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.

 

5 Signs You May Have Settled

Five signs of settling and some conversations starters to move your marriage forward again.

Don't Settle

Have you settled? I mean, in your marriage, have you settled for less than what you know is possible, less than all God desires for you and your husband or wife?

Sometimes it seems easier to settle and just accept your marriage for “the way things are.” Making your marriage better requires work. It requires attention, intention and consistent effort.

Once you begin to settle, it’s easy to slip into autopilot and just let things glide by. The problem is that there is no such thing as status quo in marriage. Your marriage is organic – a living thing. It’s either growing or it’s dying.

I strongly believe that no matter how great or terrible your marriage is, there is always more. Your marriage can always be moving forward, growing stronger and more intimate. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are on what I call The Path of Intimacy or The Path of Separation (you are on one or the other), here are some clues that you are on the wrong path, and some ideas on how to reverse course.

1. You have stopped reaching into the divide

When couples first start on the Path of Separation, it’s tempting to wait for your spouse to be the first one to reach out and reconnect. Maybe you even tried to move closer but were rejected. As the gulf grows wider, bitterness and resentment settle in, making it even harder to re-establish your connection. And so the cycle goes, with an ever deepening divide. Sometimes we just settle for managing the degree of separation.

It’s never too late to get your marriage back on the Path of Intimacy. It starts with a desire to do so, followed up with some deliberate actions. Sometimes small steps, little acts of love and kindness are all it takes to begin to draw you toward each other. Sometimes it takes some hard conversations about why you’ve drifted apart in the first place. Let your spouse know you miss them and miss your connection. Tell him or her that you want to stop the drift and work toward more intimacy.

Ask, “What would it take to bring us closer?”

2. You don’t have date nights anymore

One sign post of settling is that you stop prioritizing alone time together. Regular date nights out aren’t possible in every stage of marriage or for every budget, but every marriage needs one-to-one time that isn’t just functional in nature.

If you’ve never made a habit of having date nights, talk about why not and come up with a plan. If you have stopped dating, let your spouse know you miss it and want to start scheduling them again. Don’t stress yourselves by thinking it needs to be a big weekly production. Keeping it simple means it will be more likely to happen. In addition to having regular dates, work toward allocating 10-15 minutes a day just to sit close to each other and talk.

Ask, “What changes can we make in our lives so we can have regular one-to-one time?”

3. You blame all your marriage problems on your spouse

Couples who have settled often reach a stalemate in the blame game. Each blames the other for the problems in the marriage, and more often than not they have given up trying to get their spouse to change.

The thing is, by working so hard to change your spouse, you have set yourself up for disappointment. You can’t change him or her, you can only change you. I recently saw a quote that I really like, “Trying to change your spouse is an act of aggression, working on changing yourself is an act of love.” Commit to working on your stuff.

Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing I can do today that would make you feel more loved?”

4. You no longer dream together

Have you lost sight of your dreams? It can happen when you settle. Perhaps you no longer believe in each other or in each other’s dreams. Perhaps you have just forgotten about those things you once longed for. Maybe you’ve stopped talking to each other about your hopes, dreams, and ambitions because they just seem out of reach.

Whatever the reason, it’s never too late to dream together again.

Reignite your dreams with some conversation starters.

  • “If money was no issue, what would you want to do for the next ten years?”
  • “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what risk would you take that you have always wanted to?”
  • “Describe what you want our marriage to be like in five years (or ten years or when we retire).

5. You have stopped initiating sex

Have you settled for a less than fulfilling sex life? Do you no longer initiate sex because you are tired of being rejected or the lack of sexual engagement from your spouse? Have you settled for limited sexual intimacy? Are you afraid to ask for what you really want in the bedroom for fear of judgment or rejection?

From what I’ve observed, sex is the one area where couples seem to settle more than any other. I get it that sex is a huge vulnerability. I get that past wounds are hard to shake. But settling in your sex life is the most common on ramp to the Path of Separation. If you’ve given up on your sex life, apologize to your spouse and commit to working on that area of intimacy in your marriage. It is the one type of intimacy you can only share with each other, and sex needs to be seen for the wonderful privilege that it is.

Ask, “What baby steps can we take this month toward growing in sexual intimacy?”

 

Do you know in your heart that there is more for your marriage than what you are currently experiencing? Do any of these signs of settling ring true? Take steps this week to move from the Path of Separation to the Path of Intimacy.

 

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.

Different Isn’t Wrong (When Opposites Attract Part 1)

Navigating your differences is often a matter of learning to value them instead of fighting them.

When Opposites Attract

I’m convinced that opposites do indeed attract. After almost 35 years of marriage, my wife and I remain deeply in love, despite the fact that there are many ways in which we are as different as night and day. And I am actually quite thankful for that fact. Most of the time.

While there are many benefits and blessings from our differences, there are also challenges that come along for the ride. We have learned over time that navigating these differences successfully comes down to valuing and respecting them instead of fighting them.

Let’s look at a few common areas of difference.

1. Thinkers & Feelers

One difference married couples face is in how they approach decision making. The Meyers-Briggs personality assessment breaks these down into two groups: thinkers and feelers. Thinkers tend to make decisions based on facts and data, whereas feelers tend to make decisions based on emotions and feelings.

Such differences in decision making style can cause conflicts. For example, when Jenni and I disagree on how to proceed with a decision my logical, fact-based opinions can be seen by her as not valuing her perspective, which tends to be based more on her feelings. It’s easy for both thinkers and feelers to feel misunderstood, devalued or even judged for their approach. But neither is right or wrong, just different.

According to one personality assessment site, feelers and thinkers should try to find value in each other’s decision-making styles. Thinkers, for example, can value the way a feeler is sensitive to the emotional needs of others and appreciate their ability to identify subjective dimensions of an issue. Feelers can appreciate a thinker’s fact-based, solution-oriented problem solving abilities in the midst of difficult or complex decisions.

Each brings a different perspective that together can improve the outcome.

2. High Drive & Low Drive

Differences in sex drive often create significant stress on a couple’s sexual relationship. My own polls indicate that about 90% of couples have at least somewhat mismatched sex drives. The fortunate one-in-ten couples who have about equal drive levels report having the most sex and the highest overall sexual satisfaction. But what are we in the other 90% to do?

The first thing to remember is that sex drive levels are often largely dictated by hormones and other brain chemicals, which can be difficult to control or change. Whether your spouse is higher drive or lower drive, it is not their fault, and blaming them for it won’t help the situation. It will only make things worse.

While it is true that there are factors over which you have no control, there are also many other factors that influence a person’s interest in sex over which you do have control. Taking care of your overall health (sleep, diet, exercise), managing your stress level, working on the non-sexual intimacy in your relationship and being intentional about sexual thoughts and actions will all have a significant positive impact on your sex life.

Yes, mismatched sex drives is the norm, but there are many ways you can work collaboratively to ensure each other’s sexual satisfaction. The best attitude to take when dealing with your spouse’s difference in drive is to be an unselfish lover. Seek to work with and nurture your spouse’s sexual nature rather than fighting against it or demeaning them for it. We are instructed by Scripture (Col 7:3-4) to take responsibility for each other’s sexual satisfaction through mutual sexual surrender. The best way to do that is to take delight in delighting each other.

I love what Christian Psychologist and author Juli Slattery says in her post How Sexual Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage. She says that every time you and your spouse disagree about something sexual, you are presented with a question, “What kind of lover will I be?” You get to choose either natural, selfish love or unconditional, unchanging love – the kind of love God gives us. This is what she calls servant love. Rather than asking, “What’s in it for me?” servant love asks, “How can I bless my spouse?”

3. Introverts & Extroverts

I’m not sure why it is, but many married couples I know seem to consist of one introvert and one extrovert. That is certainly the case in my marriage (I’m the introvert).

Introversion and extroversion is another dimension measured by the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment. As traditionally defined, an introvert gains energy from alone time, whereas an extrovert gains energy from being with people. The opposite is also true – that introverts are drained by a high level of engagement with people, and too much alone time can drain an extrovert. Be aware that introversion/extroversion should not be confused with other personality traits such as being shy/outgoing, quiet/loud, or sensitive/insensitive.

Because they tend to help balance each other out, the pairing of introverts and extroverts seems to work well in most relationships, but it can also be a source of stress and disagreement that deserves some intentional and collaborative thought.

Working this out in my own marriage means my wife and I accept each other for the way we are wired and don’t try to change each other. But at the same time, we are also willing to step outside our normal comfort zones for each other. I’m open to willingly attend more social functions than I otherwise would and knowing that, she accepts that I’ll sometimes opt out. And she is open to leaving an event before she normally would when she senses that I’m nearing my people limit.

 

Each of these three differences can be difficult to navigate because they strike at the core of who we are. Rather than being accusitory or defensive, learn to value each other for the strengths each brings to the relationship. Learn to verbalize your own thoughts and needs in a respectful manner that doesn’t discount your spouse’s thoughts and needs.

Judging your partner because their natural responses and predispositions are different from your own will quickly lead to division and frustration. Accepting your spouse for the way God made him or her, putting your their needs above your own and proactively communicating about your differences will strengthen your marriage and allow you to avoid repeated battles.

Appreciate that your differences often mean that the two of you together are greater and stronger than either of you alone.

 

We’ll explore a few more differences next time in:  When Opposites Attract Part 2

 

5 Secrets to Sexual Surrender

Mutual sexual surrender is the best path to sexual intimacy.

Mutual Sexual Surrender

What does mutual sexual surrender in marriage look like? It looks like this:

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
1 Cor 7:3-4 NLT

Remember, when I talk about surrender, I’m not referring to any of the negative connotations of that word (loss, giving up, defeat). Rather, I’m talking about the complete giving over of your self to your spouse – about being all in 100%, holding nothing back. I’m not talking about losing your self, but rather bringing the fullness of your self to your spouse and marriage for purpose of building intimacy and strengthening your marriage.

This is what I mean by sexual surrender: laying aside self-centeredness, self-protection, and self-reliance and learning to give generously and unconditionally in a way that blesses and delights your spouse.

Secrets of Surrender

Surrendering your self and your body to your spouse isn’t necessarily natural or easy, but there are some steps you can take that will help you in the journey toward mutual sexual surrender.

1. Believe – that God created sexual intimacy for a couple’s mutual delight and as the ultimate form of human intimacy, designed to be only available between a husband and wife. Believe that God calls you to give your body over fully to your spouse for their sexual fulfillment (see 1 Cor 7:3-4 above).

2. Accept – that you likely express your sexuality very differently from your spouse. Cherish each other’s sexuality as God-given, and never denigrate each other for it. Accept your own sexual desire as healthy and your wishes as normal (as long as they are in the bounds of scripture, of course).

3. Delight in delighting each other. Take joy and pride in the deeply satisfying smile your spouse wears the day after a night of bliss together. Shift your perspective of sex from “have to” to “want to” to “get to” and see it for the wonderful privilege it is. (See my post Sex: Right, Duty or Privilege)

4. Respect – each other’s boundaries. Exploration is a normal part of any healthy sexual relationship but must always be done in a way that honors each other. Never push your spouse into anything that violates their personal integrity. Making love means that love should be at the center of every action.

5. Mutuality – is a must. One sided surrender is not sustainable. Each of you should be focused on what you give more than what you get. See #3 above. Realize that because you are one flesh, when you give pleasure to your spouse, you benefit as well. Being one flesh means that score-keeping has no place, especially when it comes to sex.

As I said in this post, I see sex in marriage as being more about your surrender than your satisfaction. But the truth is that mutual sexual surrender is the best path to a deeply pleasurable and satisfying sex life.

What do you think of the “mutual sexual surrender” idea? Have you experienced it in your marriage? Are you willing to give it a try? Share your thoughts in a comment.


For more thoughts on sexual surrender, see my separate posts for husbands and wives: