Facing Stress – Together

In times of stress, maintaining your connection is always the best choice.

keep your connection

After abandoning the post I repeatedly tried to write last week, I put out a call for topics on my FaceBook Page. What came back was a request for something close to the very topic I had abandoned – how to stay connected and trust God together as a couple in the midst of stress. I guess God intends for me to write about this whether I want to or not. So here goes my attempt at a rewrite with the advantage of an additional week of thought (and stress).

How Not to Do It

The other night I was completely stressed out over some serious issues with our finances. (It’s a complex situation that is tied up with a challenging job situation and my prospects for the earliest possible retirement.) Sadly, as is all too typical for me, my stress reaction spilled over into what my wife charitably calls being “prickly.” Honestly, it was anger, and I was snappy and not pleasant to be around. Nothing about my attitude invited intimacy with Jenni.

While Jenni was doing her best to reach out to me, I withdrew into my shell, which was her last straw. Whereas the unplanned cost of an expensive surgery for our dog hit me mostly in the wallet, it hit her in the heart, sick with worry for our elderly family pet. She needed compassion, and my anger and withdrawal were the exact opposite of what she needed from me.

I felt ashamed of my lack of faith, guilty that I let my emotions get the best of me, and I regretted how I had fumed about it all. Guilt and shame did what they always do; they caused me to withdraw and hide. (Look no further than Adam and Eve for how this works). We did what we almost never do, and went to sleep without even a goodnight kiss. It turns out Jenni didn’t mind, as she was fuming too at that point, although it turns out she was up in the night feeling sad and alone and wishing she had made more of an effort to maintain our connection.

The next morning I was still feeling pretty low. But as I began to think about it, I realized that in order to re-establish our connection and get us back on The Path of Intimacy, I needed to let go of the shame, fix my mess, and reach out to Jenni. She was also feeling regret, and we were happily able to make up (wink).

Shame separates. Grace invites.

There was a time in our marriage when I might have wallowed in this shame/misery for several days. After 35 years of marriage, I realize much quicker now that intimacy is always a better choice than separation and that it is always available to me if I will just turn toward Jenni and open myself up to her.

In this case, it meant a sincere apology, not only for my behavior but for shutting her out. I explained that I was trying to protect her from any further collateral damage my bad attitude might have caused her. Nevertheless, it was still a bad choice. Jenni admitted that she too had chosen to isolate herself. My lack of concern for her feelings had hurt her badly. But she also realized that her choice to separate actually ended up hurting her more.

Better Together

Whenever we face stress, we also face a choice. We can choose to separate ourselves from our spouse and face the problem(s) alone. Or we can choose to maintain our connection and face the problem(s) together as a team.

The first choice, separation, only exacerbates the situation by throwing in relationship stress on top of the other negative circumstances. It leaves us feeling isolated, defeated and depleted. Starting down The Path of Separation doesn’t always come as a conscious choice – sometimes it is just matter of letting our emotional reactions get the best of us. Sometimes, however, it is a deliberate choice, especially if we feel hurt or offended by our spouse.

The Path of Intimacy, on the other hand, is always chosen deliberately.

Choosing to maintain your connection isn’t easy or natural when stressful or hurtful circumstances hit you in the face. Here are some tips on how to keep your connection and support each other to keep your relationship off the Path of Separation.

  • Make every effort to choose a thoughtful response instead of an emotional reaction. Feelings can’t be helped, but how you manage them is your choice.
  • Whenever possible, use physical touch (non-sexual touch) as a reminder that the two of you are for each other. Physical touch, such as hugging and holding hands, produces oxytocin, which alters your brain chemistry in a way the promotes bonding (connection), generosity and trust.
  • Visualize and verbalize the truth that it is the two of you against the problem, not the two of you against each other. Say out loud, “I am for you” and/or “I am for us.
  • Apologize quickly if you let your emotions get the best of you. Forgive quickly if you are on the receiving end of the emotional outburst.
  • Believe the best about your spouse, even when they are at their worst. Remember that grace is an invitation to intimacy.
  • Find and speak the truth into your circumstances. Stressful circumstances can bait us into believing lies about ourselves, our spouse, God and our future prospects. Cling to biblical truths, especially concerning the unchanging nature of God and his promises. But don’t use truth to preach or accuse; use truth to encourage and bless.

How Not to Do It – Again

Good stuff, huh? Good but not easy. I know – as you will see.

Yesterday we were hit with another significant unplanned financial outlay – a costly car repair. Wham. I struggled all day to not let those angry, stressed out emotions back in. I did better than I did last week, but still, I would grade myself a D- at keeping our connection. Discouragement was leaking out everywhere. Today we managed again to make a quick U-turn off the Path of Separation.

As in my case, you aren’t going to be perfect at maintaining intimacy with each other, especially in the face of challenging circumstances. The main thing to remember is that the Path of Intimacy is always available to you. Remember that connection is always a better option than struggling separately. Be aware of how what you are thinking, saying and doing is impacting your marriage and your spouse, and strive to make choices that keep you intimately connected to each other.

You’ll be glad you did.

 

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.

 

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Three ways to ask a very important question

Who Do You Say That I Am

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples a question, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a very important question.

It’s important because almost every part of your faith journey is rooted in who you believe God is. Not what you’ve been taught. Not what others think about God. But what you really believe to be true about his nature.

The thoughts you have about God produce the actions you take in your spiritual life, the fruit you produce, and the reactions you have to your circumstances.

What you do is inextricably linked to how you think.

“Every action is rooted in the thought that produced it.”
~Graham Cooke

Because it’s so important, it’s worth taking the time to deeply explore who God is, especially the nature of his love. As Paul says in Ephesians 3:19, the knowledge of his love is the key to the fullness of God in your life. (For a taste, check out the devotional video at the end of this post.)

Who Does God Say You Are?

In the same way, it’s important to turn that question around to God and ask him, “Who do you say that I am?”

Believing the truth about your identity is important because what you believe about yourself will drive many of your actions. Knowing with confidence who God says you are can propel you toward your destiny in God like little else can. As the Proverb says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7)

We can get our identity from many different sources. The only identity source that really matters is God. He created you, and he knows you intimately, even down to the number of hairs on your head.

Have you ever asked God who he says you are? Have you ever inquired about his heart toward you? I think you might be amazed at all the wonderful thoughts he has about you.

If you aren’t sure how to hear from God, I cover a bit of that in my post “Who Are You?” Listening prayer may be new for you, but honestly, what good Father does not talk to his kids?

Who Does God Say Your Spouse Is?

Understanding your spouse’s true identity can transform your relationship, because how you see your spouse, what you truly believe about him or her, will affect your every interaction.

In my post, “Who Are You Married To?” I said this about understanding your spouse’s identity:

There’s more to tapping into your spouse’s identity than just being a careful observer. Sure that can help, but if that is all your rely on, it equates behavior with identity, and we all know that we sometimes act out of an immature expression of our identity. When you know who your spouse really is at the core of their being, you have the opportunity to spur him or her on to walk in their full dentity.

Knowing your spouse’s true identity is what allows you to have grace toward them when their actions fail to line up with who they really are.

Next to God, you are probably the most important ally your spouse has in walking in his or her true identity. (You can also be a big hindrance!) Seeing anew for yourself who your spouse really is can cause you to fall in love with him or her all over again.

Once you’ve spent time understanding the Lord’s nature and then inquiring of his thoughts toward you, I would encourage you to seek the Lord on behalf of your spouse. Listen to the heart of God toward your spouse. It’s a good idea to journal what you sense God saying.

Ask Each Other, Remind Each Other

There is a third way to use the question, “Who do you say that I am?” You and your spouse should ask it of each other.

In doing this exercise, here are a few pointers:

  • You should have an atmosphere of trust in your marriage before you engage in this process.
  • Don’t be surprised if your spouse hears from God accurately, even if this is something new for them.
  • Test what you hear from your spouse against what the Lord has spoken to you about your identity.
  • Whatever is said should agree with the nature of God.
  • In general what you say should offer encouragement, build your spouse up and/or offer comfort to him or her. This is not the time for offering correction or critique.

Even if your spouse is not willing to participate with you in this exercise, I suggest you go ahead and ask the Lord about your spouse anyway.

As you gain clarity on heaven’s perspective of each other, it’s important to remind each other regularly about the truth of your identities, especially if you see lies creeping in. I can’t count the number of time Jenni has done this for me, and it has saved me a lot of heartache.

 

Take your time in this process, but proceed step by step. Start by answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Next inquire of God, “Who do you say that I am?” And finally, ask each other, “Who do you say that I am?”


If you want a little taste of what God thinks of you (and of your spouse), listen to this short devotional meditation by Graham Cooke called “Becoming the Beloved.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

What Submission is Not

What Submission is not: The Doormat, The Boss, and The Manipulator

A Wives Only Wednesday post

 

In my Wives Only Wednesday post last week, Wives: Strong and Submissive, I explained how strength goes hand in hand with biblical submission. True biblical submission has nothing to do with weakness or subjugation, as it is so often wrongly characterized. In fact, submission actually requires strength.

Submission Misconstrued

Unfortunately, there is a pretty strong cultural push back against God’s design for marriage, and I find it is mainly due to a lack of understanding of what God’s heart really is on this subject.

What does it mean for you to respect and support your husband’s Christlike “headship” with the gift of your submission? It means that your submission to your husband should be a direct corollary of your submission to Christ. Paul describes in Ephesians 5 how God designed marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, represented by the Bride-like characteristics in the chart below.

Weak & Unsubmissive

I don’t usually like describing something in the negative, but today I want to introduce you to the three wives represented by the other quadrants: labeled above as the Doormat, the Boss and the Manipulator.

The Doormat

This is probably the wife I hear described most often when people protest the notion of submission. “I’m not going to be a doormat for anyone!” The good news is you aren’t supposed to be!

This wife makes the mistake of equating submission with weakness. She is often filled with self-doubt and insecurity. She thinks her opinions don’t matter and that her needs are unimportant, even as the resentment over her presumed “less than” status builds. She thinks she has no voice.

The Doormat can be withdrawn from the relationship with her husband, mistaking passivity for humility. She feels uncertain of her identity in Christ, as co-heir with her husband of the full inheritance that is hers by virtue of her faith in Jesus.

[There are also plenty of “dictator” husbands who treat their wives in this way.  It’s important to realize that Paul never instructs husbands to make their wives submit, but rather to love their wives in a Christlike manner.]

The Boss

This is the wife who feels she must lay submission aside in order to show herself strong and to prove herself capable.

This wife tends to be disrespectful to her husband, her words and tone letting him know of her frequent disapproval. She will put him down to friends and family and broadcast his mistakes in order to “keep him in his place.” She thinks that in order to avoid subjugation she must push for her own way. Her self-interest is front and center of most decisions, and she is easily offended.

The Boss frequently contends for power, thinking that to do otherwise shows her to be weak.

The Manipulator

This wife is neither submissive nor strong, sharing some of the characteristics of both the Boss and the Doormat.

The Manipulator comes across as uncaring toward her husband, from her expressions of disrespect to her self-protective withdrawal from him. She is fearful, distrustful and resentful of any expression of leadership on his part.

She lacks the emotional strength and the integrity to deal with her husband forthrightly. She plays games to get her way. She may try to hide her emotions, but they will eventually bubble up into an outburst of some kind.


To make the point clear, I’ve described the behaviors of these wives in pretty strong terms. Chances are, none of these describes you exactly, but beware of the characteristics they portray. Be vigilant against the mindset that equates submission with weakness. And be vigilant against the world’s prevailing sentiment against submission in any form.

Pursue strength and submission with equal vigor. Glean from your relationship with Jesus the kinds of attitudes and attributes that should attend biblical submission. If you are watchful, you will see lots of parallels between your spiritual walk and your marriage. They are everywhere.

Grace Abounds

To a greater or lesser degree, you are going to fail to be the wife you want to be.

There is good news for those who mess up in their quest to walk out a biblical marriage. It’s called grace!  God is for you and for your marriage. His desire is to see you and your marriage thrive. Pray for the wisdom to love and serve your husband well. Pray for your husband to walk in his full identity as leader and lover. Know that God’s love and approval of you don’t change, even when you slip into weak or unsubmissive actions or attitudes.

God’s grace and love abound, and nothing you do or fail to do can change that. 


A note to any husbands reading this post. The post is intended for your wife. While you can encourage your wife to be strong, it is not your responsibility to make her submit. Work on your end of the marriage partnership, to love and serve your wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her.  Loving your wife well will draw out both her submission and her strength.

Read my corresponding posts for husbands