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Generosity Can Save Your Marriage!!

Every now and again, I bring home flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.) We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer. You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time and again.

Our marriages also need a rich, nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our spouse and our marriage.

  • Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
  • Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
  • Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
  • Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
  • Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
  • Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)

Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.

Are You Planning a Wedding…Or a Marriage?

The average cost of a wedding in the United States today is $33,931. That is a lot of money. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with spending money on a beautiful wedding; but, it does raise an important question: are we investing in a beautiful wedding or are we investing in a long-term committed relationship? In 2014, two people collected data from 3,000 people in the US that helps to answer that question…and the statistics did not give a great answer to that question.  They found that the length of a marriage decreased as the price of the wedding increased! To state that the other way around: the greater the cost of the wedding the shorter the marriage lasted. Perhaps this is due to the increased debt of higher priced weddings, but really debt related divorce is more about how couples handle the stress together rather than the stress itself. These results are more likely related to whether the couple and their families prioritize the marriage or the status of the big wedding more. Either way, these results should make us think twice about our wedding preparations, to lead us to focus more on relational strength than on just the wedding ceremony itself.

On the other hand, this same study suggests that the higher the number of guests in attendance, the less likely the divorce. In other words, a relatively inexpensive wedding (one that fits the budget) that is highly attended, is a predictor of a longer marriage. I believe that this “attendance factor” provides a couple of advantages. One, it reveals the number of people invested in helping this couple succeed in marriage. Second, it allows the couple the opportunity to make a public commitment to one another and to their marriage before loving witnesses. This public commitment invites those witnesses to support and nurture their marriage.

As you prepare for marriage ask yourself: are you planning a wedding or a marriage?  Planning for your marriage involves much more than simply planning a beautiful wedding. Planning for a marriage means investing less in the ceremony and more in ways to build your relationship skills and relational strength. It means investing in your ability to resolve conflict, work as a team, develop a marital purpose, sacrifice, and serve. Planning for a marriage means inviting other long-term married couples into your life as mentors and supports. It requires humbling yourself as a couple to learn from other successful couples. Don’t worry…you’ll still have a wonderful wedding day and a fantastic honeymoon…but you can also have a long and happy marriage.

This Pattern Will Kill Your Marriage

Every marriage relationship develops patterns of interaction. Some patterns help marriages grow. Some can kill marriage. An analysis of 74 separate studies that included over 14,000 people discovered one pattern that can kill our marriages! This negative relationship pattern lowers relationship satisfaction, decreases intimacy, and contributes to poorer communication. It is often lovingly referred to as the demand-withdraw pattern. In this pattern one partner makes criticisms, complaints, and requests while the other withdraws and gives the silent treatment (The Most Toxic Relationship Pattern). Knowing this pattern can destroy your marriage is a start. Learning what you can do to replace it is even better. That’s the real solution. Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Instead of criticizing, use what Gottman calls a “gentle startup.” Rather than verbally attacking your partner’s personality, stick to describing the situation causing the stress. Find a way to explain the positive need inherent in your complaint rather than “harping” on what your partner’s doing wrong. Coming up with a positive need opens the door to discovering a solution and building intimacy.
  2. Rather than creating an environment of abuse in which you insult your partner or show contempt for your partner, create an environment of appreciation. Maintain your awareness of your partner’s positive qualities. Speak words of affirmation and adoration to your partner every day.
  3. Rather than making excessive demands and requests on your partner, practice serving one another. Build a culture of service, a culture in which both partners serve one another.
  4. It’s easy to begin taking a “tit-for-tat” position when you feel like your partner blames you for something. Our first instinct is often to return blame for blame, attack for attack. Rather than do so, take responsibility for your own mistakes. Own up to your shortcomings. Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness for your mistakes.
  5. Rather than shutting down, practice calming yourself and your partner. Don’t push buttons. Breath. Take a break. Distract yourself. Then, after you have soothed yourself, return to #2 and tell your partner what you love about them.

The demand-withdraw pattern could destroy your marriage. But you can end it. You can replace it with something better by beginning to practice the 5 actions above. Why not start today!

Customer Service in a Marital Dispute

I’ve seen it happen several times. I’ve heard friends talk about it even more. I’ve even experienced it myself. You probably have too.  You order you’re food at a restaurant and when it finally comes to the table it is cold or maybe even the wrong order. So, you call on the wait staff to correct the problem.  Now one of two things can happen.

Option One: The wait staff becomes defensive. They try to make you understand what happened and explain it was not their fault. They sound like they’re arguing with you. They may even blame you for the mishap. You just get more and more frustrated. Even if they fix your food you leave the restaurant angry, determined to never do business with them again. That’s one option.

Option Two: The wait staff listens. They calmly hear your concern. They may even ask a few questions to clarify. They seem to show genuine concern, apologize, and do their best to remedy the problem. This time you leave feeling good even if the food wasn’t the best you’ve had. At least they listened. They understood my concern. They empathized with my frustration. They are good people and I enjoy doing business with them.

These same two options exist in our marriages. When disagreements and conflicts arise we can follow option one or option two. The option we choose will impact our relationship satisfaction. In fact, a group of researchers explored this very idea in a series of seven studies published in 2016 (See 3 Steps to Calm Your Romantic Partner When You Are Arguing for more). The results of all seven studies demonstrated that couples had greater relationship satisfaction when both partners felt understood. Even more, participants reported greater relationship satisfaction in spite of disagreement when they felt understood by their partner. They felt more like a team. They believed their partner was invested in the relationship and that the problem could be resolved more easily. They even felt closer after the disagreement than before the disagreement! Sounds like a great result.  So, how can you assure your spouse feels understood?

  1. Listen. Listen to their words to understand what they say. Look at them so they know you are listening. Listen to their body language to see if there might be more to what they are saying. Listen to their emotions to discover the deeper meaning behind what they’re saying. Listen wholeheartedly. Listen intently. Listen.
  2. Ask questions to better understand and clarify what they are saying. No matter how intently you listen you might misunderstand something. So, ask some questions. Repeat what you believe they are saying and ask if that is correct. If not, listen some more.
  3. Look for areas in which you can change and compromise based on your partner’s concerns. In other words, let their words influence you. Let your partner’s needs and wishes influence your actions. Compromise.
  4. And, did I say…LISTEN.

Responding to disagreements in this manner will determine whether you and your partner walk away from the disagreement satisfied or frustrated, feeling good or feeling bad, happy or upset, determined to enjoy more time together or questioning your relationship. I know which one I want, do you?

Marriage Compelled By the Love of Christ

I recently had the opportunity to speak on marriage with a local congregation during their worship service. The passage for the morning was Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

“For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

African American Couple Laughing On The FloorEven though this passage speaks about Paul, it also describes a powerful foundation for marriage—the love of Christ. As believers, the love of Christ compels us to interact with our spouse in a powerful, virtuous manner. Think of it:

  • The love of Christ compels us to love our spouse with a sacrificial love rather than a self-serving love.
  • The love of Christ compels us to seek ways of giving to our spouses rather than taking from our spouses…to ask “what can I do for you today?” rather than “what have you done for me lately?”
  • The love of Christ compels us to accept our spouses instead of striving to make them what we want them to be…to love them “where they are” rather than trying to shape them into the person we imagine.
  • The love of Christ compels us to show our spouses grace rather than demanding they earn our acceptance, respect, or forgiveness.
  • The love of Christ compels us to seek out ways of expressing our love and initiating that expression rather than expecting our spouse to “love us first,” “make the first move,” or “treat us right first.”

These bullets only begin to touch on ways this passage invites us to love one another as married couples. And, we could write for hours to expand on each bullet. But, you might get bored listening to me. Instead, I invite you to grab your spouse, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down together to discuss what these bullets call you to do in your marriage. That will prove a whole lot more fun than reading any explanation I would offer. And, it will be specific to YOUR marriage. So, have some fun learning how the love of Christ compels you to love your spouse!

The Countercultural Message of Marriage

I wonder what Jesus would say about marriage? Of course He did talk about marriage some. But, imagine if He had thrown a “section on marriage” into the Sermon on the Mount.

newly married couple chasing each other in field“You have heard it said,” Jesus might begin, “That marriage will complete you and make you whole. But I say to you that only your heavenly Father can complete you. Truly, truly, marriage is not a matter of addition in which half a person added to half a person makes a whole person. No, marriage is more like multiplication in which half a person times half a person results in only a quarter of a person.  Truly happy marriages are made up of two people already complete in God. Only one person complete in God with another person complete in God equals one complete marriage.”

“You have heard it said that you will live happily ever after once you’re married. Marriage can bring great joy, even a taste of the kingdom of God.  But, a marriage that brings great joy and happiness is built upon individual growth, character, and sacrifice. Truly I say to you that you will find joy and happiness in your marriage only to the extent you grow in God-like character and willingly make sacrifices to bring joy to your spouse.”

“You have heard it said that marriage, when founded on deep feelings of love, will be easily maintained. But I say to you that marriage is based on commitment. Passion will wax and wane. Intimacy will fluctuate with the seasons of marriage. But commitment will carry you through the difficult times and the low tides. Commitment will bring you through the valleys and lead you to the mountain tops of even greater intimacy and passion. Our Father created marriage and established it upon the principle of lifetime commitment, not the fickleness of human feelings that wax and wane.”

“You have heard it said that commitment in marriage is not necessary for great sex and deep intimacy. But I say to you that only within a committed, intimate marriage can two people stand before one another in total trust and security, willing to expose themselves on the deepest level. Honestly, it is over years of learning about one another that a couple learns how to please, how to touch, how to cherish, how to hold…how to experience deep intimacy and great sex.”

“You have heard it said that marriage will never last. After all, statistics suggest that a large number of marriages end in divorce. What’s going to make mine different? But I say to you again, marriage is founded on commitment. Remaining committed to your marriage involves effort. You must invest in marriage to make it last just as God the Father committed himself to, and invested Himself in, you. That investment is paid in currency of time, service, and affection, all given on a daily basis to your spouse.”

A healthy marriage really is countercultural. It is established on the principles of personal commitment, humility, service, sacrifice, and love. Such a relationship will have a positive impact on your children and leave a lasting impression on all those who have the joy of witnessing a godly marriage, a countercultural love.

Are You a Marriage Consumer?

We live in a world that encourages consumerism. From commercials to billboards, we are encouraged to consume products and services to gain rest, pain-free living, joy, and satisfying relationships. Movies even encourage the idea that intimate relationships “complete me,” satisfy our need for joy, and offer escape from bad situations. In such a world, marriage can become just another product to consume our never-ending search for self-satisfaction. If we fall into this trap, we become marriage consumers.

  • phubbingA marriage consumer uses marriage to satisfy his own needs and desires.
  • A marriage consumer demands his spouse to fill him with joy.
  • A marriage consumer expects his spouse to satisfy his hunger for approval and affection.
  • A marriage consumer consumes sexual intimacy, expecting to receive all he “deserves.”
  • A marriage consumer attaches himself to his spouse to get out of his parents’ house or away from the wrong crowd or into the most convenient lifestyle.
  • Overall, the marriage consumer finds who can provide what he hungers for and consumes it. Unfortunately, he consumes while giving nothing in return. Eventually, he is left with an empty shell of a spouse, a spouse sucked dry with nothing left to give.

There is an alternative to being a marriage consumer. In our consumer-oriented world, this alternative will strike many as risky. It will arouse our fear of becoming a doormat to our spouse. But, I can assure you nothing is further than the truth. This alternative can fill your marriage to overflowing and…The more you give the more you have to give. What is the alternative? To become a marriage servant.

  • A marriage servant considers his spouse as “more important than himself. He does not merely look out for his own personal interests, but also for the interests of his spouse (Philippians 2:3-4).
  • A marriage servant listens to understand the needs and desires of his spouse (James 1:19).
  • A marriage servant anticipates his spouse’s need for comfort, assurance, or love and strives to meet that need.
  • A marriage servant constantly seeks ways to express his love to his spouse.
  • A marriage servant engages in acts of kindness and support…smiling all the while.
  • A marriage servant energetically builds his spouse up.

You get the idea. A marriage consumer seeks to satisfy his own needs and, in the process, sucks his spouse dry. A marriage servant seeks to satisfy his spouse’s needs and, in the process, fills both his spouse and himself to overflowing with love, joy, and peace. Which do you want to become?

Marriage web resources

Smart marriages offers a tremendous amount of information (including articles, conferences, news items, and more) related to marriage.

Click here to find marriage information, articles and resources offered on the Focus on the Family website.

Kyria offers Christian resources for marriage as well as parenting and family.

The Relationship Resource Group offers links to several other good marriage resources.

The California Healthy Marriages Coalition has published several excellent brochures that give a concise and readable review of research on the positive effects of marriage on woman, children, health, fathers, and society. Click on the links for individual brochures in PDF format.

Family Life offers weekend marriage enrichment programs, marriage getaways, articles, blogs, and practical tips to strengthen your marriage.

Marriage Intensives offer emergency services for marriages on the brink of separation and divorce. Here are four intensive programs that may help you move your marriage away from the brink and back on the road to health.

  1. Marriage Restoration! The Official Smalley Marriage Intensive Program
  2. The Hope Weekend
  3. Love and Respect Intensives
  4. Marriage Rescue Associates

Marriage Bibliography includes several additonal resources (alphabatized by author) that I have found helpful in promoting healthy marriages.

Boteach, Schmuley. (1999). Kosher sex. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Chapman, G. (2007). The heart of the five love languages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Chapman, G. (2010). Things I wish I’d known before we got married. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Clarke, D. (2009). I don’t want a divorce. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

Clinton, T., Clinton, J. (2000). The marriage you’ve always wanted. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing.

Cloud, H., Townsend, J. (1999). Boundaries in marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Doherty, W. (1997). The intentional family: How to build family ties in our modern world. Perseus Books.

Eggerichs, E. (2004). Love and respect. Brentwood, TN: Integrity Publishers.

Feldhahn, S. (2004). For women only: What you need to know about the inner lives of men. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Publishers.

Feldhahn, S., Feldhahn, J. (2006). For men only: A straightforward guide to the inner lives of women. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Publishers.

Gardner, TA (2002). Sacred sex: A spiritual celebration of oneness in marriage. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.

Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail. New York, NY: Fireside.

Gottman, J.M., DeClaire, J. (2001). The relationship cure: A 5 step guide to strengthening your marriage, family, and friendships.  New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Gottman, J.M., Silver, N (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the countries foremost relationship expert. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Kendrick, S., Kendrick, A. (2008). The love dare. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group.

Laaser, D. (2008). Shattered vows: hope and healing for women who have been sexually betrayed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Larimore, W., Larimore, B. (2008). His brain, her brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Leman, K. (1999). Sex begins in the kitchen. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company.

Leman, K. (1998). The birth order book: Why you are the way you are. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

Markman, H., Stanley, S. Blumberg, S.L. (1994). Fighting for your marriage: Positive steps for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Parrott, L., Parrott, L. (1995). Saving your marriage before it starts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Smalley, G. (1996). Making love last forever. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing.

Spring, J.A. (1996). After the affair: healing the pain and rebuilding trust when a partner has been unfaithful. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Thomas, G. L. (2000). Sacred Marriage: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

What We Do For Marriage & Family

Last week I read a post by The Romantic Vineyard about “What we do” to keep our marriage strong. I wanted to add some “we do’s” to the list as well. What do we do on a regular basis to keep our marriage strong? Interestingly, most of the things I thought of not only build a stronger marriage but a stronger family as well!

 

We do humor. I love to laugh with my wife…and I love to laugh with my children. Humor keeps even the most difficult situations running more smoothly. Humor lessens the friction during conflict. Humor draws us into relationship and deepens our intimacy. Some of our best memories involve times of uncontrolled laughter on the part of at least one family member. To laugh with family is a beautiful thing.

 

We do music. We listen to music and play music. We share our favorite songs. We sing together…sometimes we sound beautiful and sometimes not so much. Still, we do music. Just as music is filled with harmonies and the sharing of melodies, a family that does music together learns to live their life in harmony with one another while taking turns performing the melody.

 

We do awe and wonder. I love to experience something majestic or awe-inspiring with my wife. As we stand in awe looking over the wonder of creation or enjoy the awe-inspiring music of a concert, time stands still and we spend an eternal moment enjoying the same wonder. Our favorite time of shared awe and wonder comes in the moments of worship…and that worship can be at church singing a worship song or standing silently hand-in-hand on the beach watching the whales play in the ocean. (Check out this blog on the benefit of awe and wonder to a family.) 

 

We do holding and hugging. What more can I say? We hold hands, share hugs, and walk arm in arm. When we say good-bye, we give a hug or a kiss. When we come home, we give a hug. When we go to bed, we give a hug. An accomplishment gets a hug or a high-five. For no special reason, we share an oxytocin hug . Hugs put flesh and blood on our expression of love.

 

We do lunch. The work schedules of my wife and I often make supper a difficult time to share a meal together. So, we enjoy lunch together. Lunch has become one of my favorite parts of the day. After all, I get to combine eating with the enjoyment of my wife’s company…what more could I ask for?

 

We do Church. Going to worship services at church is a time of growing intimacy between us and between God and us. As a couple and as a family we serve together by helping with various projects at church. We have enjoyed mission trips and service activities as a family. We support one another in our individual efforts to serve through the Church. Whether one of us goes on a mission trip without family or plays in a worship band, we support one another and share in one another’s excitement for that service.

 

What do you do to strengthen your marriage and family?

A Marital Battle: Radical Generosity or Self Seeking

Two ancient sayings have been on my mind lately. Both sayings are recorded by Paul, a Jewish follower of Christ. And, although neither one is written in the context of marriage, they both have a profound impact on our marriages. The first saying is short and sweet: “Love is not self-seeking.” The second one reminds us that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap bountifully.”

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I get tired and irritable. When I’m tired and irritable, I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to sow a smile or a kind word or an act of service. Instead, I want to sulk, give short and even sarcastic responses, or isolate. In other words, I become self-seeking. I watch out for “my own personal interests” and desires. In the process, I neglect my spouse. I don’t pay attention to her needs or struggles she may have encountered during the day. You’ve had those days, haven’t you? We all have. If I am going to be totally honest, sometimes I become self-seeking even when I’m not tired and irritable. I just look out for myself sometimes because…well, because I just want things to go my way. How about you? Ever had that experience?

Unfortunately, we also reap what we sow. When we selfishness, we reap disconnection in response. When we sow a sarcastic response or an isolating action in our irritability, we reap sorrow, distance, and maybe even some criticism from our spouse. Our relationship grows more disconnected in response to the seeds of self-seeking behaviors we sow. Intimacy suffers as weeds of loneliness grow deeper roots and we reap sharper thorns. If we allow this self-seeking behavior to continue to grow, we may find ourselves simply engaging in physical intimacy to satisfy our own needs more often than we express love in our intimacy. In general, sowing seeds of self-seeking behaviors reaps disconnection, emotional distance, frustration, and anger.

So, what can end the sowing of self-seeking behaviors? Sow seeds of radical generosity instead. Yes, radical generosity is generosity sown in the hard times, the times we feel tired, irritable, and selfish. Showing generosity to our spouse in the good times is relatively easy. But sharing generosity with our spouse when we are tired, irritable, feeling disconnected, or simply feeling selfish is radical! And when we sow radical generosity, we reap radical intimacy and connection. Radical generosity means giving your spouse a hug and kiss upon returning home, especially when we’re tired. Radical generosity gives a kind answer rather than a short, sarcastic response even when we’re irritable. Radical generosity seeks to give pleasure to our spouse rather than simply seeking our own release and pleasure. Radical generosity serves even when tired. Radical generosity sows all these seeds of kindness, affection, and service while wearing a smile. Radical generosity is the opposite of self-seeking; it is loving. Radical generosity will sow seeds of kindness, service, and love into their marriage in great abundance and reap the same in a bountiful return. Sow some radical generosity into your marriage today and watch the bountiful harvest of love and intimacy grow! I going to go share some radical generosity now…by helping prepare lunch. What about you?  

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