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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take small steps every day to positively change the culture of your marriage.

As I said last time, the future course of your marriage will be greatly influenced by its culture. Your marriage culture is defined by the beliefs, values, attitudes, achievements and activities that surround your marriage. I tossed out some questions around these in my last post, hoping to prompt you to give some consideration to your current culture.

The Middle French origin of the word culture comes from "cultivate" and is associated with tending, guarding and tilling. Think of culture of your marriage is like a garden: the way you cultivate the soil of your marriage will determine the health of the fruit and the beauty of the flowers it produces.

Want a healthy, beautiful marriage? Check your culture!

Regardless of where your marriage culture is at this point, below I'll offer three simple ideas that will be a positive influence on it. You might be in a marriage where you feel like you are one making all the effort. I understand that it's a hard place to be, but the truth is that you can influence the culture of your marriage in a positive way without your spouse buying into the need for change. Of course it's better if both of you work on your culture together. Progress will be easier if you are both pulling in the same direction, but you have more power than you think you do.

I'm going to suggest that you do each of these three simple things every day for two weeks. Do them regardless of your spouse's reaction or lack of one.

1)  Do Something Generous

Especially after you've been married a long time, it's easy to fall into a habit of doing things for your spouse and expecting something in return. It's pretty natural, but that's not the kind of generosity I'm suggesting here. Find some small, deliberate act that you know your spouse would appreciate and do it solely with the intention to bless him or her. Do it with a smile and warm heart (they will know if you are doing it reluctantly).

Your act of kindness doesn't have to be anything huge. In fact, it's better and more sustainable if it's not. You know your spouse better than anyone else, so you probably already know how to bless them. Just get intentional about doing the things you know they would appreciate. Brainstorm a little and make a list.

For example, many wives appreciate things like five or ten minutes of focused time together, a date night that you plan, a surprise communication from you (text, email, phone call) during the day "just because" If you know she is worn out (or even if she isn't), give her a or a neck or foot rub, lend a hand with the kids or housework, bring her a cup of tea or glass of wine and insist that she rest, or draw her a bath. Bring her a small gift or treat that lets her know your were thinking of her during the day. Offer to pray with her.

For many husbands, having you initiate sexual intimacy is high on their list. If that feels like too much for where you are, try just wearing an outfit you know he likes or his favorite scent. Non-sexual touch, like holding hands, sitting close, or a back rub are things like that say to him "I love you, and I care about you our physical closeness." Learn to flirt a little. Give him a warm greeting when he comes home. Even if you can't always follow through, showing your husband this kind of attention will go a long way.

Do something that shows respect, which is a key need for most husbands. If you tend to be strongly opinionated about things, try letting him take the lead on something without resistance, maybe even ask him to. If you ask him for help with something, thank him for his efforts and do not criticize him.

The words you use are important. Your tongue is a powerful weapon for good or bad; wield it carefully and intentionally to bless and encourage. 

2) Say Something Kind

I did a survey a while back where I asked husbands and wives what their one most important need was and what having that need met would look like. Many of the answers I got really came down to wanting to have words of kindness sincerely expressed to them from their spouses. The desire for appreciation and affirmation came through loud and clear as unmet needs for both men and women, although they tended to express it somewhat differently.

For men, being appreciated for the work they do for the family was important (not that the same isn't important for women, it just tends to be more part of the male identity). Ask him about his job, and be interested and supportive. Feeling regularly criticized was painful for many of the men who took my survey. So during these two weeks, avoid criticism and instead find things to thank and praise your husband for. Thank him for things he does. Tell him something you love about him. Admire him for who he is.

Wives tended to want similar kindness from their husbands. Whereas for husband such needs were expressed as part of feeling respected and trusted, for wives it tended to be seen as part of feeling cared for and to a lesser extend appreciated. Kind words of tenderness mean more when accompanied by things like eye contact, a smile, a hug or other kind physical gesture. Thank your wife for all she does for you and the family, but also tell her you what you love about her. Admire her for who she is.

Regularly practicing kind words and gestures will do more to change the culture of your marriage than anything else.

3)  Ask A Sincere Question

When relationships get stuck on autopilot, one of the things that goes is engaging and meaningful conversation. Topics tend toward the functional and not so much the relational, emotional and spiritual.

So come up with a list of engaging questions for your spouse. Be sure these are things you really do want to talk about, though. Your spouse will spot insincerity, and that could do more harm than good. Here are some good open ended conversation-starting questions of the type I"m talking about:

  • What is the one country you want to visit more than any other and why?
  • What was the best part of your day today? What was the worst part?
  • What did you think of the sermon on Sunday?
  • What is happening (or what are you learning) in the book you are reading now?
  • What is something that is concerning you that I can pray for you about?
  • What is one thing I could do that would say "I love you" to you?

The idea here is to engage the emotions and the spirit and not just the mind.

There are few guarantees when it comes to human relationships, but I sincerely believe you will see your marriage begin to shift slightly toward a more positive culture if you do these three things consistently. The point is not that you have to be 100% every day. The point is to do most of these on most days. Then watch what happens. You'll be surprised at the noticeable shift.

What do you think of my three daily culture changing ideas? What others might you add? Chime in with a comment.

Image credit: yanc /

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is the culture in your marriage giving you the kind of marriage you want?

Over the next two posts we are going to be exploring culture. No, not what's happening in society, but rather I'll be encouraging you to take a closer look at the culture that exists within your marriage.

Why is your marriage's culture important? Allow me to borrow a few phrases from the business improvement book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, by Roger Connor and Tom Smith.
Every organization [marriage] has a culture, which either works for you or against you.
Either you manage the culture or it will manage you.
The culture of your marriage will largely determine the future course of your relationship with your spouse.

In a post I did a few years ago, What is the Culture of Your Marriage?, I made the claim that "a pound of culture is worth 10 pounds of strategy." What I meant by that is that if you get the culture right, strategy becomes less critical. The truth is that your actions and words tend to line up more with your culture than with your strategy, plans and intentions.

Your marriage has the culture you and your spouse let happen. You either shaped it intentionally toward what you wanted it to be or it defaulted to something else. Obviously it's better to purposefully craft your culture, but to do that it's helpful to first understand where you are.

Below are five questions that will give you insight into the culture that surrounds your marriage:

1) What do you believe about your marriage? 

Connor says in his book that transformational change doesn't happen until you change what you believe. It's true in business. It's true in your faith walk. And it's true in your marriage.

So what do you believe?

Do you still believe in the vows your made on your wedding day? Believe it or not, they become more important the longer you are married. Do you believe that marriage is a convenient social institution or do you understand it to be a holy union personally designed by God to be reflection of his love relationship with us?

Do you believe your marriage is primarily for what you get out of it, or do you understand that it's about more than your personal happiness?

Do you buy the lie of inevitable marital decline, that all marriage devolve into roommate status? Do you believe that you can have as much intimacy as you desire and that there is always more available to you than what you are walking in right now?

Changing your actions without changing your belief system is unsustainable. As Connor explains, belief is the difference between investment and mere involvement.

 2)  What do you and your spouse value most?

What is most important to you? Family? Faith? Finances? How do your value priorities differ from those of your spouse?

When a couple has differing value priorities, it inevitably creates stress and tension in the marriage. How do you navigate these differences? Do you have a culture of honor, where you respect what is important to your spouse even when it is not something you care that much about? Does your spouse do the same for you?

3) What is your attitude toward your marriage and your spouse?

Attitude is the way you express and apply your beliefs and values.

What would people say about your marriage by observing your behavior? Do you act in a manner consistent with your values and beliefs?

Do you maintain an attitude of grace when your spouse seems to act in a way that is our of character makes a misstep? Or do you hold onto resentments and let them build up to an eventual explosion?

4) How do you steward your marriage?

How do you spend your time, money and energy? These say a lot about your actual values, perhaps despite what you say is important. We all struggle getting priorities right sometimes, but on balance, your marriage needs to be the second most important relationship in your life next to Jesus. Your spouse and God are the only two beings you have a covenant relationship with. Do you treat them that way?

What activities characterize your marriage? Do you still date each other? Do you still pursue each other? Do you have shared interests?

5) What is the main goal of your marriage?

This is a critical question that many couples never bother to ask of each other. Not having a common understanding of the main goal of your marriage means you are likely never to attain it. You may even be heading in the opposite direction.

In my post Is Happiness the Right Goal in Marriage I proposed some possible goals for your marriage: selfless surrender, oneness, reaching your full potential, having joy and peace, or holiness. In What If Intimacy Matters Most? I explained my belief that intimacy is actually the most important goal of marriage. Do you agree?

Having a common goal or set of goals for your marriage can greatly impact its culture.

It isn't my intent to judge  your answers to these questions. I ask them to encourage you to take stock for yourself and see if the culture in your marriage is getting you the kind of marriage you want.

Next time we'll look at three simple ways to help shift the culture of your marriage in a  positive direction.

Until then, I challenge you to reduce all this to three words that best describe the culture of your marriage. It's a worthwhile exercise.  If you feel bold, leave your three word answer in a comment.

Wives Only: The men's ministry of my church is having a conference in September. Ahead of that we are taking a survey about what is important to wives. Will you help us out and take two minutes to complete the quick survey?

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