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Wednesday, September 12, 2012
I explained in my last post how shame damages the intimacy in your marriage. It can hurt your sex life, inhibit your ability to receive love, reduce the emotional connection between you and your spouse and more.

Shame causes you to hide yourself, to cover over what you feel are your deficiencies, or to pretend you are something you are not. Shame produces a deep sense of unworthiness. And because true intimacy requires you be vulnerable and expose your genuine self, it cannot exist when you are living in shame.

Shame Solution #1 – The Love of Jesus

Dealing with the shame in your life starts with recognition that you have come to believe a lie about your identity. The voices of accusation scream at you that you can’t let people see who you are, because if they do, they surely will not love you.

I believe strongly that the number one way to overcome the shame that is blocking intimacy in your marriage is a revelation of the love of God for you. What I’m talking about goes way beyond a vague “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” kind of understanding.

I’m talking about a personal and powerful revelation of just how deeply and passionately Jesus loves you. When you genuinely encounter the love and grace of Jesus, shame melts away.

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3, explains that our journey into discovering “the length, height, width and depth” of the love of Christ is the key to a life of fullness. I agree! Spend your life getting to know this unknowable love. Never stop pursuing it. Get to know His voice and hear how he feels about you, just as you are. It will completely rock your world.

Shame Solution #2 – The Love of Your Spouse

If shame and intimacy cannot coexist, then it makes sense that intimacy makes a terrific antidote for shame.

And since intimacy is “being fully known and yet completely loved,” then it starts with getting real with your spouse, especially in the areas where shame exists. Getting back to being “naked without shame,” like it was in the beginning, starts with getting naked. By that I mean being willing to be vulnerable and transparent with your spouse about your perceived weaknesses and failings.

Yeah, that kind of transparency is scary business, but it’s completely necessary if you want intimacy. Fake intimacy is an oxymoron – it doesn’t exist.

Sure, I hear your fears, “What if I show my real self and my spouse doesn’t respond with grace and love?” First of all, assuming your spouse loves you and has your best interest at heart, chances are good that they will respond by helping you see that your shame is unfounded. They probably see you more clearly than you see yourself.  That’s part of being one-flesh. 

Embracing and accepting the love of your spouse can go along way toward dispelling shame. But you have to be willing to let them love you and hear what they have to say.
  • When your husband tells you that you are beautiful, don’t deflect his compliment with a list of the physical flaws you see in yourself. Instead thank him, believe him and kiss him.
  • When your wife thanks you for working so hard to take care of the family, even in the face of the shame you feel over the extra hours you’ve had to work, accept her gracious and understanding attitude.
  • When your spouse tells you how much they enjoy and need a sexual connection with you, believe them and let down your sexual guard. Push past your shame and fear and realize that sex is the glue that holds your marriage together.
  • When you really screw up and confess your mess to your spouse, receive their forgiveness fully and permanently. Don’t let residual shame allow you to stay stuck in the past and continue to block intimacy in your marriage.
And what if your spouse doesn’t give you the love and grace that is needed to get you past your shame? I point you back to solution #1. Regardless of what your spouse says, your identity has to come first and foremost from who God says you are.

Do you have a shame solution beyond the two I’ve shared here? Have you overcome shame in your marriage using one of these two solutions? It’s OK with me if you want to get naked here in the comments. This is a shame-free zone!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What do you think of when you hear the word shame? Embarrassment? A guilt-ridden conscience? Disgrace? Modesty? Humility? Self-restraint?

The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the early root of the word shame as meaning “to cover.”

Indeed, the idea of shame is as old as creation – or almost. If you flip to the front of your Bible, you'll find God's ideal state for marriage:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:24-25
Now, just an apple later Adam and Eve come to this:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Genesis 3:7
Shame crashes into our human existence for the first time and they immediately cover up. Yeah, I’d say shame and covering are pretty closely linked, and not just etymologically.

The thing with shame is that it cannot coexist with intimacy. It’s just not possible. That’s because shame causes you to cover up. It causes you to try to run away from who you think you are or who you think you are not. Shame’s accusations say you are defined by your failings, your weaknesses and your inadequacies.

I say that intimacy is “being fully known and yet completely loved.” Intimacy is being naked without shame. That’s how it was always meant to be – with God – and in your marriage. That's why shame destroys and blocks intimacy.

Shame’s ugly tentacles can reach into every corner of your marriage: 
  • Shame over aspects of your physical appearance will cause you to reject your lover’s fawning compliments, to hide your body from him or her, to lower your self-confidence and to steel the freedom we should have to fully enjoy each other’s bodies.
  • Sexual shame can come from a wrong mindset about sex (“sex is bad or evil”) or from past sin or abuse. Shame over sex will hinder the physical intimacy in your marriage and make it a wedge between you and your spouse instead of the deep expression of being one flesh that it is meant to be. (Incidentally, I get a huge number of search engine hits from people searching sexual shame.)
  • Shame over financial or career or other mistakes will greatly damage the emotional intimacy in your marriage. It can drive you to withdraw emotionally and even lead to depression. The generalized sense of worthlessness that your mistakes can bring about blocks out the love your spouse is offering you.
  • Shame over aspects of your personality or intelligence is often brought about by past hurtful words or actions from friends, family or others close to you. “I am stupid.” “I am loud.” “I am a wallflower.” They all ultimately say the same thing. “I am unlovable.” "I am not good enough."
Do you see why I HATE shame? It’s a marriage killer like few other things are!

What do you do if you find yourself stuck in shame of one kind or another? 

Well, think about it, and leave a comment with your suggestions. Then come back for my next post where I’ll try to answer that very question myself.

In the meantime, check out this video. It is a follow up to Dr Brown’s famous TED Talk that I’ve shared here before on vulnerability. Check that one out too if you haven’t seen it. (Thanks to Gina Parris for making me aware of this newer one.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I’ve been addressing the topic of vital signs of a strong and healthy marriage in my last two posts. Today I'm concluding with my last two vital signs and offering a challenge.

If you missed the two previous posts, go back and check them out. I started with Communication and Selflessness and yesterday covered Intimacy and Sex (and no they aren’t the same thing).

Alone Time

Time together, alone, to totally focus on each other, is like the heartbeat of your marriage. It’s a steady, strong heartbeat that keeps the blood flowing through your body; it’s a regular rhythm of time together that keeps your marriage alive and thriving.

Alone time can be hard to come by, especially when you have young children. But I encourage you not to “wait until later” when you have more time. There will always be something competing for your time and attention, regardless of your life stage. Make and keep time together a high priority.

It is face-to-face time that allows you to maintain excellent and open communication, which I called “the lifeblood of marriage” in my first vital sign post. As such, be purposeful in how you spend your precious alone time. Don’t make it all about the calendar, to-do lists, and the kids. Talk about your marriage, each other, and how things are going.
  • Do you spend time along together every day? It doesn’t have to be a long time, even ten minutes of one-on-one is helpful, but it should be daily.
  • What do you talk about when you have time alone with each other? Is it mostly functional, or do dig into the heart of things?
    • Do you sometimes talk about your marriage?
    • Do you regularly take some of you time together to pray or talk about spiritual things?
    • Do you every take time to dream together?
  • How often do you get alone time away from home, like a regular or semi-regular date night? Do you make the effort to get out twice a month? Does one of you always have to do the planning for your dates or do you share the responsibility?
  • When was the last time you went away together over night? I’m telling you, there is something different about sex when there is a number on the door.
 Grace Factor

I couldn’t come up with a good physical analogy for grace (blood glucose? Do you have a better one?), but it’s such an important vital sign that I decided I needed to include it anyway.

What is grace? Grace is more than forgiveness, although that’s a component. Grace is undeserved favor, kindness and blessing. At its core, grace is an invitation to intimacy. Grace in marriage is really all about building and maintaining intimacy in all forms.

Grace is the pathway to unconditional love and respect in your relationship. Grace says, “I know who you are and how God made you, regardless of what I see in the natural.” Grace substitutes mercy for judgment, kindness for retribution, and blessing for disfavor. Grace is not easy. Grace in marriage requires supernatural strength that can only come from God by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some ways to measure the grace factor in your marriage:
  • Do you expect the best of each other? Do you give the benefit of the doubt?
  • When offenses occur, are you able to forgive and forget, quickly and completely?
  • Do you hold past mistakes over each other or pull them out as weapons in a fight?
  • Are you able to love your spouse “as if,” meaning are you able to see past their shortcomings and mistakes and into the heart of who they really are?

A Challenge

We all know how important vital signs are to our physical health. We all know we should have them checked regularly. Very few of us actually do it.

I want to challenge you to take some time in the next week to take your marriage vital signs. You can start with the list that I’ve shared here in this little series, or you can decide on your own set of vital signs.

No matter, I’m asking you to sit down with your list of vital signs, ask yourself what a healthy “reading” would look like, and then take a good, prayerful look at your marriage.

The next step is to make a plan for how you are going to improve the health and strength of your marriage in the weaker/unhealthy areas. Pick one thing to focus on at a time. Don’t try to do too much all at once or you’ll become overwhelmed and frustrated and want to give up. Make small changes and keep at them until they become habit.

Don’t Wait

Maybe your assessment is that your marriage is doing fine. Don’t let that lull you into complacency.

I have always had great check-ups and considered myself healthy as a horse. Sure I could have stood to lose a few pounds, but I wasn’t overweight enough to cause serious concern. So I allowed these relatively good checkups to be an excuse for not taking proper care of my body. Sugary sweets and good beer were my main weaknesses, but I convinced myself that since I ate 4-5 pieces of fruit every day, it would all even out. I never exercised, but I let being “too busy” be a lame excuse for my sedentary lifestyle.

My point is that you can always justify putting off working on your marriage or overlooking small issues, but that is dangerous. Don’t wait to work on your marriage health until some really bad happens. Watch over your marriage daily! Be vigilant!

It may sound a bit extreme, but learning to be watchful over the vital signs of your marriage can be the difference between a long, strong, happy and healthy marriage and one that comes to a tragically early end.

Take your marriage check-up now!

PS Here are a few additional vital signs that others have shared via Facebook and Twitter:
  • Laughter
  • A glowing smile when we meet
  • Two hearts beating as one
  • Kindness
  • Easy with one another
PPS By an overwhelming margin, communication was mentioned the most. 

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