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Friday, October 28, 2016

When it comes to PDA, the real question is "How much is enough?"

I'm a member of Christian Marriage Bloggers Association, and this month CMBA is sponsoring a blog challenge based on this picture by Kate Aldrich Photography (titles added by me).
Kate and her husband Brad, blog at One Flesh Marriage.

I'm a little late to the party with this post, and my take on the photo is somewhat different than my fellow CMBA bloggers (check out the list of other challenge posts in the comments on this CMBA Newsletter post).

My immediate thought upon seeing the challenge photo went to public displays of affection, or PDA.

I realize there are cultural and contextual limits to PDA, but I personally err on the side of more not less. Let me explain.

Proclaim Your Love

I appreciate couples who are willing to show the world that they are happily married, still in love and show affection for each other. No, I don't want to see a public make-out session or blatant groping, but I see a whole lot more of the other extreme: couples who practically act like strangers in public.

What I like about this photo is the way this couple obviously has affection toward each other. Although their actions are moderated by the umbrella, their love shines through.

Publicly showing affection for your spouse not only demonstrates your love, but it is a great declaration in support of marriage in general. "Marriage rocks! And I'm not afraid to show it!"

Below you'll find 15 ways to give the world a glimpse of your affection for each other.

Affection Doesn't Mean Indecent

Of course your spouse needs to be comfortable with whatever form of PDA you engage in, but there are plenty of ways ways to show affection without being indecent or inappropriate. For example:
  • 1 - Hold hands while you walk through your neighborhood
  • 2 - Kiss hello and goodbye regardless of where you are
  • 3 - Put your arm around your wife in church
  • 4 - Lean your head on your husband's shoulder in the theater while waiting for the movie to start
  • 5 - Rest your hand on your spouse's knee while sitting on the same side of the booth in a restaurant (Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Tripplehorn, it is very much a married move).
I don't know of anyone who would find such actions offensive.

Non-Physical PDA

There are also tons of ways to show affection that don't involve physical contact. Here are just a few:
  • 6 - Open your wife's car door for her. (Take her hand to help her from the car)
  • 7 - Speak kindly (even brag) about your spouse to your friends and family
  • 8 - Bring your spouse a cup of tea or coffee at the church coffee hour
  • 9 - Send flowers to your wife at work
Public Secret

When you are away from home, there are other ways to show affection for each other that are for your eyes/ears only. Such acts of love add a sense of spice and adventure to your relationship while you are out and about. Some secrets that only the two of you will know:
  • 10 - Make eye contact with each other and smile warmly across a crowded room. Give an air kiss.
  • 11 - Let your husband know that you are wearing something special for him under your clothes (or that you aren't wearing anything!)
  • 12 - Whisper something romantic in your wife's ear
  • 13 - Steal a long, passionate kiss in a private hallway or dark parking lot
  • 14 - Write a slightly racy text message about your plans for the evening. (You can make it racier if you have a private, secure messaging app like Couple or Avacado.)
  • 15 - Leave a note where only your spouse will find it (wallet, purse, briefcase, etc). It can range from sweet to sexy.

What's your take on couples showing affection for each other in public? Would you like to see more of it in your own marriage? Leave a comment.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016

If you want an rich harvest of intimacy in your marriage, make sure there is an abundance of trust in the soil of your relationship.

Trust is critical to any meaningful relationship, and it's especially important in marriage.  Intimacy requires being known, and revealing your genuine self requires an atmosphere of trust. The level of intimacy you have with your spouse will be capped by the level of trust you share.

Trust, or lack of it, provides good insight into what you actually believe about your spouse. (Note: it works the same in our relationship with Jesus.) Trust is faith in action. Trust says I believe in you, and I believe that love is at the center of your intentions toward me.

Generally speaking, the need to feel trusted is significantly higher for men than for women, though certainly everyone wants to feel that their partner trusts them. Men typically want to be trusted for what they do (like being a good provider and a capable leader). Women, on the other hand, tend to want to be trusted for who they are (the goodness of their hearts and intentions).

Despite these differences between the sexes, there are some actions both can take to build trust in their relationship.

1) Do what you say you will do - Be reliable. Don't require your spouse to follow up a dozen times before you get around to doing what you committed to. Everyone forgets sometimes, but if you want your spouse to trust your word, be consistent about making good on it.

2) Be real - It's very difficult to trust what you do not know. That means that openness, truthfulness and vulnerability are necessary prerequisites to establishing trust. If you make a habit of hiding your faults or being closed off from your spouse emotionally out of fear or shame, don't expect to earn their trust.

3) Empathize (don’t criticize) - in times of struggle . Getting your spouse to open up to you about their struggles requires that you don't use what they tell you against them. Being critical or judgmental over exposed weaknesses will make your spouse feel they can't trust you in their times of need.

4) Speak Kindly and Affectionately - An atmosphere of kindness is conducive to trust and vulnerability in your relationship.  Speak kindly to each other. Show affection often. In addition, never speak negatively about your spouse to others, including close friends and family members. Even if your spouse never learns of it, it creates an atmosphere of distrust in your marriage.

5) Forgive quickly (and forget) - Apologize when you've done wrong and be quick to accept an apology when you have been wronged. Don't rehash past issues that supposedly have been dealt with or use past mistakes as a weapon. That sends the message that you haven't really granted the forgiveness you said you gave.

6) Put your relationship above your rights - We live in a country founded on rights, and there is a strong societal message that says you have to stand up for and assert your rights. But, in marriage, when your insistence on your rights comes at the cost of the relationship, it sends the message that your spouse can't trust you to take care of the relationship. As my wife says, it's not about being right, it's about being love.

7) Value freedom (vs. control) - When you try to assert control over your spouse, it sends a pretty clear message to your spouse that you don't trust them (whether you feel it's actually true or not). Conversely, when you allow each other freedom, it helps to build an atmosphere of trust.

How many of these trust builders are commonplace in your marriage? Are there other trust-building habits you can think of? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

If you don't have the marriage you want, maybe you've been asking the wrong question.

Of course you want to have a great marriage. Who doesn't? But perhaps you feel like you've struggled for years to get there, yet with only limited success.  If so, then this post is for you.

If you don't have the marriage you want, you might need to start by asking a different question. Let me explain using a lesson from the business world.

Start with Why

Leadership and management guru Simon Sinek wrote a book a while back called, "Start With Why." His "Golden Circle" theory is summarized in the following graphic.

Bear with me as I summarize, or you can see Sinek explain it in this TedxTalk.

Inside Out

The basic premise, according to Sinek, is that conventional companies work the gloden circle from the outside in. They focus first on the What - their product or service. Then they spend a lot of time talking about How - the process of delivering that product or service. They rarely talk about Why.

Great companies, Sinek explains, do it backwards. They focus really hard on the Why. Who are we? What are our core values? Why is our Mission important? What do we believe?

From there they move on to the How, which is best examined in light of the Why - the core mission. How do we walk out our core values in light of who we are? The What (product or service) then flows most effectively out of a well-defined Why and How.

Marriage From Inside Out

Conventional marriage thinking goes a lot like conventional business thinking: outside in.

In that case, most couples would say their What is to have a good, strong marriage that lasts a lifetime (or something similar).

The How of marriage is made up of the things we do that we hope will help accomplish our What - that will help ensure a good marriage. Date nights. Good communication. Regular sex. Shared financial goals. Etc.

Now there's nothing wrong with date nights and good communication. And having a great marriage is a good What. The problem is, as is the case in business, it's the wrong question to start with.

It's best to start with the question, "Why?"

The Why of Your Marriage

Sinek equates your Why with your purpose or mission. Consider this question: "Our marriage exists for the purpose of __________."

Here are a few possible Why examples:
  • To enjoy maximum intimacy (my personal belief is that intimacy, in every form, is the ultimate goal of marriage)
  • To fulfilled our destinies - to ensure that each of us reaches the destiny God has for us
  • To walk in oneness - to fully explore and apprehend the benefits of two living as one
  • To be an accurate portrayal of Christ and the church - for our marriage to reflect as closely as possible the bridal paradigm

What is the ultimate purpose or mission of your marriage? Have you thought about it? Have you talked about it? It's a great topic for your next date night.

There are also some Why's I would definitley NOT recommend:
  • To make me happy
  • To complete me
  • To have my emotional needs met
  • To have as much sex as possible
  • To benefit financially

Although these might be an outgrowth of your legitimate Why, they aren't a good place to start.

Rethinking Your Hows

Consider your Hows in light of your Why (once you have established what it is). Do the things you are doing, thinking and saying line up with your mission? What do you need to eliminate or what should you add to your marriage in order to realize your Why?

For example, if intimacy is your ultimate goal, consider whether you are experiencing intimacy in every area of your life. If spiritual intimacy is lacking, make a plan to nurture it. If sexual intimacy hasn't been a priority, make a plan to change that. If you've been living separate financial lives, consider how to join together in your handling of money.

Re-imagine Your What

If your What is to have a great marriage, talk with your spouse specifically about what it would look like if you were to fully live according to your Why.

Using the intimacy Why, what would a marriage with maximum intimacy look like? What characteristics would your marriage have? How would it impact your children or your community? What would be the visible signs that intimacy is at the forefront of your marriage?

Marriage is not a business. It's a unique God-crafted covenant-bearing institution. But I think Sinek's Why-How-What actually applies directly. Get the Why of your marriage right, fill your marriage with the right Hows, and you have a much better chance of a successful What - a great and lasting marriage.

What do you think of applying the Golden Circle to marriage? Does it work for you? Would you like to share your Why with us? Let us hear from you in a comment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A letter to my daughter on her wedding day - five keys to a great marriage.
In just a few days my middle daughter, Lisa, is getting married. She and Otto are a wonderful match, and Jenni and I could not be more excited for their future.

Lisa has no doubt received all kinds of marriage advice from many people, but as her father and a champion of strong marriages I wanted to offer my own thoughts. I've struggled to condense down all I've written and read about marriage over the years to identify the essential keys that lead to an intimate, passionate and enduring marriage.

Here's what I came up with.

Dearest Lisa,

The big day is approaching quickly! Amidst all the excitement and celebration I wanted to take a moment to share a few thoughts with you as you and Otto begin your marriage journey together. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but if you get these things right, it will go a long way to ensure you have a happy, healthy, intimate, passionate and enduring marriage.

1) Learn What Says "I Love You"

You and Otto have gotten to know each other pretty well through your dating years, but there is so much more you'll discover as you become one in marriage. The most important thing for each of you to learn is what says "I love you" to the other. Trust me when I say that each of you will likely answer this question very differently. You may not "get" each other's love needs, especially at first, but you don't have to get them to do them.

It's important to revisit this question regularly. You'll want to be students of one another. It's important to keep asking, especially in seasons of change or stress, "How can I best show you how much I love you?"

For this to work, you'll both need to be transparent with your needs. Not in a demanding or selfish way, but in a way that helps each of you to love the other well.

2) Show Love Daily

Do something every day to communicate your love for each other. Be intentional about speaking and demonstrating love in ways that matter to the other. These don't need to be grand or dramatic gestures. Small love expressions, given daily, will do more to sustain your marriage than big ones that only happen infrequently.

This means being intentional and watchful. It means keeping your marriage off of auto-pilot. Keep your eyes wide open and your hearts wide awake toward each other.

3) Practice Selflessness and Generosity

One amazing aspect of the two of you becoming one is that any time you bless the other, you also get to share in the benefit of that blessing. Learn to take delight in delighting each other with your love. Practice generosity and selflessness.

Give your love without condition and without the expectation of getting something in return. This is God's kind of love. Practice giving love for love's sake and for the sake of your marriage, rather than what you may get in return. But you will find that when you do this, the blessing does flow back to you.

4) Manage Your Expectations

It's likely that you both carry many expectations into your marriage. For the most part it's best to hold those expectations loosely. But there are two expectations that I encourage you to hold to steadfastly.

First is the expectation that this is a lifelong covenant you have together. It's hard to imagine now, but there will likely be times ahead when you will need to be tenacious about this commitment you've made to each other.

Second, always believe and expect that the best days of your marriage are ahead of you. Regardless of how good (or how bad) things are, there is always more ahead. Deeper intimacy, more to know about each other, a stronger bond of trust, and grand new adventures are in front of you.

5) Pray

Always believe that God is for your marriage. He loves love. He is love. Press into him in prayer, both separately and together, for all you need to sustain and grow your marriage is found in him. Prayer for your marriage is a prayer he is eager to answer. And pray for each other, that you will walk in your true identities and that you will each fulfill your destiny in Christ.

There you have it. My short list of the essentials for a successful marriage. Just remember that, in the end, success in marriage isn't about how many things you did right or wrong, but the level of intimacy (emotional, spiritual and physical) you share, because intimacy should be the ultimate goal of every marriage.

I Love You,

What "keys to a great marriage" would you add to my list if it were your daughter getting married? I'd love you to add your thoughts in a comment.

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