Cherish Your Marriage Every Day

What have you done today to put your marriage ahead of other priorities?

Cherish Your Marriage

Little things matter. They matter a lot. And doing little things for your marriage every day will make a huge difference in your relationship in the long run. Grand gestures are fun and exciting and I love doing them for my wife. But my marriage can’t survive on occasional grand gestures. I need to show her every day that I love her, that she matters to me, and that our marriage matters to me.

Living Distracted

It’s easy to get distracted and not pay much attention to your marriage. Life takes over, and soon the craziness steals our focus away from our most important earthly relationship: the one with our spouse.

You see, you only have one covenant relationship on this earth, and that is the one with your spouse. To me, that makes everything else optional.

Yes, of course, I realize you need to keep your job and take care of the kids, but the truth is that you don’t have a covenant with those things. Except for your relationship with Jesus, nothing else in your life should matter as much as your marriage.

Cherishing Us

My friends and fellow CMBA board members Tom and Debi Walter, who blog at The Romantic Vineyard, have just released a great new resource to help couples stay focused on their marriage relationship. It’s call Cherishing Us, 365 Tips for a Healthy Marriage.

What does it mean to cherish your marriage? Webster’s defines it this way:

  • to hold dear: feel or show affection for
  • to keep or cultivate with care and affection: nurture
  • to entertain or harbor in the mind deeply and resolutely

What I love about this book is that it’s bite-sized and practical. For each day there is a short phrase, no more than a sentence or two, that encourages you to consider something about your marriage. For digging a little deeper, there are monthly Contemplation Questions, Date Night suggestions, and additional thoughts on the importance of cherishing one another, many of which come from their insightful Romantic Vineyard posts.

Cherishing UsI hope you’ll get yourself a copy of Cherishing Us.  Available in Paperback or Kindle

 

Choose the Road Less Traveled

The Path of Intimacy is a road less traveled. And it will make all the difference in your marriage.

The Road Less Traveled

I’m happy to announce that today my new Kindle book The Path of Intimacy is officially released! I have to admit that I’m extremely excited about this book.

I’m excited because I’ve seen first hand the heart’s desire of so many couples over my many years in marriage ministry. There is a universal longing to discover a deeper connection on an emotional, physical and spiritual level. So many yearn for it. Yet so many struggle to find it.

That’s why I wrote the book.

The Road Less Traveled

Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken ends like this:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

The journey into deeper intimacy in your marriage involves one pivotal choice, followed by a million little choices made on a daily basis.

Choose Your Path

The first and most important choice is to choose to take the road less traveled. The Path of Intimacy is not the easiest path. Sadly, it’s not the path most commonly traveled, either. But choosing this path will alter the entire course of your marriage.

Choosing the Path of Intimacy starts with a choice to make intimacy the primary goal of your marriage. That is indeed an uncommon choice. Yet it’s an extremely crucial one.

Choosing to make intimacy the number one goal of your relationship changes everything–much more than I could cover with a single post.  But let’s take a look at just one example of the impact of such a choice. It’s a common situation in many marriages: unmet needs.

For many, marriage is primarily about having their own needs met. If that were true for me, when my wife neglects my needs, I’m going to withhold from meeting her needs and withdraw until I get what I think I am due. It’s only fair. I’m justified. If my wife were to take the same stance, she would respond by further withdrawing or by giving me the “silent treatment,” which means my needs will continue to be unmet. Thus, we a cycle that leads to the Path of Separation, each of us fixed in a pattern of withholding and withdrawing.

Now, let’s take the same scenario, but instead, I choose to make intimacy what matters most. Instead of withholding or withdrawing, I actually step toward her, looking for ways to maintain our connection by focusing on what will make her feel most loved and cherished. I choose to trust that her heart is for me, and I extend grace to her in areas where she isn’t fully attending to my needs. We can communicate knowing we both want to love each other well and that we care for each other.

This choice is not a panacea. It doesn’t mean I never feel hurt or neglected. It just means that I know that grace is always an invitation to intimacy. And I have decided that intimacy is what matters most. In most cases, grace is a much better change agent than are criticism and judgment. There is no guarantee my needs will get met, and I am not showing her love in order to get love from her, but I do it because it’s a deliberate choice and the way God calls me to love her.

A Million Little Choices

Keeping your marriage on the Path of Intimacy involves many daily choices to focus more on your spouse than on yourself. It means choosing to stay engaged when it would be easier not to. It means learning to express love in the ways that are meaningful to your spouse and then having the discipline to actually act on them consistently. It means finding delight and pleasure in giving delight and pleasure to each other.

If this post resonates with you, if you have a longing for deeper intimacy and a stronger connection with your spouse, I urge you to start (or continue) down the Path of Intimacy. I hope in doing so, you’ll consider getting my new book. Read it. Then put into practice what you learn.

I promise it will make all the difference.

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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.

Keep Your Marriage Strong by Asking Different Questions

Shift your perspective by training yourself to ask different questions than you might naturally ask. 

Think differently

In my last post, I promised to continue this week with some specific suggestions to keep your marriage strong from the long haul. Today’s suggestion is that you learn to ask different questions.

One of the forces weakening marriages and causing an uptick in “gray divorce” in the past decade is that the wrong belief that the purpose of marriage is essentially our own personal happiness. If this is true, then our marriages can be sustained only as long as our fickle and fleeting feelings are maintained, or as long as our mate does the thing that we insist they do to meet our needs.

Instead, I say, let’s look at marriage as a covenant based on selfless love – something higher than ourselves and our own happiness.

An Unhealthy Focus On Self

It seems this “me-centered” marriage paradigm has grown immeasurably since the baby boomer “me generation” began passing through mid-life. This unhealthy pre-occupation with self-promotion, self-protection, and self-centeredness has spread throughout subsequent generations.

I used to write for Your Tango’s now-defunct Traditional Marriage section. I wrote a post there entitled, “Why After 30 Years of Marriage the Best is Yet to Come.” In that article I said this:

If you have a habit of holding your spouse responsible for your happiness, you definitely need to learn to take that responsibility upon yourself. However, remember that if you view your marriage as being mostly about your rights and what you get out of the bargain, in the long run, you are going to end up bitter and disappointed.

On the other hand, if you see your marriage primarily as an opportunity to selflessly love and generously serve your wife or husband to the best of your ability, you will the reap the long-lasting benefit of a strong and close relationship.

Don’t buy the lie that a 50/50 marriage is ideal. Instead, go for 100/100, where each of you holds nothing back and gives all you have to the other.

My wife and I strive to live a paradigm of selfless love. We aren’t nearly perfect at it, but I believe this is one of the many reasons we keep believing that our best years are always in front of us. We refuse to believe the lie of inevitable marriage decline.

Asking Differently

Selfless love is the cornerstone of a strong marriage – one that will stand the test of time. It’s not necessarily easy or natural to love without conditions especially when our spouse isn’t doing the same.

One approach to changing your thinking is to retrain yourself to ask different questions.

    • When you are tempted to ask, “What’s in it for me?” ask instead, “How can I bless my spouse?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “What are my rights?” ask instead, “What is the right thing for our marriage and for my spouse?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “What will advance my cause?” ask instead, “What will enhance my marriage?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “What will I get out of this?” ask instead, “How can I be generous in this situation?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “How can I win this argument?” ask instead, “How can we keep connected during this discussion?”

Learning to live as one flesh means we have to let go of the battle for self and learn to press into the reality that because we are one, we win when our spouse wins. Blessing him or her actually blesses us too! Taking such a one-flesh view of your marriage will totally change to way you see your spouse and your relationship.

Take the Risk

This thing of selfless love is risky business. There is no guarantee that your spouse will respond in kind. While selfless love is a compelling force for intimacy and passion, not everyone will respond to it. Remember, people are free to make their own choices; you can only control you.

Yet this is the kind of love we were shown by Jesus and the kind of love we are compelled to show to our spouses. He took the risk. He gave everything for us, for the sake of intimacy with us, knowing that many would reject his sacrifice and continue to live for themselves. He did it anyway.

So I urge you to step back and consider the reckless, selfless, sacrificial love of Christ. Rather than buying into the lies exemplified and extolled by the “me generation,” take the risk to love like Jesus does. It’s worth the risk.