35 Years and The Best is Yet to Come

Whether your marriage is doing great or struggling greatly, your best years are still ahead of you.

The best is yet to comeRegardless of the current state of your marriage, there is always more. More passion. More intimacy. More pleasure. More freedom. More trust. More of everything you are longing for in your relationship.

How do I know this? Because I know that marriage is supposed to model our relationship with Jesus, and that’s how it is with him. There is always more. In fact, I’ve found in my spiritual walk, the more I know, the closer I get to Him, the more I realize how much more there is to know and experience in God. There is no limit. It’s the same for your marriage.

35 Years and counting

Jenni and I celebrated 35 years of marriage this week, and we both still marvel at how it just keeps getting better. Of course, it doesn’t happen by default. We are intentional about our marriage and about loving each other well. The biggest part of keeping your marriage on The Path of Intimacy is being watchful – keeping yourself and your marriage off of autopilot.

Five years ago I was writing for YourTango in the now defunct Traditional Love section. I wrote a piece called “Why After 30 Years of Marriage The Best Is Yet to Come.” In it I said:

Are less sex, more fights, poorer communication and drifting apart really the inevitable? With a nod to the movie Date Night, is it really just a matter of time before couples settle for becoming just “excellent roommates?”

I say no!

Whether you have been together six months or six decades, it is possible to see your future as one filled with excitement, passion and great potential.

In the article, I go on to share five keys to keeping the best times in front of you. You can read them here.

It’s been five years since I wrote that article. It’s still true today, at the 35-year mark. And it will be true on our 40th and 50th anniversary because we plan on keeping it that way.

What’s Better?

You may be asking, “What could possibly be better after 35 years of marriage?” Well, let me tell you:

  • Sex – yes I’ll put this one right out there. Although we are in our 50’s and there are a few physical challenges, our sexual relationship exceeds anything we had in those early years of our marriage. Don’t buy the lie of inevitable sexual decline. We have learned how to please each other, and we have learned what it means to be unselfish lovers. We see our sexual relationship for the privilege it is and relish in surrendering our bodies wholly to one another.
  • Intimacy – I define intimacy as being fully known and yet completely loved. After 35 years we know each other inside and out, and still, we are purposeful about pursuing intimacy on a continual basis. And we have learned that grace is an invitation to intimacy with each other, whereas judgment creates separation.
  • Selflessness – we know better now than ever that, because we are one, when either of us serves and blesses the other, we both win. We’ve pretty much banished score keeping from our marriage and have learned to delight in delighting each other as best we know how.
  • Taking a long view – we have been through many seasons over our 35 years. We have weathered some tough times, and we’ve had plenty of joy and bliss along the way. I feel like we understand better now than ever that life will throw some garbage at you, but it will pass. And we know that any trial is best endured together. The closer we remain, the better we can weather the storms of life.

Above all else, it is the revelation of The Bridal Paradigm that keeps us moving forward in our marriage. The understanding of our marriage is continually being shaped by our understanding that our love is a direct reflection of our love relationship with Jesus. As we continually grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, we continue to grow in the knowledge of and love for each other. It is a truly endless journey.

PS  That’s me and Jenni in the photo above. Check out my about page if you ‘d like to read more about Our Love Story.

When Opposites Attract (And When They Don’t) – Part 2

The ways in which your spouse differs from you makes the two of you better as a team than as individuals, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

Opposites Attract 2

In Part 1 we took a look at three “opposites” that are frequently found in married couples: thinkers & feelers, higher sex drive & lower sex drive, and introverts & extroverts. Today we’ll look at three other common areas of difference, each of which could be a source of misunderstanding or conflict.

4. Verbal & Non-verbal Processors

I’m an off-the-charts non-verbal processor. My wife is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. This dramatic difference in how we process our thoughts and emotions can definitely make effective communication a challenge.

The difference in how we process through an issue is more than just a personal preference. I believe it actually has to do with how our brains are wired. Blaming your spouse for how they are naturally wired is completely non-productive. Pushing them to be different doesn’t work either. Pushing a non-verbal processor to discuss an issue when they haven’t had a chance to think it through is going to often be met either with anger or total withdrawal. Likewise, retreating from your spouse when they want to talk something through is likely to be met with frustration and accusation.

My wife and I have found that the best way to deal with the different way we process things is a combination of selflessness and grace (some might call it compromise, but I don’t like that word). My wife is willing to give me time and space to think, especially if I specifically request it. She counts on me to come back and finish the conversation as soon as possible. For my part, I’m willing to at least make an effort to talk something through, even when it wouldn’t be my first preference. I recognize when her need to discuss something is causing her distress.

When you realize that your default processing method isn’t working for your spouse, make an effort to accommodate their preference. Likewise, when your spouse’s verbal or non-verbal preference is causing you difficulties, let your spouse know in a respectful way what you need. Give grace to each other in this.

5. Goal Oriented & People Oriented

This difference is closely related to one we covered last time, introverts and extroverts. Because extroverts are energized by people, they tend to see people as a priority. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to place a higher priority on achieving goals.

This difference in priorities can cause conflict about such things as where to go on vacations, how to spend your time and money, and what activities to be involved in. Again, this difference rings true in my marriage. My wife is strongly people-oriented, but for me ticking things off my list or making progress on a project has a high priority.

In this difference, we each recognize the strength of the other, and to a certain extent, we influence each other to be more open to the other’s priorities. Jenni’s people orientation helps remind me that people and relationships are important. Many of our closest relationships with others were developed through her, and she helps keep me connected to the people in our lives. I know that God values her focus on people.

At the same time I know Jenni appreciates my ability to get things done. My task and goal orientation help us keep projects on track and keeps our life from being chaos. I help bring balance to her life. She often comes to me to help her organize her tasks efficiently.

If your spouse has different priorities than you do, allow him or her to provide a helpful counterbalance.

6. Love Languages

Last time we covered a few dimensions of the the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment. Another useful assessment tool is Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages . Dr. Chapman breaks down the way in which people most experience love into five “languages.”

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gift
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

If you haven’t taken the Love Languages Test (link), you really should. Even if it’s just been a while since you took it, it’s worth repeating, as love languages commonly shift over time. Find out your spouse’s love language and more importantly, read up on the kinds of things you should do to express love in a way that speaks that language. For a more in-depth understanding, you can get Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages book (affiliate link helps support this ministry).

Paperback (click the book below):

Click here for Kindle format

We naturally tend to give love in the same way we like to receive it. That only works if your spouse has the exact same love language priorities as you do, which in not usually the case.

 

Understanding your differences and learning how to navigate them successfully will help keep your marriage from getting derailed by continual conflicts.

Of course, there are many other differences besides the ones we’ve reviewed in this post and the previous one. The main thing to remember is that your spouse isn’t wrong just because he or she is different from you. Plus there is usually value and strength to be found in the difference that makes the two of you a great complement to each other.

What differences have you learned to navigate in your marriage?

 

Different Isn’t Wrong (When Opposites Attract Part 1)

Navigating your differences is often a matter of learning to value them instead of fighting them.

When Opposites Attract

I’m convinced that opposites do indeed attract. After almost 35 years of marriage, my wife and I remain deeply in love, despite the fact that there are many ways in which we are as different as night and day. And I am actually quite thankful for that fact. Most of the time.

While there are many benefits and blessings from our differences, there are also challenges that come along for the ride. We have learned over time that navigating these differences successfully comes down to valuing and respecting them instead of fighting them.

Let’s look at a few common areas of difference.

1. Thinkers & Feelers

One difference married couples face is in how they approach decision making. The Meyers-Briggs personality assessment breaks these down into two groups: thinkers and feelers. Thinkers tend to make decisions based on facts and data, whereas feelers tend to make decisions based on emotions and feelings.

Such differences in decision making style can cause conflicts. For example, when Jenni and I disagree on how to proceed with a decision my logical, fact-based opinions can be seen by her as not valuing her perspective, which tends to be based more on her feelings. It’s easy for both thinkers and feelers to feel misunderstood, devalued or even judged for their approach. But neither is right or wrong, just different.

According to one personality assessment site, feelers and thinkers should try to find value in each other’s decision-making styles. Thinkers, for example, can value the way a feeler is sensitive to the emotional needs of others and appreciate their ability to identify subjective dimensions of an issue. Feelers can appreciate a thinker’s fact-based, solution-oriented problem solving abilities in the midst of difficult or complex decisions.

Each brings a different perspective that together can improve the outcome.

2. High Drive & Low Drive

Differences in sex drive often create significant stress on a couple’s sexual relationship. My own polls indicate that about 90% of couples have at least somewhat mismatched sex drives. The fortunate one-in-ten couples who have about equal drive levels report having the most sex and the highest overall sexual satisfaction. But what are we in the other 90% to do?

The first thing to remember is that sex drive levels are often largely dictated by hormones and other brain chemicals, which can be difficult to control or change. Whether your spouse is higher drive or lower drive, it is not their fault, and blaming them for it won’t help the situation. It will only make things worse.

While it is true that there are factors over which you have no control, there are also many other factors that influence a person’s interest in sex over which you do have control. Taking care of your overall health (sleep, diet, exercise), managing your stress level, working on the non-sexual intimacy in your relationship and being intentional about sexual thoughts and actions will all have a significant positive impact on your sex life.

Yes, mismatched sex drives is the norm, but there are many ways you can work collaboratively to ensure each other’s sexual satisfaction. The best attitude to take when dealing with your spouse’s difference in drive is to be an unselfish lover. Seek to work with and nurture your spouse’s sexual nature rather than fighting against it or demeaning them for it. We are instructed by Scripture (Col 7:3-4) to take responsibility for each other’s sexual satisfaction through mutual sexual surrender. The best way to do that is to take delight in delighting each other.

I love what Christian Psychologist and author Juli Slattery says in her post How Sexual Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage. She says that every time you and your spouse disagree about something sexual, you are presented with a question, “What kind of lover will I be?” You get to choose either natural, selfish love or unconditional, unchanging love – the kind of love God gives us. This is what she calls servant love. Rather than asking, “What’s in it for me?” servant love asks, “How can I bless my spouse?”

3. Introverts & Extroverts

I’m not sure why it is, but many married couples I know seem to consist of one introvert and one extrovert. That is certainly the case in my marriage (I’m the introvert).

Introversion and extroversion is another dimension measured by the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment. As traditionally defined, an introvert gains energy from alone time, whereas an extrovert gains energy from being with people. The opposite is also true – that introverts are drained by a high level of engagement with people, and too much alone time can drain an extrovert. Be aware that introversion/extroversion should not be confused with other personality traits such as being shy/outgoing, quiet/loud, or sensitive/insensitive.

Because they tend to help balance each other out, the pairing of introverts and extroverts seems to work well in most relationships, but it can also be a source of stress and disagreement that deserves some intentional and collaborative thought.

Working this out in my own marriage means my wife and I accept each other for the way we are wired and don’t try to change each other. But at the same time, we are also willing to step outside our normal comfort zones for each other. I’m open to willingly attend more social functions than I otherwise would and knowing that, she accepts that I’ll sometimes opt out. And she is open to leaving an event before she normally would when she senses that I’m nearing my people limit.

 

Each of these three differences can be difficult to navigate because they strike at the core of who we are. Rather than being accusitory or defensive, learn to value each other for the strengths each brings to the relationship. Learn to verbalize your own thoughts and needs in a respectful manner that doesn’t discount your spouse’s thoughts and needs.

Judging your partner because their natural responses and predispositions are different from your own will quickly lead to division and frustration. Accepting your spouse for the way God made him or her, putting your their needs above your own and proactively communicating about your differences will strengthen your marriage and allow you to avoid repeated battles.

Appreciate that your differences often mean that the two of you together are greater and stronger than either of you alone.

 

We’ll explore a few more differences next time in:  When Opposites Attract Part 2

 

5 Secrets to Sexual Surrender

Mutual sexual surrender is the best path to sexual intimacy.

Mutual Sexual Surrender

What does mutual sexual surrender in marriage look like? It looks like this:

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.
1 Cor 7:3-4 NLT

Remember, when I talk about surrender, I’m not referring to any of the negative connotations of that word (loss, giving up, defeat). Rather, I’m talking about the complete giving over of your self to your spouse – about being all in 100%, holding nothing back. I’m not talking about losing your self, but rather bringing the fullness of your self to your spouse and marriage for purpose of building intimacy and strengthening your marriage.

This is what I mean by sexual surrender: laying aside self-centeredness, self-protection, and self-reliance and learning to give generously and unconditionally in a way that blesses and delights your spouse.

Secrets of Surrender

Surrendering your self and your body to your spouse isn’t necessarily natural or easy, but there are some steps you can take that will help you in the journey toward mutual sexual surrender.

1. Believe – that God created sexual intimacy for a couple’s mutual delight and as the ultimate form of human intimacy, designed to be only available between a husband and wife. Believe that God calls you to give your body over fully to your spouse for their sexual fulfillment (see 1 Cor 7:3-4 above).

2. Accept – that you likely express your sexuality very differently from your spouse. Cherish each other’s sexuality as God-given, and never denigrate each other for it. Accept your own sexual desire as healthy and your wishes as normal (as long as they are in the bounds of scripture, of course).

3. Delight in delighting each other. Take joy and pride in the deeply satisfying smile your spouse wears the day after a night of bliss together. Shift your perspective of sex from “have to” to “want to” to “get to” and see it for the wonderful privilege it is. (See my post Sex: Right, Duty or Privilege)

4. Respect – each other’s boundaries. Exploration is a normal part of any healthy sexual relationship but must always be done in a way that honors each other. Never push your spouse into anything that violates their personal integrity. Making love means that love should be at the center of every action.

5. Mutuality – is a must. One sided surrender is not sustainable. Each of you should be focused on what you give more than what you get. See #3 above. Realize that because you are one flesh, when you give pleasure to your spouse, you benefit as well. Being one flesh means that score-keeping has no place, especially when it comes to sex.

As I said in this post, I see sex in marriage as being more about your surrender than your satisfaction. But the truth is that mutual sexual surrender is the best path to a deeply pleasurable and satisfying sex life.

What do you think of the “mutual sexual surrender” idea? Have you experienced it in your marriage? Are you willing to give it a try? Share your thoughts in a comment.


For more thoughts on sexual surrender, see my separate posts for husbands and wives: