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.

 

When Opposites Attract (And When They Don’t) – Part 2

The ways in which your spouse differs from you makes the two of you better as a team than as individuals, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

Opposites Attract 2

In Part 1 we took a look at three “opposites” that are frequently found in married couples: thinkers & feelers, higher sex drive & lower sex drive, and introverts & extroverts. Today we’ll look at three other common areas of difference, each of which could be a source of misunderstanding or conflict.

4. Verbal & Non-verbal Processors

I’m an off-the-charts non-verbal processor. My wife is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. This dramatic difference in how we process our thoughts and emotions can definitely make effective communication a challenge.

The difference in how we process through an issue is more than just a personal preference. I believe it actually has to do with how our brains are wired. Blaming your spouse for how they are naturally wired is completely non-productive. Pushing them to be different doesn’t work either. Pushing a non-verbal processor to discuss an issue when they haven’t had a chance to think it through is going to often be met either with anger or total withdrawal. Likewise, retreating from your spouse when they want to talk something through is likely to be met with frustration and accusation.

My wife and I have found that the best way to deal with the different way we process things is a combination of selflessness and grace (some might call it compromise, but I don’t like that word). My wife is willing to give me time and space to think, especially if I specifically request it. She counts on me to come back and finish the conversation as soon as possible. For my part, I’m willing to at least make an effort to talk something through, even when it wouldn’t be my first preference. I recognize when her need to discuss something is causing her distress.

When you realize that your default processing method isn’t working for your spouse, make an effort to accommodate their preference. Likewise, when your spouse’s verbal or non-verbal preference is causing you difficulties, let your spouse know in a respectful way what you need. Give grace to each other in this.

5. Goal Oriented & People Oriented

This difference is closely related to one we covered last time, introverts and extroverts. Because extroverts are energized by people, they tend to see people as a priority. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to place a higher priority on achieving goals.

This difference in priorities can cause conflict about such things as where to go on vacations, how to spend your time and money, and what activities to be involved in. Again, this difference rings true in my marriage. My wife is strongly people-oriented, but for me ticking things off my list or making progress on a project has a high priority.

In this difference, we each recognize the strength of the other, and to a certain extent, we influence each other to be more open to the other’s priorities. Jenni’s people orientation helps remind me that people and relationships are important. Many of our closest relationships with others were developed through her, and she helps keep me connected to the people in our lives. I know that God values her focus on people.

At the same time I know Jenni appreciates my ability to get things done. My task and goal orientation help us keep projects on track and keeps our life from being chaos. I help bring balance to her life. She often comes to me to help her organize her tasks efficiently.

If your spouse has different priorities than you do, allow him or her to provide a helpful counterbalance.

6. Love Languages

Last time we covered a few dimensions of the the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment. Another useful assessment tool is Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages . Dr. Chapman breaks down the way in which people most experience love into five “languages.”

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gift
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

If you haven’t taken the Love Languages Test (link), you really should. Even if it’s just been a while since you took it, it’s worth repeating, as love languages commonly shift over time. Find out your spouse’s love language and more importantly, read up on the kinds of things you should do to express love in a way that speaks that language. For a more in-depth understanding, you can get Dr. Chapman’s 5 Love Languages book (affiliate link helps support this ministry).

Paperback (click the book below):

Click here for Kindle format

We naturally tend to give love in the same way we like to receive it. That only works if your spouse has the exact same love language priorities as you do, which in not usually the case.

 

Understanding your differences and learning how to navigate them successfully will help keep your marriage from getting derailed by continual conflicts.

Of course, there are many other differences besides the ones we’ve reviewed in this post and the previous one. The main thing to remember is that your spouse isn’t wrong just because he or she is different from you. Plus there is usually value and strength to be found in the difference that makes the two of you a great complement to each other.

What differences have you learned to navigate in your marriage?

 

The Hard Reality of a One-sided Journey

There is hope for those who struggle in a one-sided journey to a surrendered marriage.one sided struggle

Before I get to today’s post, I want to first offer a quick welcome to all the new readers, followers and subscribers here. Also, I appreciate it that a number of you who have taken One Minute the New Reader Survey. I hope you enjoy being part of my own marriage journey, and I want to encourage you to take part in the dialog by offering your comments on what you read here. I really do appreciate and welcome your thoughts, questions, and insights!

Over the course of my blogging on marriage this year, an issue has arisen from time to time that was reinforced to me by several recent respondents to reader’s survey.

What do you do when your spouse isn’t willing to join with you in the Journey to Surrender?

The One-Sided Struggle

Let me start by saying I haven’t any personal experience in this matter because my beautiful bride is completely on board with the idea of a surrendered marriage and we are taking the journey together, step by step, hand in hand. Obviously, this is the ideal case and the way God intends it to be whenever possible. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a spouse will find that they are alone (or at least feel alone) in seeking to make the marriage a reflection of the bridal paradigm, one that is a reflection of the intimate love relationship between Jesus, our Bridegroom, and us, the church, His bride.

Second, let me say that what I propose below is in no way meant to discount the often painful reality of the situations many face. I don’t offer these suggestions as a quick fix or a magic bullet. Rather, my intention is to offer some biblical and hopeful perspective.

Your circumstance may be that of an unbelieving spouse who simply has no perception of the deeply spiritual nature of marriage and doesn’t see it as God’s very own creation. It may be a spouse that is ill-willed or embittered and has put up walls that seem impossible to penetrate. It may be a spouse that has withdrawn and refuses to invest in improving the relationship. It may be some combination of these things or something else entirely.

The question is, though, what do you do when, for whatever reason, you find yourself feeling alone on your marriage journey?

Seek First the Kingdom

You’ve heard it a thousand times: Seek God first, and all the other stuff will be taken care of (my paraphrase of Matthew 6:33). Sure, it sounds like a trite and overused expression, but it is only as we gain a deep and intimate knowledge of who God really is that the truth of it begins to ring true. The knowledge of God, especially of his infinite love, is the key to fullness in God (Ephesians 3:16-18)

The Bible implores us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). God is a faithful lover, full of grace and mercy, one who only has good in his heart for us. He is our source of strength to face even the most difficult circumstances. Press fully into the heart of God, discover who he is and how he feels about you. Let it be his presence that carries you forward in your journey.

Truth Is Truth

The truth of the bridal paradigm is real regardless of whether your spouse chooses to walk along side you in the Journey to Surrender or not. The biblical marriage principles of selfless love, respect, trust, transparency, intimacy and the others you’ll find among the pages of this blog hold true regardless of your circumstances or your spouse’s beliefs. Living your life and trying to walk out your marriage by these principles will definitely bear positive fruit.

That said, you also have to have realistic expectations. Because these principles are certainly most fruitful and helpful to a marriage when a couple chooses to go after them together, don’t be disillusioned if you don’t suddenly see all your marital problems evaporate. Be thankful for small steps forward and let the light of truth be a lamp to light your way forward.

There Is Hope

God is by nature a redeemer and a restorer of lost things. Know that his desire is to see your marriage not only survive but thrive. He is able to make something out of nothing and repair even the most damaged relationships. Pray for restoration, walk in faithfulness, and let the God of hope fill you.

Finally, I leave you with this prayer. It is my prayer for you in your marriage journey:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

(Cautionary note. Of course in situations involving physical abuse you should immediately seek refuge from the abuser. In cases involving verbal abuse, substance abuse, infidelity or other serious issues, you should seek marital or other professional counseling.)