The “Try”: 10 Things you should TRY in your marriage.

My wife married a sci-fi geek.  I’m not ashamed of it.  I embrace it.  Anne, not so much. 

In his endeavor to become a Jedi, Luke finds himself needing to get trained by the best.  It is here we get one of the most well-known figures in all of the Star Wars universe: Yoda.

For us geeks, his wisdom pours out in a fantastic line that is just as iconic as the character, 

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ4yd2W50No

I’ve heard it used and stated in so many different contexts.  Why not?  It’s an amazing piece of wisdom used to motivate his young apprentice to take some actions-steps forward. A few days ago, I saw it tweeted in regards to sex in marriage.  My immediate first thought: 

Discouraging “trying” may not be the best marriage advice I’ve seen.  

So I thought I’d do the opposite.  I want to encourage “trying.” Why?

For the couple going through struggles, it’s the personal effort the two of you need to show each other.  It’s the extra “try” that screams “I’m not giving up…we’re going to make it.” 

For the couple going through a season of life where you feel you’re just “existing” together.  No fights, no scuffles, yet there is no fun and no passion. The “try” just may catapult you forward over the hump into a amazing season of refreshing. 

For the couple in a good place in life, the “try” can be an extra log to the fire.  The time to try something new and exciting isn’t when things are getting mundane or frustrating. That’s the worst time to try to get momentum.  The perfect time for the “try” is when things are great.  The momentum picks up and flows.  Makes me think when scripture says, “from glory to glory.”

Here we go, 10 things I want you to “try” in your marriage…we’ll start with a few simple BUT powerful tips but please don’t tell yourself “I’m not going to “try” to do any of these unless I’m in the mood.” It’s time to back away from what you need step up into the “try” for the sake of your spouse and your marriage.  

1. Try to smile.  Sometimes we save our smile for our kids, friends, and/or for the people at church.  We take our smile for granted when it comes to our spouse.  

2. Try to complement/encourage.  Sometimes we resort to “I’ll do it if he/she does it.” Or I’ve even heard this one, “He/she doesn’t deserve it.” Childish tendencies take over us sometimes.  What brings it out? Hurt.  This is a basic need in EVERY human. Hebrews 3:13 says to “Encourage each other daily.” If you don’t do this for your spouse, the enemy will use someone else to fill that need and NO ONE should out-encourage/complement you.  Step up and try it.

3. Try to surprise.  Get spontaneous. I’ll admit, my wife’s version of surprise is different.  She likes to know what it is before it’s “sprung” upon her. That way, she can prepare her OCD self for it and actually enjoy it.  I can’t push my style of surprise upon her and expect her to enjoy.  Find your spouse’s love language and get out of the rut.

4. Try prayer and devotions.  I know what you’re thinking: “Shouldn’t you have had this at #1?” I’m a pastor and I thought you’d expect that. Some couples, like me and Anne, have a hard time with doing “couple devotionals.” We tried it and it didn’t fit.  But the key is this: we tried it.  Now, we’ll pass on to each other books, blogs, and sermons  as we look out for the spiritual well-being of the each other. I love putting my arm around her at night and praying over her.  I love hearing her pray for me.  Our devos may be separate, but it’s morphed into us pouring into each other in a way I didn’t expect.  But it happened with the “try.” 

5. Try nudity. (I thought that would get your attention.)   We base so much of sex as a “mood” or “an act.” For those that push “the act” upon the other, you ignore the emotions/mood.  For those that are all about the “mood,” you ignore this necessary and beautiful act of marriage.  Bring the “try” into your bed.  Why? It’s humility; You’re not there for “you.” Try sex from the vantage point of your spouse.  The bed isn’t there to meet your needs; it’s there as a platform to meet your spouse’s needs.   Remember this: there is NO ONE else in the entire world that can meet this need in your spouse. It’s you.  

6. Try a date. Most couples know that dating each other is necessary…well, kind of.  This is so simplistic yet I find it’s completely ignored and taken for granted.  It doesn’t have to be expensive.  It may not have any cost for that matter.  Anne and I like the simple walks together.  We’ve even taken our kids on walks.  The point was to have time together (which is Anne’s love language…that and Swedish Fish).  Try it. Ask your spouse out.  Plan out the day/evening.  Pour into their love language. 

7. Try to listen. A friend of mine gave me a quote I’ve used on my kids and I’ve needed to use in marriage. “Listen to me with your eyes.” Eye contact speaks so much to the person talking.  It shows more that singular focus.  It shows you are valuing them and their voice. Proverbs 20:12 says “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.” Get past “Elevator talk” in your marriage. Your ability to actively listen conveys the value your spouse needs from you.  

8. Try to forgive. The preach in me wants to just say “Just forgive.  Make yourself do it.” But I felt the Lord leading me to challenge you to “try” forgiveness.  Why? So many people are afraid to “try” it because of how it may be received and/or given.  Colossians 3:13 challenges us to “try”/step-out into it regardless of your spouse’s reaction.  The response of your “trying” isn’t your responsibility.  The forgiveness is. 

9. Try to be healthy.  I know we’re ‘merica.  We’re a nation of unhealthy activities with unhealthy food.  But this should’t be our excuse to develop healthy hearts, bodies, emotions, and spirits.  I’m not asking you to be a marathon runner. I’m not demanding you to become a vegan.  I’m asking you to take an honest inventory of your life and ask yourself, “Where can I get healthier?” The bible says, “the two become one.” If you are actively “trying” bringing health into your marriage (God’s word, healthy relationships, healthy food, exercise, etc) , you are setting your marriage up for potential success.  

10. Try ___________.  This is where you have to get your imagination going.  It’s about you knowing your marriage and trying something that may be new or it could be something that needs to be revived.  Get creative.  Talk with your spouse. Go after something today. 

Yoda had it wrong.  “Do or do not.  There is no try.” And unfortunately so many people don’t/won’t try.  This needs to be a new habit for this new year.  Don’t wait for you to be in the mood to “try.”  If that’s the case, it’ll never happen because it’s about you.  Get humble and get “trying.”  

Sometimes it isn’t really about the “what.”  Sometimes all that matters is you “tried.” 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

Marriage Blog: “It’s just not me.”

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We’ve all used it to get out of things we don’t want to do.

“Do you want to ride the roller coaster?” “No. It’s just not me.”
“Do you want to try escargot?” “No.  It’s just not me.”
“Do you like country music? “No. It’s just not me.

It’s kind of our nice way of telling people that we have absolutely no interest in what they are offering.  As long as you say it in a nice tone, it’s amazing the stuff it can get you out of.  It’s like a “get out of jail free card” for moments in public places.

FreeJail

Sadly, it’s a line used to often in marriage.  If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times.  I have heard the line used all over the place and in numbers of situations.  Casual conversations with couples, in small groups, dining, counseling…well, you get the picture.  I’ve heard it too much

“All he/she wants to do is talk…it’s just not me.”
“He/she wants to get all romantic…it’s just not me.”
“He/she wants to be involved in volunteering together…it’s just not me.”
“He/she wants is sex…it’s just not me.”
“He/she is more the disciplinarian for the kids…it’s just not me.”
“Well that’s just his/her thing…it’s just not me.”

thats not me

cop out  n. An excuse designed to shirk responsibility.

That’s all this line really is…a cop out.  It’s the marital line we use to shirk responsibility of being an “other-centered” husband/wife that serves our spouse.  (as I type this, I’ve noticed there has been a common thread being woven through my latest blogs…And that thread is simply being a spouse ready to take up not just the JOY but the responsibility of serving our husband/wife.)

We live in such a self-centered ego-driven manipulative culture that is fascinated in pleasuring self.  As blunt as it sounds it’s completely true.

“I have to receive something for me to be happy.”
“What do I get in return if I do what you want?”
“If I get what I want, then you can get what you want.”
“I don’t feel like it. He/she just has to deal with it.”

We feel entitled to have our own needs met with little thought what our spouses needs are.  We justify our actions by calling their “needs”  as “wants” as to calm our conscience.  It is no wonder why people start emotional and physical affairs.  We send out our spouses empty and thirsty and we get upset when someone has stepped up to the plate to fill them up.  Note: I’m not giving ANYONE the excuse for having an affair.  Affairs are wrong no matter how you package them (Matthew 5:27-30).  But as a spouse, we cannot empower what the enemy is wanting to do in our marriage by neglecting our spouse as well as give our significant other an excuse to go looking for attention elsewhere.

Proverbs 5:18-19 Bless your fresh-flowing fountain! Enjoy the wife you married as a young man!  Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose – don’t ever quit taking delight in her body. Never take her love for granted!

This last part is what this blog is all about. The longer we are with someone (we’ve been married for 16 years + dated for 3 years) the more apt we are to taking them (their wants and needs) for granted.  We assume too much and neglect them.  I would love to assume I’ve never given the excuse “it’s just not me”, but honestly, I think I used it last weekend when she wanted to go for a “romantic walk” on a beach and I was comfortable in the shade.  I’ll say it this way: the more we put off our spouse, the more we push away our spouse.  It could be a walk, a conversation, a date, sex, or a simple cup of coffee, but to ignore them is to take them for granted. And to take them for granted is to stifle the love and passion in your marriage.

Be a listener to your spouse.  Then take that next step from being a listener to serving your spouse.  Get past the “it’s not me” phase and realize, if you are married, whether you like it or not, IT IS YOU! Never take your spouse for granted.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

7 Habits of Highly Defective Marriages: Part 5 Inconsistent Sex

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A month ago, we started a new series of seven blogs designed to recognize unhealthy habits. If you missed the last four weeks check out our first FOUR Highly Defective Habits:

Habit #1: Spiritual Continuity.

Habit #2: The Single Life

Habit #3: The Fun-less Couple

Habit #4: Criticism Floods

Here we go…#5 on the list of my 7 Habits of Highly Defective Marriages:

Defective Marriage

Habit #5: Inconsistent Sex

in·con·sist·ent/inkənˈsistənt
adjective: not staying the same throughout
Synonyms: unstable, irregular, unsteady, unsettled, uneven

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

The subject that people, single and marriage, have a hard time talking about but don’t mind reading out is sex.  When it comes to sex, it is the action that provides so much enjoyment yet so much conflict. The most common sexual conflict in marriage is in reference to frequency.  In that average couple (not always the case) one spouse tends to have a higher libido and want more sex than the other.   This leads the spouse with the higher sex drive to feeling under appreciated, unimportant, and unloved.
“Why doesn’t my wife want me?”
“Why doesn’t my husband desire me?”
“Why won’t she initiate anything?”
“Why won’t he touch me?” 
This begins a spinning carousel of chaos where the other spouse thinks:
“Is sex all they want from me?”
“What about my love language?”
“I shouldn’t have to do something I don’t want.”
It’s at this place where it feels like the wheels are falling off.  The carousal of sexual chaos is spinning and you don’t know how to stop the cycle that continues to stifle the marital joy. Your marriage isn’t the only one dealing with this.  Couples struggle with sex being inconsistent (unstable, irregular, unsteady, unsettled, uneven).  I’m not saying “inconsistent” as it is HAS TO HAPPEN on certain days at certain times.  What I mean is your marital sex life has become irregular and unsteady.  It’s in a cycle of instability and frustration.  It is vital to break this cycle that most couples fall into at one time or another.
There is no magic number.  I’m not after getting you to the average frequency of the american couple.  What I’m after is CONSISTENCY.  What helps is remembering what 1 Corinthians 7 tells us.
Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree
I’ve never met a couple who had a consistent healthy sex life who wanted a divorce.  But the act of depriving (deny a person the possession or use of something), has been used to destroy so many marriages. Let me clear the air on this: There is a difference between refusing occasionally and depriving someone habitually. If depriving has become your habit.  You’ve let selfishness creep in. My wife says it best, “You are the only one that can meet the sexual needs of your spouse. No one else can. If you don’t, you’re opening up the door for the enemy to try to use someone else to fill in that need.”  (Anne is a wise woman.)
“Do not Deprive” simply means…
  • Sexual intimacy is a God-given gift given to your marriage.  To deprive your spouse is to deprive them of a gift from God
  • Sex isn’t a weapon to wield for power in the marriage.  It cannot be used for leverage or manipulation.
  • You are not after the minimum.  You are just “doing your duty”. You’re after experiencing the gift TOGETHER.  Sex connects us on three levels: physical, spiritual, and emotional…but that’s for another blog
  • You are after intimacy and not just release.  It’s not about releasing frustration.  Sex is at the deepest level of intimacy and should be treated and enjoyed as such.
You have to start by taking your SELF off of it. It’s recognizing that if you as a couple remove selfish needs and wants and walk in a manner that says, according to 1 Corinthians 7, “your body belongs to me and mine belongs to you.”  I even love how the section ends.  If you step away because you MUTUALLY decided to do it for a time, come together to make sure the enemy cannot tempt you at all.
The result of a consistent sex life is simple: It will be a mutually fulfilling sex life.  It sounds easier on the blog  that it is to be reality.  But the beauty of it is it’ll be more fun to practice than it will be to read.  As I said earlier, I’ve never met a couple who had a consistent healthy sex life who wanted a divorce.  Why? Because at the center of a consistent sex life, was a self-less, humble, servant-like heart.
And that makes for a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE marriage (and a fun one at that).
Stop being defective…
Stop being inconstant with your marital sex life…
Stop depriving and enjoy each other.
Thanks for letting me ramble…

Marriage blog: Unnatural Aphrodisiac

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Basil, figs, oysters, strawberries, avocados, and, of course, chocolate are just a few of the many of the foods that  have been rumored to have aphrodisiac properties. By definition, an aphrodisiac is a food, drink, or substance that increases sexual desire. How do foods like these accomplish that task? They can reduce stress, increase blood flow, and/or positively affect the neurotransmitters in your brain all of which can improve or affect your libido. Hey, I’m all in for a higher libido in my wife, but serving her a plate of Fig Newtons and Oysters is a bit too obvious and, quite frankly, not an appealing combo.

SONY DSC

I can’t tell you which natural aphrodisiac works best.  I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist.  (My medical knowledge is limited to my dvd collection of M*A*S*H.)  I imagine everyone responds to different foods…well…differently. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 15+ years of marriage is what, I found, is the most affective aphrodisiac is THE unnatural one.

Let me explain.

In the midst of our sex-craved culture, we find a heart of selfishness.  Selfishness is natural. It drives individuals and ultimately destroys intimacy. Couples fight about that all the time. Everything is about “what I need to meet MY desires.” People, therefore, resort to actions in order to position their spouse into a mood to have their personal needs met. Proverbs 18:1 says, “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.” Selfishness produces unfriendly spouses. Unfriendly spouses defy any type of wise judgement. Unfriendly spouses destroy sexual desire in their marriages. Again, you don’t have to teach selfishness.  It’s just natural.

I understand needs.  I believe that your “needs” (not wants) need to be met. But I’d challenge you go after the ultimate unnatural aphrodisiac: Serving.

There’s nothing so counter-productive to marital intimacy as selfishness.  But there’s also nothing so potent to growing  AND increasing intimacy as serving. Proverbs 11:25 says “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” Simply stated: if you want an enriched sex life stop being selfish (“one who waters“)…learn to “bring blessings” by serving your spouse.

Serving isn’t natural.
Serving punches pride in the face.
Serving says, “it’s not about me.”
Serving says, “my spouse comes first.”
Serving takes hard work.

What Anne and I would love to speak into you on Valentines day is when it comes to intimately “serving” your spouse, remember: 

1. Your spouse’s needs are a gift to you. This is a perspective change you need to have. Instead of seeing your spouse’s needs as an inconvenience to you.  You need to see them as opportunity to bless your spouse.  Serving helps the perspective change and chases away selfishness.

2. Look for ways to serve with no strings attached. Find what melts your spouses heart and serve with no expectations. Get out of the mode that you are doing something to get something.  That’s called “selfishness.”

3. Intimacy doesn’t always have to do with sex.  When you are serving and meeting intimate needs, you need to get out of your mind that all intimate needs are sexual.  Again, if you serve and it’s laced with selfish expectations, your severing wasn’t serving at all.

4. When it comes to sexual intimacy needs, you are the ONLY ONE who can serve your spouse. No one in person, on a computer, or on a movie screen can and should meet your spouses sexual needs other than you.  It puts a heavy responsibility on you to make sure you are consistently meeting those needs.  That may seem cumbersome.  But if you BOTH are serving each other, you’ll discover more fun than you’ve every experienced.

Valentines day is the perfect day to start a new trend.  Begin to live out Proverbs 11:25 and enrich your marital intimacy with the unnatural aphrodisiac.

Serve your spouse.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Part 2 from our “Live Highlight Reel” service @kalamazoofirst

Highlight Reel "Live" service

On June 30th we had our “Live” service in which our plan was to share testimonies and then answer questions from the congregation. Because of how the Lord directed the service. We’ve had to re-adjust our approach to the questions by utilizing the blog to answer the questions. In Part 1, we started with four questions while we waited for the participating couples to read and give some replies. If you’ve missed Part 1 of this blog, check out “Follow up from our “Live Highlight Reel” service @kalamazoofirst

I sent off the questions that were submitted to ALL 4 couples. The couples chose different questions to answer.  Here’s our answers:

Will I ever find a woman?

Benny and Nicole Clark: I believe if you pray to GOD to find that right mate for you he will answer that prayer. You have to put action towards your prayer.

Ryan and Katie: Yes, they are everywhere.

What do women look for when choosing someone?…I wanna know everything

I’ll try to keep this one simple to answer…tough to carry out:
Connection (Spiritually, emotionally, etc)
Fun
Maturity
Responsibility
Security
Stability
Respect.

What have you done when it seems like you and your spouse are always headed in different directions?

Benny and Nicole Clark: I have been up front with her and told her how I felt @ that time. She has always been very, very up front with me also. Figure it out together as ONE…

Ryan and Katie: We’re not 100% sure what you mean by ‘always headed in different directions.’ In our life, we’ve experienced two kinds of ‘different directions’ so we’ll address both. The first version is a busy-life
version where you don’t see each other except when you pass the kid off, at dinner once a week and for about 15 minutes at bedtime before you pass out. This we’re-busy-and-always-running lifestyle was a huge contributor to the near death of our marriage. For us, the solution was dramatic: Ryan changed his work schedule from second to first shift and eventually changed careers altogether. Not everyone can make such a dramatic change. (Having said that, don’t eliminate the possibility completely – you might need to ask the Lord if you need to make dramatic change in order to make more room for your spouse. If He says yes, trust that He will make a way!) The fact of the matter is, a marriage where you and your spouse are always headed different directions provides a weak spot for the enemy to exploit. (For
example, he might put an attractive, like-minded person in your spouse’s path who’s always heading the same direction he/she is!) Don’t give the enemy a foothold!  We highly recommend that you make changes so that you are no longer ships passing in the night. Some practical things you can
do are:

  • Pre-plan time for just you and your spouse and treat it as sacred. You don’t have to spend money, but you at least need some quality time together.
  • Communicate as much as possible – daily phone calls to catch up, emails, text messages – whatever it takes so that your spouse feels like he/she is in the loop with what’s going on with you.
  • Say no to things. We discovered that there were a lot of harmless or good things – even ministry opportunities – that we needed to say no to because we needed to guard the limited time we had to spend quality time as a family/couple.
  • Ask yourself honestly if there’s something or someone in your life that you’re putting before your spouse? In our case, Katie had to halt her workaholic tendencies and spend less time at work. Ryan had to give up certain friendships that were damaging to our marriage.  For a long time we played the “You’re not being fair to me by asking me to give this up!” game, but when we chose to put the other person first, they were natural sacrifices to make.

The other kind of ‘headed in different directions’ we experienced has more to do with the fact that each spouse changes over time. Because we stopped spending time together, we started growing in opposite directions with different ideas about what we wanted in life. If you and your spouse seem to have completely different – perhaps conflicting – priorities in life, we recommend prayer. Ask God to give the two of you shared priorities. Then ask Him to help you understand the other person’s perspective. Look for ways to put them first – even small things. Talk openly about what you want and why; try not to be defensive. Also, listen openly.  Your spouse is speaking their mind, not reading yours. You won’t agree on everything, but at least you’ll still know each other. In our experience, you’ll get much farther by asking God to show you what you need to change or understand rather than praying for God to make
your spouse change his/her mind.

Have any of you had couples counseling and how was the experience? Did it help strengthen your marriage?

Lori & Scot:  Yes, we definitely did go to counseling.  It was helpful; certainly it helped Scot adopt a less confrontational and defensive style of discussing issues.  For Lori, the counselor helped her label and understand her own emotions.  The counselor could catch those moments when a conversation starts to “go off the rails” and point out the counterproductive styles or tactics so that they can be corrected before emotions get too raw.  It probably would have been even better if we had gone earlier in our marriage, before such serious problems had set in.  On the other hand, counseling is not a substitute for prayerful reflection on your own behavior.  Good habits must be practiced both inside and outside the counselor’s office.  The counselor can point out the problems, but changing is hard – often so hard you need the help of the Lord to really achieve it.

Is there one thing you wish you knew before you got married?

Ryan and Katie: The person you marry on your wedding day will be a different person five, 10, 20 and 50 years from now. We all change – hopefully in good ways. You won’t always have the same things in common. Your spouse won’t always enjoy the same hobbies and past times as they used to. Your perspectives on faith and politics and life’s goals are going to change. That’s another reason why (as Pastor Dave said in his July 1 blog) it’s important to be sure that you and your spouse share the same core beliefs and values – the things that don’t change, like a commitment to serving Jesus. It’s also a reason why you must decided in advance that you will love and be committed to this person through thick and thin because you are both going to evolve over time.

Lori & Scot:  Yes, we have both often felt that we had a very inadequate understanding of how much our families’ styles affected our assumptions about communications and conflict in a marriage.  What we’ve learned since then is that many of us come through our childhood with certain (often subconscious) injuries and hurts from our primary caregivers.  Usually, it was not that our parents meant to hurt us, but they were imperfect humans too.  It often leaves us with a longing, or a “hole,” that we hope our mate will fill.  Indeed, we often pick out mates that remind us in some way of our parents, but we’re always hoping that they will fulfill that longing.  It isn’t always the parent of the opposite gender we try to match.  Maybe you feel like your father, was a devout Christian and a highly moral man.  Yet, he was also distant and aloof, perhaps hard to please.  You might marry a wife who is also a good, moral Christian.  After a while, you may come to find that she too is hard to please.  But God’s love has no holes.  When we strive to become the best reflection of God’s love for our spouse, we improve ourselves in the process.  The good, moral Christian woman learns to show more appreciation and let her husband feel the long-sought approval for a job well done.  The little girl who never felt respected by her family for her ideas or intelligence probably craves that recognition from her husband when she’s a grown woman.  That husband grows himself when he learns to be more humble and listen respectfully to her good ideas.  One good resource to learn more about this concept is the book entitled Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix.

What has been one of the hardest compromises you had to make in your marriage?

I think it’s easy to make a list of the individual things that I, personally, feel was hard.  I could say, some hobbies, sports, time with friends, my work schedule, sex, etc.

What it breaks down to is my pride and selfishness.  They are what makes compromises hard.  When I don’t want to change and/or I want to get what I want, no matter what the issue is, compromise is difficult to do.  The other side of that coin is a spouse won’t make the same sacrifices.

What makes compromise easier (not necessarily easy) is when I choose to look through the eyes of my spouse and approach marriage for her benefit instead of my own. I’m to love her as Christ loved the church and therefore need to be willing to lay everything down. Again, this is a reciprocated relationship which means that we BOTH approach the marriage the same way; we both give, we both die to self, and, therefore, the marriage wins.  You don’t wait for your spouse to comprise first.  Take the leadership and show it before you see it.

Do you every feel competitive in your marriage? How do you deal with this?

Absolutely.  As a competitive person married to a competitive person, this comes very natural.  The problem with being competitive is it’s driven by pride and selfishness.  The heart behind it is personal gain. I’ll defer to what I said in the last question: What makes dealing with competition easier (not necessarily easy) is when I choose to look through the eyes of my wife and approach marriage for her benefit instead of my own. I cannot approach it for the personal win. I’m to love her as Christ loved the church and therefore need to be willing to lay everything down. Again, this is a reciprocated relationship which means that we BOTH approach the marriage the same way; we both give, we both die to self, and, therefore, the marriage wins.  You don’t wait for your spouse to serve first.  Take the leadership and show it before you see it.

How do you continue to stay committed to someone who doesn’t want to stay committed to the relationship?

Lori & Scot:  This was one of the hardest things for Scot in the divorce.  He really felt committed to Lori, but that feeling wasn’t reciprocated.  He went from being the chased to being the chaser,… and he made a lot of mistakes in the course of that chase.  Here are some of the lessons those mistakes taught us (read “Them” as the prodigal spouse):

Treat Them with Patience

When hoping for reconciliation with your spouse, always remember that the secret to peace is to accept and appreciate God’s timing.  Doubt or resentment can lead to despair or moving ahead without His advice.  Be patient waiting for God’s plan to reveal itself.

Treat Them with Calm

In our anguish and desperation to “solve the problem,” we often deny our spouse the space and peace they need to hear God’s voice speaking to them versus our pleas for reconciliation.  This is especially true for men who often want to be “Mr. Fix-It,” relentlessly focusing on solutions to the marital crisis and the goal of reuniting the family.  It’s important for your spouse to view you as a source of calm instead of turmoil.  Chances are they already have enough stress and turmoil going on inside their heads and hearts.

Treat Them with a Soft Heart

If we can recognize the injured child inside our spouse, we can certainly be more understanding of their current behaviors. It’s even better if we can provide the love, care, and encouragement needed for our spouse to overcome those past injuries.   Remember, despite the marital strife that might have gotten you to this point, to have a soft heart toward the injured child inside your spouse.

Speak Their Language

Dr. Gary Chapman believes that we all have a “love language,” a primary way of expressing and interpreting love.  We can show love in many ways but Chapman outlines five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  We often have a different love language than our spouse.  The things that make us feel loved and valued are different from those that make our spouses feel loved and valued.   Some people cite the Golden Rule as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but Chapman shows us that we have to dig a little deeper here and “do unto our spouse as they wish to have done unto them.”  It’s like traveling to a foreign country and trying to use the wrong currency.  If we go to England and try to pay our bills with Mexican pesos, they just won’t recognize the payment. They take pounds in England, not pesos.  Similarly, if we try to show our spouse how much we love them by buying them an expensive gift, but their love language is Quality Time; we just paid in the wrong currency.  This is particularly important to bear in mind when we are trying to reconcile with a prodigal spouse.  They’re already convinced you’re speaking a different language, but you’ve got to show them you know how to communicate your love in a language they value.

Treat Them with Honesty (and to thine own self be true)

Whether you or your spouse did something to compromise the trust in your relationship, we are all sinners and play a role in the current situations in our marriages.  Search your heart for thoughts or behaviors that have negatively affected your relationship – pray and eliminate them from your life.  Be honest with yourself as you examine these behaviors – after all, if you cannot be honest with yourself, you will never be able to be honest with your spouse.

Treat Them with Consistency (rebuild trust)

Consistently treat your spouse with patience, calmness, understanding, and love.  If your negative behavior or thinking was part of the reason they left, continue to show your spouse that you no longer exhibit these negative thoughts or behaviors.  Show them that the change in you is real.  Show them that they can be “safe” in your presence and that they can trust you to love them unconditionally.  Be supportive, encouraging, and positive in your interactions.

Treat Them with Grace

Reflect the grace that God has given you to your spouse.  Even if your spouse has done something to disrespect, hurt, or betray you, respond to them as God has responded to your sins and failures with undeserved grace.

Love Them Unconditionally

When your spouse is prodigal, your feelings of jealousy, anger, and resentment are “par for the course.” Unchecked, these emotions can corrode your inherent love for your spouse.  You must bear in mind how imperfect you are in the eyes of God, how often you have been unfaithful to Him and His purpose in your life.  Let God’s unconditional love for you, a flawed and sinful human being, be reflected in the way you love your spouse.  Indeed, your spouse may deliberately test your love, just to see how sincere you are, how real and unconditional your love truly is.  Only God can give you the strength to withstand these tests.  In The Love Dare, Steven and Alex Kendrick write that “The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional.  The truth is that love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”   They go on to say, “But you will struggle and fail to achieve this kind of marriage unless you allow God to begin growing His love within you.  Love that ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (I Corinthians 13:7) does not come from within.  It can only come from God.”

Here are a few things not to do:

Don’ts

  • Don’t try to argue your spouse into reconciliation with logic or guilt
  • Don’t try to enlist the help of others (e.g., children, parents, brothers, or sisters) in convincing your spouse to reconcile – God is the best “convincer” you can have on your side
  • Don’t play holier than thou with your spouse – God will inspire them to change their ways better than you ever can, and you’re still a sinner no matter how much you may have improved yourself
  • Don’t try to rush or crowd your spouse when they show promising signs – let them control the pace and the proximity (sometimes the pace will be two steps forward and one step back)
  • Don’t view this as just a passing phase, something to get through until things “go back to normal” – “normal” was broken, or you wouldn’t be here
  • Don’t let your emotions get the better of you – pray for patience and calm
  • Don’t try to control all the outcomes – only God can do that
  • Don’t give up

Come back next week for Part 3 of this marriage blog!

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Sexual Atrophy

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I use sticky notes quite a bit.  I get ideas for this blog, and I’ll use them. There’s one that has been stuck to the surface of my desk for a month.  It has two words at the top…one specifically that I haven’t been able to let go of.

Atrophy.

Photo Feb 28, 10 09 52 AM
My Sticky Note

It  was 2005 and I had torn my rotator cuff in a softball game. Post surgery, I found myself meeting with my physical therapist. It’s there I heard this word, that perhaps, I had never really thought of.  It’s a word I need to blog about.

Atrophy [a-truh-fee] a wasting away of the body or of an organ or part, as from defective nutrition or nerve damage; degeneration, decline, or decrease, as from disuse

My left shoulder and arm had a significant difference from the right.  Because of my pain, I really hadn’t taken the time to examine my shoulder. I just kept it covered. I had a hard time looking at the damage (I can deal with other people injuries but not mine). My PT went on to explain because of the pain, the damage, the lack of usage, and the procedure, atrophy has set in.  Before I could reply, she warned me if I didn’t take the necessary steps (physical therapy) to get the strength back, the shoulder would never return to full range of motion (full health).

This month, we’ve been blogging on the subject of sex. I’m wondering if there are couples that are dealing with “Sexual Atrophy”: a deterioration of intimacy, desire, and affection.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says,“Live happily with the woman you love through all days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.”

Simply said, the Lord desires you to live happily with your spouse.  And yes, it includes sexual pleasure as well. Sex wasn’t meant just to be JUST enjoyed during the honeymoon phase.  It’s meant to be enjoyed through all the days of your lives together.

When comparing with my previous experience with “atrophy” it’s caused me to see some parallels with what can lead to “Sexual Atrophy.” I’ve used the signs of physical atrophy to help show atrophy in our intimacy.

Perhaps…
1 – “You haven’t noticed” any sexual atrophy. There’s no desire to check for health and/or change because you’re fine with where you are at regardless of how your spouse feels.
2 – Current “pain” (hurt, frustration, bitterness) has caused atrophy.  You tend to steer away from the subject with your spouse because you don’t want another fight. Perhaps you just don’t want to let go of the pain. Perhaps the pain has become a safe place.
3 – “Lack of activity” is destructive.  You may be fine with little to no sex.  How does you spouse feel? Are their needs being ignored. In many marriages, there’s usually one person that has a greater sex-drive than the other.  I’ll say this, I’ve never dealt with a marriage who had issues with too much intimacy.
4 – “Previous pains”/damages have led to atrophy. We carry our past into our marriage.  Sometimes couples go thought atrophy because there was previous pain that wasn’t dealt with.  Now it’s been carried into the bed.  That pain has built a blockade that is preventing affection.
5 – There is a “fear of correcting the hurt”.  Perhaps previous attempts to fix it have failed.  Maybe you feel like you will be working alone in it. Perhaps you know the problem lies within you and you don’t want to admit it.

No matter what is causing the atrophy, you need to heed the same advice I was given: Take the necessary steps to bring the health back.  I’m not saying that you’ll be back in “honeymoon” form (even though that’s not a bad thing so I won’t discourage it). What I am saying is this TRUTH:

The choice to live with “sexual atrophy” is damaging to the oneness of your marriage. 

Here are some necessary steps to help bring the health back: 

1 – Prayer. Most people wouldn’t think that prayer and sex go together. I can’t say it’s foreplay that will get the motor revving. I will say, it will put your heart in the right direction. Pray for him/her by yourself. Ask the Lord to bless them and change you. When you are with your spouse, pray WITH him/her.  Take anything of selfishness out of your prayers and let your spouse hear you speaking over them. Pray over your intimacy. God’s not embarrassed.  He created you, your body parts, and the pleasure that comes from them joining together.

2 – Communication. Do you and your spouse talk about ? Is that conversation always one-sided? Are your minds already made up before the talking takes place? Does your spouse feel heard?  How do you know your spouse feels heard?  Have you communicated the hurt/concerns behind your lack of desire?  Have you told him/her what you like in bed? Does your spouse know the foreplay that you enjoy?  Does you spouse know what turns you off?

These are simple questions to begin the conversation between you two. Some might feel awkward. But too many couples are experiencing “sexual atrophy” because of a stupid word called ASSUMPTION. Don’t assume. Communicate!

3- Frequency.  It’s difficult to fix “sexual atrophy” if you don’t attempt sex.  I agree with fellow blogger, we live in a oversexed society full of undersexed marriages. Sexual frustration is high for men and women for a growing number of reasons (I’ll save that for another blog). I can’t hand you a magic “frequency number.” It will change over time and through seasons of life. I do ask that you find balance. Again, I’ve never dealt with sexually active couple that lacked joy, strength, and health.  Plan date nights that include sex…or just plan sex nights. It’s up to you. Don’t fall for the trick that “planning” isn’t romantic.  The reason why “planning” works great for couples is it take the pressure off of the other days of the week. Does it mean “unplanned sex” can’t happen?  Nope…that’s called bonus sex. (cha-ching)

4 – Desire. My wife and I have dealt with this quite a bit.  Like many couples, I (husband) have a stronger desire than Anne (wife).  It’s not the rule. We know couples that are the opposite.  In helping a wife, Anne spoke some great words of wisdom that I want to include here.  Anne says,

“Does your husband have a similar sex drive (zero desire)? How do you know? Have you asked him lately if he wants more sex? I never have to ask because I know Dave wants more. (LOL) As a woman I understand where there is “non-interest” or a not a huge sex drive. But if your husband is needing intimacy, you need to fulfill that need. This might be a deep issue that is not said because there’s no communication on the subject. If he has more of a drive, he missing out and he either is not communicating or doesn’t feel like he can. Is he settling for your drive because he doesn’t want to “rock the boat.” If he IS missing out on what he needs, it will, eventually, come back to weaken and hurt your marriage.”

As spouses, our desire has to come from desiring our spouse’s desires.  I can’t tell you how many games Anne has sat through and how many “chick-flicks” I’ve watched.  We (Anne and I) did it to please our spouse, and, in turn, brought us pleasure to see them happy.  Imagine if we approached sex in that manner.  The sexual experience wouldn’t just feel better. It’d be more fulfilling.

5 – Help. Don’t feel like you are alone.  You’re not the only one dealing with this. I’ll share another TRUTH: Atrophy isn’t a death sentence. It’s not weakness to ask for help.  It’s weakness to, out of pride, NOT ask for help.  Find a Christian counselor. Why not a non-Christian counselor? Psalms 1:1 warns us not to.  Get someone who will be open, honest, AND be scriptural based.

Anne and I were at a marriage seminar a few years back and the couple leading it said, “If you’re suffering from a lack of desire, don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor.  Don’t let fear ruin your marriage bed.” Anne turned to me and said, “I hope every lady in the room heard that.” The truth is, every man and woman needs to heed that advice.

To wrap up, if you or your spouse is suffering from “sexual atrophy”, it should be a loud warning bell that something is wrong in your marriage. I realize that sex is, many times, a symptom rather than the problem, but the deficiency of sex is an indication that something is wrong. Couples, or spouses, who ignore this, are ignoring a warning that their marriage could be in trouble.

It’s not just sex. It is an indication of the overall health of your marriage.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says,“Live happily with the woman you love through all the days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.”

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Fragile?: Week 3 of developing a heathy marital stance on intimacy.

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We head into week 3 of our series on sex.  I’ll begin with a simple TRUTH:

Sex is God’s wedding gift to us.

Now I understand that doesn’t seem very mind-blowing. But with how much of a mockery the enemy has made intimacy, some within the church have steered away from the subject of sex.  We are afraid to talk about it. We delay as long as possible talking with our kids about it.  If our spouse brings it up, we feel dirty (well…not me but many people do).  I’ve even known people to feel bad for liking it so much.  (sorry…I don’t feel bad at all…I’d prescribe it for any married couple.)

Hebrews 13:4 (MSG) says “Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband.”

It says, guard.  The word means to keep it from being deformed or defiled.

Notice what it doesn’t say…
– It doesn’t say “only use it for making babies”
– It doesn’t say “don’t enjoy it too much”
– You don’t hear “do sparingly”

It says “guard.”

But too many people have taken such a cautious stance with such an amazing gift that God has given you to use AND enjoy in your marriage.

I love my car.  But having it sit in the garage does the car no good and does me no good.  That’s called “sheltering” the car.  By sitting there, the car is not being “guarded.” It’s potential is being withheld out of fear and concern.  The best way to “guard” my car is to use it as it was designed and intended.

I’m afraid we treat sex like fine china.  We see it as fragile.

We shouldn’t treat sex like fine china…

1 –…because it’s not for display only. A verse I use a lot is Proverbs 5:18. “Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth.”  It’s time to get it “off the shelf” and enjoy each other.  My rule of thumb is walk in unity in everything…including sex. Where there’s unity, God commands his blessing. Stop shelving it.

2 – …because it shouldn’t come out for special occasions.   In an episode of “Friends,” Chandler asked why they couldn’t use the china for Thanksgiving dinner.  Monica’s response: She was saving the china for when the Queen shows up for dinner.  To save sex for anniversaries and birthdays, you are missing out on an opportunity to enjoy His gift to you. To deprive your spouse, purposefully, you’re setting him/her and you up for disaster.

3 – …because it’s not an antique.  It doesn’t lose it’s value if it’s used. Someone told me years ago, sex is like a fine wine.  When it’s packaged right, it gets better with age. Sex, packaged in marriage, becomes a greater vintage year after year.  It doesn’t lose the “special” feeling by repetition. It just becomes greater.

4 – Lastly…because it wouldn’t be fun. I’m sorry, I like eating.  But when the china shows up, it seems like I’m on pins and needles.  I become paranoid on using it.  I feel guilty about using it. I feel sorry the food makes the china messy. And it can’t be put int he dishwasher it has to be cleaned by hand.  Sex that involves guilt, fear tactics, and “sorry” feelings doesn’t sound like much fun. When God is in it, he’ll provide the convictions to keep it safe and fun.  The enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy the joy in your marriage bed.  HAVE FUN!!!

Enjoy each other.  Don’t let the enemy seed “fine china” thoughts about your sex life.  Live it up.  It’s God’s wedding gift to you.

Thanks for letting me ramble…