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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

You have the chance to agree with heaven's definition of who your spouse is.

By the title, of course, I don't mean whose name appears on your marriage license. I mean do you know who they really are; who God created them to be? Can you see him or her the way  heaven does?

This is a follow up to last week's "Who Are You?" post.

So why spend time discussing identity on a marriage blog? It's because identity is one of those hidden forces that affects your marriage every day. It's foundational.

Your identity affects how you view yourself and others. It affects how you (or how you don't) express and receive love. Believing lies about your identity will hold you back in your marriage, your career, parenting, ministry and every other dimension of your life in which God wishes you to thrive.

Who is Your Spouse?

Yes, it's important to understand who God says you are. It's also really important to understand who God says your spouse is.

Do you look at your spouse as God does? Who is he/she at the core of their being? It's a hugely important question.

Your spouse's identity affects the way you interact with each other on a daily basis.
  • What says "I love you" to him or her.
  • What are his or her aspirations and dreams?
  • What makes him or her feel joy?
  • What causes him or her to feel valued and appreciated?
One of the biggest reasons for you to really "get" your spouse's identity is to help him or her fight against "identify fraud." The enemy (sometime referred to in scripture as the accuser) loves to feed us lies about our identity. Your spouse needs your help combating those lies.

Seeking to Change and Control

I'll come right out and say this, because it's important. Identity fraud doesn't just come from the enemy. It can also come from our own spouse.

There is a natural tendency in marriage to try and change or control our spouses so they conform to who we want them to be. We all do it from time to time. Most often this revolves around trying to get our needs met in some way or to get him or her to love us in the way we want to be loved.

We've probably all heard that trying to change your spouse is mostly futile. You can't actually control someone else. You may be successful at manipulating their behavior to suit your expectations and wants for a short time, but in the long term it's just not sustainable, and it isn't love.

More than likely, in truth, trying to control or change our spouses will often produce the very opposite of what we want.

Agreeing with God

Ultimately, your goal should be to agree with the true identity God has placed in your spouse.

I wrote last time about the two kinds of truth we want to agree with. There are those important universal truths that describes our identity in Christ as believers. And then there are the truths about your spouse as an individual. It's important to have an understanding of both.

There's more to tapping into your spouse's identity than just being a careful observer. Sure that can help, but if that is all your rely on, it equates behavior with identity, and we all know that we sometimes act out of an immature expression of our identity. When you know who your spouse really is at the core of their being, you have the opportunity to spur him or her on to walk in their true identity.

Knowing your spouse's true identity is what allows you to have grace toward them when their actions fail to line up with who they really are.

You have the opportunity to be a powerful ally with heaven in reminding your spouse of the truth. 

Here is a great song about identity by Jason Gray, "Remind Me Who I Am."

Can't see the video? Watch it here.

Friday, March 25, 2016

When you have a plan, every day becomes an opportunity to move toward your destination.
I've been a fan of Michael Hyatt for years. One reason is that he is someone who frequently talks in his books, posts and podcasts about the importance of his marriage and his obvious love for his wife.

Hyatt's latest book, Living Forward, co-authored by Daniel Harkavy, is not a marriage book, per se. But it is a book that could greatly impact your marriage.

The Danger of Drift

I've written here before on the troublesome tendency we all have to put our marriage on autopilot. Living Forward expands that notion to the entirety of your life.

The problem with drifting is that it almost never takes us where we want and hope to go. It's true in marriage, and it's true in life.

Living Forward takes you on a very purposeful journey to develop what the authors call a Life Plan. Developing a Life Plan is a structured process that helps you allocate your attention, effort, time and resources to your identified priorities, which the book refers to as Life Accounts.

Your Marriage Account

One of the first steps in the process is to identify the "Life Accounts" you value most, to make an assessment of the current "balance" in each account, and then to assign priority to each. The rest of the process of writing your life plan walks you through making goals and plans for each account.

Obviously, as a marriage advocate, I encourage you to place a high priority on your marriage account. Further, I encourage you to take this opportunity to imagine your marriage as it could be, rather than settling for your marriage as it is. There is always deeper intimacy and more passion to be enjoyed in any marriage, regardless of the current state.

You can take the first steps toward developing your life plan using this free online assessment of your life accounts here:  Living Forward Assessment.  The results will make more sense once you read the book, but the assessment is useful for identifying life accounts that need some work.

You can order your copy of the book from Amazon using the links below:
After you place your order, you can receive $47 worth of free bonuses by going here:  Living Forward Bonuses

The Friday Freebie

I'm giving away a copy of Living Forward as a Friday Freebie. Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received the a copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Links above may be monetized in support of this ministry. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God's idea of who you are is the only one that really matters.

The truth is that we all tend to allow ourselves to be defined by others. It starts when we are young, with our parents and family members. We grow up and start giving others permission to shape the way we see ourselves: teachers, bosses, spouse, friends, sometimes even total strangers.

But who really defines you?

There is only One who can most accurately and completely define you: the One who made you.

God specifically fashioned you into who you are. Your skills and abilities, your quirks, your personality, and all that makes you who you are. He put these in you for a purpose, and He has a great plan for how these can be used for His glory and for your blessing. And, I might add, He really likes you.

Wait, you say, but I have all this stuff in me that I don't like. What about my weaknesses, my flaws and failings? Well, let me assure you  that none of these catch God by surprise. Let me further assure you that when God looks at you, through eyes that know no time, he sees you as he intended you to be in fullness and completeness. He sees past your flaws and failings and into your perfection. 

And He never stops drawing you by the Holy Spirit toward Himself, so that you might discover your true identity.

Finding Out What God Says

If we are going to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and walk in the fullness of who God made us to be, it's really helpful to know how He sees us. His is the only completely valid definition.

Here are two ways to approach our quest to see ourselves as God does.

The first is to understand what the Bible says about all of us as followers of Christ. There are tons of promises that shed light on God's perspective and His deep emotions about you and me.
  • We are completely forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)
  • We are free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)
  • We ravish his heart with one glance of our eyes (Song 4:9)
  • We are deeply loved (John 17:23)
  • We are one with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
These are just a few of the amazing truths found in God's Word about who we are in Jesus.

When God Speaks About You

The second part of understanding how God sees you is to grasp how He uniquely looks at you and you alone, in addition to the general truths we just mentioned.

The cool thing is that we can ask him to show us! God is a good Father, and He has really awesome and amazing things to say to us about who we are as His children. Have you ever asked him to show you and waited on Him to speak to your heart?

I've never heard the audible voice of the Lord, but there are many other ways in which I have heard him speak.
  • The Word - specific passages that the Lord highlights to reveal truths that God wants to emphasize about me.
  • Pictures - God has frequently used images in my mind to convey truths to my heart that go beyond words.
  • Music and worship - God touches me deeply through music, because he made me a musician, and He has a musical spirit.
  • Impressions - The Holy Spirit has imparted feelings and emotions to my heart directly.
  • Dreams - I don't dream often, but I have had a few that were clearly from God.
  • Visions - similar to dreaming while I'm awake or a moving version of pictures.
Understanding the heart of God toward you may come from one of these, a combination of several ways, or something different altogether. The main thing is to seek and ask and be open to hearing in different ways. Believe that the Father really wants to speak to you, because your identity is hugely important to Him.

Others can also help you understand the heart of God toward you, but use caution. Not everything that people tell you about your identity will necessarily agree with God. Test it. Pray about it, seek confirmation and clarity. Only receive from those whose spiritual discernment you trust.

Your Spouse's Role

Because you and your spouse are one, he or she may know you better than anyone else. However, if they only define you by what they see in the natural, then they are only getting a partial picture.

Your spouse does not get to define who you are. They can agree with what God says about you and support you walking toward that, or they can deny it. But they aren't free to define you outside of what God says about you.

I actually think it's really important for us all to also ask God to show us how He sees our spouse - to earnestly seek revelation. But that's my next post.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How you and your spouse define intimacy makes a difference in your quest to attain it. 

I'm wrapping up my intimacy series today with a final look at the findings from my "What is Intimacy?" survey.

It seems every couple wants more intimacy, although a husband and wife may define it differently. I think that God hardwired each of us to desire intimacy. It's in our nature because it's in his nature, and we are made in his image. 

As I've said previously, I believe deep and abiding intimacy is the highest goal of every marriage.

See the end of this post for more on this fascinating study.

Hardwired for Intimacy

This innate need for intimacy is not just my personal opinion. I recently heard of a scientific study that followed the lives of 714 men for 75 years, starting in 1938, in an attempt to understand what makes for a happy, healthy life. Three keys to happiness, as reported in the study, were:
  • Close relationship with family and friends matter more than money or fame or high achievement (loneliness is toxic)
  • High quality relationships matter more than a large quantity of them
  • Stable, supportive marriages actually improve brain function and memory
In summary, close intimate relationships, including marriage, are the key to long term happiness and health.

The Differences

In my own, rather non-scientific survey, I asked people to define intimacy, then I asked them how satisfied they were with the intimacy in their marriage, as they had just defined it.

I'll preface these remarks with the admission that people's answers to those two questions don't provide enough insight into individual relationships to be able to understand all the underlying intimacy issues. However, it's easy to see that those who reported themselves as satisfied (either somewhat, mostly or completely) with the intimacy in their marriage and those who said they were dissatisfied (either somewhat, mostly or completely) differed most in their definition of intimacy in five areas:

Three keys to satisfaction

Lets look first at three significant areas where those who reported being most satisfied with the intimacy in their marriage differed in their description of intimacy from those who were less satisfied. (Where the blue bars in the chart are higher than the orange bars in the chart).

1) Oneness

In total, more than half of those who were satisfied with marital intimacy described it as including things like oneness, closeness and being connected at a deep level. They also frequently mentioned that this connection extends to physical, emotional and spiritual (see the next two difference). This compares to only one in three of those who were less satisfied with intimacy who included such descriptions.

Takeaway:  Intimacy is about connection.

2) Spiritual intimacy

The second biggest area of difference between satisfied and unsatisfied respondents was in the area of spiritual intimacy. Those who included the aspect of spiritual oneness when describing intimacy, were significantly more likely (38% vs 22%) to report being satisfied with the intimacy in their relationship.

This makes sense to me, because I believe that limiting intimacy to just the physical and emotional dimensions of your being will leave a significant hole in the level of connectedness a couple can experience

Takeaway:  Spiritual intimacy is essential. It completes the picture.

3) Whole being oneness

The last are of difference (blue bars vs. orange bars) is among those who described intimacy as being experienced in the whole of your being -  body, soul and spirit. Those who understood this were more likely to be satisfied (33%) than unsatisfied (22%) compared to those who limited their definition of intimacy to taking one or two areas. Most often, the missing dimension, as mentioned in number 2 above, was the spiritual dimension.

In truth, intimacy goes beyond the three areas that came out most prominently in the survey (physical, emotional and spiritual). It also includes, but is not limited to, financial intimacy (shared finances), recreational intimacy (shared fun), intellectual intimacy (shared learning) and more.

Takeaway: Intimacy happens best when it includes the entirety of your being - wholehearted intimacy.

Two  Unmet Needs

Now lets look at two areas where the orange bars (dissatisfied with intimacy) were higher than the blue bars (satisfied with intimacy) in the chart. I would equate these to unmet needs in the relationship.

4) Vulnerability

I touched on vulnerability in my last post.  The survey results showed that wives were significantly more like to describe intimacy with words like vulnerability, transparency and openness than were husbands. I also observed that wives, on whole, were less satisfied with the intimacy in their marriages than were husbands. Putting these two differences together, we can see from the chart above that those looking for vulnerability from their mate were more likely to report dissatisfaction with intimacy.

Takeaway: Intimacy requires fully knowing each other, and is especially important for husbands to understand about their wives.

5) Time

The last significant difference between those who were satisfied vs. dissatisfied with intimacy were those who defined intimacy in terms of time spent together. Clearly, those needing time with their partner in order to feel connected were more likely to report themselves as dissatisfied with the intimacy in their marriage. Perhaps these are individuals for whom quality time is their love language but who are not having that need met.

Takeaway: If time spent together is important to your spouse, it needs to be a priority for you as well.

As you and your spouse journey down the path of intimacy, I hope this little series has been helpful and that it has prompted some good conversation between you. If you'd like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment.

Related Links:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

If you want more intimacy in your marriage, you better find out what it is.

Thank you to everyone who took my "What is Intimacy?" poll in the past few weeks. I've digested the answers to date and would like to share them with you, because they point to some suggestions for those seeking to deepen the intimacy in their marriage.

In case you missed the last few posts on intimacy, let me catch you up.

In Part 1 of this little series on intimacy in marriage "What is Intimacy?"  I suggested that intimacy is what matters most in marriage. In fact, I believe that intimacy is the primary purpose and goal of every marriage.

In Part 2, I described the Path of Intimacy and the Path of Separation, and the fact that you are on one path or the other. In that post, I also told you that the average survey respondent, regardless of how long they've been married, reported only being "somewhat satisfied" with the level of intimacy they have with their spouse.

Let's dig a little deeper into this intimacy question.

The Male/Female Intimacy Gap

There is a definite satisfaction gap between the husbands and the wives who took my survey.
The percentage of those reporting dissatisfaction (mostly or completely) were similar, at 16% for men and 15% for women. However, there were a lot fewer wives (43%) compared to husbands (61%) who were mostly or completely satisfied with their current level of intimacy. This difference translated to a similar, but opposite difference in those only somewhat satisfied or somewhat dissatisfied, labeled as the "middle group" in the chart above.

So what might explain this male/female difference? Lets look at how men and women answered the question, "What is Intimacy?" Of those in the satisfied and middle group, both men and women used words like "closeness," "oneness" and "connected" to describe intimacy (54% of husbands and 44% of wives).

However, in the same two groups, wives overwhelming referred more often to things like transparency, vulnerability, trust and safety when describing intimacy (53% of wives compared to only 8% of husbands). A stunning difference!

Bottom line: a wife will be less satisfied with marital intimacy unless it includes genuinely knowing each other at a deep level. It is no surprise, I suppose, that men, who are often less inclined to divulge and discuss their feelings, place a lower value on such aspects of  intimacy. But they do so at the cost of their wives the satisfaction of true intimacy on their terms.

What is True Intimacy?

The main question of the survey was an open-ended, free-form question, but I made an attempt to classify the answers into groups, as indicated in the chart below. There was a surprising amount of commonality.
Physical intimacy was included in more responses than any other (46%), followed by emotional (39%) then spiritual (32%). I separately noted those who included all 3 as well (28%).  Tied for most common answer, at 46%, was some variation of oneness. Similar words put into this group of answers were, "closeness" and "connection."

Some form of vulnerability was mentioned by 42% of respondents. Similar words included here are being "transparent," "honesty" and "openness." These responses often included the notion of not being judged and being accepted and loved, regardless of what is revealed.

Coming in at under 10% each were spending time together, being aware and tuned-in to each other, and meeting each others' needs.

Does all this tell us what true intimacy is? Not really.

Sure, I believe that true intimacy is the enjoyment of being fully known and completely loved. I believe that intimacy needs to take place in the whole of your being (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.)

Yet, my definition isn't what matters. What matters is what you and your spouse think intimacy is. 

Discovering Deeper Intimacy

Whether you agree with me about the importance of intimacy to your marriage, chances are better than not that you aren't experiences all the intimacy you want with your spouse.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

If you are after more intimacy, then you need to be pretty sure you know what it is. And as I said, you need to know what it is to you, and more importantly, to your spouse. So ask him or her.  Ask, "What is intimacy to you?" Listen. Really listen. Chances are there will be some ways in which your idea of intimacy differs from your spouse. That's okay. It's important to understand where you differ.

But most important and most helpful of all is to ask a follow up question: "What can I do to help us experience a deeper level of the kind of intimacy you desire?" Then be intentional about doing those things on a regular basis.

If you want more intimacy in your marriage, you are going to have to do some things differently than you've been doing them.

Next time we'll take a look at the differences between satisfied and dissatisfied couples when it comes to how they describe intimacy. Theses differences offer some good insight as to where we might look for deepening intimacy.

In the mean time, I've got a great new intimacy-building resource available called "Intimate Connections for Couples." Get the workbook now on my Amazon storefront and start using the conversation starting questions to move your marriage down the Path of Intimacy.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sustaining intimacy in marriage is all about the daily choices we make.

Today's Friday Favorite post is an all-time top ten post that examines the truth that the intimacy in your marriage is either growing or declining - and you get to choose which.

Next week I'll be sharing some more from the "What is Intimacy?" poll responses I received last week, but for now I'll just share this chart.
What it tells me is that regardless of how long they've been married, on average couples are less than fully satisfied with the level of intimacy in their marriage - only "somewhat satisfied." There was surprisingly little variation over the years of marriage. (Exception: the one person who took the poll who was in their first year of marriage was "completely satisfied").

There is lots of room for improvement in the area of intimacy!!

Building and maintaining intimacy requires consistent attentiveness to your marriage. There is a natural drift onto The Path of Separation that happens when we take our eyes off the goal of having a deeper connection.

Check out this Friday Favorite post and the links to the whole intimacy series. Then determine to take some concrete action to put and keep your marriage on The Path of Intimacy.

By the way, if you haven't taken  my "What is Intimacy" poll you can still add your answers to the results. Take it here.

From the original post: Choosing the Path of Intimacy

Intimacy is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny. But strange funny.

Ask a dozen people what it is, and you’ll get 13 different answers. Men and women tend to define intimacy differently, and I think there are also some generational differences in how people look at it. It’s elusive and hard to pin down. If you ask a married couple if they are feeling intimate with their spouse at any given time, they will probably tell you how they feel (yes/no/somewhat), but they may not be able to say exactly why.

As elusive as it seems, most everyone seems to understand its importance to marriage.  As my new reader survey results continue to show, intimacy is one of the most sought after topics on my blog. So even though I've touched on it periodically, I decided it's time to really give the topic the attention it is due.

Intimacy is a Living Thing

It is important to understand that intimacy is organic; it’s a living thing. As such it is either growing or dying. Very few living things can stay dormant for very long and still survive.

Regardless of how you define intimacy, you are either growing toward each other or growing away from each other as a couple. I look at this dynamic as a couple either being either on the Path of Intimacy or on the Path of Separation. And make no mistake; you are on one or the other.

The Path of Separation

When left to inertia and natural human tendencies, intimacy will tend to decline. It just doesn’t happen on its own. It takes a conscious effort to get on and stay on the Path of Intimacy, whereas the Path of Separation is easy to enter and even easier to stay on.

This is why so many couples seem to wake up one day suddenly asking themselves questions like: “where has the passion gone?” or “why does he always treat me like that?” or “why doesn’t she trust me?” or “why does he leave everything to me?” or “does she always have to be such a nag?” or “isn’t she attracted to me any more?”

The Path of Separation that leads to these questions can be a subtle one. You may be on it for months or even years before you realize that you are in a marriage that lacks the kind of intimacy and passion you once had; the kind of intimacy and passion you desire. Often by that time old habits and patterns of thinking are deeply ingrained, making it difficult to reverse course and get back on the Path of Intimacy.

But it is possible. Very possible.

The Path of Intimacy

Wouldn’t you rather wake up one day saying things like: “Wow, I didn’t know it could be that good after all these years,” or “I can’t believe we are still so in love,” or “this just keeps getting better and better,” or “I’m so thankful I married my best friend,” or “You are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I plan to spend some time on the important topic of how to choose the Path of Intimacy. I want to look at how the choices we make either put us on the right or wrong path when it comes to intimacy. I want to examine things that destroy intimacy and things that build it up.

If you desire a more deeply intimate marriage, stick around for this series and join in on the discussion.

Index to the rest of the Intimacy Series:
  1. Intimacy - It's Not What You Think!
  2. Intimacy - Choose Trust
  3. Intimacy - Choose to Lose the Shame
  4. Intimacy - As Much as You Want
  5. Intimacy - The Most Important Ingredient

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