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Monday, July 25, 2016

The heart is the heart of every marriage.

Have you ever had a halfhearted customer service experience? How do you feel when you engage with someone who seems totally disinterested in serving you? On the other hand, how do you feel when you encounter someone who is wholeheartedly engaged and enthusiastically determined to meet your needs? Such a positive experience will likely cause you to speak favorably about the establishment to others and keep you coming back.

Websters defines a wholehearted person as someone who is devoted, determined and enthusiastic, marked by an earnest commitment.

So here's my question: are you wholehearted when it comes to your marriage?

But my spouse...

Maybe you are thinking that your spouse's halfheartedness is your excuse for living a halfhearted marriage. This may seem logical, but unfortunately such thinking is ultimately self-defeating and won't move you any closer to experiencing a wholehearted marriage.

You see, the truly wholehearted understand that wholeheartedness comes out of who they are, not in response to what someone else does or doesn't do. It's a choice not a reaction.

I believe wholeheartedness is contagious. While you only have the power to control yourself, you do have influence over the atmosphere of your marriage, which can ultimately influence your spouse in a positive direction. (But sorry, no magic formulas here!)

As you work toward being wholehearted in your marriage, below are five areas to consider.

1. All In 100%

The wholehearted hold nothing back. When it comes to their marriage and spouse they are all in and fully engaged. Do you have areas of your being or life that you are withholding from your spouse? Do you wait until you feel your needs are met before you are willing to meet your spouses needs? Do you love only in proportion to the amount of love you feel you are receiving?

Selflessness, grace and loving your spouse as if they are already meeting all your needs and loving you well are the keys to a wholehearted marriage.

2. Wholly Devoted

Jesus describes the devotion we are to have toward God in Mark like this:
And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment.
Mark 12:30 (quoting Deut. 6:4, 5) [AMP]
I like to think that the marriage relationship is designed to mirror the love and devotion God wants to have with us. No, your spouse is not a god and not a substitute for your relationship with Jesus, but I don't think God gets offended when we love each other wholeheartedly and with tender devotion. He designed it to work that way.

3. Sexually Engaged

It's easy for us to relegate sexuality to the bedroom. But the truth is you don't cease to be a sexual being when you leave the bedroom, just like you don't cease to be a spiritual being when you leave church. Sure there are things that aren't necessarily appropriate for public consumption (whether we're talking the church or sex), but whether you "feel it" or not, you are a sexual being 24/7.

So what does it mean to be wholeheartedly sexual? It starts with thinking of yourself and your spouse in sexual terms outside the throws of passion. Proactively seek to engage with your spouse in a sexual manner throughout the day. It also means serving each other sexually and unselfishly, striving to give more in that department than you get. It also means being fully present and obviously engaged during sexual activity.

4. Open and Vulnerable

Based on her research, Dr. Brene Brown includes vulnerability as a key attribute of the wholehearted. (See her TED Talk video and my related posts: What a Shame and Time To Get Naked)

If you want a marriage full of intimacy, you have to learn to live transparently and vulnerably with each other. Shame is the enemy of vulnerability and the biggest inhibitor to intimacy. To embrace vulnerability, you need to first believe that you are worthy of love and connection, just as you are. The amazing truth is that Jesus makes us all worthy.

Being wholehearted means being willing to be imperfect, embracing our weaknesses and owning up your mistakes in a genuine but not self condemning way. (Remember, there is NO condemnation for us who are in Christ). Open up and invite your spouse in. Gary Smalley, author of Wholehearted Marriage, says that "Emotions are the voice of the heart." Let your spouse hear your heart.

5. Determined and Committed

The wholehearted have a fierce tenacity about them. They are not only all-in, but they are in for the long haul. A wholehearted marriage is one in which the couple realizes that there will be difficult seasons, but they believe in the covenant bond between them and that they are ultimately on the same side because they are one. Reinforce this idea with phrases like, "I am for you," "I am for us." and "We can do this."

Here's a great clip from the move "Facing the Giants." The acting isn't the greatest but the clip beautifully illustrates wholehearted tenacity and determination. It also speaks to the effect it can have on others.

Remember that wholehearted living is a choice you make for yourself. And while you can't cause wholeheartedness in others, I am convinced that when one person in a marriage chooses wholeheartedness, the atmosphere in the relationship will be changed for the good.

Where will you choose to be more wholehearted this week? Ask God to show you areas where you've been halfhearted in your marriage, and ask for His help in becoming wholehearted.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Last time I wrote about the potential damage technology can inflict on your marriage and ways to avoid it.

This week we'll look at ways to use technology to actually bless your spouse and improve your marriage.

1. Keep in Touch

Although electronic communication (texts, emails, private messages, etc) are no substitute for real, in-person conversation, it does afford couples easy ways to stay in touch with each other. Jenni and I text and message each other frequently throughout the day, and I find that it helps us maintain our connection while we are physically separated. We let each other know of prayer needs, victories and struggles in real time. It is helpful when we are unable to have a lengthy conversation.

Here are a few ways to keep in touch electronically:
  • Text a prayer request or ask how you can pray for your spouse.
  • Send an instant message "I'm especially missing you today."
  • Follow up on an important meeting or event and ask how it went
  • Send a link to a song that reminds you of your spouse or that might be an encouragement

2. Be Intentional

I keep all my calendars and to do lists online and they are available across all my devices. I also use these tools to help me be intentional where Jenni is concerned.

Here are a few examples of how I do that:
  • Keep track of her schedule so I can pray for her and ask her about happenings.
  • Jot down movies we talk about wanting to see in a list.
  • Put date nights in my calendar so I can remember to plan when it's my turn.
  • Make a note of blog posts or articles I'd like us to discuss together

3. Get Your Flirt On

Sometimes it's easier to be flirty when you aren't face-to-face. There are even apps like Couple and Avacado that provide a secure way to communicate words and pictures that you wouldn't want someone to stumble across in your phone.

Here are a few ways to flirt with your spouse.
  • Remind your spouse of a sexy memory.  Ask if you can re-enact it tonight.
  • Thank your spouse for "last night," accompanied by the appropriate emoticons.
  • Visually oriented husbands especially like to see a bit of skin or lingerie (but make sure it's totally secure)
  • Text your spouse something you like about their physical appearance.
  • Send a message suggesting what you have in mind for the two of you tonight after the kids are in bed
Important note: husbands and wives usually have different definitions of how they like be flirted with. Try to keep in mind your spouse's definition!

4. Learn, Grow, Improve

There is a wealth of fantastic marriage encouragement out there these days, and electronic devices give you convenient, on-the-go access to them.
  • Bookmark your favorite marriage blogs in your phone or tablet (I hope Journey to Surrender is among them!).
  • Sign up to receive a marriage newsletter or two that you find helpful. You can sign up for mine here.
  • Get a Kindle or reader app and download a marriage book or two. Read one together with your spouse and talk about it.
  • Take a marriage challenge or download a marriage devotional or prayer guide.
5. Remember

Many of us use our phones as a massive storage device.  With so many cloud-based storage solutions from the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft, you have a real opportunity to keep a treasure trove of memories available to you wherever you go.
  • Sit down with your spouse once in a while and look back through some photos of meaningful, fun, or silly events.
  • Use your phone or tablet as a journal (though I know many prefer actual paper).
  • Make a list on your phone of the things you love most about your spouse (really, do this!). Read them every day. Share one occasionally with your spouse.
6. When You Are Apart

Both Jenni and I travel quite a bit, much of it international. We find electronic communications especially helpful in keeping us connected when we are worlds apart.
  • Send emails to each other when our time zones don't line up. It's great to wake up to a letter from my darling wife.
  • Text, what's app, or use messenger more diligently, even more when we are traveling.
  • It's especially nice when we can Skype or Facetime and actually get to see each other. Not quite as good as being there but close.

Do any of you have other ways you use technology to benefit your marriage? I'd love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Simple (not easy) steps you can take today to prevent technology from stealing from your marriage.

Do you ever stop to think  how far technology has come just in the past few decades?  Just 20 years ago we didn't commonly carry cell phones. Smart phones didn't come onto the scene until about 10 years ago. What did we do before we had a GPS, music player, alarm clock, web browser, calendar, online games, texting and more right in our pockets and purses?

Technology has brought an amazing amount of convenience and efficiency to our lives, Along with all the benefits, if we aren't careful, technology can also bring some unintended consequences, especially where relationships are concerned.

My wife and I recently enjoyed a wonderful cruise, generously given to us and my wife's family by her parents as a way to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. One nice thing about a cruise is that it's much easier to be offline and disconnected from technology while you are floating in the middle of the ocean, which is what sparked my thinking about this post.

Watchfulness is the notion that we need to be attentive and tuned into our marriages, and it especially applies to technology, because it's so easy for our relationships to suffer at the hands of technology without us even being aware of it.

Here are five danger areas in which we should all be watchful and some simple steps to avoiding the potential pitfalls.

1. Lack of Real Conversation

Our family's monthly phone bill reveals what I think is probably typical of modern communication patterns: thousands of text messages, many gigabytes of data, and hardly any talk-time minutes.  Are we losing the art of genuine conversation? Is communication being reduced to whatever emoticons are available on our phones?

I'm not judging. My wife and I text and instant message during the day much more than we talk on the phone. It's often easier to connect that way due to our busy schedules. The danger is that there is a certain lack of intimacy in electronic communication. No eye contact. No tone. No touch. It's quick, it's efficient, but it isn't a substitute for genuine conversation.

No matter how much electronic communication you have throughout your day, make sure you set aside time each day for actual, genuine, one-on-one, in-person conversation.

2. Losing Focus on Your Spouse

My wife and I attended a "Marriage Game Show" during our cruise. One of the questions asked of the wives was, "First thing in the morning, what is the first thing your husband grabs for?"  Two of the three contestants answered "his phone." One older wife, who was married 44  years and ended up winning the contest, answered "me."  Her husband got the right answer.

You've no doubt seen "that couple" at a restaurant who barely interact with each other because they are staring at their phones all evening. Maybe sometimes you are that couple.  I understand the temptation and have given in to it too many times myself, but lets all agree not to be that couple.

I've seen varying statistics, but one source states that the average phone user checks his or her phone somewhere between 35 and 74 times per day, depending on age group, with younger people checking most frequently. I've also seen a 2013 study with figures as high as 150 times per day.

Maybe you notice what my wife and I notice: online connections tend to break our actual connection. It's like inviting a third (or fourth or fifth) party into your time together. 

If you really have to check on something important, be sure to explain to  your spouse what is so urgent (and make sure that it actually is) and ask for their permission to do so. Something like, "Do you mind if I quick check for a text from Liz?  I'm waiting to hear back from her about our breakfast appointment tomorrow." This would be better than just picking up your phone in mid-conversation and texting Liz. If the text from Liz is what matters, don't slip in a quick peek at Facebook and Instagram while you are at it.

When it comes to your time with your spouse, strive to practice self-control and focus. To the extent possible, when you are spending time together, keep your focus and your hands off your devices and on each other. It might be worth a conversation about device boundaries and limits during your time together, so that you have a common understanding of the ground rules.

3.   Too Little Time for What Matters

One study found that the average person spends 23 days a year on his or her phone. That equates to 90 minutes a day. I wouldn't be so concerned if actually talking on the phone didn't rank sixth in time spent per day. Surfing the web ranked first, followed by using phone apps.

Time is a precious commodity, and seems to become more precious as our lives become more and more hectic. Ask yourself if you really need to spend as much time as you do on your phone or tablet.

I honestly need to look for more ways to limit device time, but it is difficult. My whole life is digital and available on my devices: to-do lists, multiple calendars, bill paying, and note-keeping for my blog, in addition to the usual personal and marriage ministry related social media accounts. I took a game app off of my phone and relegated it to my tablet so that I wouldn't spend as much time playing it. Truthfully, although it helped, I still waste too much time with it.

While I've purposefully tried to limit device time during our cruise vacation, I confess that right now I'm sitting in our stateroom working on this post while the rest of my extended family are relaxing and enjoying our last day on-board. The pressure of not having posted but one time this month finally overtook me today. So this admittedly a pot/kettle situation.

One way to appropriately limit device time is to set some helpful ground rules as a couple. For example, no phones during dinner or in bed or after a certain time of night. An easy one might be to have no phones before a good morning kiss. Talk about it with your spouse, and explore what works for you.

4. On the Job 24/7

In today's world of constant electronic communication, it's easy to constantly carry our job with us wherever we go. Our jobs typically occupy more than just our time; they also tend to occupy a lot of our mental and emotional space as well.

For the first time since I can remember, I've not checked my work email while on vacation. It's both wonderful and terrifying as I watch the number of unread emails climb up over 200. I used to use the excuse that if I didn't check work email during vacation, I would have to just quit my job and not return to work. The pile up would be too much. However, as of this writing I'm still planning to report for work on Monday.

There is a cost for leaving your work at your place of employment. For many of us, our identity is hugely wrapped up in our jobs and our career success. Sadly, it seems to be all too common that marriages take a back seat to careers in terms of time and attention.

It's not reasonable to expect that you should never work late or never check your work email on weekends or evenings, but it would be a really good idea, as with the other technology invaders in this list, to talk to your spouse about how to set healthy boundaries that keep your marriage in the right priority.

5. Inappropriate Content

The devices we have in our pockets and on our desktops give us instant access to the world. That means it's easier than ever today to have access to stuff that we ought to avoid.

I'm encouraged to see that even secular relationship experts are beginning to talk about the dangers of porn and the damage it inflicts on relationships. In addition to pornographic content, our digital devices also make it super-easy to establish or re-establish inappropriate or hidden relationships with people of the opposite sex.

When it comes to inappropriate use of our devices, let me just say: don't do it!

One of the most effective strategies to prevent such things from inflicting damage on your marriage is to have total openness when it comes to electronic devices. Freely share passwords with each other to phones and social media accounts.

Technology has advanced at a stunning rate in the past few decades. As great as these advances have been, we need to remain vigilant to the potential pitfalls and collateral damage that can accompany technology.

What is one small change you could make this week to keep your digital life from negatively impacting your marriage? Have some thoughts to share? Leave a comment.

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