What Are You Hoping for Your Marriage in 2018?

Dare to dream big things for your marriage in the coming year!

The threshold of a new year is the time when many of us reflect on the previous year and set our plans and hopes for the next year.

Ideally, some of your hopes for 2018 concern your marriage. In truth, every year is an opportunity for more in your marriage. More intimacy. More passion. More freedom. More love. More generosity. More kindness. More grace. The “more” available to your marriage is limitless.

Dare to Dream Big

I want to encourage you to dream big things for your marriage in 2018. Whether 2017 was a year of disappointment and struggle or of flourishing for your relationship, look to the year ahead with the expectation that God will do good things in you and in your marriage. I honestly believe that God’s heart is that next year be the best year yet for your marriage. 

In the coming days, I am looking forward to dreaming with my wife for our year ahead. I encourage you to find a time in the last few days of this year or the first few of next year where you and your spouse can spend some time thinking and dreaming together. Seek the Lord in prayer and tap into His dreams for you. Imagine writing your marriage story for 2018 a year from now. What story would you want to write?

Have a Conversation

If you aren’t in the habit of dreaming together with your spouse, this would be a good time to start. Talk about your wishes. Talk about your needs. Talk about your hopes. Any time you talk about improving your marriage, it is important to do so without accusation or defensiveness. As I wrote in a post on expectations in marriage:

It’s essential for each of you to take the responsibility to express your needs without demanding or demeaning. When you talk about your needs, it’s really important to explain to your spouse what that would look like to you. That kind of “what would it look like” conversation is great for identifying and exposing your expectations.

Dare to ask, “How can I best meet your expectations in this area?” Voice your needs and desires clearly in a way that best helps your spouse to love you well, but then have plenty of grace for when they get it wrong, because one of your expectations should be that they will, in fact, get it wrong sometimes.

Patience = Joyful Anticipation

We often think of patience in a negative light. But for us, as people of faith, it should not be so. Patience is not merely a reluctant acquiescence to our circumstances.

For us, faith means that as we wait for the longings of our hearts to come true, we can look ahead with joyful anticipation of God doing great things on our behalf. That includes God doing great things in your marriage. If you find that you have given up hope for attaining the marriage you dream of, it’s time to renew your hope.

As we turn the calendar page and face a new year, let me suggest a few thoughts to keep in mind.

  1. Realize that God is FOR your marriage. Not just marriage in general, but your marriage. His desire is to see it be all it can be in the realms of intimacy, passion, and fulfillment. And He is more than able to do it.
  2. Be thankful for all you do have. Whatever you focus on will grow. Concentrate on the good, downplay the bad. Deliberately shift your focus.
  3. Be open to change. It might be that even though you are waiting for your husband or wife to change, God may want to work a change in you too (or maybe instead).
  4. Give yourself generously. Our tendency during times of lack from our spouse is to withdraw and withhold until we get what we want. This tactic never works. In fact, it puts your marriage in a downward spiral that I call the Path of Separation. Instead, give yourself unselfishly in the way your spouse desires, without expectation of getting in return.
  5. Pray and worship. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus instead of the problem at hand. It’s amazing how small difficulties can become in the light of who God is. Enjoy him, enjoy his presence, and hear his heart for you and your marriage. Ask him what he wants of you in this season of waiting. Hearing his voice changes everything.

I’ll leave you with my prayer for you and your marriage as you dream big dreams for the year ahead:

Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!

Romans 15:13 (TPT)

 

Stepping Into the Divide

At Christmas, we remember how Jesus came to Earth, stepping into the divide between us and God.

step into the divide

We all have those times when there seems to be a disconnect in our marriage. Even in the best marriages, a divide can grow between husband and wife. Whether it’s from disagreements, stress, fear or misunderstanding, when it happens we face a choice.

One is easy. One is harder. Doing the hard thing is the only way to close the gap between you.

Shouting Across the Divide

The easy choice is for you both to stand your ground, remain focused on yourselves, and shout across the divide toward each other. It may not be literal shouting – my wife and I don’t shout at each other – but it might as well be.

Shouting (or talking) across the divide happens when you make little or no effort to understand your spouse’s position and feelings. A cycle of blaming and defending develops to the point where neither of you can hear the other. You hear the words, but as you do, your thoughts are already building your defense against them. Rather than listening and empathizing to gain understanding, you are listening in order to prove yourself right, to get what you think you deserve, or to assert your rights.

When you shout across the divide nothing changes. In fact, the separation only tends to deepen.

Stepping Into the Gap

The harder choice, and the only way for you to reconnect with each other, is for one of you to step into the gap.

Choosing to step into the gap between you requires self-sacrifice. It requires you to lay down your agenda and your need to be right. It requires that you listen with empathy in a genuine attempt to gain an understanding of the other’s perspective and feelings. It means you stop defending and blaming.

Stepping into the gap is making a deliberate choice to care more about maintaining your connection than about whether or not your spouse behaves the way you want him or her to.

Stepping into the gap can come in the form of gentle, non-sexual physical touch such as an embrace or holding hands, even when it seems that’s the last thing your partner deserves and the last thing you desire.

In many situations where disconnection occurs, one or both parties don’t feel understood but long to be. Because intimacy is about being fully known and yet completely loved, when either of you doesn’t feel heard, it blocks intimacy. Likewise, when either of you feels rejected or judged in the midst of the conflict, it inhibits your ability to be transparent, further preventing true connection.

Someone Has to Go First

When you are stuck shouting toward each other across the divide, or when it has devolved into stony silence, someone has to be first to step into the gap.

At Christmas, it was Jesus who went first. He chose to step out of the perfection of heaven and humbly enter into our existence. His whole mission was to bridge the gap between God and the people he loves and longs to connect in an intimate way.

The next time you and your spouse suffer a disconnect, don’t get stuck talking at each other across the divide. Remember what Christ did for us on that cold Christmas night so long ago. Go first. Step toward your spouse. Make understanding and connection the priority instead of being right. Then watch the miracle of intimacy unfold.

Romantic Christmas Countdown

Here is a fun way to say “I love you” ten times over this Christmas!

Romantic Countdown

Are you still stuck for an idea of what to give your spouse for Christmas? Or maybe you’ve already bought a gift (or gifts) but you are looking for an extra special way to bless him or her this year.

This romantic countdown is a great way to surprise your spouse every day for 10 days leading up to Christmas.

The Christmas Countdown

As with any romantic idea, you need to adapt it to your spouse’s particular favorite things. Times like this are why I say it is important to be a lifelong student of your spouse and what delights him or her most.

The idea of the Christmas countdown is simple. Pick a number of days until Christmas. If you get on the ball in the next day or tow you can do ten days, as in my example below.  Seven would work too. If you are a traditionalist, you might do the twelve days of Christmas, which technically come after Christmas and would be a great way to extend the holiday festivities.

Here is how it works.  For each day, give him or her a gift representing the number of days remaining until (or following after) Christmas. As an example, here’s the list I did for Jenni a few years ago:

    • 10 – ten pretty fingers (gift card for a manicure) or toes (pedicure)
    • 9 – nine tasty treats (Cella chocolate covered cherries-her favorite)
    • 8 – four pairs of Christmas-themed earrings (she loves these things)
    • 7 – Christmas-themed arrangement of seven red roses
    • 6 – Six string serenade (she picked songs I sang for her)
    • 5 – five-minute kiss
    • 4 – four pairs of pretty panties
    • 3 – a set of three Woodwick candles
    • 2 – a side-by-side framed picture (us on one side and our daughters on the other)
    • 1 – Christmas lingerie (OK this gift was more for me)

The gifts don’t have to be large or expensive. It really is the thought that counts in this particular romantic endeavor! Get creative!

A low budget version would be a set of lists of things you love about your spouse.  Day 10: Ten things I love about our marriage.  Day 9: Nine things I love about your body.  Day 8: Eight things I love about how you parent.  Etc. Etc.

An Added Twist

Part of the fun is deciding a fun way to surprise them with the gift each day. I had a small wooden box with a lock on it. Each day the key would appear in an unexpected way. Jenni would unlock the box to find a note that gave a clue as to where to find the day’s present.

I’m no poet, but I wrote a tacky little poem for each day.  It was fun! For example day eight, the four pairs of earrings, which were placed in some teacups she has on display:

Christmas earrings

What numbers eight, yet comes in twos?
Perhaps I’ll give a few more clues

It is something festive for the season
Given for the best of reasons

‘Tis love that causes me to give
Four gifts that hide where teacups live

If you have no gift for rhyme, do something else that works better for you. Send a text message or email with the clue for the day. Maybe get other family members involved. Leave a note taped to their bathroom mirror. Give the gift first thing each morning or last thing each night. Have fun with it!

If you decide to try the Countdown to Christmas, stop back by and let us know how it worked out and to share your ideas!


Heads-up!!

Do you have trouble coming up with romantic and special ways to bless your spouse but wish you could? Be on the lookout for a new subscription service I’ll be offering soon, called Romance 101. It’s a monthly email service with great step-by-step date night ideas and romantic surprises that are sure to bless your wife or husband and your marriage. Click below to get on the list to get the details when this new feature is available, plus receive a special introductory discount.

You Never Graduate From Spouse School

Be a lifelong student of your spouse

I encourage you to go above and beyond in meeting your spouse’s needs. If you want to create a positive, life-giving environment in your marriage, few things will do it like giving in a way that meets your spouse’s needs “and then some.”

But in order to show love to your husband or wife way beyond the minimum acceptable level, to move into the realm of delighting them, you have to know the things that would give them the most joy and pleasure.

This requires that you become a lifelong student of your spouse’s needs and wants; even more, the things that bring them pleasure and delight.

Do you study your spouse? It’s time to…

Go to Spouse School

One of my favorite marriage bloggers, Lori Byerly, aka The Generous Wife wrote a post called “Study Him.”

If you aren’t sure where to start in studying your spouse, I’d encourage you to check out the comments in The Generous Wife post. In it, Lori opens up the question of “How do you study your husband?” for her readers to answer. There are a lot of really good ideas there, many of which apply to a husband’s study of his wife as well.

Many of the ideas there have to do with being aware and being intentional. You might check out my other posts on “Watchfulness”  to learn about how to build the habit of watchfulness into your marriage.

A couple of other resources I came across recently give you some specific ideas on how to bless and inspire your husband and wife. You’ll need to sift through these to see which would be good for your particular spouse’s preferences, but the lists are a great place to get some ideas for breaking out of the routine interactions you might find your marriage in.

One thing I’d like to remind you of is that it is likely that the things that delight your spouse are not the same things that delight you. So I would encourage you to not make the assumption that just because it’s something you like, it is also something your spouse will like as well.

You Never Graduate

You might be thinking that this idea of studying your spouse is obvious – a real no-brainer. But the truth is that we are creatures of habit. We tend to fall into comfortable routines and patterns, but you never graduate from spouse school! I encourage you to be a lifelong learner in this regard. Don’t let your relationship fall into familiar patterns based solely on past assumptions.

Maybe you are responding to this with, “I already know what my wife likes” or “I know what makes my wife husband happy.” Kudos to you for at least realizing that knowing your spouse’s needs and wants is important. But let me challenge you to grow in your understanding and to take a fresh look at your spouse. You might be surprised to find that their preferences have changed, that they’ve acquired new interested or tastes, or have discovered new delights. It might even be possible to introduce something to your spouse that they didn’t even know they wanted!

Help Your Spouse Delight You

Finally, let me close with this thought. Assume that your spouse is also a student of you and do your best to help educate them.

Let me be clear, this is not an open invitation for you to be selfish and demanding. Rather, think of it as helping your husband or wife love you well. The best way to do this is through thankfulness and expressions of appreciation. When they do something extra nice or something out of the ordinary that just makes you happy, let them know it with specific words of thanks and reciprocal acts of kindness.

Letting them know specifically what they did to make you happy is the best way to get them to do it again!

I encourage you to routinely revisit the question of how to delight your spouse. Or better still, just develop the habit of making a mental note (or writing it down if that helps) when you notice a positive reaction to something you’ve said or done. It really can be just that simple.

 

This post was originally published on my Journey to Surrender Blog in July 2011

Keep Your Marriage Strong by Rethinking Your To-Do List

There are actually some very good reasons not to put your spouse on your to-do list.

to-do list

Last time I suggested that you might need to rethink your priorities in order to go after a strong marriage for the long haul. Today I want to encourage you to rethink your to-do list as well. But my suggestion is actually that you NOT put your spouse on your to-do list.

Although you’ve probably heard suggestions to the contrary, and I’ve given that kind of advice myself, let me explain why I’m suggesting you do otherwise.

Your marriage is unlike any other relationship in your life. God designed the marriage relationship so that you and your spouse are one: physically, emotionally and spiritually. This one-flesh existence is only true of your marriage relationship, and the implications are far-reaching, including your to-do list.

A New To-Do Outlook

It’s easy to treat your spouse as just another “to do” item. How many times do you see your husband or wife as one more demand on your oh-so-limited time and energy? How often do you see the things you do for your spouse in the same light as the things you do for your kids, your job, your home or your church?

It is actually nothing like any of those things.

We need to renew our thinking and take a different attitude. When you look at it through the lens of being “one flesh,” you can begin to see that giving your time and attention to your spouse is actually doing something for you, rather than taking something from you. Yes, it’s actually upside down from how we normally look at it, as is so often the case in Kingdom thinking.

When you feed your marriage, you are also giving life to yourself. When you give lavishly to your spouse, you actually accrue the benefit. When you act unselfishly, you still get to receive from it, although your motivation isn’t to manipulate or to get something in return.

Re-Thinking the To Do List

Here are some examples of how to renew your perspective away from the “to do list” mentality.

    • Say your wife asks you to pick something up at the grocery store on your way home so that she doesn’t have to go there for the fifth time in a week. Instead of being annoyed by the inconvenience at the end of your long work day, consider also buying her a little treat or some flowers when you stop, just to bless her. Do it without grumbling or complaining and let yourself really enjoy doing this small act of willing kindness… and then some.
    • Say you know your husband is “in the mood” or “it’s been too long.” Rather than resisting his advances, putting him off for a future time, or complaining about how tired you are or how much the kids demanded of you all day, fall into his arms willingly. Enjoy the connection and intimacy, even if you are too tired to get all worked up. Let yourself be blessed by his desire for you and by giving him pleasure. You will receive pleasure whether or not you decide to go for the “ultimate pleasure,” and it will jump-start your desire for more.
    • Say your wife has to run the kids to soccer practice after dinner and says on her way out the door that she’ll take care of the dishes when she gets back. Or maybe she even asks you to load the dishwasher while she is gone. Remind yourself that these are “our” dishes and that when you help her out, you are helping yourself out too. (Many women actually consider their husband doing dishes a form of foreplay.)
    • Say your husband has to work late for the fifth night in a row. Rather than feeling neglected and annoyed and reminding him with guilt-laden overtones that he really needs to get the grass cut and the hedges trimmed, hire a local boy to do the work for him. Or go out and trim the hedged yourself. Greet him cheerily when he finally does get home and thank him for working so hard and being such a good provider. Watch what kind of welcome home kiss you’ll get for that!

The fact is that when you are taking care of your husband or your wife, you are taking care of your marriage. And when you take care of your marriage, you are taking care of you, because you and your spouse are one.

The Importance of Being Intentional

Now having said all this about not thinking of your spouse as an item on your to-do list, I actually do want to encourage you to be intentional about doing things for him or her. Being intentional about taking care of your spouse and your marriage usually takes some planning and forethought. But when you do that, try thinking about it in a different light. Rather than thinking of your spouse as another “have to,” think of them as a “get to.” Consider it a privilege to serve your spouse, not a chore.

And remember, when you do something deliberately to bless your spouse or to take care of your marriage, some of that blessing will flow back to you too!