Model of a Great Marriage

People in my life modeled what great marriages looked like. I don’t think any of them actually talked to me about marriage. They simply lived it. From the time I was a small child, my eyes and my heart noticed couples that still had that spark. Some were relatives, some friends and others just acquaintances that I watched from afar. Regardless of whether your family has long standing marriages, you were raised by single parents, or you grew up in really challenging situation, we all need models of great marriages to both inspire us and to educate us.

Homer and Millicent -Married 70 Years

My mom’s parents, Homer and Millicent met on a blind date in 1928 in Southern California. Millicent, raised in Costa Rica came to the states for nursing school. Homer, the oldest son of seven drove his family from Oklahoma in a 1920’s pickup turned into a wagon. Both must have been brave as they sought a new life in California.

Grandpa, the typical stoic Norwegian shrank from emotions but dearly loved and served his wife. Grandma was in charge of the cooking but Grandpa fixed the cocktails before dinner. Week nights were filled with square dancing or a game of scrabble. Small notebooks filled their scores with Grandma usually winning. They loved to garden and created a jungle of plants that became their own personal paradise. As a kid I remember the constant travel adventures they took that added another piece of colored yarn on their travel map. Though fiercely independent, they were equally devoted to each other even after 70 years of marriage.

Dee and Pearl – Married 64 Years

My dad’s parents, Dee and Pearl, moved to California to avoid shaming the family name when they were forced to get married. Though they had a rocky beginning, their marriage ended up rock steady. Dee always with a sparkle in his eye loved to flirt with his hard-working wife. In retirement they still held hands, fished together, canned peaches and sat cozied up together on the couch.

For years, Pearl covered for Dee’s Alzheimer’s as she took care of him. Even though simple things confused him, if he was near Pearl, he had a peace and a calmness that came from years of faithfulness and trust. When Pearl finally had to put Dee in a home, she spent many days sitting by his side, until he was gone.

Dick and Joan – Married 66 Years

My friends Dick and Joan had 66 amazing years of marriage. What I noticed most about their relationship was the way that their eyes would light up when they talked about each other. Even though life on the farm called them to different chores and interests, they were each other’s biggest fans. Joan would brag about Dick’s latest wood working project, while Dick quietly built Joan a beautiful sewing table. Joan would cook, Dick would bring in the firewood. They didn’t share tasks but they tirelessly served each other without becoming resentful or grumbling.

Dick and Joan also chose to avoid any and all screens – TV’s, computer, and smart phones. That might seem old fashioned but I think about how content they were to just talk or read next to each other.

After Joan died, Dick just never seemed to find something to live for. For the rest of his life, he slept in his barcelounger, rather than face Joan’s absence in their double bed. After 2 long years apart, he finally joined her in heaven. I can only imagine the reception he received.

The lessons I took from these marriages were –

  • Be each other’s biggest fans

  • Hold hands every chance you get

  • Turn off the screens

  • Don’t lose yourself, share yourself

  • Go to bed at the same time

  • Serve one another

  • Don’t lose the sparkle in your eye

Find marriages that you admire and study them. How do they care for their marriage? How do they care for each other?

What marriages inspired you and what made them different?

 

Get in the Game – Play Offense Not Defense

Far too many of us spend our lives constantly playing defense. We react to problems as they arise, focusing our time and energy because we must. We do what we have to do to salvage a relationship, get along and just survive. We put out the fires when and where they ignite. And we assume that if an issue doesn’t surface than we’re good. But what would happen, if instead of always playing defense, we played offense in marriage.

Most of us are only one crisis away from real struggles in marriage. That’s why marriages that go through the loss of a job, or the birth of a special needs child have such high divorce rates. The challenge didn’t create the crack in the marriage, it just highlighted and widened it.

Even seemingly good sex lives can fall apart when we fail to continue growing. Without communication skills, an expanded repertoire and established trust, one bad night can create enough anxiety to cause our natural responses to short circuit.

Playing defense does not build a strong marriage nor a sex life resilient enough to handle challenges. Most of us take our marriage for granted and would rather ignore the cracks then fix them. What would happen if we repaired the cracks by working on ourselves and our marriage before we encountered challenges? Could we prepare for the inevitable curve balls that life throws us? What would it look like to play offense in marriage?

Work on Yourself

The longer I am married the more I realize that marriage is not about losing yourself, but about sharing yourself. The idea that we continually compromise and deny ourselves misses the point. How do we focus on becoming more Christlike regardless of what our spouse does? Can we love our spouse even when they don’t meet our needs? Can we help them become who God wants them to be instead of who we want them to be?

That doesn’t mean that we allow our spouse to trample over us. Just like Jesus, we must extend grace and speak truth in love. Sometimes the best thing we do for our spouse is to set boundaries and say, “This is not okay, and this is not who God created you to be.”

Don’t buy into the victim mentality of blaming your parents, your circumstance or your spouse. Play offense. What can you do regardless of anyone else?

Work on your relationship with God and stop expecting your husband or wife to make you happy. Meet with a group to gain freedom over addictions or bondage. Start seeing a Christian counselor even if your spouse won’t.  Get healthy, emotionally, physically and spiritually. If you have experience betrayal than go after healing. Nurture your soul through friendships, using your gifts or by serving others. Understand that if Christ is in you, then anything is possible.

Work on Your Marriage

Couples that have strong, healthy, resilient marriages, intentionally work on their marriage. They seek out resources like books to read, retreats or conferences to learn about each other and to encourage sharing. They schedule their priorities instead of letting the rest of life rule them. They take date night seriously, and spend time talking each day. Instead of ignoring issues, they embrace conflict as an opportunity to strengthen their marriage.

When something big happens that they can’t seem to navigate, they look for outside help from a friend, counselor or pastor. They live in community for encouragement, accountability and to pour into others. When challenges strike, they don’t hide or run for cover. They vulnerably share and seek wise counsel.

Work on Your Sex Life

My husband and I spent almost 25 years playing defense with our sex life. Besides the first few years, we didn’t read books or try to learn anything new. Communication rarely happened and honestly felt tortuous. Until we intentionally invested in our sex life things did not improve.

So many great sex resources are easily accessible today. To improve communication read a book together. Awaken Love will help you both understand the challenges that wives face, but  also help you create a sex life that will thrill both husband and wife. From Feb 1 – 14 the paperback is 30% off and reduced to just $9.99!!

Listen to a podcast like Sex Chat for Christian Wives or Sexy Marriage Radio and talk about it afterwards. Take an Awaken Love class to learn God’s Design and expand your repertoire. Subscribe to my blog, or to one of the other great blogs like Hot Holy Humorous or Uncovering Intimacy. Sign up for mentoring with Chris over at the Forgiven Wife. Don’t wait until your spouse is ready to give up before you invest in your sex life. Do it today.

Churches

Most churches play defense when it comes to marriage and sex. Pastor’s schedules fill up with counseling sessions for couples already struggling or in crisis. Yet few marriage ministries exist to educate or provide date opportunities for couples. Groups exist for those struggling with sexual sin but how many churches provide classes to help wives and husbands create an amazing sex life in their marriage.

Both personally and in church, we must stop playing defense and start playing offense in marriage.

How are you investing in your marriage?

How can you help your church invest in marriages?

Learn to Speak Your Spouse’s Language

My greatest desire is to connect emotionally with my husband. Over the past few years as my relationship with God has strengthened, I have started opening up so much more with Jim. At night I lay on my husband’s chest and pour my soul out to him. I share my insecurities, struggles with God, my hopes and my dreams and it has been amazing. The problem is that I don’t want my husband just to listen to me. I want him to emotionally connect with me too. I want him to become an equal partner.

Our Greatest Struggle

Connecting emotionally has become our greatest marital struggle. It is the crazy cycle that we enter over and over. Usually it goes something like this…

First, I share and it feels so good connecting to let Jim know what is really going on with me. But then I start wondering about him. As I get naked emotionally, he stays safe. He’s like a spectator, like he’s going along for the ride without really participating, and I start to feel hurt.

So, I start asking him questions and soon he’s sharing surface details about his day.  Sometimes I am fine with our conversations, but other times I just crave something deeper. And as I start pushing, my husband begins to get that deer in the headlights look of, “I have no idea what you are talking about it.” When I ask how he feels about something, it is as if I am asking him to speak a foreign language. And I feel like I am banging my head against the wall over and over because he never really gets how to emotionally connect.

In my deepest darkest times of frustration over my husband’s lack of skill at connecting emotionally, I have thought, “this must be what it feels like to a man when his wife does not understand the importance of sex!”

Disclosure: What follows uses generalizations about men and women to illustrate a point. If you don’t fit these generalizations then please don’t take offense. Even though your marriage may not fit this scenario, figure out your spouse’s individual desire, take it seriously, and do what you can to grow so that you can meet it.

Different Languages

Men and women seem to speak different languages. When our spouse asks us to speak their language, it feels foreign, terrifying and at times absolutely impossible.

If you crave connection through sex, then take all your feelings of frustration over your wife ignoring your sexual desires, and realize that she probably feels exactly the same way – just over different issues.  And if you’re banging your head against the wall because your husband doesn’t know how to open up and talk from the heart, then understand how hurt he feels because you won’t take steps to embrace sexuality as a powerful way for the two of you to connect.

Learning a New Language

Use your frustration to create compassion towards your spouse and to motivate you to make changes. Just like learning a foreign language, learning something new will require intention. It will not just happen. You may need to take a class, see a counselor or read a book to get started. Learning a new language will take practice and time. If you only remember to apply yourself after a fight, you will make little progress. If you feel coerced or forced to learn something new,  your Spirit will rebel with a, “You can’t make me do it attitude.” Do it because you love your spouse, because you want a better marriage, and because God wants you to learn something new.

You might even feel like what your spouse desires is impossible and want to give up. Change is hard and you can’t do it on your own. But with friends to encourage you along the way, and by depending on Christ, all things are possible.

Our Journey

Some people might think that I am crazy for expecting my husband to learn to connect emotionally. After all, men just don’t operate that way. The same could be said for expecting women to learn to crave and enjoy sex. We just aren’t wired that way, but we can learn new things. When we don’t, we miss out on an amazing part of life.

Little by little, my husband and I will continue our journeys of learning to speak a foreign language. Though I might have embraced connecting through sex first, he has begun to understand my deep desire to connect emotionally. Recently he has made huge strides and I give him a lot of credit. Often those first steps are the scariest. I hope that some day he enjoys my native language, connecting emotionally, as much as I have learned to enjoy sex.

 

 

Inside Your Circle – Working on Yourself.

ReEngage

The best thing Jim and I have done recently to strengthen our marriage was to attend a 16-week marriage ministry called ReEngage. We have since become leaders and taken multiple groups through. Every time we learn something new about ourselves and about each other. ReEngage uses a small group model to create a safe community where we can be honest, authentic, and real. We spend 8 weeks working on our relationship with God and 8 weeks learning about aspects of marriage. Alongside our spouse and 5 other couples, we dive deep into working on ourselves.

The Circle

One of the most powerful things we teach in ReEngage is to draw a circle around yourself and then to work on everyone that is inside the circle. Really staying in your circle is just a practical principal that empowers us to stop trying to change our spouse. Though it sounds like a simple thing, it is much harder to practice. Learning to stay in your circle will change your marriage, your parenting and even how you foster deep friendships.

Staying inside my circle does not come easily. It is much easier to look at all the reasons and causes of my actions, than to focus only on myself. I would prefer to share all the circumstances that led up to me pouting. If he just loved me more…If he just talked to me more…If I wasn’t so stressed at work, then I wouldn’t pout.  When I realize that regardless of my circumstances, I get to react in a way honoring to God, then I am empowered to change myself

Focusing on ourselves can feel uncomfortable. Many times, people would rather generalize when they answer questions. We say things like, “We…” or “Most of us…” But when we get in our own circle, then we own our actions, with statements like… “I did this….” Or “I feel …” We vulnerably, honestly share our stuff. It becomes a much stronger statement that pierces our heart when we hurt others.  Learning to own your own stuff takes practice, courage and will change your relationships.

Create a Safe Place

Staying inside your circle also means not giving other people advice on how to fix their situation, unless they ask. When people share hard situations or get emotional, most of us feel pretty uncomfortable. We try to make it go away as fast as we can by trying to fix the problem or directing the focus somewhere else. Not giving advice creates a safe place for honesty and openness about struggles. Leaving space for emotions validates feelings. We have to trust God in the process instead of trying to fix others ourselves.

Another way we get out of our circle is by keeping score. We work on our marriage for a while but as soon as we notice that we’ve made more changes than our spouse, then we feel like they owe us something. We become resentful and backslide thinking why should I do all this work if they aren’t even trying. Working on yourself is not about becoming who your spouse wants you to be. It is about becoming who Christ wants you to be. Regardless of what your spouse does or if they do anything at all, we can work on ourselves.

Draw a Circle

One of the most powerful exercises you can do to help you sort through any struggle is to take a piece of paper and draw a big circle. Then write everything that you can control inside the circle. Everything that you cannot control write outside of the circle.  Pray over the things on the outside of the circle and give them to God. Then focus on the few things on the inside of the circle that you can control and focus on them. What changes can you make? What small practical steps that might help? Where you can start? What choices do you have?

I am often reminded of Matthew 7:3  which says, Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Regardless of our situation, we all have things to learn. Rather than feeling helpless in your situation, get inside your circle and discover what you can change. Own your brokenness and give the rest to God.

The Joy of Sharing Life

My husband and I are very different. We have different tastes, passions, and even things that we love during sex. As I have matured, I am learning the joy of sharing life. I find pleasure in  seeing delight in my husband’s eyes. I don’t try to convince myself to fall in love with something just so we can have common interests. I have fallen in love with seeing my husband’s love of life.

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A Slight Detour – And Finding Fun

Last week my husband and I took an unexpected detour. In the past, before I had learned how little control I have over life, I might have been upset at my husband when our plans changed. But I have grown to realize we have little control and when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

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Trust – An Essential Ingredient to Great Sex

Trust seems like such a basic  ingredient for a great sex life and yet I am just starting to understand the depth of importance. Though basic trust in a marriage feels very similar for men and women, the challenges men and women face during sex vary drastically. The first step to create trust is an awareness and empathy for each other’s struggles. I want to share some specific ways that wives and husbands needs vary in regards to trust.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Today I gather with my husband Jim and my daughters to give thanks. We will cook recipes passed down from my mother and recipes my daughters have introduced to our table. The kitchen will be filled with chopping, girls laughing, debating the rights of women and trying to solve the most basic human rights of accessible housing and medical care. Jim will stroll through on his way to the basement. Instructed to cobble together a candle holder or centerpiece base required for the festivities, he’ll pause to smile at his girls.

After the pie has settled and the dishes are washed, I am ready to put my feet up. A game, a movie or scouring the adds in preparation for shopping. Whatever we do, we will do it together. Eventually Jim and I will excuse ourselves and head up for bed. Laying in his arms we will talk, and pray and eventually our bodies will warm up to each other.

Friday morning with no real purchase in mind, we’ll look for quirky, unusual items only found at places like Menards or Fleet Farm. Jim will lead the charge with a stop for coffee and donuts and we will all pile out to partake. My greatest pleasure will be to watch Jim laugh with his girls.

Life keeps marching on. My babies are not babies any more. Jim’s boyish looks have been tamed by the pepper in his hair. I can feel the arthritis in my hip and wrinkles in my face.  Life keeps marching on and so today I thank God for today. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. God is right beside you. He will guide you and guard you. God has given us a pleasant land.

Happy Thanksgiving

Psalm 16:5-8 (NLT)

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
    You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
    What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

Barriers to Having Great Sex

Things exist that create barriers to having a great sex life. Sometimes they impact our mindset and other times they steal our energy. Sometime we need to change them for ourselves and other times we need to be part of the solution for others.

I want to share the barriers to having a great sex life  that I have recognized in my own life and inspire you to identify your own barriers. We need to get on the offensive to proactively battle our barriers in order to claim God’s good gift of sex.

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How to Help Your Husband Lead Spiritually

Most Christian wives have a deep desire for their husband to lead spiritually. Many of us have this romantic idea that when we get married our husband will suddenly transform into the spiritual leader. Daily, he will gather the family around the table for an evening bible study to share deep insights.  He will intuitively sense when we are struggling and gently lay his hands on us to pray. He will energize the family to get to church when all we want to do is sleep.

But why would getting married suddenly change our husband into the spiritual leader?

My guess is that leading spiritually is another area that men feel they can never live up to their wife’s expectations. It was an area that I found myself critical. After I took a hard look at myself, I realized I was a big part of the issue.

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