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Friday, May 27, 2016

Never stop working toward deeper intimacy!

I posted another popular intimacy post, Choosing the Path of Intimacy, in a Friday Favorite a few months ago. Below is another top twenty post from that same series on intimacy.

From the original post "Intimacy - As Much as You Want."

This is the fifth in my series on choices that lead to The Path of Intimacy. Go here to see where this started and to get a complete list of the related posts in this series.

Would it offend you if I told you that you can have as much intimacy in your marriage as you want? I know it’s a risky statement. And I know there will always be exceptions, such as a spouse who is ill-willed, abusive and/or unwilling to put anything into the marriage.

But in general, I believe two things about intimacy
  1. You can have as much or as little intimacy in your marriage as you want.
  2. There’s always more.
How Much Do You Want It?

There’s an important companion question to the question of how much intimacy do you want. How much do you want it?

Intimacy is organic, a living thing. So if you want it to grow then you have to feed it. A lot.

Left untended, the natural track of intimacy is decline. The Path of Separation, as I call it, is an easy one, and to some extent it is the path of human nature. It is easy and natural for you each choose to focus on your selves, your own needs, your own fulfillment and satisfaction. If you choose to live mostly self-focused and self-protected, intimacy will eventually wither and die.

The Path of Intimacy, on the other hand, takes deliberate choice, or should I say deliberate choices. Lots of them.

I believe that optimally there’s a progression of sorts on The Path of Intimacy, as I’ve said before. It starts with spiritual intimacy, which enables and deepens intimacy in the realm of the soul (emotional and intellectual intimacy), all of which culminates in the ultimate act of intimacy, sexual.

There can be breakdowns or issues anywhere along the way. If it is more sexual intimacy you are after, look back to spiritual and emotional intimacy for issues that need to be addressed. Are spiritually connected? Do you pray together and talk about your spiritual lives regularly? How are you doing with emotionally intimacy? Are you willing to be “naked without shame” in the realm of the soul? Are you transparent with your spouse and intellectually honest? Do you express love in the way your spouse wants it to be expressed? Husbands, do you cherish, protect and nurture your wife? Wives, do you show your husband the kind of respect and admiration he seeks?

How much are you willing to invest to get the kind of intimacy you want?

There’s Always More

Regardless of where you are on the Path of Intimacy, there is always further to go. I purposefully use the word “journey” to describe the lifelong pursuit of deeper marital intimacy. It never stops. Or at least it doesn’t need to.

If you are feeling stalled or even if you are feeling like you have maximized the intimacy you enjoy with your spouse, ask yourself whether you have stopped investing in it. There is always more you can do to stretch yourself and your marriage in ways that enhance intimacy.

Again, I encourage you to look broadly up and down the path for opportunities to grow intimacy. In your sex life, how often do initiate things? Do you try out new ideas or seek new adventures in physical intimacy? As for intellectual intimacy, have you considered learning a new hobby together, taking dancing lessons, researching and visiting a new country, or jointly getting involved in a worthy cause? Is the emotional intimacy between you still growing, or have you decided you already know everything about each other there is to know? In your spiritual life, think about reading a good book the would spur you to spiritual growth, joining a small group or getting involved in a ministry.

Each area of intimacy feeds the other, so as the two of you continue to learn how to live your “one flesh” union, make sure that intimacy is thriving and growing in your whole beings: spirits, souls and bodies.

Focus on Your Part

There’s a strong temptation when dealing with the area of intimacy to play the blame game. It’s easy to blame our spouse for the lack we feel in the intimacy department. While the truth is that maximum intimacy is only achieved when you are both work at it diligently, it is also true that you can only change you.

Of course I encourage honest, open, and non-defensive expression of needs and desires. After all, your partner can’t possibly satisfy and delight you (which should be their primary focus) if he or she doesn’t know what you want and need. But truthfully, most of your effort should be focused on what you can do in your role as husband or wife to enhance intimacy. What are you doing to satisfy and delight your wife or husband? Where are his or her needs going unfulfilled?

If at all possible, and this is where it gets really hard, do the things you know you should do to enhance intimacy without the expectation of getting something in return. You want to avoid the mentality of “giving to get” and instead think in terms of “giving to bless.” This is the way of selfless and unconditional love.

Where are you on the Path of Intimacy? How much more do you want? And what are you willing to do to get it?

Monday, May 23, 2016

If time is the currency of relationships, is your marriage rich or poor?

Nothing can refresh the climate of your marriage more than spending time together.
My wife and I just spent a week in northern California together visiting our daughter and my wife's sister. Even though we were visiting with family, we purposefully arranged a few days of couple time for just the two of us. Coming in advance of a season of business travel ahead for me, it was wonderfully refreshing to have that whole week together plus those few days alone.

We are returning as I write this, feeling closer for the time we've been able to spend together.

I wrote last month about how there are great reasons to Intentionally Create Significant Memories together.  I understand that not everyone can take an extended trip like we just enjoyed. We are greatly appreciating the freedom these empty nest years are affording us!

But time together doesn't have to mean big trips.

A Daily Dose of Togetherness

In truth, I actually think that time together every day spent in genuine connection is even more important in sustaining your marriage than monumental trips you take every once in a great while.

It can be hard to prioritize one-on-one time on a daily basis. Life can be crazy busy, especially when there are young kids in the house. I get that. Even as empty-nesters, my wife and I still have to work hard to maintain our connection on a daily basis. As I've said before, it is really easy to put your marriage on auto-pilot.

Autopilot is easy. It's also dangerous.

What About Me-Time?

When life is crazy and stressful, I understand the pull of just wanting a little "me time."  If you have young kids, when the little ones are finally down for the night, it's natural to want to vegetate with the TV or a good book. Time together can seem like another demand - another thing on your overwhelming list. Same goes for when you work a demanding job that tends to suck the life out of you.

But, as important as taking care of yourself is, it's also necessary to sacrifice some of your "me time" for the sake of keeping your marriage strong. Don't think of your marriage as something on your to do list. You and your spouse are one. There is nothing else on your to do list that you can say that about.

Time is the currency of relationships, and when you neglect time together it will leave your marriage feeling deprived and depleted. On the other hand, if you prioritize keeping your marriage strong by staying intimately connected to your spouse, it will actually energize you to do the rest of your life!

Learn to Say No

Chronic busyness has become epidemic. We tend to load up every minute in a frantic attempt to "do it all," and we leave no margin. Further, we often don't leave room for the most important relationship we have: the one with our spouse.

Somehow we think "He/She loves me, he'll/she'll understand how things are. We will find time later." The problem is that later doesn't usually happen either, because we get stuck in our crazy-busy habit.

Don't relegate your marriage to leftovers. Truthfully, there isn't usually anything left over after you are done pouring yourself into all that you have signed yourself up for (or allowed other to sign you up for).

Bob Goff (author of "Love Does") quits something every Thursday. I love that idea. Maybe weekly is a bit extreme, but what if we regularly examined our lives in order to prune away the excess activities we've accumulated that don't line up with our piroirites?

What can you quit this week? What are you spending your time and energy on that God has not called you to? What are you willing to cut back on for the sake of improving the climate in your marriage through regular time together?

Do you have any tips on how you manage to get regular time together with your spouse? Share you thoughts in a comment

If you identify with the problem of living with no margin in your crazy-busy life, here is a great book: Margin, by Richard Swenson,

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives

(aff link)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Prayer invites the atmosphere of heaven into your marriage.

When I pray for my wife, three things are happening at once (and probably more). The first is that I'm inviting God's involvement and intervention with regard to whatever I'm praying for her about. The second is that it makes me feel closer to her as I'm joining her in whatever is going on in her life. Third, my wife says it makes her feel covered and protected.

All of these have the power to affect the climate of our marriage.

Heaven's Intervention

Whether I'm praying for healing, for peace, for our marriage or for God's blessing on my wife and children, I'm inviting God to intervene on her behalf. I'm agreeing with heaven.

God is a good Father. He longs to give good gifts to His children. Jesus is also an excellent Bridegroom, who gave us the example of going to the Father on behalf of His bride. Prayer is just our way of agreeing with God's goodness and inviting His participation with us.

Heavens Atmosphere

Prayer also helps me to see things from God's perspective. It's always amazing how my thinking shifts from an earthly to a heavenly perspective when I start to offer things up in prayer.

By shifting my thinking, I am actually changing my mindset and thereby helping to shift the atmosphere in my life, marriage and home to line up the the Kingdom of Heaven.

Prayer As Conversation

You don't need a bunch of theological training to pray. You don't have to jump through any spiritual hoops or even clean up all the sin in your life. God invites us to come to him as we are.

I think sometime the most powerful prayers are the simplest ones; when we come to God and pour out our hearts in sincere conversation.  God really likes that.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
So don't disqualify yourself from praying. Jesus has qualified you to approach Him with confidence. You don't have to do anything but come.

So come to God freely and frequently, and pray for your spouse.  Just watch as the climate in your heart and in marriage change for the better. 

How has prayer affected the climate of your marriage? Leave a comment and let us know.

Previous Climate Change Posts:
  1. Affirmation
  2. Kindness
Next up in Climate Change: Time Together

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kindness is like a warm tropical breeze blowing through your marriage.

Love is kind. At least that's how the Bible talks about love in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter.
It's surprisingly easy to let a pattern of unkindness seep into your marriage. Little annoyances become big ones over time. Unmet needs cause bitterness to settle in. Even if unkindness doesn't characterize your marriage, would you and your spouse specifically describe each other as kind?

I'm not sure I have always appreciated the power of kindness to change the climate of my marriage. I used to be a lot more focused on myself, my circumstances and what I was getting from my wife. All of these affected my happiness and in turn, the amount of kindness I expressed.

When things were going well and I was happy, kindness came pretty easily. But if I was stressed or not feeling like my wife was doing all the things I thought she should to make me happy, I could easily let my pricklies come out. I think I treated kindness like a kind of reward. If I felt kindly, then fine, I'd be kind. If not, then frankly, I could be pretty unpleasant to be around.

Over the years, however, I've discovered that the cool thing about kindness is that isn't really all that difficult or costly. Regardless of whether I'm "feeling it" or not, all it takes is a little bit of awareness and intentionality.

Show a Little Kindness

Kindness doesn't need to come in the form of grand gestures. Here are a few small, simple ways to show kindness to your spouse.

Smile - Even after almost 33 years of marriage, my wife's smile still melts me to the core. Fortunately, she smiles easily and often. There is a look in her eyes when she smiles at me with kindness and love that warms my heart. You can do the same for your spouse.

Touch - Touch ranks high on my love language list. Same for my wife. But even if your primary love language doesn't include physical touch, it's still a powerful act of kindness. Sit close together, knees and thighs touching. Hold hands while you walk. Lightly touch your spouse's arm or the hair on his or her neck. Give a gentle back or neck massage. When we touch our brain releases Oxycontin, a powerful bonding chemical.

Encouragement - When kindness is lacking in your marriage, words of encouragement can go a long way to cause a shift. Text your spouse short bits of encouragement throughout the day.  "I love you."  "I'm praying for you." "Thanks for last night [wink]."  Make a phone call just to check in and say you were thinking about your spouse. Put a post-it note on your spouse's mirror with a kind thought, a word of appreciation or an encouraging scripture verse.

Sift Your Tone - Research suggests that more information is received by how you say something than by the words you use. Sure, words are important but your tone probably does more to convey kindness (or the opposite) than you realize. I know when I'm tired or stressed, I sometimes have an edginess to my tone that can convey things I don't intend to my wife. It's at these times I have to be more aware of how I'm saying things. It's not always easy. It helps to watch  your spouse's reaction to what you say in order to detect that you've sent unintended meaning by your tone or words. Be willing to admit it and make it right.

Grace - Our natural reaction to unkindness (intentional or not) is to react with unkindness in return. After all, we feel justified. The problem is that this only ups the ante in the discord and causes an escalation in the conflict, inviting more unkindness. But when we react with grace and forgiveness, it will deescalate the conflict and inject positive direction in the conversation. As I often say, grace is an invitation to intimacy. I'm not suggesting you allow your spouse to walk all over you, but I've observed that a lot of the unkindness in marriage is unintentional, so start with that assumption.

The Climate Changing Power of Kindness

Here's the coolest thing of all about kindness: when I'm in a funk of some kind, being kind toward my wife actually helps to lift me out of it. Yes, intentional kindness actually changes the climate of my marriage, of our home and in, in turn, within myself.

Further, when I'm having a hard time for whatever reason and my wife extends kindness to me in the face of my prickliness, it often melts off those prickles.

Want to take the chill out of the air of your marriage? Try intentionally blowing a little kindness into your relationship and watch things warm up!

What other simple ways have you and your spouse found to show kindness to each other? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

PS  In case you missed it, Part 1 of my Climate Change series is about the power of Affirmation.

Next Climate Changer: Prayer

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Are you aware of how the things you think, say and do affect the climate in your marriage?

It's pretty easy to get into autopilot mode in your marriage. It's also pretty dangerous!

When you get stuck in autopilot, the climate in your marriage can begin to deteriorate without you really even noticing. That's why I say that staying watchful over your marriage is so important.

Today is the first in a series of posts about how to intentionally improve the climate in your marriage. And we begin with affirmation.
Affirmation: a Big Fat Yes!

If you are familiar with the 5 Love Languages developed by Dr. Gary Chapman, then you know that words of affirmation is one of the five. But even if this is not one of your spouse's primary love languages, affirming words can help change the climate of your marriage.

Dr. Chapman's Love Language Devotion describes it this way. "We allow the emotions of hurt, disappointment, and anger to keep us from speaking positive words to each other, or maybe we simply get stuck in a pattern of negative comments. As a result, distance and dissatisfaction grow." He goes on to say, "Positive words can change the emotional atmosphere in a marriage. We need to look for something good in our spouse and affirm it."

I love how describes affirmation as "a big fat YES!"

Affirmation is a climate changer! Affirmation is our hearty agreement with good. It's a wholehearted endorsement that gives encouragement and creates positive momentum in your marriage.
Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

More Than What They Do

Affirmation is more than just appreciating what your spouse does for you. Sure, that kind of outward thankfulness is important and helpful.  But affirmation has an even grater impact on the climate of your marriage when it is actually about who they are, not just what they do.

Affirmation of who they are can take many forms:
  • Their character or integrity.  "I so appreciate that I can totally trust you with ______."
  • The good things you see in their heart. "I just love the way you care for other people."
  • Their abilities and talents.  "You are such an amazing problem solver."
  • Their personality.  "It lifts my heart the way you see the good in everything and everyone."
  • Their appearance. "Your eyes are stunning."
  • Their destiny.  "I just know you'll make an amazing team leader when you get that promotion."
You Get Me!

When you affirm who your spouse is with a big fat yes, it tells your spouse that you see who they are. And it tells them that you like what you see. "You get me!  And you like me!"

When you and your spouse both understand and affirm each other, it is a double blessing that a creates a wonderful and lasting positive change in the climate of your marriage.

Next up in this Climate Change Series: Kindness
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

There is one benefit to lovemaking that stands out above them all.

There are many great reasons to increase the amount of sexual activity in your marriage. Research has shown it boosts your immune system, improves brain function, burns calories, lowers stress and improves sleep.

As great as all these benefits are, there is one that stands out in my mind above them all:

Making Love More Makes More Love

There is no universal standard to dictate how much sex a couple should have. My own recent study shows that having sex more than once a week increases the chances for a highly satisfying sex life by a factor of 12 compared to those having sex less than once a week. That's not a 12% difference, that is 12 TIMES.

However, regardless of how often you make love, making love more often pays huge dividends in one very key area of your marriage: love.

5 Ways Lovemaking Grows Love

Here are 5 ways in which sexual intimacy grows the love in your marriage.

1) It bonds you together - During lovemaking and especially during orgasm, the hormone oxytocin is released. It's a powerful bonding brain chemical that gives us a feeling of attachment. Another hormone released after lovemaking, vasopressin, has similar bonding effects. "Essentially, vasopressin released after intercourse is significant in that it creates a desire in the male to stay with his mate, inspires a protective sense (in humans, perhaps this is what creates almost a jealous tendency) about his mate, and drives him to protect his territory and his offspring." (See more in this study)

2) It deepens your emotional connection - in addition to these bonding effects, making love builds intimacy in your relationship because by it's very nature sex invites vulnerability. You can't have intimacy without being known, and you can't be known unless you are willing to be vulnerable. The bedroom (or wherever) tends to be a place of deep vulnerability. For most men, sexual satisfaction actually opens a wide pathway to seeking (yes seeking) an emotional connection with their wives, and for many women, making love tends to cause them to want more sex. This creates a positive cycle of intimacy.

3) It changes the atmosphere in your marriage - the positive cycle of intimacy created by regular lovemaking causes a prevailing sense of sexual satisfaction and a deep sense of general well-being. A man who feels that his wife desires him will feel very loved, and when he also know that she is satisfied by him it boosts his self-confidence. These give him the feeling that he can take on the world. Wives will similarly enjoy the well-being created by the increased intimacy and emotional connection. It's a win-win.

4) It says "I love you" to the higher drive spouse - When a lower-drive spouse pursues sexual intimacy with his or her higher drive mate, it sends a very clear message, "Your needs are a priority to me and I want to satisfy you." In short, expressing love in the form of sexual intimacy says "I love you" loud and clear.

5) It's the ultimate expression of oneness - God designed sex purposefully to be the pleasurable pinnacle of marital intimacy. It's a beautiful love expression that is reserved by God solely for husband and wife. Sexual intimacy is where God's plan that "the two become one flesh" takes on a literal meaning.

Do you want more love in your marriage? Try raising the priority of and setting aside time and energy for making love. It will make love grow. 

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