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!

 

5 Keys to a Wholehearted Marriage

The heart is the heart of every marriage.

Wholeheartee

Have you ever had a half-hearted customer service experience? How do you feel when you engage with someone who seems totally disinterested in serving you? On the other hand, how do you feel when you encounter someone who is wholeheartedly engaged and enthusiastically determined to meet your needs? Such a positive experience will likely cause you to speak favorably about the establishment to others and keep you coming back.

Websters defines a wholehearted person as someone who is devoted, determined and enthusiastic, marked by an earnest commitment.

So here’s my question:

How can you be wholehearted when it comes to your marriage?

But my spouse…

Maybe you are thinking that your spouse’s halfheartedness is your excuse for living a half-hearted marriage. This may seem logical, but unfortunately, such thinking is ultimately self-defeating and won’t move you any closer to experiencing a wholehearted marriage.

You see, the truly wholehearted understand that wholeheartedness comes out of who they are, not in response to what someone else does or doesn’t do. It’s a choice, not a reaction.

I believe wholeheartedness is contagious. While you only have the power to control yourself, you do have influence over the atmosphere of your marriage, which can ultimately influence your spouse in a positive direction. (But sorry, no magic formulas here!)

As you work toward being wholehearted in your marriage, below are five areas to consider.

1. All In 100%

The wholehearted hold nothing back. When it comes to their marriage and spouse they are all in and fully engaged. Do you have areas of your being or life that you are withholding from your spouse? Do you wait until you feel your needs are met before you are willing to meet your spouse’s needs? Do you love only in proportion to the amount of love you feel you are receiving?

Selflessness, grace and loving your spouse as if they are already meeting all your needs and loving you well are the keys to a wholehearted marriage.

2. Wholly Devoted

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus describes the devotion we are to have toward God like this:

And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment.

Mark 12:30 (quoting Deut. 6:4, 5) [AMP]

 

I like to think that the marriage relationship is designed to mirror the love and devotion God wants to have with us. No, your spouse is not a god and not a substitute for your relationship with Jesus, but I don’t think God gets offended when we love each other wholeheartedly and with tender devotion. He designed it to work that way.

3. Sexually Engaged

It’s easy for us to relegate sexuality to the bedroom. But the truth is you don’t cease to be a sexual being when you leave the bedroom, just like you don’t cease to be a spiritual being when you leave church. Sure there are things that aren’t necessarily appropriate for public consumption (whether we’re talking the church or sex), but whether you “feel it” or not, you are a sexual being 24/7.

So what does it mean to be wholeheartedly sexual? It starts with thinking of yourself and your spouse in sexual terms outside the throws of passion. Proactively seek to engage with your spouse in a sexual manner throughout the day. It also means serving each other sexually and unselfishly, striving to give more in that department than you get. It also means being fully present and obviously engaged during sexual activity.

4. Open and Vulnerable

Based on her research, Dr. Brene Brown includes vulnerability as a key attribute of the wholehearted. (See her TED Talk video and my related posts: What a Shame and Time To Get Naked)

If you want a marriage full of intimacy, you have to learn to live transparently and vulnerably with each other. Shame is the enemy of vulnerability and the biggest inhibitor to intimacy. To embrace vulnerability, you need to first believe that you are worthy of love and connection, just as you are. The amazing truth is that Jesus makes us all worthy.

Being wholehearted means being willing to be imperfect, embracing our weaknesses and owning up your mistakes in a genuine but not self-condemning way. (Remember, there is NO condemnation for us who are in Christ). Open up and invite your spouse in. Gary Smalley, the author of Wholehearted Marriage, says that “Emotions are the voice of the heart.” Let your spouse hear your heart.

5. Determined and Committed

The wholehearted have a fierce tenacity about them. They are not only all-in, but they are in for the long haul. A wholehearted marriage is one in which the couple realizes that there will be difficult seasons, but they believe in the covenant bond between them and that they are ultimately on the same side because they are one. Reinforce this idea with phrases like, “I am for you,” “I am for us.” and “We can do this.”

Remember that wholehearted living is a choice you make for yourself. And while you can’t cause wholeheartedness in others, I am convinced that when one person in a marriage chooses wholeheartedness, the atmosphere in the relationship will be changed for the good.

Where will you choose to be more wholehearted this week? Ask God to show you areas where you’ve been halfhearted in your marriage, and ask for His help in becoming wholehearted.

The Rest of the Story

My Part of Our Love Equation

S&J Kneeling England

After our anniversary date, which consisted of a nice dinner and a show, I read my last post to my wife as a sort of anniversary card.

While she greatly appreciated my loving words, she was a bit concerned that it might leave the wrong impression. She felt it was important that I also clearly explain how my own attitudes and actions of surrender have led her to the kind of loving surrender that I described last time.

I hesitated at first, thinking it was going to sound too much like blowing my own horn. But as I thought about it, I decided she was right. So here is my shot at telling the rest of our Surrendered Marriage story.

His Love Comes First

The truth is that my wife’s willingness to love me in a manner reflective of how the church loves Jesus (with things like trust, service, honor, submission, and commitment) is because of and in response to the Christ-like love I have shown her. Of course my love is but a faint reflection of the infinite, selfless, unconditional, and perfect love of Jesus, but I have made it more than clear, for years and years, that my desire is to love her more and better than any other human could, to come as close as possible to loving her as Jesus does.

She knows my heart and that my heart is for her. In fact, I have made it clear to her that my number one goal is to serve her and to love her well. It is every husband’s responsibility and should be every husband’s goal: love your wife selflessly, daily and tangibly, in the things you say and the things you do.

This is not some optional theory. It is the basis of God’s design for marriage. Period.

It’s All Mutual

Everything I said in my previous post, about how my wife knows me and loves me and takes delight in delighting me is true in the reverse. I have spent our entire married life learning about her, about who she is, how she is wired, gifted and called. I do all I can to see that my leadership of our marriage and family causes her to thrive and to step fully into the destiny that God has on her life. I am purposeful in delighting her because her happiness and fulfillment are my highest earthly priority.

In my case, it consists of things like knowing how she likes her tea and making it for her most mornings, even though I am not a tea drinker myself. She also loves it that I collect tea bags during my business trips around the world and bring them to her. I schedule and re-schedule trips to make sure I am home for special occasions or whenever family needs dictate. She knows she can call me anywhere, anytime, and I will drop whatever I’m doing to attend to her needs. Whether she is lost and needs directions, has an issue with one of the children, or just needs reassurance about something, she knows I am there for her and that she is my priority.

I am far from the perfect husband. But I do everything I can to make sure she feels as blessed to be married to me as I do to be married to her.

100-100

Perhaps we haven’t yet arrived at the ideal state: the 100-100 marriage that I talk about here often, where we each are giving 100% to the other, holding nothing back. Still, that is our goal.

We are both able to be who we really are with each other, and that is a wonderfully freeing thing. As we strive toward being completely one in spirit, soul, and body, we know that each of us has grace for the other’s shortcomings and mistakes. We try to give and receive that grace freely. It is this understanding that allows us to be “naked without shame” with each other; that is, to be genuine with each other, to bring the fullness of ourselves to our marriage, without pretense, trepidation or shame.

As a husband, I realize that I set the cap on how many blessings we enjoy in our marriage. So I aim high! I encourage every husband to do the same.

 

Intimacy – It’s Not What You Think

 

This is the second in my series on intimacy. Go here to see where this started and get a complete list of the related posts in this series.

I mentioned last time that men and women tend to look at intimacy differently. In general, and I know I’m stereotyping a little here, men think of sex and women think of romance. Of course it’s not really that polar. Men and women probably think of both sex and romance when it comes to intimacy, but the mix between the sex component and romance component is probably pretty dissimilar.

The thing is, whether you think more of sex or romance, if you limit your thinking to those two areas then you will limit your progress on the Path of Intimacy.

The first choice you must make to get on the Path of Intimacy is to first forget about sex and romance. Huh? Yep, forget about ‘em – at least for now. While these may be meaningful destinations further down the road, they can actually distract you from making the necessary choices that start you on the journey to deeper intimacy.

What’s the first choice to make when you want to get going down the Path of Intimacy and get off the Path of Separation? Choose to get naked. And no, I’m not talking about sex again.

I’m talking about transparency. I’m talking about being naked without shame. Do you remember this little passage of scripture?

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

Yeah I know a lot of people think this is just talking about sex, but they’d be looking at it way too narrowly.

This verse is talking about two becoming one in every sense, spirit, soul AND body. It’s talking about being real and bringing the fullness of yourself to your marriage, the good and the not so good.

You can’t have fake intimacy

It’s a non-starter.

So start down the Path of Intimacy by first choosing to get naked, to get real, to bare your heart. Bring your strengths and share your weaknesses. Be open with your hopes and dreams as well as your doubts and fears. Communicate with integrity about your successes as well as your shortcomings. Help your spouse love you by teaching him or her the things that delight, excite and inspire you.

Being transparent with one another is the only way to create an environment where intimacy can thrive.