4 Comfortable Habits That Keep Your Marriage Stuck at Good

Move beyond these familiar habits to shift your marriage from good to great.

Good to Great

Do you sometimes feel like your marriage is stuck in neutral? It can happen to any couple, regardless of how long they’ve been married. We get comfortable in our routines. We slip into familiar patterns that maybe aren’t all the healthy or helpful. We lose sight of our purpose. We become roommates.

Humans are creatures of habit. In fact, our brains are wired to seek ways to go on autopilot in order to reduce our cognitive load. Autopilot is just easier on our brains. The problem is, autopilot mode is also hard on your marriage.

From Good to Great

Maybe you would say you have a pretty good marriage. But you know it could be better. You are stuck at good, but you have a feeling that great is out there somewhere. You just aren’t sure how to get there.

You’ve no doubt heard it said that good is the enemy of great. I might say it a little differently. I would say that the thrill of great gets held captive by the comfort of good.

If you want to have a great marriage, you may have to take a few risks and let go of good. By that I mean you may have to let go of some habits that have become very comfortable and familiar, but that have you trapped at good.

The thing with comfort zones is that they are so darn comfortable. We can even fool ourselves into thinking something is comfortable just because it’s familiar, even though it may even not be all that enjoyable or satisfying.

Here are four typical comfort zones where I challenge you to move beyond good and to go for great.

Good #1: We have date nights

The movie Date Night perfectly portrays what happens when date night becomes a stale habit. The Fosters go to the same restaurant on the same night, eating the same food every week, where they finish each others’ sentences and fall into bed without really even touching each other. All the while they are longing for something more.

Dates nights are important, but if it feels like they have become blah, it’s time to shake things up a bit. Let go of your normal date night routines. Take turns with planning your dates. Try this four-date sequence next month.  Date #1 he plans something “for her,” meaning he tries to consider her desires and interests. Date #2 she plans “for him,” and does likewise. Date #3 he plans according to what he would like. Date #4 she plans something that she likes doing.

Take turns planning surprises. Dress for each other. Include a little date night nookie. Commit to doing something new and untried at least once a month.

Great #1: Make date night an adventure!

 

Good #2: We know each other well

Knowing each other well is a double-edged sword. While it does allow for a certain amount of ease and comfort in daily interactions, it can also cause us to make assumptions and leap to conclusions. It can make us complacent so that we stop pursuing each other. We can miss it when our spouse grows and changes. We can also start to think it terms of “you never…” or “you always…” instead of seeing things for how they really are (which is probably not actually never or always).

The truth is that there is more intimacy available to you than what you are enjoying right now, regardless of where you are on the spectrum. Don’t assume you know all there is to know about your spouse and don’t assume your spouse knows all about you. Practice engaging on a deeper level in every dimension of your marriage: emotional, sexual, spiritual, intellectual, financial, recreational…

My “Intimate Connections for Couples” workbook is a great way to deepen intimacy with fun, easy fill-in-the-blank conversation starters. It’s available right now on Amazon for a 25% discount, so order yours before they are gone!

Great #2: Never stop being a student of your spouse. Never stop seeking deeper intimacy.

 

Good #3: We have sex pretty regularly

Sexual intimacy is a common area where couples get stuck. Because of the intense vulnerability that comes with sex, it’s easy to seek the safety and comfort of the familiar. I mean, even okay sex is pretty darn good, right, so why rock the boat? Why take risks? Why move out of our comfort zone?

Sexual intimacy is the ultimate expression of the oneness of marriage. The vulnerability that accompanies sexual exploration also allows for the deepest possible kind of connection, because genuine intimacy requires vulnerability. Finding new sexual expressions and new ways to enjoy each other physically allows this area of intimacy to continue to grow and strengthen your marriage in a unique and beautiful way. Take delight in generously delighting one another in bed, and often.

Great #3: Make sex a high priority and add something new to the routine once in a while.

 

Good #4: Our marriage is fair. Everything is 50/50

Fairness is the wrong measuring stick for a great marriage. When making everything even becomes the goal, it sets up score-keeping and an atmosphere where we withhold until we get our fair share.

God calls us to more. He calls us to sacrificial, unconditional and extravagant love. It’s how he loves us, and how we are to love one another, especially in marriage. As Jesus, our bridegroom, laid down his life for his bride, so too are husbands called to lovingly lay down their lives and use their authority to lavishly love, protect and beautify their wives. As the church gives her all to Jesus in unconditional and loving surrender, so too are wives to give themselves wholly to their husbands.

There is nothing in the relationship between Christ and the church that is 50/50, and therefore there should be nothing in marriage that is either. Think of areas where you have tended to hold back from your spouse and find ways to overcome your reticence. Think of ways in which you have not loved as fully or generously as you could because of not having your own needs met, and try giving that love anyway.

Great #4: Go for 100/100 in your marriage – go all out at being all in!

 

What other habits can you think of that couples might need to let go of in order find the greatness that lies beyond? Leave your thoughts in a comment.

 

This post originally appeared on my Journey to Surrender blog in February 2016

7 Ways to Help Your Wife Feel Beautiful

A Men only Monday post

Make it your job to make your wife feel beautiful every day.

Make Her Feel Beautiful

Today I’m speaking to husbands concerning their wife’s body image struggles. This is a follow-up post to my Wives Only Wednesday post from last week, 6 Things Wives Need to Know About Their Body Image Struggles and the subsequent post 10 Ways to Overcome Body Image Issues.

Let me cut right to the heart of the issue: It is your job to make your wife feel beautiful. Every single day.

How do I make such a bold claim? Because you are to love your wife as Christ loves the church, and that’s exactly how Jesus treats us.

All that he does in us is designed to make us a mature church for his pleasure until we become a source of praise to him—glorious and radiant, beautiful and holy, without fault or flaw; a bride fully prepared for him. Ephesians 5:27 TPT

In the footnote concerning the word “beautiful” the author of The Passion Translation, Brian Simmons, writes, “5:27 The Greek word for radiance (endoxos) can also mean “gorgeous, honorable, esteemed, splendid, infused with glory!” This is what Christ’s love will do to you.” And by extension, The Bridal Paradigm implies that your love should beautify your wife in the same way.

So the biblical mandate to “beautify” your wife is clear. But how?

1) Tell Her – Daily

As I stated in my post, “Your Wife is in a Body Image Battle,” your wife is bombarded daily with messages that cause her to dislike her appearance. Movies, television, magazines and advertising all contribute to a false portrayal of beauty that makes women feel “less than.”

You may be her only ally in her battle against negative self-image, so it is your job to tell her loudly and clearly just how beautiful she is. Pay her a compliment about her physical appearance every day or more. Even if you told her an hour ago, she’s stopped believing it already. Compliment her outfit, her sense of style, her hairstyle, or speak admiringly of your favorite body part(s). Let her know how much you appreciate when she wears something just for you. Seek opportunities to praise her beauty (tactfully and appropriately) in front of others.

2) Pursue Her

Never stop pursuing your wife. Yes, she is already yours, but that doesn’t mean she no longer desires to be pursued by you. Flirt with her. Take her on regular dates. Cross the house to kiss her for no reason at all except that you wanted a kiss. Make love regularly – it actually changes her brain chemistry in positive ways.

Understand your wife’s love language(s) and be purposeful in attending to her love needs in ways that are meaningful to her. Her love needs are likely completely different than your own, so be a student of what makes your wife feel loved and regularly act in accordance with what you have learned.

Do little things every day to make her feel adored. Cherish her daily and don’t make the mistake of thinking occasional grand gestures are enough. They aren’t.

3) Adore her Inner Self

I know this post is primarily about your wife’s self-image over her physical appearance, but your wife is much more than just how she looks. Make a point to admire her inner beauty as well. Notice and express appreciation for who she is inside. Compliment her personality, her generosity, her intelligence and her spiritual insight. Remind her what a good friend/daughter/mother she is.

4) Touch Her

Even if physical touch is not one of your wife’s love languages, it’s an important ingredient in making her feel loved and adored by you. Non-sexual touch releases oxytocin, which causes her to feel more connected to you. Hug. Hold Hands. Snuggle on the couch. Put your arm around her. Give a foot or back massage.

5) Adorn Her

Encourage your wife to spend money and time on herself. Buy her a special outfit or surprise her with jewelry once in a while. Again, even if gifts aren’t her highest love language, make room in the budget for her to buy some nice things. Encourage her to splurge occasionally on some more elegant lingerie – or buy it for her yourself. If this feels out of your league, check her sizes in her closet and drawers, and ask for help finding something tasteful yet beautiful at the local lingerie store.

6) Look at Her Through the Eyes Of Love and Desire

Allow your wife to see in your eyes the love and desire you have for her. Give her a wry, appreciative smile when you catch her undressing. Lock eyes with her while you are making love. Flash her a loving smile or give her a wink across a room full of people. Approach her, staring into her eyes with a passionate look, and press your body to hers before moving in for a kiss.

7) Never Give Up

Many wives will try to refuse your compliments or argue back. As hard as that is, especially if she is ardent in her opposition, don’t allow her negative reactions to discourage you in your efforts to make her feel beautiful. It won’t be easy but stick to it. Be consistent. Let her know that she doesn’t get to decide how you feel about her. Even if she argues, she still wants and needs to hear your words of affirmation.

Every woman is different, so not all of these will be helpful for all wives. The main thing is to be aware of your responsibility to make your wife feel beautiful and to be deliberate in your efforts.

For the Joy of Intimacy

What if selflessness has the power to make your marriage stronger than ever before?

The joy of intimacy
Romans 12:2 says of Jesus:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What was the joy that enabled Jesus to leave heaven, to step into our human existence and to sacrifice his very life for us before returning to the right hand of the Father? It was the joy of dwelling in intimacy with you and me – now and forever. Jesus wanted us so much, that he laid down his life to have us.

Where’s The Joy?

It’s human nature to look at selflessness and sacrifice in marriage in light of what it will cost us or what we must give in time and effort. But we often forget about what we will reap on the other side. In most cases (because there are no guarantees or magic formulas) the end result of sacrificial love is the joy and ecstasy of deeper intimacy in your marriage.

Do you have a hard time finding delight in giving your spouse your all, emotionally, spiritually or sexually? We all have a tendency to withhold a measure of our love until we feel our spouse is doing their “fair share.” We want to self-protect. We want to put our desires first.

But that wasn’t how Jesus approached us. He gave himself fully, even unto death, with no assurance that we would return his affection. To Jesus, the chance at intimacy with us was worth the risk.

The joyful anticipation of intimacy can move us from seeing sacrifice as a chore or obligation and into the realm of joyfully and generously giving our love and our selves.

I Bet You Know What It Is

If I asked you to identify something you know your spouse wants but that you only dole out in small measures, if at all, I bet you could name at least one thing right away – maybe several of them.

I understand there are reasons for withholding. I’ve held those reasons myself at times. Maybe it’s because it costs you more than you are willing to give. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t come naturally for you. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel you are getting from your spouse in equal measure.

I get all that.

But What If…

Consider the possibilities.

What if your acts of selflessness, however small and incremental, were rewarded with a greater sense of connection and intimacy with your husband or wife? What if they responded, in time, by moving closer to you in some small measure, in an area of your own need for connection?

What if a pattern of selfless giving took hold in your marriage and propelled you toward greater passion, depth of intimacy and a stronger bond of trust and transparency? What if your willingness to lay down your preferences actually resulted in your spouse wanting to serve you in return?

What if selflessness has the power to make your marriage stronger than ever before?

Our Story

Jenni encouraged me to share how the truth of this has unfolded in our own marriage.

As I began to understand the Bridal Paradigm and understand what it means to love Jenni in the same sacrificial way Jesus loves me, I began to be less selfish and more loving in ways that were important to Jenni. In turn, over time, she responded by opening herself up more to me, becoming less self-protective and loving me more generously in ways that mattered to me.

Let me make an important point. It wasn’t that I gave to her in order to get something in return or to get her to do something for me. That would not have been love but manipulation. Of course I hoped that she would respond in kind, but my motivation was not to get something, rather to deepen our level of intimacy. And it did.

For The Joy Set Before You

What enables us to give and love sacrificially is to look beyond the sacrifice into the intimacy offered on the other side. That’s what compelled Jesus to do what he did for us, even without the assurance that we would respond to his grand overture of love.

Set your heart on the joy of a marriage full of deep and abiding intimacy in every dimension, and see if that moves you to live more a more selfless marriage. I bet it will.

 

12 Fun Kisses to Try This Week (Plus A Challenge)

 

It’s time to take your kissing game to the next level!

Kissing Song 1:2

I believe God is a big fan of kissing, and I have scripture to back me up! If you are in doubt, just read Song of Solomon.

I actually think he designed us to really enjoy this wonderful form of intimacy between a man and a woman. It’s just like Him to do that sort of thing for us.

A Kiss in NOT Just A Kiss

Despite the famous line from the song “As Time Goes By” in the 1942 classic movie Casablanca, a kiss should never be just a kiss.

I’ve heard it said that if a kiss is just a kiss, then you are doing it wrong. I agree, because to me a kiss is:

  • An intimate physical expression of the oneness you share
  • A publicly acceptable way of showing affection for your spouse
  • An act that eliminates emotional space between you by eliminating physical space
  • As close as you can get to each other without actually having sex
  • A great way to keep your physical relationship on simmer
  • A cheap, fat-free, sugar-free, guilt-free treat (It can, however, be habit forming.)

Sometimes kisses can speak louder than words. What message are you sending your spouse with your kisses these days? 

Change It Up!

Try out a few of these kisses with your spouse this week:

10 Second Kiss – Next time you kiss your husband or wife goodbye or hello, see if you can hold the kiss for at least ten seconds. If he or she backs off after the usual few seconds, pull them in and say “I’m not finished with you yet,” and go for the full ten seconds.

Nibble Kiss – Add a little variety by nibbling or gently biting your spouse’s lower lip after a more tender kiss.

French Kiss – A famously promoted but seldom mastered kiss where your tongues dance together. The trick here is to go slowly and not simply thrust your tongue wildly (that’s fine for later, after things heat up). Tease his or her lips with the tip of your tongue. Probe gently and wait for a response before taking things up a notch.

Surprise Kiss – Catch your lover off guard when a kiss is least expected. Transform the moment with a hot, deeply sensual kiss. Wrap your arms around him or her, hold them tightly and kiss like you mean it!

Earlobe Kiss – Not everyone likes their ears messed with, but those who do would love to have their earlobes nibbled gently. Whisper a sweet nothing while you are there. Careful though, loud smacking kisses near the ear can really hurt!

Cold Kiss – Use and ice cube or mint to cool your mouth before you kiss. It provides an interesting sensation. If your partner is game it can be very sensual to pass it between you with your tongue while you kiss.

Nuzzling Kiss – When things are heating up, leave a trail of gentle kisses down one side of your partner’s neck and back up the other side. You’ll be sure to send tingles through his or her body.

Leave Your Mark – The wife freshens her lipstick and plants a kiss on the husband’s cheek. See how long he can go before wiping it off!

Show and Tell Kiss – Ask your partner to describe his or her favorite kiss, and then try to deliver it.

Upside-Down Kiss – Catch your partner laying down and approach him or her with your head opposite theirs for an interesting kissing sensation.

Almost Kiss – Bring your lips close together and see how long you can go without actually touching.

Possessive Kiss – Frame your partner’s face with your hands, stare into his or her eyes, and draw them slowly toward you until your lips meet. At the end of the kiss, say, “You’re mine!”

Take the Make-out Challenge

If your spouse is agreeable, spend ten minutes in a good old fashioned make-out session. Can you make it the full ten minutes with only kissing, nothing more? What you do after the ten minutes is up is totally up to you!

If kissing your spouse has become routine, or even a bit boring, this week make an effort to change things up a little! Here is some inspiration from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. Can you land a kiss in the top five kisses of all time?

Watch it on YouTube

My list of ideas is only the tip of the iceberg. What fresh kissing ideas do you have to offer? Leave a comment.

How Much PDA is Too Much?

When it comes to PDA, the real question is “How much is enough?”

 

I’m a member of Christian Marriage Bloggers Association, and this month CMBA is sponsoring a blog challenge based on this picture by Kate Aldrich Photography (titles added by me).

PDA

Kate and her husband Brad, blog at One Flesh Marriage.

I’m a little late to the party with this post, and my take on the photo is somewhat different than my fellow CMBA bloggers (check out the list of other challenge posts in the comments on this CMBA Newsletter post).

My immediate thought upon seeing the challenge photo went to public displays of affection, or PDA.

I realize there are cultural and contextual limits to PDA, but I personally err on the side of more not less. Let me explain.

Proclaim Your Love

I appreciate couples who are willing to show the world that they are happily married, still in love and show affection for each other. No, I don’t want to see a public make-out session or blatant groping, but I see a whole lot more of the other extreme: couples who practically act like strangers in public.

What I like about this photo is the way this couple obviously has affection toward each other. Although their actions are moderated by the umbrella, their love shines through.

Publicly showing affection for your spouse not only demonstrates your love, but it is a great declaration in support of marriage in general. “Marriage rocks! And I’m not afraid to show it!”

Below you’ll find 15 ways to give the world a glimpse of your affection for each other.

Affection Doesn’t Mean Indecent

Of course your spouse needs to be comfortable with whatever form of PDA you engage in, but there are plenty of ways ways to show affection without being indecent or inappropriate. For example:

  • Hold hands while you walk through your neighborhood
  • Kiss hello and goodbye regardless of where you are
  • Put your arm around your wife in church
  • Lean your head on your husband’s shoulder in the theater while waiting for the movie to start
  • Rest your hand on your spouse’s knee while sitting on the same side of the booth in a restaurant (Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Tripplehorn, it is very much a married move).

I don’t know of anyone who would find such actions offensive.

Non-Physical PDA

There are also tons of ways to show affection that don’t involve physical contact. Here are just a few:

  • Open your wife’s car door for her. (Take her hand to help her from the car)
  • Speak kindly (even brag) about your spouse to your friends and family
  • Bring your spouse a cup of tea or coffee at the church coffee hour
  • Send flowers to your wife at work

Public Secret

When you are away from home, there are other ways to show affection for each other that are for your eyes/ears only. Such acts of love add a sense of spice and adventure to your relationship while you are out and about. Some secrets that only the two of you will know:

  • Make eye contact with each other and smile warmly across a crowded room. Give an air kiss.
  • Let your husband know that you are wearing something special for him under your clothes (or that you aren’t wearing anything!)
  • Whisper something romantic in your wife’s ear
  • Steal a long, passionate kiss in a private hallway or dark parking lot
  • Write a slightly racy text message about your plans for the evening. (You can make it racier if you have a private, secure messaging app like Couple or Avacado.)
  • Leave a note where only your spouse will find it (wallet, purse, briefcase, etc). It can range from sweet to sexy.

What’s your take on couples showing affection for each other in public? Would you like to see more of it in your own marriage? Leave a comment