Don’t Be Fooled – It’s All Connected

Lack in any area of intimacy will eventually affect the other areas. But then so does plenty!

It's all Connected

There is a human tendency to compartmentalize our lives. We all do it to more or less of a degree. But is that always the best way to live?

For example, we often divide parts of our lives between the secular and the spiritual. Church=spiritual. Job=secular. Prayer=spiritual. Sports=secular. But it isn’t so. It’s all spiritual. All of it belongs to God, and God can be found in it all.

Intimacy Interconnected

When it comes to your marriage, and especially when it comes to intimacy in marriage, every dimension is connected to every other dimension. The emotional is not separate from sexual or spiritual. Each impacts the other–in a variety of ways. That’s both good and bad, as we’ll see.

Sometimes we tell ourselves we can do without one or more of these areas of intimacy. But it’s not true. Whenever you leave any dimension out of the intimacy equation of your relationship, it will cause a deficit in the other dimensions.

Take the area of sexual intimacy as an example. A sex-starved marriage will often result in a relationship in which a husband and wife also have a limited emotional connection.

For another example, you don’t feel it’s important to have a spiritual connection to each other. This will steal the emotional intimacy that comes from shared spiritual experiences. It will damage financial intimacy in that it removes important spiritual principles from financial decisions and prevents prayerfully consideration of your money. A lack of spiritual connection even reduces sexual intimacy, because sex, at its core, is a deeply spiritual experience–or at least it should be.

It would be possible for me to draw similar examples from any deficient or missing component of the intimacy in your marriage. They are all interconnected.

The Good News

While it is true that a lack of intimacy in any one area will negatively impact other areas, it’s also true that when you improve any one area of intimacy in your marriage, it will spill over positively into other areas.

For example, for most men, it is true that a thriving and fulfilling sexual relationship opens the door to a deeper emotional connection with their wife. In a post on his X-Y Blog, Paul Byerly, aka The Generous Husband, says it this way:

For men sex communicates love and acceptance, while a lack of sex communicates the opposite. I realise this is not usually what women are communicating with sex and saying no, but it is what men feel. Even when you convince a man this is not what she means, he will still feel it. When a man feels a good sexual connection with his wife he starts to want other forms of intimacy. Not tolerate, want. The need was always there, but it is hard to hear over the much louder need for sexual intimacy.

In the same way, a woman who is emotionally satisfied by her husband’s affection and attention will be more open to responding positively to her husband’s sexual advances. Emotional intimacy opens a wide doorway to sexual intimacy.

Get on the Right Path

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging about intimacy all this month. Partly that’s because I believe intimacy is the most important goal for every marriage. But the major reason is that next week my new Kindle book, The Path of Intimacy, will be released, and I’m super-excited about it!

In the book, I explain how every marriage is on one of two paths: the Path of Intimacy or the Path of Separation. There is no middle ground between the two where you can statically maintain your distance. Intimacy doesn’t work that way. It’s either growing or it’s dying. You get to choose.

Whenever you choose the Path of Intimacy by working on any area of your relationship (physical, emotional, sexual, financial, etc.) you have set your marriage squarely on the Path of Intimacy, and you will begin to see fruit in other areas, even without working specifically on those areas.

Look for my book release announcement next week, but in the meantime, do something this week to intentionally build the intimacy in your marriage.

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The One Thing Your Marriage Needs Most This Year

Here’s to a happy, intimate 2018!

I regularly run surveys among my readers to keep my finger on the collective pulse of the couples who follow my blog. The survey I am currently running  asks the question, “What do you want more of in your marriage right now?” (You can take it now if you’d like to have your answers included in the results.)

I’ve asked a similar question in a number of surveys over the years, and the answer always comes back the same: couples want more intimacy most of all.

What Couples Want

In the latest survey results, when asked to give the top 3 things they want more of in their marriage, 9 out of 10 respondents indicated a desire for more emotional, physical or spiritual intimacy. Over half placed one of these as their number one need, and almost half picked more than one form of intimacy as a top three need. I’m probably safe in guessing that intimacy comes in high on your list of marital desires as well.

A surprising finding from the survey is that men and women don’t differ in their desires as much as you might think. In fact, the top three needs of men and women were exactly the same and in the same order. Men and women both picked sexual intimacy as the number one need in their marriage (though not in the same percentages), and both picked spiritual and emotional intimacy as their number 2 and 3 needs, respectively. Chances are you and your spouse are longing for the same things.

So if seemingly everyone desires more intimacy, why are so many couples struggling to find it?

In Search of True Intimacy

People define intimacy in many different ways. Some say it’s a feeling of closeness and connection. Others say it’s about sex or romance or both. The Bible has a slightly different take on intimacy:

Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25

Here, at the very creation of marriage, God defines what it means to be one flesh. It means living naked and unashamed. That’s what I describe as being fully known and being totally loved. This is intimacy at its core.

In my post, Keeping Your Marriage Strong for the Long Haul, I summarized the quest for intimacy this way:

Intimacy is the antidote for the roommate syndrome that wrecks so many marriages. Intimacy reaches its zenith when we are fully known (weaknesses, warts and all) and completely, unconditionally loved. Intimacy is the main goal of every marriage (in all forms: emotional, spiritual, sexual, financial, etc.), and God built us with an innate desire for intimacy; intimacy with Him and intimacy with our spouse. I also believe God designed us with a huge capacity for intimacy and that we can continue to grow closer together regardless of how long we’ve been married.

Not One Thing But Many Things

Make it a goal to journey more deeply into intimacy with your spouse in the year ahead. As you do, keep in mind that true intimacy involves the entirety of your being. It isn’t just about improving your sex life, or getting more regular about going on dates, or spending more one-on-one time talking and really listening, or learning to pray together.

It’s about all of it. Everything.

Don’t be overwhelmed by that thought. What it really means is that there are lots of ways to build intimacy. Pick an area and start making small changes toward more fully knowing each other by being more transparent and showing your heart to your spouse. As you both open up to each other more, respond with unconditional love and grace.

You are probably thinking, “Easier said than done.” True. But as you start with small steps, you’ll begin to see the fruit of every effort you make in the direction of a deeper, more intimate connection.

Praying that you and your spouse have a happy, intimate 2018!

 

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.

 

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