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!

Keep Your Marriage Strong by Rethinking Your Priorities

Leftovers: good for Thanksgiving; bad for your marriage.

Leftovers

Today I’m continuing my series on how to keep your marriage strong for the long haul with a discussion about priorities. (You might want to catch up on parts one, Keeping Strong for the Long Haul, and two, Asking Different Questions.)

Today’s Choices Affect Tomorrow

It’s incredible how many things we have competing for our time and attention – perhaps more than at any time in history. The pressure to have it all, do it all, and excel at it all is pervasive in today’s western culture.

We tend to live our lives in such a driven fashion that it’s easy to unknowingly trade the important for the immediate. I’ve done it many times in my own life. What we often fail to realize is how much the choices we make today affect our marriages in the long term.

While there are many distractions that can detract from our marriages, today I’m going to choose two of the biggest. While both of these affect young couples the most, they are factors that allow your marriage relationship to drift into roommate status in the early years, and this often has significant long-term impact.

The Parent Trap

There is more parenting advice available today than ever. It seems as though we are preoccupied with becoming the perfect parents and raising perfect children. The pressure is tremendous, especially in the Internet age. There are more than 4 million mommy blogs offering advice and constant reminders of all we aren’t doing. Social media is full of posts about perfect children of perfect families living in immaculately decorated homes. The poison of comparison keeps us striving to do more than we can possibly do for our kids and homes, all the while feeling guilty for all we are not yet doing, not to mention the damage it does to our marriages.

Here are two facts that may help you when sorting out your priorities:

    • The best thing you can do for your kids is to have a strong marriage. Showing your kids what respect and sacrificial love look like will bear fruit into multiple generations.
    • You and your spouse are one; you and your children are not. Your marriage relationship is based on a unique kind of covenant. Don’t make the mistake of relegating it to equal status with any other relationship, including the one with your kids.

Consistently prioritizing your children ahead of your marriage, however well-intentioned, is a significant reason so many couples facing the “empty nest” season suddenly find themselves rooming with a stranger.

The Quest for Success

Particularly in America, the desire for more stuff is deeply ingrained in our marketing-saturated culture. Success is defined by having the nicest house, the most “toys,” the highest corporate position, the most influence or the biggest bank account.

These definitions of success don’t line up very well with the Kingdom of God. Yes, I believe God wants to bless and prosper us, but I believe it breaks His heart when we sacrifice our time, effort and attention for worldly success to the detriment of our marriages. That’s always a bad trade!

Yes, providing well for your family is important, and having a good work ethic matters. The problem comes when we are giving so much to our careers that we have nothing left for our spouse. This is another priority issue where comparison works like a poison as we continually strive to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Avoiding Leftovers

Historically, men fall into the career success trap more than women, whereas women tend to have more priority issues concerning their children. However, such stereotypes are shifting with the huge increase in women in the workforce and the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. And of course, there are many other areas where priorities can get out of line besides these two.

No matter, the real issue is putting our marriage and spouse first so that we keep our marriages strong for the long haul. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will all be better once the kids are grown and our careers are well-established. Putting your marriage on the back burner for any reason, for any period of time, inflicts serious damage on your relationship. And while nothing is irreparable or beyond God’s ability to redeem, the best choice is always to avoid only giving your spouse your leftovers.

The problem with relying on leftovers is that we run our lives with such little margin that there is typically nothing left after we’ve poured ourselves into everything else. Like it is with food, leftovers are fine for a while, but eventually, they no longer satisfy.

Choosing Daily

Revamping your priorities requires you to be continuously vigilant and watchful. Remain aware of the dozens of daily opportunities to choose your spouse and marriage over the other things in your life. Find little ways to stay connected throughout your day with text messages, hidden notes, or phone calls. Such small connection points are especially important when spouses travel frequently or work different hours, but truthfully all couples would benefit from such frequent positive interactions. It pays to pay attention!

Set aside regular time together. Find ten minutes a day for genuine conversation, perhaps immediately after the kids are in bed. Try to keep these conversations focused on more than just functional matters. Regular, meaningful conversation is an important part of building intimacy between you.

Another important way to build intimacy is to make sure you leave time and energy for sex. Few marriages can survive for the long haul when sexual intimacy is lacking or missing altogether. It not only weakens your marriage and makes it vulnerable to outside temptations, but it robs your relationship of the pinnacle of intimate expression.

The point of this post is not to lay a big guilt trip on you. Rather I’m encouraging you to reexamine how you prioritize your marriage among all the other demands of daily life and wake you up to the truth that keeping your marriage strong for the long haul might require you to change how you invest your time and energy.

 

15 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Add Fun to Your Marriage

When was the last time you and your spouse had fun together? Plan in some fun today!Fun!

Has your marriage ever hit the doldrums? It happens to almost every marriage at some point. You fall into comfortable routines. You get distracted with the busyness of life. Stress steals your energy and focus. But hey, you figure you can work on your marriage later, when things aren’t so crazy or difficult.

Let me encourage you not to buy the lie of “later.” Because when later never comes along, you can wake up one day and find that you and your spouse are little more than excellent roommates.

Choose Your Path Daily

The truth is that your marriage is on one of two paths: the Path of Intimacy or the Path of Separation. You and your spouse are either growing together or growing apart. There is no middle ground.

What does it take to keep on the Path of Intimacy? Well, it actually takes less than you might think. Mostly, it just requires paying attention and staying off of auto-pilot. You can keep growing closer with the smallest of intentional actions, done on a daily basis.

One of those intentional actions is to add a regular dose of fun to your marriage.

Finding Fun

Adding fun to your marriage doesn’t have to be a huge burden. Fun does not need to be expensive or time-consuming. Below is a list of easy ways to interject additional fun into your everyday routine:

Laugh Together – rent a funny movie, listen to some (clean) comedy, or search YouTube for funny clips together. We like the YouTube comedy channel called “Kid Snippets” from the folks at Bored Shorts. A few fun marriage-related skits are Marriage Counseling , Marriage Problems, and Wedding Jitters.

Food Fun – Try out some new or exotic foods, cook a special meal together, or have a bed picnic. If you are both foodies, watch a show on the Food Network.

Fun & Games – Jenni and I really enjoy playing games together. Try out different games until you find a few that you both consider fun. Two of our favorites are Carcassonne  and Can’t Stop , because they both work great with two players and we are empty-nesters.

Fun Tunes – Buy a few songs or an entire CD of an artist you both really like. Queue the tunes up on a decent sound system, grab glass of wine (or other favorite beverage) and sit together to listen through the songs. Talk about which tracks you like best and why.

Bedroom Fun – There are dozens of ways to add fun into your sex life. For example, try out a new position, a new location or something else you’ve never done before. If something doesn’t work out quite as you planned, laugh it off and scratch it off the list. If you both enjoy it, add it to your sexual menu. Need some new ideas? Try “101 Nights of Great Sex“, full of sealed secret seduction scenarios, 50 for him to do for her and 50 for her to do for him.

Spiritual Fun – Yes, there is such a thing a spiritual fun! We love going to worship concerts. Sign up for the mailing list of your favorite worship groups to find out when they are coming to town. While many of the Christian movie productions are too poorly produced or too trite and cheesy for my taste, there are a few that are very worthwhile. (Sorry, I don’t make movie recommendations, because tastes vary too greatly!). Talk about the movie afterward.

Date Night Fun – Take turns planning date night surprises for each other. Or plan something together using this list or pick something from your “fun box” (see below).

Sleeping Fun – Try sleeping in a different room of the house. Switch sides (or ends) of the bed for a night. Have a backyard camp out.

Kissing Fun – See my last post  for a dozen great kissing ideas. Take the 10 minute make-out session challenge in that post. I dare you!

Gaze at Beauty – Beauty feeds the soul. We love the mountains, though we don’t get there often enough. Maybe you have a local park or botanical garden that will do the trick. Go for a hike if you have a nice place to trek close by. If you find city-scapes beautiful, seek out special locations from which to view your city.

Surprises – Surprises are great fun for most people. Bring home a favorite dessert for you to share. Buy your spouse a new scent. Write a love note and stash it where your partner will find it later. It takes more planning, but kidnapping your spouse for an overnight getaway creates a lasting fun memory.

Get Physical – Have a pillow fight or wrestle together on the bed. Go for a long walk. Rent a tandem bike or kayak. Doing something that requires physical exertion has double benefit of being good for your body as well as good for your relationship.

Family Fun – If you have kids, let them in on the fun too, though it is good for the two of you to have fun alone together as well.

Fun Friends – Are there another couples that you always laugh with when you get together? Plan a double date with them or invite them to dinner.

Be Sporty – If there is a sports team that you both follow, watch a game together, or even better, if time and money allow, go to a game together. Even better than watching a sport is to do one together. Golf, tennis and biking are great couple sports.

Making it Happen

So there you have a bunch of fun ideas – no more excuses! The possibilities are endless! But how do you make it actually happen?

First of all you have to agree together to make fun a priority. Next, you need to get specific about it. Put a plan in place. Maybe you can have a designated night of the week that is “fun night.” You could take turns planning fun activities or plan them together. If weekly is too much, put a few days a month on the calendar, and decide what you are going to do.

Another idea is to create a giant fun list then put each fun activity on a separate slip of paper and put them all in a jar or box – a fun box, if you will. When fun night comes around, pick one of the slips at random and do what it says.

However you decide to do it, do it! Be intentional about adding fun to your marriage.

Add your own fun ideas to my list. Leave a comment.

Note: this post contains some affiliate links that support this ministry.

10 Ways to Feed Your Soul

Feeding your soul is just as important as feeding your body.


Face it, we are all too busy. There isn’t time enough for all the “have to’s” much less time for the optional enriching pleasures of life.

You take time to feed your body, because you’ll die if you don’t. But did you know that you also need to take time to feed your soul? Did you even know that was a thing? Trust me, it is. It’s an important thing. To me it’s just as important as feeding your body.
If you don’t feed your soul, it will become sick and withered, just as your body would if you neglected to feed it for too long.

What Makes You More You?

I’ve heard a lot of people express opinions about the differences between heart, soul, flesh, spirit, etc. I’m not a theological expert, and I don’t really want to dig deep into Greek and Hebrew definitions, but to me, in simplest terms, I think of your soul as the essence of who you are: your intellect, your personality, your quirks, your likes and dislikes, your emotional constitution, your aspirations and dreams.

Despite what some may say, I don’t think the soul is inherently evil or good. It’s clear from the Bible that your soul can be influenced positively or negatively. Obviously we want to feed our souls with good stuff.  It’s important not to just ignore your soul as being “non-spiritual,” because when you do, you will gradually become less and less who you really are. When lose touch with what makes us feel alive, our souls wither.

Ten Ways to feed your soul

So how can we tend our souls in a positive way? Of course there is the important aspect to keep our souls in submission to the Holy Spirit. I’ll touch on that more in another post, but there are also ways to feed your soul that aren’t inherently “spiritual.”  (Side note: in actuality, everything is spiritual, but that’s for later).

Here are ten ways I came up with to keep your soul healthy:

  1. The Beauty of God’s Creation – Jenni and I have discovered that we need to regularly look on natural beauty. For us that often means renting a cabin in the mountains with a beautiful mountain view. The photo above is from a recent trip to California, where we got to enjoy lots of beautiful sights.
  2. Contemplate Other Kinds of Beauty – Beauty is not just found in nature. For some beauty may be found in art or in a cityscape. Find the kind of beauty that brings you alive and make sure you regularly spend time gazing upon it.
  3. Music that Touches Something Inside You – Music has a way of touching our souls in a powerful way. While many of us enjoy music as we rush from here to there, how often do you delibertely still  yourself and really listen? Try it.
  4. Exercise Your Brain – If you love to learn, take time to stimulate your mind. Visit a museum. Study the history of a region or country. Read up on a topic that interests you. Listen to a TED talk.
  5. Tickle your Funny Bone – Laughter is good for your soul. When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably?
  6. Relax – I’m a driven person, and sometimes have to make a real effort to truly relax. While you are doing any of these things to feed your soul, try to turn off your mental to-do list or worry about all the things are not getting done while you are feeding your soul.
  7. Play a Game – Jenni and I have found a board game that we really enjoy together. It’s the right mix of strategy and luck that we both like playng it. There is something about a physical game (as opposed to an electronic one) that feeds our souls differently.  And it’s something we can do together.
  8. Create Something – I have several creative hobbies (songwriting and woodworking) that I no longer have time for (or perhaps I should say no longer make time for). How about you? Maybe it’s time to figure out how we can regularly make room for at least a little of creativity.
  9. Enjoy a Meal With Good Friends – I’m not really a foodie, but I do like to eat and drink a good beer. And a meal is a good way to connect with friends as a couple.
  10. Make a Difference – Is there a cause you feel strongly about? Doing something for others that makes a difference is a great way to bring your soul to life.

Do any of these strike a chord with you? Are there other things you do to feed your soul? Can you do at least some of these together as a couple? Let us hear how you feed your soul. Leave a comment.