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Monday, February 22, 2016

Move beyond these familiar and comfortable habits to shift your marriage from good to great.
Do you sometimes feel like your marriage is stuck in neutral? It can happen to any couple, regardless of how long they've been married. We get comfortable in our routines. We slip into familiar patterns that maybe aren't all the healthy or helpful. We lose sight of our purpose. We become roommates.

Humans are creatures of habit. In fact our brains are wired to seek ways to go on autopilot in order to reduce our cognitive load. Autopilot is just easier on our brains. The problem is, autopilot is also hard on your marriage.

From Good to Great

Maybe you would say you have a pretty good marriage. But you know it could be better. You are stuck at good, but you have a feeling that great is out there somewhere. You just aren't sure how to get there.

You've no doubt heard it said that good is the enemy of great. I might say it a little differently. I would say that the thrill of great gets held captive by the comfort of good.

If you want to have a great marriage, you may have to take a few risks and let go of good. By that I mean you may have to let go of some habits that have become very comfortable and familiar, but that have you trapped at good.

The thing with comfort zones is that they are so darn comfortable. We can even fool ourselves into thinking something is comfortable just because it's familiar, even though it may even not be all that enjoyable or satisfying.

Here are four comfort zones where I challenge you to move beyond good and to go for great.

Good #1: We have date nights.

The movie Date Night perfectly portrays what happens when date night becomes a stale habit. The Fosters go to the same restaurant on the same night, eating the same food every week, where they finish each others' sentences and fall into bed without really even touching each other. All the while they are longing for something more.

Dates nights are important, but if it feels like they have become blah, it's time to shake things up a bit. Let go of your normal date night routines. Take turns with planning your dates. Try this four-date sequence next month.  Date #1 he plans something "for her," meaning he tries to consider her desires and interests. Date #2 she plans "for him," and does likewise. Date #3 he plans according to what he would like. Date #4 she plans something that she likes doing.

Commit to doing something new and untried at least once a month. Dress for each other. Include a little date night nookie.

Great #1: Make date night an adventure! (However, I do not suggest getting tangled up with a mob boss, as was the case with the Fosters in the Date Night movie.)

Good #2: We know each other so well.

Knowing each other well is a double-edged sword. While it does allow for a certain amount of ease and comfort in daily interactions, it can also cause us to make assumptions and leap to conclusions. It can make us complacent so that we stop pursuing each other. We can miss it when our spouse grows and changes. We can also start to think it terms of "you never..." or "you always..." instead of seeing things for how they really are (which is probably not actually never or always).

The truth is that there is more intimacy available to you than what you are enjoying right now, regardless of where you are on the spectrum. Don't assume you know all there is to know about your spouse, and don't assume your spouse knows all about you. Practice engaging on a deeper level in every dimension of your marriage: emotional, sexual, spiritual, intellectual, financial, recreational...

My "Intimate Connections for Couples" workbook is a great way to deepen intimacy with fun, easy fill-in-the-blank conversation starters. I've extended my 25% discount through the end of February, so order yours before the discount disappears!

Great #2: Never stop being a student of your spouse. Never stop seeking deeper intimacy.

Good #3: We have sex pretty regularly.

Sexual intimacy is a common area where couples get stuck. Because of the intense vulnerability that comes with sex, it's easy to seek the safety and comfort of the familiar. I mean, even okay sex is pretty darn good, right, so why rock the boat? Why take risks? Why move out of our comfort zone?

Sexual intimacy is the ultimate expression of the oneness of marriage. The vulnerability that accompanies sexual exploration also allows for the deepest possible kind of connection, because genuine intimacy requires vulnerability. Finding new sexual expressions and new ways to enjoy each other physically allows this area of intimacy to continue to grow and strengthen your marriage in a unique and beautiful way. Take delight in generously delighting one another in bed, and often.

Great #3: Make sex a high priority and add something new to the routine once in a while.

Good #4: Our marriage is fair. Everything is 50/50.

Fairness is the wrong measuring stick for a great marriage. When making everything even becomes the goal, it sets up score-keeping and and atmosphere where we withhold until we get our fair share.

God calls us to more. He calls us to sacrificial, unconditional and extravagant love. It's how he loves us, and how we are to love one another, especially in marriage. As Jesus, our bridegroom, laid down his life for his bride, so too are husbands called to lovingly lay down their lives and use their authority to lavishly love, protect and beautify their wives. As the church gives her all to Jesus in unconditional and loving surrender, so to are wives to give themselves wholly to their husbands.

There is nothing in the relationship between Christ and the church that is 50/50, and therefore there should be nothing in marriage that is either. Think of areas where you have tended to hold back from your spouse and find ways to overcome your reticence. Think of ways in which you have not loved as fully or generously as you could because of not having your own needs met, and try giving that love anyway.

Great #4: Go for 100/100 in your marriage - all in and all out!

What other habits of comfort can you think of that couples might need to let go of in order find the greatness that lies beyond? Leave your thoughts in a comment.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It's a special Friday! I'm combining a Friday Favorite post with Friday Freebie giveaway.
I have proposed here on multiple ocassions that intimacy is the primary goal of marriage. I explained why I believe that in today's Friday Favorite post, "What if Intimacy Matters Most?"
It's because of the Bridal Paradigm, which is my understanding of myself as the bride of Christ. It is through that lens that God portrays the perfect picture of marriage. It is through that lens that I see Christ as my Bridegroom, looking for an eternal bride. Christ's pursuit of me, a pursuit that cost him his very life, was not so that I would follow all the religious rules. No, Jesus' pursuit of me was so that I could live in intimacy with him forever as his bride, starting right here and now. (Sorry guys, if you want to be a great husband you will just have to get over yourself and get a clear picture of what it means to be a bride.) 
If Intimacy Really Matters Most

So if you buy into my belief that intimacy is the most important goal in marriage, what should you do about it?

You have to work at it! More from my What If post:
Genuine intimacy in marriage doesn't happen on its own. The natural state of a relationship is not intimacy but coexistence. Left untended, a marriage can easily devolve over time into little more than being excellent roommates.
Focusing on Intimacy Changes Everything

If I really put the goal of intimacy with my wife ahead of everything else in our relationship, a lot of things would have to change.
  • I would no longer see having my personal needs met as the most important thing in our relationship. Instead of asking "What can I get from her?" I would ask, "What can I do to keep us close?"
  • I would not depend on my wife to make me happy and to keep me that way. Instead, I would find the greatest happiness when our intimacy is deepest. I would gladly take the lead in our pursuit of every form of intimacy.
  • Demanding my rights and insisting on my "fair share" would be replaced by looking out for what is best for our marriage and our relationship.
  • When I feel offended or disappointed, instead of reacting by keeping emotional distance, I would press closer to her, seek to understand what is really going on, and do my best to eliminate whatever is standing between us.
  • Instead of giving my wife only my leftovers, after my job and ministry and chores have taken everything out of me, I would make sure I have sufficient physical, emotional, sexual, and mental energy to give the best part of me to her.
Defining Intimacy
(and the Freebie)

If we are going to make intimacy of primary importance in marriage, we probably need to understand what it is.  I have my own ideas, but I would really like to know what you think intimacy is.

So I've created a little giveaway incentive to get you to tell me your thoughts. I'm giving away three copies of my "Intimate Connections for Couples" workbook (spiral bound, hardcopy) to three of you who will give me your thoughts. Enter using the Rafflecopter contest below. You can get exra entries by tweeting about the contest and sharing it on Facebook, but answering the short survey question is required to win.

I'll be posting some of your answers here next week in a follow up post. Don't worry, the survey is entirely anonymous. Contest closes Tuesday at midnight, so click below and enter now!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Friday, February 12, 2016

Love is not simply an emotion you feel. It’s something you choose to wear.

Today's Friday Favorite comes in honor of "The Day of Love" - Valentine's Day.

Sadly, the word "love" is so much overused today that it's lost most of its meaning. Valentines Day marketers make it even worse. In this season, it seems especially important to consider what love actually means, and, more importantly, how we show love.

Today I'm revisiting two posts I wrote as part of my "Dress for Success" series, based on the Colossians 3:9-14 passage that describes how we are to put on our "new self," adorning ourselves with things like patience, kindness, and humility. The New Living Translation of this passage concludes with how we are to put on love above all else:
The most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.
Col 3:14 (NLT)
But what does it mean to "put on love?" Read on...

Did you ever think of love as something you choose to put on, something you wear on purpose?

I love that image, because it refutes the notion that love is just something you feel or don’t feel, a giddy emotion that might be there one day and gone the next.  When you limit love to an emotion, it makes it fickle and fleeting. And if this is love, then it is easy to put the onus of “staying in love” on our partner and their behavior.

When you think of love as something you wear on a daily basis it completely changes the game. It becomes a personal choice.

Where Do You Learn to Wear Love?

How do you put on love? Let me point you to a fabulous piece of advice from scripture. It’s one that I quote often around here:
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Love like that - like Jesus. Yeah, that’s it. He is where you learn to love. Extravagant. Selfless. Giving everything for the sake of intimacy with us. He held nothing back tp pursue His bride. Neither should we hold back in pursuing our spouse.

I’m not kidding about how important getting to know Jesus' love is! The best way to put on love is to put on Jesus. And to do that, you have to know him and be a student of his love.  Here's how the Apostle Paul sums it up a few chapters earlier.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)
The key to fullness in life is also the key to fullness in marriage. Paul makes it clear in this passage that we cannot fully know the dimensions of Christ’s love. It’s a lifelong pursuit. Don’t assume you get it. You don’t. I don’t. We can't. It’s impossible. There is always much more that can be revealed to our “inner being” by the Holy Spirit.

Ten Ways to Dress Yourself with Love

Before I give my list, be aware that your spouse’s love languages play into this greatly (see suggestion one!). What looks like a really nice love outfit to you is likely not the same to your spouse. To wear love well, you have to be a student not only of Jesus and how he loves, but of your husband or wife and what love means to them. This is HUGELY important!
  1. Take the five love languages quiz together if you haven’t already. Do something specific this week to meet your spouse’s top need.
  2. If you are a lower drive wife, pursue your husband by wearing something sexy to bed or by initiating sex. Husbands, pursue your wife by asking her on a date and making all the arrangement or paying her genuine compliments on her appearance, character or deeds. See more pursuit tips on this post.
  3. Choose to make a sacrifice of your own preference in order to honor your spouse’s preference, like picking a movie they would rather watch or a restaurant they would rather go to. But don't play the martyr! See the Relevant Magazine article: What does Laying Down Your Life Really Mean
  4. Do something to serve your husband or wife. Do a chore of theirs they’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Serve him or her breakfast in bed. Thank your spouse for something her or she did to selflessly serve you recently. 
  5. Put your love down on paper. By this I mean write a love letter (not in an email, but using real paper, written by hand). Do it out of the blue, for no special reason except to convey your love. Husbands without the gift of prose can check this link from The Art of Manliness. Here is a link of suggestions for wives from The Intimate Couple.
  6. Share the gift of non-sexual touch. Hold hands. Walk arm in arm. Hug. Give a neck or foot massage while you are watching TV. Be generous with your touch.
  7. Ask an intimate question and be ready to really listen. Husbands, ask “Is there anything I do that makes you feel unloved?”  Wives, ask “Is there anything I do that makes you feel disrespected?”
  8. Give public praise to your spouse. Brag on him or her in front of others. Post a picture of something great they did on Facebook. Tweet your undying devotion. See my post: The Power of Public Praise.
  9. Practice listening well. Make eye contact. Be empathetic. Don’t try to fix everything, but be willing to just be a compassionate shoulder.
  10. Say "I love you"!!  Regularly tell your spouse how much you love and adore him or her. Say it often. Don’t assume they know. And say specifically why!
Of course this list is only a small starting point. Hopefully it got your own creative juices flowing and you will be able to come up with many more ways to put on love for your spouse.

Let me leave you with an amazing YouTube video story of how discovering the meaning of love through encountering Jesus' love and grace restored on couple's marriage.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's not too late to plan something special for Valentines Day! 

At my house we usually do it up big time, but, alas, this year my valentine is half way around the world on a ministry trip. All I could manage was a card and a small box of chocolates in her suitcase.

I know not every couple celebrates Valentines Day, but if you are wanting to celebrate the "day of love" but still don't have a plan, don't worry. I'm here to help you out with links to 20 different posts full of fabulous romantic ideas.

You're not the romantic type, you say? Bah. It's really not that hard. Just read below and get on the ball!

My Best Romantic Valentines Day Ideas

Here a few of my best romantic ideas, personally tested by yours truly and guaranteed to be a hit.

The Numbers Game - What do you love about your husband or wife? Here's your chance to say them all in a fun and creative way. Write down all the reasons you love your spouse, as many as you can think of,  and spend the entire day revealing them all to him or her.  I share specific creative ways to do this!

Romantic Balloon Pop - A really fun one! Think up a dozen little  fun/romantic activities,  love-coupons, or little gifts. Blow up a dozen red, pink and white balloons and put each item, or something representing it, or a clue to where it is hidden inside the balloon. Have your spouse pick a balloon and pop it! You can pop them all at once or spread the fun throughout the day!

Homemade Luxury Spa - No money for a spa gift certificate? No worries. Create your own in-home spa experience! I tell you how. It's not as hard as you might think, and definitely more fun and intimate than any gift certificate!

Romantic Surprise Getaway - No, this one's not for the faint of heart. My lovely wife describes a romantic surprise getaway I planned for her not long ago. This kind of thing can be rather involved, but it's well worth the time and effort, believe me!

You can always search my blog for more romantic ideas.

Love Coupons, Posters and More

Printable cards and coupons are a quick and easy way to say, "I love you." Many of these can be customized for the love of your life.

Printable Candygram Posters from the Dating Divas

Printable Valentine's Day Cards with Bible Verses from Time Warp Wife

Printable Love Coupons from The Marriage Bed

Fill-in-the-Blank Valentine’s Love Notes from the Dating Divas

More Lists and Ideas

Here is a list of lists, full of ideas too numerous to count.

14 Romantic Valentine’s Day Date Ideas from Fulfilling Your Vows

Six Valentine’s Day gifts your husband actually wants from Dave Willis

Romantic Valentine Ideas from Debi at the Romantic Vineyard

What I Really Want for Valentine’s Day (Maybe You Do Too) from J at Hot, Holy & Humorous

15 Manly Gifts to Give Your Guy This Valentines (Real Ideas From a Guy) from Intentional Today

Top Marriage Book Picks from Hot, Holy and Humorous (It's a Christmas post, but the idea definitely works in the V-day context). 

Valentines Day Thoughts

These posts aren't exactly gift ideas in the traditional sense, but they may inspire some ideas.

The Ultimate Valentine's Gift from The Generous Husband

What Women Rally Want for Valentine's Day from the Dating Divas

How to Make it a Valentine’s Day He Won’t Forget by Debi of The Romantic Vineyard on the Engaged Marriage blog

3 Things I Am Doing For My Husband Leading Up To Valentine’s Day from Unveiled Wife

Here's are two posts I wrote for Valentines Day a while back:
So there they are. All the Valentines Day resources you could need. I'm sure there is something for everyone among these links. There's still plenty of time left to make this Valentines Day a memorable one!

Do you have a Valentines Day idea to share with our readers? Help us out and leave a comment!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Today I'm starting a new feature called Friday Favorites. On most Fridays I'll be going back in time and revisiting some of my most-viewed older posts. If you are new around here, you'll definitely want to check them out.

Today's Friday Favorite post is an all time top 25 post about kissing, 10 Ways to Change Up Your Kissing Routine. I've also mashed it together with parts of this post: Why a Kiss is Not Just A Kiss.

If "a kiss is just a kiss" then you are doing it wrong.

To me, a kiss is:
  • An intimate physical expression of the oneness you share
  • A publicly acceptable way of showing affection for your spouse
  • Eliminates emotional space between your by eliminating physical space
  • As close as you can get to each other without actually having sex
  • A great way to keep your physical relationship on simmer
  • A cheap, fat-free, sugar-free, guilt-free treat. It can, however, be habit forming
Science Daily claims that a University of Albany study "found sex differences in the importance and type of kissing. Males tended to kiss as a means to an end -- to gain sexual favors or to reconcile. In contrast, females kiss to establish and monitor the status of their relationship, and to assess and periodically update the level of commitment on the part of a partner."

Ten ways to change up your kissing routine

1) Kiss across a crowded room - Some enchanted evening, catch your spouse's eye across a room full of people. Smile, pucker your lips make a kissing gesture toward him or her.  It tells your partner that you are thinking of them and loving them despite the crush of humanity between you.

2) Nibble Kiss - Add a little variety by nibbling or gently biting your spouse's lower lip after a more tender kiss.

3) French Kiss - A famously promoted but seldom mastered kiss where your tongues dance together. The trick here is to go slowly and not simply thrust your tongue wildly (that's fine for later, after things heat up). Tease his or her lips with the tip of your tongue. Probe gently and wait for a response before taking things up a notch.

4) Possessive Kiss - Catch your lover off guard by transforming a simple short kiss into a hot, deeply sensual kiss. Wrap your arms around him or her, hold them tightly and kiss like you mean it! This sends the message "you are mine!"

5) Earlobe Kiss - Not  everyone likes their ears messed with, but those who do would love to have their earlobes nibbled gently. Whisper a sweet nothing while your are there. Careful though, loud smacking kisses near the ear can really hurt!

6) Cold Kiss - Use and ice cube or mint to cool your mouth before you kiss. It provides an interesting sensation. If your partner is game it can be very sensual to pass it between you with your tongue while you kiss.

7) Nuzzling Kiss - When things are heating up, leave a trail of gentle kisses down one side of your partner's neck and back up the other side. You'll be sure to send tingles through his or her body.

8) Show and Tell Kiss - Ask your partner to describe his or her favorite kiss, and then try to deliver it.

9) Upside-Down Kiss - Catch your partner laying down and approach him or her with your head opposite theirs for an interesting kissing sensation.

10) Almost Kiss - Bring your lips close together and see how long you can go without actually touching.

Take a Kissing Challenge

Kissing Challenge #1 - Makeout Session

See if you can spend ten minutes in a good old fashioned make-out session. Can you make it the full ten minutes with only kissing, nothing more? What you do after the ten minutes is up is totally up to you!

Kissing Challenge #2 - A Kiss to Remember All Day

When your husband/wife leaves for work today (or some other opportune time) give him/her a kiss he’ll/she'll remember all day. Make it at least 10 or 15 seconds. Wrap your arms tightly around him/her and press your bodies together. Your goal should be to see if you can make your spouse dizzy. Later in the day, call, text or email them to say that you have another kiss like that waiting for when they arrive home. Make sure you follow up and give that second kiss.

Are you a kissing couple? Do you need to improve your kissing game? Do you have a favorite kiss? Kiss and tell, it's okay! Leave a comment.

In case you missed it from my last post, I've got a special 25% off introductory sale going on for my fun, new workbook, "Intimate Connections for Couples." Special ends on Valentines Day, so hurry!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

There is no better way to experience date night oneness than through sexual intimacy.

I'm wrapping up my Date Night series today with a post about the ultimate expression of marital intimacy. That's right, we're talking about date night sex.

The whole reason I've taken a month to encourage you to improve your date night habits this year is so that your marriage will experience deeper intimacy. Regular, dedicated and focused one-on-one time is essential if you are going to grow closer together as a couple.

Since closeness is what we are after, there is no better way to experience it than through sexual intimacy. It's the ultimate expression of marital oneness.

Who Has Date Night Nooky?

Surprisingly, couples who took my Date Night Survey reported that sex was part of date night less than half the time. More surprisingly, men and women reported the same overall percentage of sexual activity (the Grand Total in the chart below). This stands in stark contrast the results of my Sexual Satisfaction Survey, in which the men generally reported having a lot less sex than the women.
But here is one area where husbands and wives did differ significantly. For men, the less frequently the couple had dates, the lower percentage of those dates included sexual activity. For wives who went on dates once a month or more, the opposite was true. For example, for couples who had weekly dates, men reported that 60% of their dates included sex, whereas for wives sex happened only 43% of the time. Those who dated once per month, wives reported that 63% of their dates included sex, but for husbands it was only 45%.

Perhaps its just a statistical anomaly, But if you can explain that disconnect I'd love to hear your theory!

Learn to Be More Intentional

I don't think that every date needs to include sexual activity. However, I would suggest that you and your spouse be intentional about including physical intimacy much of the time.


Well, I would ask, why not? Seriously. Unless there is a reason not to, try to make a sexual connection part of most date nights (or date mornings).

How can you make a sexual connection more likely?

For the low-drive spouse (typically but not always the wife), date-night nooky starts in your mind. Instead of dreading the possibility, embrace the idea of an unmatched intimate connection with your spouse. Think of it as a way to bless your spouse with the gift of your body. No one wants begrudging charity sex - your spouse will certainly know. Spend some time in advance of date night thinking positive sexual thoughts and preparing yourself mentally for a wonderful encounter. You might even want to mention to your spouse how you are looking forward to making love in a text, note, or phone call.

For the high-drive spouse (typically but not always the husband), focus your thoughts on the non-sexual connection you'll be making with your spouse during the date. Don't make the mistake of thinking date night is simply a way to get sex! Your spouse will know and likely be offended. For improving your connection during the date, consider getting a copy of my brand new Intimate Connections workbook and using one or more of the pages to spark some intimacy-building conversations.

I hope you've found the date night series helpful and an encouragement for you to make 2016 a year where you do a better job of dating each other more consistently and creatively. I plan to revisit this topic from time to time with date-night ideas and maybe a few reports on some of our own date nights. We might even have a date night contest at some point.

If you've found the series helpful in some way or if it has spurred you to be more proactive in dating your spouse, please let me know with a comment.

Check out the earlier posts in the Date Night Series:
  1. Read why date night is so important go read my first post in this series. Why You Need to Keep (or Start) Dating in 2016
  2. For some ideas on how to plan date nights and what most couples do (and want to do more), check out my second post. Making the Most of Date Night
  3. My third post explains how home dates can be a great way to overcome common date night obstacles: Overcoming Date Night Obstacles with Home Dates

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