Choose the Road Less Traveled

The Path of Intimacy is a road less traveled. And it will make all the difference in your marriage.

The Road Less Traveled

I’m happy to announce that today my new Kindle book The Path of Intimacy is officially released! I have to admit that I’m extremely excited about this book.

I’m excited because I’ve seen first hand the heart’s desire of so many couples over my many years in marriage ministry. There is a universal longing to discover a deeper connection on an emotional, physical and spiritual level. So many yearn for it. Yet so many struggle to find it.

That’s why I wrote the book.

The Road Less Traveled

Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken ends like this:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

The journey into deeper intimacy in your marriage involves one pivotal choice, followed by a million little choices made on a daily basis.

Choose Your Path

The first and most important choice is to choose to take the road less traveled. The Path of Intimacy is not the easiest path. Sadly, it’s not the path most commonly traveled, either. But choosing this path will alter the entire course of your marriage.

Choosing the Path of Intimacy starts with a choice to make intimacy the primary goal of your marriage. That is indeed an uncommon choice. Yet it’s an extremely crucial one.

Choosing to make intimacy the number one goal of your relationship changes everything–much more than I could cover with a single post.  But let’s take a look at just one example of the impact of such a choice. It’s a common situation in many marriages: unmet needs.

For many, marriage is primarily about having their own needs met. If that were true for me, when my wife neglects my needs, I’m going to withhold from meeting her needs and withdraw until I get what I think I am due. It’s only fair. I’m justified. If my wife were to take the same stance, she would respond by further withdrawing or by giving me the “silent treatment,” which means my needs will continue to be unmet. Thus, we a cycle that leads to the Path of Separation, each of us fixed in a pattern of withholding and withdrawing.

Now, let’s take the same scenario, but instead, I choose to make intimacy what matters most. Instead of withholding or withdrawing, I actually step toward her, looking for ways to maintain our connection by focusing on what will make her feel most loved and cherished. I choose to trust that her heart is for me, and I extend grace to her in areas where she isn’t fully attending to my needs. We can communicate knowing we both want to love each other well and that we care for each other.

This choice is not a panacea. It doesn’t mean I never feel hurt or neglected. It just means that I know that grace is always an invitation to intimacy. And I have decided that intimacy is what matters most. In most cases, grace is a much better change agent than are criticism and judgment. There is no guarantee my needs will get met, and I am not showing her love in order to get love from her, but I do it because it’s a deliberate choice and the way God calls me to love her.

A Million Little Choices

Keeping your marriage on the Path of Intimacy involves many daily choices to focus more on your spouse than on yourself. It means choosing to stay engaged when it would be easier not to. It means learning to express love in the ways that are meaningful to your spouse and then having the discipline to actually act on them consistently. It means finding delight and pleasure in giving delight and pleasure to each other.

If this post resonates with you, if you have a longing for deeper intimacy and a stronger connection with your spouse, I urge you to start (or continue) down the Path of Intimacy. I hope in doing so, you’ll consider getting my new book. Read it. Then put into practice what you learn.

I promise it will make all the difference.

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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!

 

You Never Graduate From Spouse School

Be a lifelong student of your spouse

I encourage you to go above and beyond in meeting your spouse’s needs. If you want to create a positive, life-giving environment in your marriage, few things will do it like giving in a way that meets your spouse’s needs “and then some.”

But in order to show love to your husband or wife way beyond the minimum acceptable level, to move into the realm of delighting them, you have to know the things that would give them the most joy and pleasure.

This requires that you become a lifelong student of your spouse’s needs and wants; even more, the things that bring them pleasure and delight.

Do you study your spouse? It’s time to…

Go to Spouse School

One of my favorite marriage bloggers, Lori Byerly, aka The Generous Wife wrote a post called “Study Him.”

If you aren’t sure where to start in studying your spouse, I’d encourage you to check out the comments in The Generous Wife post. In it, Lori opens up the question of “How do you study your husband?” for her readers to answer. There are a lot of really good ideas there, many of which apply to a husband’s study of his wife as well.

Many of the ideas there have to do with being aware and being intentional. You might check out my other posts on “Watchfulness”  to learn about how to build the habit of watchfulness into your marriage.

A couple of other resources I came across recently give you some specific ideas on how to bless and inspire your husband and wife. You’ll need to sift through these to see which would be good for your particular spouse’s preferences, but the lists are a great place to get some ideas for breaking out of the routine interactions you might find your marriage in.

One thing I’d like to remind you of is that it is likely that the things that delight your spouse are not the same things that delight you. So I would encourage you to not make the assumption that just because it’s something you like, it is also something your spouse will like as well.

You Never Graduate

You might be thinking that this idea of studying your spouse is obvious – a real no-brainer. But the truth is that we are creatures of habit. We tend to fall into comfortable routines and patterns, but you never graduate from spouse school! I encourage you to be a lifelong learner in this regard. Don’t let your relationship fall into familiar patterns based solely on past assumptions.

Maybe you are responding to this with, “I already know what my wife likes” or “I know what makes my wife husband happy.” Kudos to you for at least realizing that knowing your spouse’s needs and wants is important. But let me challenge you to grow in your understanding and to take a fresh look at your spouse. You might be surprised to find that their preferences have changed, that they’ve acquired new interested or tastes, or have discovered new delights. It might even be possible to introduce something to your spouse that they didn’t even know they wanted!

Help Your Spouse Delight You

Finally, let me close with this thought. Assume that your spouse is also a student of you and do your best to help educate them.

Let me be clear, this is not an open invitation for you to be selfish and demanding. Rather, think of it as helping your husband or wife love you well. The best way to do this is through thankfulness and expressions of appreciation. When they do something extra nice or something out of the ordinary that just makes you happy, let them know it with specific words of thanks and reciprocal acts of kindness.

Letting them know specifically what they did to make you happy is the best way to get them to do it again!

I encourage you to routinely revisit the question of how to delight your spouse. Or better still, just develop the habit of making a mental note (or writing it down if that helps) when you notice a positive reaction to something you’ve said or done. It really can be just that simple.

 

This post was originally published on my Journey to Surrender Blog in July 2011

Keep Your Marriage Strong by Asking Different Questions

Shift your perspective by training yourself to ask different questions than you might naturally ask. 

Think differently

In my last post, I promised to continue this week with some specific suggestions to keep your marriage strong from the long haul. Today’s suggestion is that you learn to ask different questions.

One of the forces weakening marriages and causing an uptick in “gray divorce” in the past decade is that the wrong belief that the purpose of marriage is essentially our own personal happiness. If this is true, then our marriages can be sustained only as long as our fickle and fleeting feelings are maintained, or as long as our mate does the thing that we insist they do to meet our needs.

Instead, I say, let’s look at marriage as a covenant based on selfless love – something higher than ourselves and our own happiness.

An Unhealthy Focus On Self

It seems this “me-centered” marriage paradigm has grown immeasurably since the baby boomer “me generation” began passing through mid-life. This unhealthy pre-occupation with self-promotion, self-protection, and self-centeredness has spread throughout subsequent generations.

I used to write for Your Tango’s now-defunct Traditional Marriage section. I wrote a post there entitled, “Why After 30 Years of Marriage the Best is Yet to Come.” In that article I said this:

If you have a habit of holding your spouse responsible for your happiness, you definitely need to learn to take that responsibility upon yourself. However, remember that if you view your marriage as being mostly about your rights and what you get out of the bargain, in the long run, you are going to end up bitter and disappointed.

On the other hand, if you see your marriage primarily as an opportunity to selflessly love and generously serve your wife or husband to the best of your ability, you will the reap the long-lasting benefit of a strong and close relationship.

Don’t buy the lie that a 50/50 marriage is ideal. Instead, go for 100/100, where each of you holds nothing back and gives all you have to the other.

My wife and I strive to live a paradigm of selfless love. We aren’t nearly perfect at it, but I believe this is one of the many reasons we keep believing that our best years are always in front of us. We refuse to believe the lie of inevitable marriage decline.

Asking Differently

Selfless love is the cornerstone of a strong marriage – one that will stand the test of time. It’s not necessarily easy or natural to love without conditions especially when our spouse isn’t doing the same.

One approach to changing your thinking is to retrain yourself to ask different questions.

    • When you are tempted to ask, “What’s in it for me?” ask instead, “How can I bless my spouse?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “What are my rights?” ask instead, “What is the right thing for our marriage and for my spouse?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “What will advance my cause?” ask instead, “What will enhance my marriage?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “What will I get out of this?” ask instead, “How can I be generous in this situation?”
    • When you are tempted to ask, “How can I win this argument?” ask instead, “How can we keep connected during this discussion?”

Learning to live as one flesh means we have to let go of the battle for self and learn to press into the reality that because we are one, we win when our spouse wins. Blessing him or her actually blesses us too! Taking such a one-flesh view of your marriage will totally change to way you see your spouse and your relationship.

Take the Risk

This thing of selfless love is risky business. There is no guarantee that your spouse will respond in kind. While selfless love is a compelling force for intimacy and passion, not everyone will respond to it. Remember, people are free to make their own choices; you can only control you.

Yet this is the kind of love we were shown by Jesus and the kind of love we are compelled to show to our spouses. He took the risk. He gave everything for us, for the sake of intimacy with us, knowing that many would reject his sacrifice and continue to live for themselves. He did it anyway.

So I urge you to step back and consider the reckless, selfless, sacrificial love of Christ. Rather than buying into the lies exemplified and extolled by the “me generation,” take the risk to love like Jesus does. It’s worth the risk.

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.