the wind shifted slightly to a sea breeze, the air sweeping across the cool waters of the Atlantic bringing with it a refreshing ten or fifteen degree drop in temperature. Ahhhhh. Marvelous relief.

Isn’t it that way in marriage too? Sometimes just a slight shift can bring dramatic changes. It may only take a tiny adjustment to change something from having a negative influence on your marriage to having a positive one. Likewise, a small change can turn something good into something not so good.

Case in Point: Self

Any discussion of a Surrendered Marriage inevitably leads to the question of self. From my recent post “What Is a Surrendered Marriage?
A surrendered marriage calls us to surrender self. It means living selflessly and self-sacrificing instead of living self-centered and self-satisfying. It means living against our human nature, because our natural path is the path of self. Rather than focusing on the question of “what are my rights?” and “what do I get out of this marriage?” the bridal paradigm call us to focus instead on “what can I give to benefit and bless my spouse?” and “What can I do to strengthen our marriage?”
I’ve been hammering home this point lately with posts encouraging you to give way more than the minimum to your spouse and on being a student of your spouse in order to learn how to delight him or her. I believe that selfless love is the core strength of every surrendered marriage, because I believe that is the way Jesus loves the church.


On the other side of the self question, I have also read several posts recently that mention the importance of self-care. The idea is that you have to take care of your own physical needs (rest, diet, exercise) and emotional needs (boundary setting, healthy friendships) in order to survive and thrive and to be in a position to benefit your marriage. Alisa at Project Happily Ever After said the following in a recent post on selfishness:
Sometimes it’s selfless to be selfish. If you completely neglect your own needs and drain yourself dry, there will be no you left to focus on the needs of others. It is selfless to make sure you get enough rest, for instance. It’s easier to be selfless when you are rested, healthy, fit and well fed.
But there’s a pretty thin line between attending to self-care by ensuring your own physical, mental and emotional health, and being self-centered, where you become self-protecting, self-obsessed, and just plain old selfish. As with my experience on the beach today, it doesn’t take a very large change in the prevailing winds of self to go from the right amount of self-care to the kind of selfishness that starts to do damage to your marriage.


I’d like to suggest a possible alternative to the idea of self-care: spouse-care. Actually, it's more of an augmentation to self-care.  At first it might seem a bit counter-intuitive. I mean, after all, isn’t the idea of self-care to take care of yourself?

What I’m suggesting is that in a one-flesh, surrendered marriage, where you are both operating with the understanding that the two of you really are one, it totally makes sense for you to help ensure your husband’s or wife’s mental and physical well-being. What helps him or her actually helps you too! The Apostle Paul alludes to this in his Ephesians five instructions on marriage.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church
Ephesians 5:28-29 (NIV)
In the NLT it is even plainer, “a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife.” The same is true for a woman toward her husband, because, as Paul explains a few verses later”
As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one."
What Is Spouse-Care?

Spouse-care really comes down to looking out for one another’s wellbeing: spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions) and body. The questions and issues of spouse-care aren’t any different than the ones in self-care, except that you are asking them on behalf of your partner.
  1. Are they getting enough sleep and rest?
  2. Are they eating healthy?
  3. How is their energy level?
  4. Do they regularly get exercise?
  5. What damaging or unhealthy relationships need to be minimized or cut off?
  6. How are they managing the stress level in their life?
  7. Are they staying well-connected to the Lord through spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and worship?
  8. Are there prevailing negative emotions such as anxiety, anger or depression that need to be dealt with?
Of course, answering these questions on behalf of another isn’t always easy, because your definitions of things like “enough sleep” and “healthy eating” may differ. This is also another reason why becoming a student of your spouse, as I explained in my previous post, is so important. What’s right for them might differ from what is right for you.

You Are Still Responsible for You

Now, I'm not advocating that you abdicate taking personal responsibility for your own well-being. You are still in charge of your own personal development, health and life.  But having another who loves you deeply also share that concern, can be a huge help! Chances are that you do a better job attending to some areas of your mental and physical health than in some others. That’s why it’s helpful to have another looking out for you. And that is the spirit behind spouse-care: to help, to cover, to protect and to support. I am not suggesting you try to browbeat or arm-twist your spouse.

For example, I’ve never in my life made space for any kind of regular exercise. My lovely wife has started suggesting recently that I really ought to start doing so. Her input on this has been both gentle and respectful, and I am able to receive it in the manner it is intended. I’m over 50 and she is concerned for my overall health. And I can easily acknowledge that she is right to do so. (In all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out how to make time in my insane schedule for regular exercise, but I am at least giving it some thought and attention, whereas before I pretty much dismissed the notion).

What I like about the spouse-care idea is that it is less susceptible to the subtle winds of self. By looking out for each other’s wellbeing, neither of you has to assert or demand their own “rights” to self-care.

What do you think of my idea of spouse-care? Do you think it would work in your marriage? Would you be willing to sit down with your spouse and actually invite them into your self-care by having the help look out for your physical, spiritual and emotional well-being?

PS  After composing this I read a great related post by Paul Byerly at The Generous Husband about the importance of choosing to fight our self-centered human natures. Check it out here

Saturday, July 16, 2011
In my last few posts I’ve been encouraging you to go above and beyond in meeting your spouse’s needs. If you want to create a positive, life-giving environment in your marriage, few things will do it like giving in a way that meets your spouse’s needs “and then some.”

But in order to show love to your husband or wife way beyond the minimum acceptable level, to move into the realm of delighting them, you have to know the things that would give them the most joy and pleasure.

This requires that you become a lifelong student of your spouse’s needs and wants; even more, the things that bring them pleasure and delight.

Do you study your spouse? It's time to...

Go to Spouse School

Vacationing here at the beach has given me a chance to finally get caught up on my huge Google Reader backlog. I’ve also been listening through the backlog of podcasts over at Stu Gray’s Stupendous Marriage Show. (I highly recommend you check out these entertaining and informative podcasts). In Episode 3 Stu and his wife reminded me of a recent post I saw over at The Generous Wife called “Study Him.” .

If you aren’t sure where to start in studying your spouse, I’d encourage you to check out the comments in The Generous Wife post. In it Lori opens up the question of “How do you study your husband?” for her readers to answer. There are a lot of really good ideas there, many of which apply to a husband’s study of his wife as well.

Many of the ideas there have to do with being aware and being intentional. You might check out my post on “Watchfulness”  to learn about how to build the habit of watchfulness into your marriage.

A couple of other resource I came across recently give you some specific ideas on how to bless and inspire your husband and wife. You’ll need to sift through these to see which would be good for your particular spouse’s preferences, but the lists are a great placee to get some ideas for breaking out of the routine interactions you might find marriage in.

One thing I’d like to remind you of is that it is likely that the things that delight your spouse are not the same things that delight you. So I would encourage you to not make the assumption that just because it’s something you like, it is also something your spouse will like as well.

You Never Graduate

You might be thinking that this idea of studying your spouse is obvious – a real no brainer. But the truth is that we are creatures of habit. We tend to fall into comfortable routines and patterns, but you never graduate from spouse school! I encourage you to be a lifelong learner in this regard. Don’t let your relationship fall into familiar patterns based solely on past assumptions.

Maybe you are responding to this with, “I already know what my wife likes” or “I know what makes my wife husband happy.” Kudos to you for at least realizing that knowing your spouse’s needs and wants is important. But let me challenge you to grow in your understanding and to take a fresh look at your spouse. You might be surprised to find that their preferences have changed, that they’ve acquired new interested or tastes, or have discovered new delights. It might even be possible to introduce something to your spouse that they didn't even know they wanted!

Help Your Spouse Delight You

Finally, let me close with this thought. Assume that your spouse is also a student of you and do your best to help educate them.

Let me be clear, this is not an open invitation for you to be selfish and demanding. Rather, think of it as helping your husband or wife love you well. The best way to do this is through thankfulness and expressions of appreciation. When they do something extra nice or something out of the ordinary that just makes you happy, let them know it with specific words of thanks and reciprocal acts of kindness.

Letting them know specifically what they did to make you happy is the best way to get them to do it again!

I encourage you to routinely revisit the question of how to delight your spouse. Or better still, just develop the habit of making a mental note (or writing it down if that helps) when you notice a positive reaction to something you’ve said or done. It really can be just that simple.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I have a few additional thoughts I want to tag onto yesterday’s post about giving to your spouse above and beyond the minimum. I described this as meeting their needs “and then some.”

Reaping the Harvest of Generosity

Here’s a related encouragement from the Apostle Paul:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:9-10
I would add the marital qualifier, “especially to your spouse.” We have a biblical promise that if we practice the habit of generosity in our marriages, we will eventually see the fruit of our efforts blossom into a harvest of things like:
  • Your spouse will feel love and honored
  • You will have the satisfaction of knowing you have loved them well
  • You will make it easier for your spouse to be generous in return
  • You will create tremendous positive momentum in the level of trust, intimacy and peace in your home
Having Culture of Honor

The Apostle Paul reminds us of the link between love and honor:
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 12:10
When you develop a habit of giving much more than the minimum, you honor your spouse. Does your husband or wife feel a sense of honor from you in your words and actions? Do they know that their needs are more important than your own as a result of your efforts and attitudes? Are you brave enough to ask them such questions?

What would the atmosphere in your relationship be like if you both strived to outdo one another in showing honor, respect and deference to each other? How would your marriage be transformed if you both subscribed to the idea of giving "and then some?"

Trust me, it would be amazing!

It may seem like I’m belaboring this point, but it is only because I believe there is a powerful principle here that can hugely benefit every marriage, from the very strongest to the struggling.

If you want to create positive, joyful, god-honoring momentum in your marriage, take a pledge to do “and them some” for a month. See if what I say isn’t true.

Sunday, July 10, 2011
Please excuse my sparse posting of late. A week in Italy (yeah, I know, rough life), a holiday weekend and a mad crazy week preparing to go on two-and-a-half week vacation (really rough life!) had combined to dramatically limit my writing time. But I’ve been keeping notes on things that have struck me over the past few weeks and should be able to post much more regularly from the beach. Well, not literally from the beach – sand and computers really don’t mix!

Today’s post was inspired by one from last week, “How Little Can I Get By With,”  from The Generous Husband. In it Paul Byerly describes the tendency we can have to do the bare minimum that we can get away with.

In marriage, giving only the bare minimum is almost certainly going to poison the atmosphere in your relationship and damage the level of trust and intimacy between you. Giving the bare minimum communicates to your spouse that your own needs and wants are more important than theirs.

It essentially says to them, “I don’t love you as much as I love me.”

That may sound harsh or judgmental. It’s not meant to be. It’s just that when you develop a pattern of just barely meeting your spouse’s needs, of only giving in when they beg or demand it, or of withholding your full effort and attention, it invites them to do the same toward you. A cycle of selfishness can ensue that will have lasting negative consequences for your marriage. A good-willed spouse may still be generous toward you for a while, even if you don’t reciprocate, but inevitably, it’s a formula for marital disaster.

And Then Some

Instead, I encourage you to adopt the attitude of doing what they ask or desire “and then some.” It’s this Kingdom principle that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:41, when he says, “If someone compels you to go a mile, go with him two.” In the context of that verse he is actually speaking of those who do evil against you. How much more should the principle of “and them some” be the guiding one in how you give to one whom you profess to love.

When you give to your spouse that extra measure of devotion, when you give of your time and attention extravagantly, or when you show love to them way above what you deem adequate, you start to create an atmosphere of selflessness that is contagious.

“I’ll Try” Is Not Enough

Marriage blogger Stu Gray has a new website where he and his wife are podcasting weekly about marriage. I’ve only had time to listen to one episode so far, but from what I can tell this is going to be a great marriage resources. (More details will be in an RRR Resource post coming soon.)

In the episode I listened to they discuss a guest blog post by another favorite marriage blogger of mine, Debi Walter of The Romantic Vineyard. Here’s an excerpt from her post entitled “I’ll try.

Imagine a wedding where the Bride and Groom instead of confirming their wedding vows with an “I Do,” offer meekly an “I’ll Try!” Not many marriages would last if trying is all they’re aiming for. Anyone can try – the marriages who don’t simply try, but hold their vows even through the blazing fire of conflict will be welded together in the heat and become stronger as a result. They are resolved to succeed, not merely t.r.y

She explains how an “I’ll try” answer instead of an enthusiastic “I do” or “yes, absolutely” tells your spouse that you either haven’t really heard them or you don’t really care about their request. Both equally bad!

If your response to my urging you to meet your spouse’s needs “and then some” has you thinking “I’ll try,” then think again.

Shifting the atmosphere in your marriage to one of outdoing one another by generously and consistently delighting one another will take more than an “I’ll try” attitude. It will require dedication and deliberate attention to the task. But you can do it, if you really want to. This is not beyond your ability, and it is largely up to you to decide.

Believe me when I say that it will pay huge dividends in your marriage.  More on that next time. 

The next time you identify something you can do for your spouse, think about what doing it “and then some” would look like. Then do that instead.

Thursday, July 7, 2011
It's been a while since I've posted anything on resources.  I actually have a significant backlog of resources that I've been meaning to present, so it's not been because I don't have any to share.  It's just always seems like I have too many other things to write about.

Thankfully, Julie Sibert at Intimacy in Marriage, has done the groundwork for me, and I wanted to point you to her work.

She recently queried her readers and compiled a list of recommended marriage resources.Click on over and check out the list of books, websites and ministries, all of which seem to come at marriage from a Christian world view.

Great job, Julie!  And Thanks!

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