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?

 

5 Common Lies About Intimacy (and 5 Truths)

Don’t buy these common misconceptions about intimacy. Choose to believe the truth instead.

Don't Buy The Lies

Everyone wants more intimacy. At least it seems that way to me. Every time I ask about what people want more of in their marriage, the top answers, no matter how I frame the question, always come back to intimacy.

In my New Reader Survey,  77% had great interest in posts about sexual intimacy and 82% had great interest in posts about emotional intimacy. Regardless of how I slice the data, male/female, years of marriage, kids or no kids, previously married or not, people are looking for more intimacy in their marriage.

The same goes for my “Three Things” survey,  where I asked people to identify the top three things they wanted more of in their marriage. The top answer is for more passion/sexual intimacy (65%). The next highest answer is for more spiritual togetherness (39%). In third place is a stronger emotional connection (37%).

Intimacy is The Goal

I believe that intimacy, in all forms, should be the main goal of every marriage. God built us with an innate desire for intimacy: intimacy with Him and intimacy with our spouse. Deep down we all need a strong connection to God and our spouse, and that’s ultimately when our marriages are strongest.

I also believe God designed us for a huge capacity for intimacy and that we can continue to grow closer together regardless of how long we’ve been married or how strong we feel the intimacy in our marriage currently is. There is always more, just as there is in our relationship with Christ.

Don’t Buy These Lies

So we all want and need more intimacy. There are some common misconceptions about intimacy in marriage that will do damage if you believe them. Choose not to believe the lies but to embrace the truth instead.

1. Guys Don’t Do Intimacy

In his book Scarey Close, Donald Miller has a chapter about men and intimacy. He says, “I don’t think men are as bad at intimacy as we might think. It’s just that we get pressured to go about intimacy in ways that are traditionally more feminine, specifically we’re asked to talk about it and share our feelings. We don’t really want to do that.” He goes on to say, “I think men do intimacy differently and I think that’s okay.”

In that same chapter he also says, “The problem is most men are actually great at intimacy it’s just that we’ve been led to believe we aren’t. And I’m convinced the confusion is costing us.”

I agree. Men do intimacy; they just do it differently than women. To begin with, for many men the path for emotional connection leads through the bedroom. A strong sexual connection actually makes them desire (not just be open to) a strong emotional connection. Another difference is that men tend to share more about facts and data than about their emotions, because these are things that are important to them. Finally, men tend to use a lot fewer words than women do.

What all this points to is the fact that when it comes to intimacy (being fully known, and yet totally loved and accepted), men approach it from a very different angle than women. We need to accept that difference in each other and be okay with it.

Truth: Your spouse probably does emotional intimacy differently than you do, and that’s okay.

2. Sex is For Him

It’s amazing to me how many women believe this one. Many women who don’t have the same testosterone-laden sex drive as their husbands do think they are fine without sex. They aren’t.

Sex is the only form of intimacy that God strictly reserved to be shared between husbands and wives, which makes sex not only unique but also sacred. In my Sexual Satisfaction Survey findings (which you can get a copy of by subscribing to my posts here) I found that one in five marriage are essentially sexless (sex less than once a month). That is tragic.

Believing that sex is primarily for husbands will rob wives of the sexual enjoyment and fulfillment that God has intends. Sex is not primarily a physical act. It is deeply spiritual and builds a wide pathway to a strong emotional connection as well. Having sex regularly strengthens your marriage, gives you a sense of well-being, and makes you actually desire sex more.

Truth: Don’t let the fact that you may have less physical drive allow you to miss out on the joy and pleasure that is rightfully yours.

3. Spiritual Intimacy is for Her

The male corollary to women believing that “sex is for him” is the lie that “spiritual intimacy is for her.”

While I observe that women tend to gravitate more naturally and easily toward spiritual matters, it doesn’t negate the fact that God desires an intimate relationship with husbands. I’ve found that I can love my wife best when I am strongly connected to God and that to be a good husband, I must first learn to be a bride – the bride of Christ.

If you buy the lie and leave the spiritual domain to your wife, it will not only inhibit your relationship with Christ (and therefor with your wife), it will rob you of the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from leading your family spiritually. Most women have a strong desire to see their husbands step more fully into their spiritual leadership role. Dare I say that demonstrations of spiritual maturity and leadership are compellingly attractive to your wife. In my Three Things survey, more spiritual intimacy was the number one desire for wives.

As I explain in “3 Simple Ways to Lead Your Wife Spiritually” there are some easy ways to start to step out and lead. And for wives, read my post “How to Support Your Husband’s Spiritual Leadership.”

Truth: A thriving relationship with Jesus is for both husbands and wives and is the foundation of your marriage.

4. Intimacy Needs to Be Earned

There is a tendency in marriage to withhold the intimacy your spouse desires until you feel your own intimacy needs are being met. This is a dangerous game that will quickly land your marriage on the The Path of Separation, where you slowly spiral apart from each other.

The fact is that when you got married, the two of you became one. Therefore, intimacy should be your expectation at all times and you’ll want to continually and intentionally cultivate it. When you withhold intimacy, for whatever reason, you damage your connection and tear at the fabric of your oneness.

Withholding and punishing normally results in the opposite of what you hope it will accomplish. Waiting for your spouse to change before you become generous at meeting their needs does not work. The best way to keep on the Path of Intimacy is for you to work on you and becoming the best you can be at meeting your partner’s needs.

Truth: Grace, not judgment, is actually the best path to having your intimacy needs met.

5. Intimacy Is…

It’s safe to say that we all have our biases when it comes to intimacy, and we tend to think that our view is the “right” view.

What we often think of as intimacy is actually a byproduct of intimacy. A hot sex life, being romanced, having a deep emotional connection, or praying and sharing together are all fruits of intimacy. The lie is that if we go after to fruit, we’ll get the intimacy we want. The truth is that it’s intimacy that leads to the enjoyable fruit.

And intimacy is actually pretty simple (not easy, but simple), and it’s probably not what you think it is. It’s being fully known, weaknesses and all, yet being completely loved. (This is the same definition as intimacy with God, by the way). Stepping into the vulnerability that comes from be completely known, and being met in turn with unconditional love and grace, we experience the kind of intimacy that more easily leads to great sex, a deep soul connection, and a strong spiritual bond.

Truth: if you’ll work on being fully known, being transparent with the totality of your being, it will cause physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy grow.


These are my top 5 lies about intimacy. You’ll do well not to buy into them. Do you have some others lies that you’ve discovered in your marriage? Leave a comment.

Which Way Do You Run?

Grace is what allows you to run toward your spouse when you’ve messed up.

grace intimacy

I read this in a Joyce Meyer devotional last week.

The grace of God is greater than our sin or any other problem that we may have. You might be feeling guilty and tempted to shrink from God’s presence, but He wants you to run to Him, not away from Him.

~Joyce Meyer

As I often do, when I read this I immediately thought of the marriage parallel.

We all have times when we blow it big-time with our spouse. We say something unkind, maybe deliberately. We don’t do something we said we would do, or we do something we promised not to do. We betray a confidence, break a trust or speak ill of our spouse behind their back. The list of possible screw-ups is endless.

We’ve all done things we wished we hadn’t.

Which Way Do You Run? 

When you make a mess in your marriage, which way do you run? Do you turn away from your spouse to run and hide, making excuses and avoiding blame. Or do you turn toward your spouse with a sincere desire to make amends and re-establish your connection?

In the same way that shame and fear cause us to run from God, so too it is with our spouse. But when grace and love permeate your relationship, it allows you to run toward your spouse, just as it does in your relationship with God.

Running away widens the gap between you at just the time when what you really need is to close the gap. Sure it feels safer to distance yourself from the person you’ve offended, but separation is never the solution. Intimacy is.

Grace is an Invitation to Intimacy

The best way to ensure that your spouse extends grace to you when you’ve blown it is to work toward an atmosphere of grace in your marriage.

And the best way to fill your marriage with grace is to first experience the overwhelming and extravagant grace of God toward you and your spouse – to allow grace to have its full effect in your own life. Then, when your spouse messes up, make every effort to respond with that same grace and love. Don’t turn away in offense. Don’t distance yourself in retribution. Reach out, extend grace and strive to maintain intimacy through the trouble.

Grace is contagious! The more you extend grace, the more you shift the atmosphere of your marriage toward grace, and the more likely it is that you’ll receive that same kind of grace when you need it. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it definitely improves the odds.

The Fruit of Grace

Ask yourself this question: How different would your marriage be if your spouse never, ever doubted that you truly love him or her?

And suppose that you never ever doubted your spouse’s love for you? How delightful would your marriage be if you lived every moment in celebration of the secure love you share and never had to strive to earn love?

This the fruit of grace: confidence in love. Security, trust and peace grow in a marriage filled with grace.

So the next time you feel tempted to turn away and hide from your spouse because you’ve made a mess of things, stop yourself. Make a deliberate turn toward him or her, trust in their love, and seek to maintain your connection while you clean things up.

7 Low Effort Ways to Start a Marriage Community

Marriages thrive best in a community where couples affirm and strengthen each other.

Group

As a champion for strong marriages, it saddens me to see how little many churches seem to be doing for the marriages in their midst. Most churches will have some form of premarital counseling, and some have divorce recovery support groups, but what about all those marriages in between infancy and death, the two ends of the marriage spectrum? What is being done for the vast majority of “average” couples? The answer is usually not much.

In the typical church you will always find a children’s ministry and usually a women’s and singles’ ministry, with men’s ministries growing in popularity. I have nothing against any of these. But where are the ministries specifically for married couples. I’ve seen a few shining examples, but the truth is there is a big lack in this critically important area.

Support Makes a Difference

According to a 2011 study by the National Marriage Project, husbands and wives with high levels of support from family and friends are almost 50% more likely to be very happy in their marriages. Such support is one of the top five predictors of marital quality and stability. Here is a chart from that study.

suppor-happiness chart

Bottom line: a supportive community matters for marriages.

What Can You Do?

Maybe you can’t solve all the marriage problems in your community, but you can make a difference in the lives of a few couples around you. Here are a few ideas for low-effort ways to start building a marriage-positive culture.

  1. Get together informally with some couples whose marriages you admire. Ask other couples to join in. Let it grow organically.
  2. Set up a date-night babysitting exchange for couples with young kids so you can take turns watching each others’ kids and give couples much-needed alone time.
  3. Ask your church to plan a marriage-building retreat into next year’s calendar and budget. (Not so low effort: offer to coordinate or assist with the event.)
  4. Set up a marriage-related Facebook page where you can post helpful blog posts and other resources on marriage. Invite all your married friends to join the group.
  5. Create a couples’ prayer partner network among friends so you can exchange prayer requests and check in on each other regularly.
  6. Start a marriage book-club group. Get together with a few other couples to discuss a marriage-related book. See the suggested materials list below.
  7. Talk to your pastor about starting a church sponsored marriage small group in your church. (Not so low effort: offer to facilitate the group. To lessen the stress, ask two or three other couples to co-lead with you.) We just launched a monthly group at our church and are loving it! The materials list below can help with this one as well.

Pray about what God might call you to do to help build a community of strong marriages. Don’t be afraid to start small and just see where it leads. Anything you do to encourage other couples is going to be a tremendous blessing to them.

I’d love to hear what is your church doing for marriages these days. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Leave a comment and let me know.


Marriage Group Resource List

For five years, Jenni and I have led a 13-week marriage small group based on a curriculum we wrote. I’m working on getting that ready to publish, so look for that announcement sometime this year. Meanwhile, I asked some of my CMBA (Christian Marriage Bloggers’ Association) friends to share with me the marriage resources they have used for small group discussion. Here they are, in no particular order (links are Amazon Affiliate links, and if you choose to purchase through these links, you’ll be supporting this ministry).

  1. His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley, Jr. (Participants Guide, DVD,  paperback book, Hardcover, Kindle book)
  2. What Did You Expect by Paul Tripp (DVD, Paperback, Kindle)
  3. Love and Respect by Emmerson Eggerichs (Book + WorkbookWorkbook only, Hardcover book, Paperback, Kindle)
  4. Cherish by Gary Thomas (DVD, Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle)
  5. Grace Filled Marriage by Tim Kimmel (Kindle, Paperback)
  6. The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott (Paperback, Study Guide) and The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace (Paperback, Study Guide)

Note: I have read and can personally endorse 1, 3, and 5. The others have the endorsement of people I trust.