Keep Your Marriage Strong by Rethinking Your Priorities

Leftovers: good for Thanksgiving; bad for your marriage.

Leftovers

Today I’m continuing my series on how to keep your marriage strong for the long haul with a discussion about priorities. (You might want to catch up on parts one, Keeping Strong for the Long Haul, and two, Asking Different Questions.)

Today’s Choices Affect Tomorrow

It’s incredible how many things we have competing for our time and attention – perhaps more than at any time in history. The pressure to have it all, do it all, and excel at it all is pervasive in today’s western culture.

We tend to live our lives in such a driven fashion that it’s easy to unknowingly trade the important for the immediate. I’ve done it many times in my own life. What we often fail to realize is how much the choices we make today affect our marriages in the long term.

While there are many distractions that can detract from our marriages, today I’m going to choose two of the biggest. While both of these affect young couples the most, they are factors that allow your marriage relationship to drift into roommate status in the early years, and this often has significant long-term impact.

The Parent Trap

There is more parenting advice available today than ever. It seems as though we are preoccupied with becoming the perfect parents and raising perfect children. The pressure is tremendous, especially in the Internet age. There are more than 4 million mommy blogs offering advice and constant reminders of all we aren’t doing. Social media is full of posts about perfect children of perfect families living in immaculately decorated homes. The poison of comparison keeps us striving to do more than we can possibly do for our kids and homes, all the while feeling guilty for all we are not yet doing, not to mention the damage it does to our marriages.

Here are two facts that may help you when sorting out your priorities:

    • The best thing you can do for your kids is to have a strong marriage. Showing your kids what respect and sacrificial love look like will bear fruit into multiple generations.
    • You and your spouse are one; you and your children are not. Your marriage relationship is based on a unique kind of covenant. Don’t make the mistake of relegating it to equal status with any other relationship, including the one with your kids.

Consistently prioritizing your children ahead of your marriage, however well-intentioned, is a significant reason so many couples facing the “empty nest” season suddenly find themselves rooming with a stranger.

The Quest for Success

Particularly in America, the desire for more stuff is deeply ingrained in our marketing-saturated culture. Success is defined by having the nicest house, the most “toys,” the highest corporate position, the most influence or the biggest bank account.

These definitions of success don’t line up very well with the Kingdom of God. Yes, I believe God wants to bless and prosper us, but I believe it breaks His heart when we sacrifice our time, effort and attention for worldly success to the detriment of our marriages. That’s always a bad trade!

Yes, providing well for your family is important, and having a good work ethic matters. The problem comes when we are giving so much to our careers that we have nothing left for our spouse. This is another priority issue where comparison works like a poison as we continually strive to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Avoiding Leftovers

Historically, men fall into the career success trap more than women, whereas women tend to have more priority issues concerning their children. However, such stereotypes are shifting with the huge increase in women in the workforce and the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. And of course, there are many other areas where priorities can get out of line besides these two.

No matter, the real issue is putting our marriage and spouse first so that we keep our marriages strong for the long haul. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will all be better once the kids are grown and our careers are well-established. Putting your marriage on the back burner for any reason, for any period of time, inflicts serious damage on your relationship. And while nothing is irreparable or beyond God’s ability to redeem, the best choice is always to avoid only giving your spouse your leftovers.

The problem with relying on leftovers is that we run our lives with such little margin that there is typically nothing left after we’ve poured ourselves into everything else. Like it is with food, leftovers are fine for a while, but eventually, they no longer satisfy.

Choosing Daily

Revamping your priorities requires you to be continuously vigilant and watchful. Remain aware of the dozens of daily opportunities to choose your spouse and marriage over the other things in your life. Find little ways to stay connected throughout your day with text messages, hidden notes, or phone calls. Such small connection points are especially important when spouses travel frequently or work different hours, but truthfully all couples would benefit from such frequent positive interactions. It pays to pay attention!

Set aside regular time together. Find ten minutes a day for genuine conversation, perhaps immediately after the kids are in bed. Try to keep these conversations focused on more than just functional matters. Regular, meaningful conversation is an important part of building intimacy between you.

Another important way to build intimacy is to make sure you leave time and energy for sex. Few marriages can survive for the long haul when sexual intimacy is lacking or missing altogether. It not only weakens your marriage and makes it vulnerable to outside temptations, but it robs your relationship of the pinnacle of intimate expression.

The point of this post is not to lay a big guilt trip on you. Rather I’m encouraging you to reexamine how you prioritize your marriage among all the other demands of daily life and wake you up to the truth that keeping your marriage strong for the long haul might require you to change how you invest your time and energy.

 

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.

 

10 Ways to Feed Your Soul

Feeding your soul is just as important as feeding your body.


Face it, we are all too busy. There isn’t time enough for all the “have to’s” much less time for the optional enriching pleasures of life.

You take time to feed your body, because you’ll die if you don’t. But did you know that you also need to take time to feed your soul? Did you even know that was a thing? Trust me, it is. It’s an important thing. To me it’s just as important as feeding your body.
If you don’t feed your soul, it will become sick and withered, just as your body would if you neglected to feed it for too long.

What Makes You More You?

I’ve heard a lot of people express opinions about the differences between heart, soul, flesh, spirit, etc. I’m not a theological expert, and I don’t really want to dig deep into Greek and Hebrew definitions, but to me, in simplest terms, I think of your soul as the essence of who you are: your intellect, your personality, your quirks, your likes and dislikes, your emotional constitution, your aspirations and dreams.

Despite what some may say, I don’t think the soul is inherently evil or good. It’s clear from the Bible that your soul can be influenced positively or negatively. Obviously we want to feed our souls with good stuff.  It’s important not to just ignore your soul as being “non-spiritual,” because when you do, you will gradually become less and less who you really are. When lose touch with what makes us feel alive, our souls wither.

Ten Ways to feed your soul

So how can we tend our souls in a positive way? Of course there is the important aspect to keep our souls in submission to the Holy Spirit. I’ll touch on that more in another post, but there are also ways to feed your soul that aren’t inherently “spiritual.”  (Side note: in actuality, everything is spiritual, but that’s for later).

Here are ten ways I came up with to keep your soul healthy:

  1. The Beauty of God’s Creation – Jenni and I have discovered that we need to regularly look on natural beauty. For us that often means renting a cabin in the mountains with a beautiful mountain view. The photo above is from a recent trip to California, where we got to enjoy lots of beautiful sights.
  2. Contemplate Other Kinds of Beauty – Beauty is not just found in nature. For some beauty may be found in art or in a cityscape. Find the kind of beauty that brings you alive and make sure you regularly spend time gazing upon it.
  3. Music that Touches Something Inside You – Music has a way of touching our souls in a powerful way. While many of us enjoy music as we rush from here to there, how often do you delibertely still  yourself and really listen? Try it.
  4. Exercise Your Brain – If you love to learn, take time to stimulate your mind. Visit a museum. Study the history of a region or country. Read up on a topic that interests you. Listen to a TED talk.
  5. Tickle your Funny Bone – Laughter is good for your soul. When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably?
  6. Relax – I’m a driven person, and sometimes have to make a real effort to truly relax. While you are doing any of these things to feed your soul, try to turn off your mental to-do list or worry about all the things are not getting done while you are feeding your soul.
  7. Play a Game – Jenni and I have found a board game that we really enjoy together. It’s the right mix of strategy and luck that we both like playng it. There is something about a physical game (as opposed to an electronic one) that feeds our souls differently.  And it’s something we can do together.
  8. Create Something – I have several creative hobbies (songwriting and woodworking) that I no longer have time for (or perhaps I should say no longer make time for). How about you? Maybe it’s time to figure out how we can regularly make room for at least a little of creativity.
  9. Enjoy a Meal With Good Friends – I’m not really a foodie, but I do like to eat and drink a good beer. And a meal is a good way to connect with friends as a couple.
  10. Make a Difference – Is there a cause you feel strongly about? Doing something for others that makes a difference is a great way to bring your soul to life.

Do any of these strike a chord with you? Are there other things you do to feed your soul? Can you do at least some of these together as a couple? Let us hear how you feed your soul. Leave a comment.