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!

 

10 Ways to Overcome Body Image Issues

Start taking steps today to overcome your body image issues. For your sake. For the sake of your marriage.

comfortable in your skin

In my previous post, 6 Things Wives Need to Know About Their Body Image Struggles, I explained how body image issues can do damage to your marriage.

Today, I want to give you some possible places to start on your journey toward a healthier self-image. Please read and consider these thoughtfully. Check out some of the many linked posts to dig a little deeper. This will be well worth the effort!

1) Work on Your Mindset

Accepting your appearance starts with realizing that you have been uniquely hand-crafted by God – fearfully and wonderfully made by him (Psalm 139:14). You are his beautiful creation because he says you are. It is also important to understand how negative self-image can damage your marriage (see my previous post). Set it in your heart to change your thinking about yourself. Pray for a heart change. Pray a blessing over each of your body parts, especially the ones you most dislike. Pray for and receive forgiveness for despising God’s creation.

2) Accept your husband’s compliments

When your husband pays you a compliment take it at face value. Thank him instead of refuting him or arguing back. Say thank you, even if you don’t mean it at the time. Hearing yourself say it out loud will help to change your mind. Trust that he delights in you and in the fact that you are his. He does.

(I realize that there are some husbands that claim to no longer be attracted to their wives, though I have found this to be a very small minority. For those suffering in that situation please read Shelia Gregory’s post “What If My Husband Doesn’t Find Me Attractive.”)

3) Practice being naked

The more often you are naked in front of your husband, or mostly so, the more you will learn to feel comfortable in your own skin. Let go of shame and appreciate the way he looks at you with love and genuine desire. Believe me when I say he is desiring YOU, not just a collection of your body parts. Appreciate your husband’s desire as God-given and not something dirty. For some of you, this will take baby steps, such as being naked in the dark and progressing to being naked under the covers, and then progress to having the lights on.

4) Flirt!

Work on intentionally being more flirtatious with your husband. Work your way up to flirting in a more explicitly sexual manner than you have before. It will delight your husband and build your confidence – and confidence is very attractive. Send your husband flirtatious text messages or put notes in his briefcase. Be bold! Even if you don’t follow through later, most husbands appreciate the gesture. There are also private messaging apps for couples, such as “Couple“.

5) Choose for him

Get your husband’s input on your clothing, lingerie and/or sleeping attire. I understand that this feels risky! But when you dress in ways you know he finds appealing and let him know when you choose especially for him – it will bless him enormously. Feeling brave? Ask your husband to choose what you sleep in. Feeling really brave?  Let your husband pick your entire outfit every day for a week like this woman did.

6) Take positive steps

Take small steps that make you feel good about yourself and your appearance, but don’t do it out of shame or in order to “fix” yourself. You aren’t “broken,” and shame is a terrible motivation for change.

You might consider working on your overall health. A healthy diet and regular exercise are always a good idea and will make you feel better in general. Pay more attention to how you dress. Choose attire that makes you feel pretty and accentuates your best features. Try out a new hairstyle or color. Have a manicure or pedicure. But remember, be you. Don’t try to be someone else.

7) Get the Facts

There is a great amount of falsehood in the world today when it comes to beauty. Remember, the women you see in magazines and movies don’t actually exist. The goal of all advertising is to make you feel inadequate and portray you as “less than” in order to get you buy their particular product. It’s all a lie.

One prime example of falsehood is breast size. Despite what you see everywhere, bigger is not better. Research has shown that a “C” cup is actually the size most preferred by men (and women). It’s notable that the average cup size in the US happens to be C. And the second most preferred size is “B.” Ignore what you see in media and advertising!

8) Stop Comparing

I know this is a big ask. But really, comparison is poison. You are uniquely you, and you don’t need to strive to be like someone else. I recently came across a blog by Heather Creekmore, Compared to Who,  whose entire mission is to help Christian women develop a healthy self-image. You will realize that you are not alone and discover some interesting facts in “ What Women Really Think of Their Bodies. ”

9) Develop your Inner Beauty

Most of the suggestions in this list focus on outward appearance because that’s where most women struggle most. But don’t forget to care for your inner self. Feed your spirit with time in worship and prayer and the Word. Spend time letting God love on you and feeling his delight in you. Chris, my blogging friend at The Forgiven Wive, recently wrote about this in her post “Experience God.” Feed your soul as well, with activities that make you come alive and feel more like your true self. See my post “10 Ways to Feed Your Soul.”

10) Choose to Believe By Faith

There are many times in our Christian walk where we have to rely on faith when we can’t comprehend the truth. Believing your husband finds you beautiful will often require faith, just like we choose to believe in the goodness and love of God, even when we don’t feel it.

 

For some the journey toward a healthy, positive self-image will be a long one, others may see a quick turnaround. As you see progress, enjoy the increased intimacy in your marriage that will likely result. Relish the freedom and joy that can grow to take the place of bondage and pain.

Do it for your own sake and for the sake of your marriage. Start today.


Some of my other posts on this topic:
Further encouragement from some of my female marriage blogging friends:

6 Things Wives Need to Know About Their Body Image Struggles

Your body image issues may be hurting you more than you realize.

A Wives Only Wednesday Post

Fearfully and wonderfully made

A few months ago, some fellow male marriage bloggers and I were interviewed for the podcast “Sex Chat for Christian Wives.” The question for the episode was, “We [wives] see all of our flaws, and then you tell us we are beautiful. How do you [husbands] see past our flaws?” In the episode (listen to it here) the husbands respond and the ladies unpack their responses.

Since listening to the podcast I’ve been wanting to circle back around to the important topic of body image because I believe the issue has a profound influence on almost every marriage. I know it has on mine. It’s taken years for us to more fully understand just how much.

Today I’m going to examine the impact for wives. In my next Men Only Monday post I’ll address husbands.

So let’s begin by looking at some potential problems caused by a wife’s negative body image.

Your Negative Body Image…

 

1 …Blocks Genuine Intimacy

If you do not believe your husband finds you beautiful, that he could not possibly be attracted to your body, then you may wrongly believe his desire for sex can only be caused by his physical urges and not by his love and desire for you.

This is a subtle but important way that your negative self-image can prevent you from being open and vulnerable, which is necessary for you to fully enjoy your husband’s affection. It makes you believe a lie that can steal your joy and surrender. It reduces sex to a physical act in your mind and prevents the genuine intimacy that God designed into the sexual union.

2 … Kills Your Sex Drive

Fellow marriage blogger Bonny Burns, in her libido survey results, found that the number one negative effect on sex drive for wives was “I don’t like the way my body looks.” While there are many causes of low libido, self-loathing is certainly not going to help put you in the mood or enable you to respond positively to your husband’s sexual advances.

3 … Falsely Accuses Your Husband

I believe many women who strongly dislike their bodies wrongly believe the lie that their husbands would rather have sex with a more attractive woman but is stuck with you. The effect of this accusation, even if it is never spoken, will keep you from receiving and enjoying your husband’s delight in you.

4 … Builds a Wall Between You

When you continually refute your husband’s claims of admiration and appreciation for your beauty, it not only a discourages him, but it actually builds a wall between you. Eventually, out of frustration, he may cease from trying to convince you of his true feelings about your appearance, and this will further feed the lies you are telling yourself. At times I have stopped complimenting my wife out of frustration but I’ve learned that she still wants to hear it, even if she doesn’t receive it well.

5 … Keeps You Trapped in Shame

It is almost impossible for intimacy and freedom to coexist with shame. When you feel shame about your appearance, you cannot truly enjoy freedom in your sexual relationship. You’ll be inhibited in initiating and won’t be able to be playful in intimacy. Hiding yourself from your husband, when he desires to have all of you, just as you are, means that neither of you can enjoy the freedom and delight of belonging totally to one another, without any hindrances.

6 … Is Self-Fulfilling

When you hate your body, it is virtually impossible for you to exude the kind of self-confidence that is so tremendously attractive to your husband. In truth, “sexiness,” if you’ll allow me to use that term, has much more to do with confidence and attitude than with physical attributes.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that your negative body image can harm your marriage. I say this not to shame you but to motivate you to take action to deal with this problem. So if you find yourself facing this issue (and most women do to more or less of an extent), what can you do about it? That’s for my next post.

Come back tomorrow for “10 Ways to Overcome Body Image Issues.” You can be sure not to miss it by signing up to get posts in your inbox .

 

Expectations: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Are the expectations you have for your marriage a help or hindrance?

Expectations

Which of these statements do you think is true?

  1. You often get what you expect, so you should have high expectations for your marriage and of your spouse.
  2. Unrealistic expectations in marriage will leave you disappointed, so you need to keep your expectations moderate and reasonable.
  3. When you give of yourself to your spouse with love and kindness, you should do so with no expectation of getting something in return.

So which is it? High expectations? Moderate expectations? No expectations?

The answer is all three.

Truths in Tension

Expectations have the potential to cause much damage to your marriage.

Expectations in marriage present us with a complex set of truths that need to be held in tension with each other. What I mean by that is that there are reasons for keeping your expectations high, for controlling or limiting expectations, and for expecting nothing. The trick is to balance these three notions together.

What you’ll find below are four different truths about expectations in marriage that come at the subject from different angles.

Expect the Best. Get the Best. (The Good)

The way you anticipate something actually changes the way you perceive it. Your reality is shaped by what you expect it to be. There are plenty of scientific studies to prove this truth. Plus, it just makes logical sense.

So when you expect the best from your spouse, you are more likely to see their behavior in a positive light. For example, if you expect and believe in your spouse’s love, you are more likely to perceive their actions toward you as loving. On the contrary, if you doubt your spouse’s love, or expect them to behave in an unloving manner toward you, you are more likely to perceive their actions and unloving. It’s just the way your brain works.

So, expect the best from your husband or wife. Look for them to act with love toward you, and you are more likely to see them doing just that.

(If you are geeky, here’s an interesting TEDx talk that explains the way our expectations shape our perceptions. For a slightly less geeky and funnier version, if you don’t mind a little language, here’s a Penn and Teller bit that shows what happens when you serve people tap water from a garden hose in a fancy bottle presented by a fictitious “water steward.” )

Unrealistic Expectations (The Bad)

Here is a counterbalancing reality to keeping your expectations high: unreasonably lofty expectations of your mate and for your marriage will ultimately lead to feelings of disappointment and disillusionment. And when your spouse senses your disappointment (and they will),  three negative reactions may occur.

The first is guilt and shame. They believe they are not good enough, or at least that you think so. They will struggle to separate their actions from their worth. They may strike back with their own judgments of you and your behavior, which may lead to the second set of emotions: anger or resentment. They may perceive your expectations as unreasonable or unfair. They may dismiss out of hand the need you have that is at the root of your expectations. This spins into a downward spiral fairly quickly and may result in the third possible reaction: complete withdrawal.

We all have expectations. They are unavoidable. Some will be good and reasonable. Some will not be. Some will come from healthy sources, some less so. They are shaped by our experiences, personalities and perspectives.

How do we manage expectation in marriage in a positive and life-giving way? As a first step let me suggest how you can prevent or at least minimize unmet expectations.

Unmet Expectations (The Ugly)

Unmet needs are responsible for much of the conflict in marriage, and when this leads to unmet expectations, it can inflict significant damage on a relationship in the form of disappointment and disillusionment, anger, or withdrawal.

Everyone has needs and wants in their marriage.  For the most part, these are a normal and healthy part of every relationship. And it’s somewhat natural for us to expect that our spouse will meet our needs.

Unfortunately, not everyone does a good job of communicating their needs and wants in helpful ways. In some cases, we may not even be able to identify our needs, much less communicate them clearly to our spouse. And if we do communicate our needs, we may not clearly state how we expect those needs to be met.

If we aren’t even aware of our own needs and expectations, or cannot communicate them clearly, how can we possibly expect our partner to be aware of them? And if they don’t know about them, how can they possibly meet them?

The best way to head off the disappointment associated with unmet expectations is to voice your needs and wants in a respectful and loving way. It’s essential for each of you to take the responsibility to express your needs without demanding or demeaning. When you talk about your needs, it’s really important to explain to your spouse what that would look like to you.

That kind of “what would it look like” conversation is great for identifying and exposing your expectations.

For example, if I tell my wife that respect is really important to me, but I don’t tell her what that looks like to me, then she may struggle to meet that need. However, if I tell her that, to me, respect means her trusting me and my judgment, appreciating my efforts to provide and care for her and the family, that gives her an idea of my expectations. This opens the door to further conversation about it. If she is unclear, she can ask clarifying questions. If I request something that seems unreasonable or unattainable, we can negotiate a path the leaves us both feeling satisfied.

Unconditional Love (The Ultimate)

Ultimately the best way to manage expectations and to keep them from becoming a wrecking ball in your marriage is to expect the best of each other and your marriage, and then to love each other unconditionally as you go about working to meet each other’s needs and expectations.

Dare to ask, “How can I best meet your expectations in this area?” Voice your needs and desires clearly in a way that best helps your spouse to love you well, but then have plenty of grace for when they get it wrong, because one of your expectations should be that they will, in fact, get it wrong sometimes.

How have you managed expectations in your marriage? Where have expectations gotten you into trouble? Leave a comment.

4 Things Your Husband Wants You To Know About Your Appearance

You are going to have a hard time believing these. Believe them anyway. 

Feel beautiful

In the past week, I read several good posts by female bloggers addressing the important topic of a body image. These were all written by women and all for women. I thought I would chime in and add a male perspective to this discussion.

I’ll point you specifically to the blog “Hot, Holy and Humorous,” which has two posts that are both excellent. The first, “Facts and Figures,”  gives some data to back up the fact that what you think is average appearance is probably not average. She encourages wives to love the body God gave them. The second post, “Husbands – Help Us Feel & Be Beautiful,”  is obviously directed at husbands, explaining how they can help their wives’ win body image battle.

In a similar vein, I did a post last summer directed at husbands, “Your Wife is in a Body Image Battle,” that continues to be quite popular, even a year later. It’s a must-read for husbands.

Today, however, I want to specifically address wives and give you a little insight from your husband’s viewpoint.

1) Your husband wants you to feel beautiful.

Yes, I know there are exceptions, but any good-willed husband wants his wife to feel attractive, even if he isn’t very good at saying the right things at the right times to help you feel that way. That also means he wants you to believe him when he does pay you a compliment instead of trying to refute it. Instead, make a habit of thanking him.

2) Your husband already knows the parts of your body you don’t like.

There is no point in repeatedly pointing out every flaw, every time you dress and undress, as if you are trying to convince him to just accept the fact that you really are an ugly duckling. He isn’t going to accept it. And you really don’t want him to do you? Stop the negative self-talk; it only reinforces your wrong thinking.

3) He likes your body.

Whether you are fully clothed, in frilly lingerie or completely naked he likes to look at you. He is a visual creature, so let him look! Encourage him to look by dressing and/or undressing in front of him. Pick clothing or lingerie that you know he finds alluring on you – even if you don’t necessarily agree with him on that point. Have sex with the lights ON, and learn to be “naked without shame” before your husband (this is a term I use that refers back to God’s original intent for couples back in the Garden of Eden.)

4) Your husband will be attracted to you as much by your confidence as by your appearance.

This may be the toughest one and is probably the most important. Doing some of the things above will help you with the “appearance of confidence,” but I encourage you to go even further. It requires going beyond believing that your husband thinks you are beautiful, beyond stopping the negative self-descriptions, and beyond letting him enjoy looking at you. It requires a new way of thinking about yourself and your body. Loving your body, imperfections and all, is the very foundation of confidence.

 

It’s not likely that a single blog post is going to transform your self-image or get you to love your body and see it the way your husband does. But the first step is to determine in your mind to do something about your body image issues for your own sake and the sake of your marriage. It’s time to do battle!

For a little further reading and inspiration, see the article “20 Reasons Why You Should Love and Appreciate Your Body,” on YourTango.com (Caution: YourTango is not written from Christian world view – browse with discretion)

Husbands, did I miss something above that you want your wife to know about her body image?