This fall we are starting up our new season of Married Life Essentials. Picking up where we left off we will be starting with Relational Intimacy in September. I am so excited to back with you to talk about how to grow a healthy marriage! If you know of anyone who would benefit from these classes be sure to invite them. All these events are free, in Tent 3, and are a safe place to get information and practical help in growing a healthy marriage (you don't even talk about your marriage itself at the event). The dates and times are below. Just click on the title and let us know you are coming so we have enough books. See you in September!
A question I get frequently is what do we do if our marriage in not in a good place? What types of things should we do to move in the direction of making our relationship healthier? If you find yourself in a place of conflict and you want to start working on resolving it yourself, here are a few things you can do to get back on track and start moving in the direction of health:
First, you need to look at yourself. The problem most of us have in relationships is we are experts on what the other person is doing wrong. We instantly become mini-psychologists and can tell you everything that is wrong with our spouses and what they need to do get on the path towards healing. So all of our focus is on the aspect of our marriages we can’t control! If you have ever seen your spouse as a fixer-upper and tried to change him/her you have probably found what a frustrating and exhausting effort this is. The reason is, no one likes to be a fixer-upper and everyone wants to be accepted for who they are not for what they might become. So the only thing you can change in your marriage directly is yourself. Start with looking at who you are in the marriage and where you are failing and make changes in your own responses and how you relate to your spouse and see what happens. Many times it only takes one person to make changes in their life to cause the other person to have to adjust and make changes too. Now you must remember not to change as a way to manipulate your spouse to change. That doesn’t work. Make changes yourself because you believe it is the right thing to do and expect nothing in return and leave the results up to God.
Second, overcome your fears and choose to move towards your spouse. This is usually the most difficult part because we get into a stalemate in our relationships where we are waiting for the other person to flinch first. We figure we have tried everything we can think of and the ball is now in the other person’s court. The problem is both of you are thinking the same thing and no one moves. I usually ask couples, “whats the worse things that can happen?” If your relationship is moving in the wrong the direction the worst thing that can happen is it continues to move that direction. But if you try something different you might get different results. Most men are afraid of being put down and losing another argument so they check out. Guys you need to overcome those fears and choose to engage your spouse in a loving way and see what happens. Women tend to fear being a door mat and walked all over if they try to engage. Over come that fear and try to engage your husband without trying to change him and see what happens. If we overcome our fears and make positive strides many times that starts to move the marriage in the right direction.
Finally, focus on what you are grateful for instead of what you want to change. What you choose to focus on will dictate what your attitude will be. If you always focus on the negative and what is wrong with your spouse and marriage you will only see the negative which will fuel your anger. If you choose to focus on what is right and the positive aspects of your relationship your attitude will change to one of gratitude and your responses will be more positive. Your attitude needs to be checked when it comes to your marriage. Many times the only thing that changes is not the other person but our attitudes.
Now I know that this seems simplistic and in many ways it is. Sometimes it is the small things that can make this biggest difference and focusing on these things can really help the state of your marriage. Don’t expect instant results or some kind of miracle. These things take time and having a long term view will help with your outlook. Making these adjustments in our attitudes and expectations can lead us in the direction of a healthy marriage.
One of the biggest challenges a newly married couple faces is what to do with the in-laws. In fact this is such a universally recognized issue that it is the brunt of jokes and sitcoms all pointing to the problems of meddling parents who get in the middle of the couples goal of marital bliss. It isn’t long before lines are drawn in the sand with loyalty to one’s spouse pitted against loyalty to one’s parents. With this type of either/or thinking it is no wonder so many marriages get off to a rocky start.
So how does a newly married couple deal with the in-law issue? One of the things it is important to understand is that your parents are going through an adjustment just as you are. They are adjusting to the fact that they are no longer the primary influence in your life and they struggle with how to be a parent to a married child. There really isn’t much out there on how to be a good in-law. So most parents just have to figure this out on their own and most usually struggle with letting go of their influence and control in the life of their child. So they continue to parent their child even though he/she is married now and tend to see the new spouse as a threat to their influence which causes power and control struggles for who will be the primary influence into the adult child/spouse. The only way to help make this transition a smooth one is to recognize the difficult task of adjustment going on for your parents and to take certain steps that allow you to continue to honor your parents while helping them to understand their new role.
First, you need to thank your parents for all they have done to raise you in the right way. Start by acknowledging your parents influence in your life and the things they have done well in preparing you for life. One of the things most missing for parents today is gratitude for all they have sacrificed for their children. Every parent needs to hear they have done a good job as they are constantly analyzing where they messed up or things they should have done before you got to adulthood. Reassuring them on the job they have done will put their hearts at ease and allow them to hear what you are going to say to them about their new role in your life.
Second, let them know that you are committed to making your marriage last the for the long haul and, next to God, your marriage is your primary focus. This will help your parents know that your marriage comes first in any decision you make which means that your spouse has to be a part of those decisions.
Third, tell them that you appreciate their advice but that you won’t talk about your spouse or the marriage with them because it wouldn’t be fair to your spouse. This sets the boundary early on that they will not have a direct influence into the marriage unless the two of you ask for their advice. Many parents really want to see their kids succeed so they will have a tendency to handle that desire by constantly speaking into your marriage through you. This creates problems because you feel like you have to at least act on the advice given (that’s what you did most of your life) and usually that advice is one sided as they are only getting what they see or hear from you. It is important to hold the line on this to help your parents understand where the limit is on their influence into your marriage.
Fourth, let them know that you know they want you to have a successful marriage and to do that you need to form new traditions together as a couple. One of the most divisive issues in a new marriage is what traditions to continue from each person’s past. There is a loss for your parents when you get married because the family traditions that you are so used to where everyone is present now suddenly have to be shared with another person’s family. The newly married couple can feel torn between the two families with questions of loyalty and equal time coming up in the conversation frequently. It is important to establish with both sets of in-laws that you will do what you can to be fair with everyone but in the end you have to make the best decision for the two of you. Setting this expectation early will help your parents begin the transition to the new reality without prolonging it. Too many couples cave in to the most demanding parents and only prolong the day when this type of discussion will have to happen anyway. By prolonging it, you create more problems because the demanding parents don’t understand why you are drawing those lines now that you have already been doing it after you got married.
In all of this remember that your parents are going through a transition at the same time you are. By taking steps to set boundaries with them you are actually helping them to make the transitions in the best way possible. You need to be prepared for them to push back and even blame your spouse for being the one who is making this decision and having too much control over you. It is important that you stand your ground and let them know it is a joint decision and that it is what is best for your marriage. You may even ask your parents if they want what’s best for your marriage and when they say of course you can let them know this is an important step in helping you start off right. In the end you will help your parents with the transition, strengthen the bond with your spouse, and set up a future of a great relationship with your in-laws.
There’s a great article on the theology of marriage entitled “Marriage in God’s Story” over on the Resurgence Blog. How we view marriage plays an important role in how we relate and interact with our spouses. If we see marriage simply as something to make us happy and to get what we want, we will only end up hurting each other and using each other to get what we want. If however, we see marriage as a part of God’s plan to grow us to be more like Christ and as a reflection of his relationship with his people, our perspective and approach to marriage takes on greater significance. From the article:
Biblically, Moses first characterized marriage: “Therefore (because of marriage – my emphasis) a man shall leave his father and his mother, hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:6–7) and Paul (Ephesians 5:32) affirm Moses and agree with God’s definition of marriage:
- It is exclusive (one man and his wife).
- It is not defined by temporal family ties but by permanent covenantal promises (leave father and mother).
- It is a lifetime commitment (hold fast).
- Intimacy (oneness) ensues (they become one flesh).
However, marriage was never meant as an end to itself.
The article goes on to talk about the parallels between God’s relationship with his people, both Israel and the church and how that plays out in the context of our marriages. When you think about it our marriages says something about the that relationship and therefore the gospel to the world. What do people see of gospel when they look at your marriage?
The Love Is Here website is broadcasting the Marriage and Family Ministry Track from the Orlando 2011 Conference on their site at 1pm EST tomorrow April 5th (that would be 10am for us in California). Come listen to the trends in Marriage and Family Ministry HERE.
Imagine for a minute you are working with a married couple who is struggling with their relationship. You sit down and ask them what the issues are. Each person proceeds to describe what they think the problem is. Their description is filled with all the things that their spouse is doing wrong with the occasional sprinkle of admission of the “small” things they may have done to contribute to the problem. After both parties have described their concerns you turn to one spouse and ask, “What do you think your spouse is feeling right now?” Or, “Put yourself in your spouses shoes and tell me what you might be feeling.” Silence. Then a fumbling attempt at an answer that usually is far off the mark. Why do we struggle so much with putting ourselves in another person’s shoes?
The ability to put yourself in your spouses’ shoes is called empathy. Empathy allows you to consider how things may be effecting your spouse, to see his/her perspective, and to be able to actually understand where he/she is coming from. This empathy skill can save you hours of conflict and can actually develop in you a deeper understanding of the other person and even an appreciation for his/her point of view. It is empathy that allows couples to overcome many obstacles and arguments. The beauty of empathy is even if you are wrong in what you think your spouse is feeling, just the act of trying to understand communicates love and connection. If more couples would work at this skill and take risks in asking one another questions instead of always trying to “convince” their partners that they are right or their perspective is the only logical one to have, we would see a huge reduction in the amount and level of intensity of the conflict many couples face.
So how do you begin to have empathy in the context of marriage? First, you have to commit to yourself that winning an argument or having your spouse understand to your satisfaction your perspective are not the goals of your relationship. As soon as you make it about you and your perspective, you fail to have any bandwidth to actually have empathy for your spouse. Second, your goal is to have your spouse say “you got it” either verbally or non verbally. That means you need to take a risk and say to your spouse, “It seems like you are feeling x.” Or, if you have no clue, “what are you feeling right now and how can I help?” These types of questions will help you become an expert on your spouse the more you practice them. Finally, instead of then going on to forcing your spouse to get your perspective try to move towards your spouse in a way that shows you understand how he/she is feeling. It may be a hug or allowing your spouse to vent. Whatever it is, as long as your emotion and response are appropriate to what he/she is feeling you are showing your spouse you understand and care.
Empathy is one of the major keys to making relationships work and to draw a couple closer together. In what ways have you experienced empathy from your spouse? What are some ideas you can share with others on how to show empathy to your spouse. Share your ideas on the comments section below.
Prayer in a marriage can do a lot to help a couple grow closer together spiritually. In fact research shows that couples who pray together are more likely to stay together than couples who do not. Why is that? Prayer is one of the most personal things a person does in their relationship with God and letting one’s spouse in on that helps him/her to see your heart which in turn allows him/her to connect with you on a deeper level. So how should we make prayer a part of our relationship?
First, pray for your spouse on a regular basis. Prayer is not only a way that we connect with God and have relationship with him, it is also a ministry that we can give to one another. When we pray for or intercede for each other, it is one way we can minister to each other’s needs and puts our hearts and minds in a place of thankfulness for one another. Take some time to ask your spouse how you can pray for him/her and then commit to doing it. Thank God for giving you your spouse and lift up his/her needs to God. You will find not only that your spouse will appreciate the prayer but you will find that your attitude towards your spouse will change and your love and gratitude for him/her will increase as well.
Second, spend some time praying together as a couple. Now I know many of us have had bad experiences praying out loud in front of a group so this could be up there on the list of things you fear right next to public speaking. But remember that this is an opportunity to connect with your spouse and performance in terms of how well you pray or what words you use is not the issue. It is the time you spend together connecting with the Lord that is important. In fact if you are not good at words and have never prayed together you can still pray together without talking out loud. Here is what you can do:
- Talk together about what you want to pray about. It could be your relationship, a job situation, or the kids. The important thing is that you decide together what you want to pray about.
- Next hold one another’s hands and begin to pray silently.
- Finally, when you are both done praying squeeze one another’s hands and say “Amen.”
In this way you can pray together without having to worry about how good your words are. What will happen over time is you will get more and more comfortable with the idea and find it easy to start to pray out loud. The more you do this the more connected you will feel with one another and with God. Prayer is an important part of a healthy marriage so give it a try this week and see how God uses it in your marriage. Be sure to share your experiences with prayer as a couple in the comments for this post. I am sure your story would be a great encouragement to other couples!
A recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that Facebook is cited in 1 in 5 divorces in the U.S. and 80 percent of divorce lawyers reported the use of social media being used in engage in marital affairs. The article found on the Science Blog states:
“We’re coming across it more and more,” said licensed clinical psychologist Steven Kimmons, Ph.D., of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. “One spouse connects online with someone they knew from high school. The person is emotionally available and they start communicating through Facebook. Within a short amount of time, the sharing of personal stories can lead to a deepened sense of intimacy, which in turn can point the couple in the direction of physical contact.”
I have written before about about guarding your marriage when it comes to social media in the blog in the past here and here. What has been your experience with social media? Do you know anyone who has experienced problems with social media in their marriage?
Dating is something of a lost art form in our society today especially as it relates to married couples. It seem like all the creative ideas, the things you see in movies, were gone the moment you said “I do.” We guys used all our good ideas to actually get our wives to say yes and set the bar so high for ourselves that we could never measure up on our best day. Our wives used to think we were the best thing since sliced bread and let us know about it both verbally and non-verbally in how they responded to us. There is something about getting into the regular rhythms of life that cause us to abandon one of the most enjoyable and fun parts of our relationship with one another. While we may never go back to the days of husbands who think they are poets and wives who actually think the poetry is any good, we certainly can revive the excitement of dating one another and making that time as important as any other appointment or activity in our lives.
Research shows that time together is one of the leading indicators of whether a marriage is going to survive or not so making time for one another is not a luxury you add from excess time you happen to find, it is a necessity if you want to have a healthy relationship. So what do you do on a date? What do you do together once you make the time?
Well I don’t pretend to have all the answers for every couple out there because we are all different. For some jumping out of an airplane together is fun. For other, more normal people, dinner is just fine. Whatever it is that you enjoy as a couple here are a few things to consider:
Pick a Regular Time and Block it Off Your Calendar
This whole dating thing cannot be something you get around to when you have time. Just like any other important appointment you would never miss for fear of getting fired or missing a huge opportunity, your date life needs to be a high priority. For Cheryl and I our date time is during the day on my day off while the kids are in school. It works best for us and is a time we look forward to. Figure out what works best for you and make it a recurring event.
Talk Together About What You Want to Do
Instead of putting the pressure on one person who has to determine all the details and might or might not get it right, talk together about what you want to do. If you like the idea of coming up with new things and really want to have one person take the lead, trade off each date time on who will plan the day. Whatever you do make sure you have time to talk and connect together. A date where you only face forward and never interact with one another is not a date. That is happening to have someone near you while you do something else. Make your date a time to connect. For Cheryl and I, we go to Starbucks in the morning and spend time talking together and usually go to lunch together. We leave the time in between flexible so we can decide what we want to do week to week.
Check in with One Another and Reconnect
In your date time together talk about life and use it as a time to catch up with one another. This is not a time to bring up all the things your spouse is doing to make your life miserable. That is not a date but an interrogation! This is a time to enjoy your time together and focus on the other person instead of what the other person can do for you. A few things you could ask each other would be:
-How has your week been?
-What are some of the challenges you are facing right now?
-What has God been saying to you lately in your time with Him?
-What things are you excited about?
-What plans do we need to make together as a couple?
These types of questions allow you to explore one another and enjoy talking together. Remember not to use questions to manipulate your spouse or lecture them. This is a time to enjoy one another’s company.
Do Some Kind of Activity Together
Explore some things you like to do together. It may be as simple as going out to eat all the way to bike riding together. Whatever it is pick something you both enjoy and find a hobby you can do together.
Kindle your Physical Relationship
I know just putting this one out there some of you just let out a cheer and some of you want to stop reading. I put this out there not to say that every date has to end with sex. In fact that would be the wrong reason to have a date if the whole thing is just a set up for sex unless you both agree that is where you are going. I put this out there because the physical part of many couple’s relationships is something that can be left unattended. Over time sex becomes less and less an expression of the relationship and more and more a looming expectation or an experience laden with fears of disappointment. Like anything else, sex is something that we need to be intentional about if it is to be an enjoyable part of our relationship. With so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings that can surround our physical relationships, talking about it and making time for it are vital. Sometimes just scheduling when you will have sex can take the pressure of guessing when the right time would be away and can create a great opportunity to connect. In a future article I will talk about how to talk about sex but for now, consider how you will tend your physical relationship together whether that is during your date time or not.
Hopefully this gives you a place to start in thinking about your dating relationship. Guys remember your wives like to be pursued and what you did to get her to say yes to marrying you probably would still work today. Ladies remember your husbands liked it when you showed that you appreciated them and what they did had an impact on you and doing the same today for your husband will have a profound effect on how he pursues you. Now get out there and start dating each other and remember why you fell in love with each other in the first place!
Just as men and women are created differently, so we also hear honor differently. The core issue for most women is security. Not security in terms of having a home alarm or body guards around her, but security when it comes to the relationship. Women are much more relationally attuned in general than men are and they want to know that they can trust you as their husband to relationally connected and engage. When she knows she can trust you and that you are faithful to her not just sexually but also emotionally and relationally so that she feels cherished and at the top of your priority list, she will be able to rest in your relationship.
If, however, your wife ever feels like she can’t trust you or your are more in love with work or hobbies than you are with her, you are beginning to shake that foundation of security that every woman needs and you are creating conflict and trouble for yourself. So be sure to take time to connect with her on a regular basis. Listen to her talk about her day and be able to remember some of the details that are important to her (I say some because most of us men get lost in the details :). Let her know that you do actually think about her from time to time outside the times when you want to connect physically. When you say you will do something, follow through and make it happen so she knows she can count on you and most importantly, that you think she is important enough to help.
When a woman feels honored and cherished by her husband she is able to rest and feels secure in the relationship. When a woman feels secure in a relationship she is much more responsive to her husband both in thought and deed (and this does include sex men!). So be sure to do whatever it takes to build the security your wife needs in the marriage. When you do this well, you will experience more of what you had when you were dating and she in turn will honor you.