is a dragon in your house. He rests right between you and your spouse. Don’t
worry. It’s not a bad thing. He’s perfectly safe and can even protect your marriage.
This dragon has rested between spouses since the beginning of time. Couples used
to honor their dragon. They believed love could not live unless their dragon protected
it. It was a badge of honor for a married couple to tame the dragon and keep
him healthy in the home they built together. Scripture even tells us God owns this
pet dragon. It was not until the 19th century that this dragon fell
out of vogue. People began to fear it. They began to believe this dragon represented
danger to the subdued, secretive emotional life of the family. What if the
dragon wasn’t so tame? What if it suddenly went wild, triggered by some threat?
After all, there had been incidents in which the docile dragon suddenly went
wild, dangerously thrashing about in an uncontrolled fit of anger. Still, these
incidents only occurred when something or someone threatened the dragon’s owners
or if the owners did not protect the dragon’s sense of safety and security. If
the couple cares for the dragon’s home, assuring his sense of security, he remains
perfectly safe to have in the house.
dragon’s name is Jealousy. Jealousy exists when we have a special relationship
with someone. He reveals the priority we place on commitment, honesty, and
security within our most intimate relationship. In that sense, jealousy remains
a sleeping dragon until we experience some threat to our relationship. Something
that arouses doubt in our partner’s commitment or honesty or threatens our sense
of security in the relationship can make the dragon go wild. At that point,
jealousy can feel uncontrollable and inescapable. It can even be tyrannical. “Wrath
is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” made
insecure (Proverbs 27:4). Here’s the thing. Jealousy resides in all our homes. The
question becomes: how do we tame jealousy in marriage? Jealousy remains tame when living in an environment
in which he feels safe and secure. So, create an environment of security by doing
Learn about your own insecurities. Each
of us has our own insecurities that we can cast onto the relationship from time
to time. If we view ourselves as unlovable, too fat, not smart enough, not good
enough or some other negative epitaph, we are setting the stage for jealousy to
go wild. Begin to work on yourself. Unload your own baggage. Learn to see yourself through the eyes of God.
Learn to accept yourself as having many good, lovable traits. Accept that there
are areas of growth for all of us and then begin to grow.
Build an environment of trust. Follow
through on promises. Develop a mindset that seeks to honor your spouse. Focus on
and admire those qualities that endear you to your spouse. Verbalize your
admiration and gratitude often.
Celebrate your love. Create
a daily ritual in which you sit down with your spouse to share your daily joys,
successes, sorrows, and shortcomings. Create
a weekly ritual in which you share a date with your spouse. You can go out or can
stay in for this date. Either way, dedicate the time of the date to your spouse—no
cell-phone, no interruptions…just you and your spouse.
These three practices will help you tame the dragon together…and enjoy your love.
One key factor promotes lasting relationships. What? At first I was surprised then curious…so I read on. They key factor promoting lasting relationships was confirmed by a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia. They had analyzed the data on “thousands of couples” involved in two large British surveys and the Gallup World Poll. After accounting the couples’ ages, gender, income, and health conditions, they “found” one key factor promoted lasting happiness marriages and relationships. One key factor! Specifically, happiest couples all said their significant other was their closest friend. In other words, having a deep friendship with your spouse increased happiness and life satisfaction (Read Science says lasting relationships rely on a key factor for more).
Other researchers have confirmed this finding. In particular, Dr. Gottman noted that the “determining factor in whether wives and husbands feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship!” That’s right, friendship in marriage even improves sex life! (Read Improve Your Sex Life…BEFORE You Hit the Sheets) Gottman even identifies the building blocks of friendship in marriage: building love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another to work as a team. So, if you want your spouse as a best friend and if you want happiness in a lasting marriage…
Enhance your love maps. A love map contains all the relevant information about our partner’s lives, from birthdays and anniversaries to greatest fears and dreams. It represents what we know about our spouse’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Of course, love maps needs constant updating as the experiences and feelings that make up our maps change as we go through life. So take time to talk with your spouse every day. Find out about their day, their challenges, their joys, their sorrows. Learn about them. If you’re stuck on how to do this, try the “20 question game” in this short article on love maps.
Sharing fondness and admiration builds friendship as well. Sharing fondness and admiration is a habit of mind in which a person identifies and verbalizes appreciation for their spouse on a daily basis. This may be as simple as saying “thank you” for what your spouse did during the day or as intimate as noting character traits that you admire in your spouse. You can make fondness and admiration a part of your marriage with a simple math equation (Don’t worry, it’s not new math!).
Turning toward your spouse rather than away involves responding positively to their requests for attention, affirmation, affection, or connection. Of course friendship grows when spouses respond to one another’s bids for connection on a regular basis rather than turning away. Gottman actually found that couples who turned toward one another 86% of the time remained married after a six year period whereas couples who divorced in that time period only turned toward one another 33% of the time. Responding to our spouse’s builds friendship. Turning away because of preoccupation, lack of concern, or just putting our energy elsewhere destroys friendship (Read RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family for more info on turning toward).
The one key factor in a happy, lasting marriage is friendship. If you want a happy, lasting marriage, keep nurturing the friendship you have with your spouse. Build that friendship by enhancing your love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning toward one another every day…starting today!
I am amazed at society’s obsessive search for a satisfying sex life. Well…I’m not surprised people want a great sex life; but I am surprised about the focus of that search for a great sex life. The main thrust of society’s search for a satisfying sex life remains focused on the physical aspects of sex—the technique, physical prowess, and self-awareness. Sure, these can help, but without a firm foundation to build upon, these superficial answers merely build a house of cards on shifting sand. In reality, research suggests a satisfying sex life is stimulated by aspects much deeper than physical prowess, techniques, or ability. The most satisfying sex life erupts from an intimate, emotional connection between two people committed to one another. In fact, a study out of George Mason University revealed that the more spouses appreciate each other’s strengths, the more satisfied they were with their relationship overall and their sex life in particular. They were also more committed and invested in their relationship. They experienced greater intimacy. Even more alluring, valuing a spouse’s strengths led the appreciated spouse to experience a greater sense of personal growth. Let me summarize these exciting results in a format that might more readily stimulate your appreciation of their implications. Appreciating your spouse’s strengths:
Leads to a more satisfying relationship overall,
Greater intimacy in general,
A greater commitment to and investment in the relationship,
A spouse who experiences the joy of personal growth, and yes,
A more satisfying sex life!
Hopefully, the provocative findings of this study arouse your latent desire to acknowledge and admire your spouse’s strengths. By doing so, you lay a firm foundation of intimacy and appreciation that will stimulate your sex life to blossom into a satisfying experience.
I have a friend who loves math. Me? …Not so much. But, I love this equation. It is practical and user friendly. Anyone can do it and the results are amazing.
Here it is: 10 X 32 + 1 = A More Intimate Marriage!
This formula will do wonders for your marriage. Let me explain each part.
Take 10 seconds
3 times a day (set an alarm on your phone as a reminder)
Each time write 3 positive things you admire about your spouse
At the end of the day, tell your spouse 1 of the things you wrote.
That’s it, the equation I love: 10 (seconds) X 32 (3 times/day X 3 positive things you admire) + 1 (admiration to tell your spouse).
By practicing this equation, you will keep positive thoughts about your spouse in mind throughout the day. By sharing your thought at the end of the day, you encourage your spouse. You also let your spouse know you admire them; and, you develop a habit of mind that will strengthen your marriage. Overall, you will find yourself in a marriage growing more intimate every day. Now that’s an equation I can love!
Healthy marriages provide an opportunity for us to return to the Garden of Eden and stand like Adam and Eve: naked and unafraid. I don’t mean just physically naked. I mean completely open and exposed to our partner—emotional, spiritually, and mentally naked before our partner and still unafraid. That is a vulnerable position; but, in a completely healthy marriage, we can stand before one another in this vulnerable open state and remain completely unafraid. This type of open relationship begins with a very important ingredient: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance stands in direct opposition to conditional acceptance. Radical acceptance communicates a complete willingness to love our spouse no matter what. Imagine with me what can happen if we add just a small condition to our willingness to accept our spouse.
This one condition raises doubt in our spouse’s mind. They will no longer feel completely safe to tell all and show all. A little bit of fear will enter the relationship—the fear that “I might do something to make my spouse love me less or even reject me.”
Your spouse will no longer feel completely secure in their relationship to you. Feelings of insecurity will arise.
Rather than risk rejection, your spouse will hide perceived faults and mistakes from you. After all, they don’t want to risk falling short of the conditions for acceptance. It becomes safer to keep faults and shortcomings secret.
That secret grows into a wall of secrecy. The only way your spouse can keep you from discovering their faults is to create a wall of secrecy to hide behind. You will no longer get to see your spouse completely. You will see and experience only those parts they feel safe exposing.
Your spouse will guard their heart. They will keep certain parts of themselves guarded, protected from possible rejection. There will be no full disclosure.
You will sense this change. Trust will decrease. Your spouse’s trust will decrease for fear of rejection. Your trust will decrease due to suspicions of some secrets.
The only way to remedy this downward spiral is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance accepts our spouse warts and all. Radical acceptance continues to love in spite of mistakes. Radical acceptance loves in the face of shortcomings. And, radical acceptance opens the door for change. You and your spouse can invest more energy in growing and becoming better people when you no longer have to invest energy in building a wall of secrecy and guarding your heart. You and your spouse will also desire to spend more energy in pleasing one another when you know you will receive radical acceptance…even when you make a mistake. How can you practice radical acceptance?
See your spouse through the eyes of God. Realize they are God’s workmanship, designed for His purpose. Any non-acceptance of your spouse is a non-acceptance of God and His work of art. Focus on your spouse’s God-given strengths and abilities.
Keep open lines of communication. Speak the truthin love. When must deal with difficult issues (and you will), do so in love. Speak only about one concern at a time rather than generalizing and throwing in the kitchen sink. This will be easier to do when you resolve differences quickly and keep no record of wrongs. Share the concern without accusation and offer a way to resolve it as well.
Focus on what you admire about your spouse. Admire and bless. Show gratitude and speak words of encouragement…every day!
Radical acceptance is a gift of grace we give our spouses and our spouses give to us. Radical acceptance is also a gift that keeps on giving. It gives a tremendous return of security, trust, and intimacy…the chance to stand before our spouse completely naked and completely unafraid!
Sometimes the best way to get something done is to go “old school on it.” Throw out the newfangled gadgets and just go old school. Drop the gizmos, the 140 letter limit, the memes, and the gif’s…just go old school. In fact, I think going old school could really strengthen your marriage. For instance, go old school and write your spouse a hand-written love letter. I know you could just send a text. But, a text is so short…and easy. It doesn’t send the send as meaningful of a message as a hand-written letter. A hand-written letter involves effort. You have to get the paper or pick out the perfect card. You have to spend the time to put pen to paper and write out your thoughts. Since it’s handwritten, you can’t rely on spellcheck to correct mistakes or edit mistakes with the simple tap of a back key. No, you have to think, write slowly and mindfully, and possibly even rewrite to refine your expression of emotion…to make it sound just right, the perfect confession of your love. Then you have to find an envelope and address it. You even have to put a stamp on it (yes, the post office still produces stamps). Then you have to walk it to the mail box and drop it in the mail. It takes time. But, doesn’t the investment of time better express the love you feel for your spouse?
Imagine your partner’s curiosity when she receives an envelope with a hand-written address on it. As she open it, the seed of curiosity sprouts into anticipation. Anticipation grows a bud of wonder as she sees a hand-written letter inside. Wonder blooms into joy and love as she reads a letter in your hand-writing that describes your undying love for her. Gratitude swells in her heart. “Awww…he’s so sweet.” The words slip from her lips as she holds the letter close to her chest and considers where she will keep it for all posterity (which you can’t do with a text, btw). You might even find a hug and your favorite dish waiting for you later that day.
There you have it. Intimacy nurtured and marital bliss enhanced…all because of the time and effort invested in a simple, old school, hand-written love letter. I have to say, that’s definitely a bigger bang than you can get for any 140-character text you might send!
PS—Of course the love letter can strengthen your marriage; but, did you know it could also help lower your cholesterol? That’s right. A study published in 2007 found that expressing affection for your loved ones in writing actually contributes to a decrease in cholesterol levels. In this study, participants wrote for 20 minutes on three occasions over a five week period to express affection and gratitude for their loved ones. The results: participants experienced a “statistically significant decrease in cholesterol levels” after only a five-week experience! Hand-writing a love letter will not only increase the love and intimacy in your marriage, but it may also improve your health so you can enjoy that intimate marriage even longer!
Kevin Leman published a book entitled Sex Begins in the Kitchen. (Read the review here.) It’s not really a book about sex. But, it does make an important point about sex—if you want to enjoy sexual intimacy with your spouse, start preparing outside the bedroom. I mean way outside the bedroom. In fact, the most enjoyable and satisfying sex life is firmly established on factors that, on first glance, seem totally unrelated to sex and the bedroom. Let me give a few examples.
A satisfying sex life is premised on responsiveness to your spouse’s needs and requests OUTSIDE the bedroom. This responsiveness will result in you serving your spouse. Taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, running the vacuum, and even cleaning the toilet become ways to respond to your spouse’s need for help and cleanliness. Responsiveness will also lead you to honor your spouse and her need for a break, his need to develop friendships, or her need to go out “with the girls.” You can learn more about the impact of this type of responsiveness on the quality of your intimacy by reading Increase Your Spouse’s Sexual Desire.
A high quality sex life is built upon communicating admiration and fondness for your spouse on a daily basis. You don’t have to plan some extravagant show of admiration, just simple statements like “you look nice,” “thanks for dinner…you’re a great cook,” “you do a nice job on the yard,” or “thank you, I like working by your side” show fondness and admiration. Simple shows of affection (like a hug, holding hands, or a kiss with no expectation of anything more) are nonverbal ways to show admiration for your spouse. These simple shows of fondness and admiration communicate love. They build trust. They let our spouse know we desire him or her. They create an atmosphere conducive to intimate sharing and abandoned trust.
An intimate sex life is enjoyed when we learn to accept invitations from our spouse to connect throughout the day. We offer up invitations of connection all the time. Some invitations are explicit; others are implicit. Questions like “Want to go for a walk” or “can we talk” are explicit, direct invitations to connect. But the day is filled with indirect, implicit invitations as well…like, “nice day, isn’t it?” or a gentle touch on the shoulder, a smile, or a sigh. Each of these statements, questions, or actions invite us to connect with our spouse. Each time we respond with genuine interest we stoke the fires of intimacy and open the doors for deeper relationships.
Take #3 a step further by connecting emotionally to really boost your sex life. We all want to “feel” understood. We want to be known at the deepest level, to be heard in the silence of our hearts. When we acknowledge our spouse’s emotions and let their emotions impact us, we connect more deeply. When we respond to our spouses based on their emotions they feel heard, valued, connected. Sharing emotional connection builds an intimacy outside the bedroom that carries over into the bedroom.
At first glance, these four factors may not seem directly related to our sex life. But, our sex life is built upon and premised on our daily words, actions, and interactions. It is an outgrowth of our intentional responsiveness, communications of admiration, and connections throughout the day.
Do you want to have a family filled with celebration and joyful intimacy? Start by becoming a straight “A” family. I’m not talking about grades. I’m talking about attitude. A truly happy
and healthy family exhibits four “A’s” in their attitude: Acceptance, Admiration, Appreciation, and Accountability. Don’t jump to any conclusions about your standing in these four “A’s.” Instead, take a moment to review the brief questions below to think about each of “A” and your family standing in relation to each one. You might find your family strong in each area. You might also find various areas where you would like to grow (I know I did).
Do you accept each other’s different taste in music, food, clothing, TV shows, etc.?
Do you take the time to learn about your spouse’s/children’s/parents’ interests, even if they are different than your own?
Do you allow your five-year-old to leave home after dressing themselves in non-matching clothes or do you have to re-dress them? How about allowing your teen to get the haircut or hair color they desire?
How do you let your spouse/children know you love them when you are angry or disappointed with their behavior or decision?
Do you avoid comparisons?
Name three things you admire about each of your parents.
Name three things you admire about your spouse.
Name three things you admire about each of your siblings.
What attribute have you most recently admired in your spouse/children/parent?
When did you last tell your spouse/children one thing you admire about them—today, yesterday, last week, last month? If it was last week or longer, better do it again.
How often do you say “thank you” when you ask your spouse or children to do something?
How do you mark the milestones and achievements of your spouse and children?
How do you acknowledge the strengths of your spouse/children?
Write down three different ways you can communicate appreciation to each family member?
How did you teach your children to do their currently assigned chores?
Do you practice the behaviors and values you want your family to emulate in areas of anger management, accepting responsibility for mistakes, apologizing, forgiving, politeness, etc.?
Name two consequences you have used in the last month with your children. How did these consequences specifically teach the values you want to pass on to your family?
I see some areas of personal need as I write these questions. Although I’m not too upset (after all, family is a place of constant growth), I better get to work in order to improve. That will set a good example of accountability for my family as well. I also see areas in which I believe I do fairly well. How about you?
I have two daughters, both in transition from the late teen years into young adulthood. I have some mixed feelings about this. They are wonderful young ladies and I love spending time with them; but they will soon leave home. Eventually, they will marry and begin their own families. Someone else will become the “man in their life.” This prospect excites me and frightens me at the same time. I have seen enough marriages to know that marriage can either give us a taste of heaven or drag us through the dregs of hell. It may sound extreme, but it’s true. A healthy marriage produces a happiness, confidence, and joy that will bring out the very best in both partners. An unhealthy marriage brings devastating pain and resentment. It eventually leads to the death of a family. Many couples come to my office experiencing the pain of an unhealthy marriage. An unbelievable number of these couples cannot even identify one couple they have witnessed as having a good marriage. They have no example of a healthy marriage in their life! I want my daughters to witness a good marriage. I want them to see a relationship between their mother (my wife) and me that reminds them of heaven. Specifically, I want my daughters to see and witness that…
A husband makes sacrifices for his wife. He makes those sacrifices joyfully from a heart of love and a true desire to bring goodness into his wife’s life.
A husband “only has eyes” for his wife. He has put aside all other women and made his wife the only woman for him. He is a “one-woman-man.”
A husband serves his wife. He loves to do things for her. Whether he cooks dinner, washes clothes, cleans toilets, or mows the grass, a husband loves to serve his wife.
A husband affirms his wife. He notices what she does for him and their family. He acknowledges and verbally appreciates all she does. He recognizes what a wonderful mother she is and tells her so.
A husband admires his wife. His eyes light up when she enters the room. He speaks words of his admiration directly to her and about her in public places. He defends his wife when their children disobey her.
A husband has deep affection for his wife. He hugs and kisses his wife. He walks with his wife, side by side and holding hands. He enjoys his time with her so much that he intentionally puts aside other tasks to spend time alone with her.
A husband supports his wife in reaching for her dreams. He encourages her every step of the way toward her dream. He rejoices in her achievements and accomplishments.
A husband share achievements and successes with his wife. She is the first person he turns to in his joy. He recognizes that his accomplishments are her accomplishments. He realizes that he could not have done what he did without her support, encouragement, and love. He also rejoices in her accomplishments. He takes pride in her achievements.
A husband turns toward his wife in sorrows and disappointments. He knows that she provides a comfort no one else can provide. He also provides comfort to her in her sorrows. Together they navigate the storms of this life by taking shelter in the comfort and support of one another.
A husband treats his wife with kindness and politeness. He speaks words of kindness and gratitude to her. His behavior is filled with deeds of kindness toward her.
A husband knows his wife. He listens intently to her words and actions to gain a better understanding of her interests, fears, and desires. Out of that knowledge, he adjusts his life to bring her greater happiness and security.
A husband has fun with his wife and family. He laughs with his wife. He enjoys playful interactions with his wife. He also knows when to stop a playful interaction because she is getting frustrated for whatever reason.
I hope my daughters have witnessed at least glimpses of these twelve traits in my marriage to their mother. I pray that someday they will experience these twelve traits in their own marriage. I pray all our sons and daughters will one day experience the bliss of a truly healthy marriage. And, I know the answer to that prayer begins with you and me, their parents and the marriage we live in full view of their ever inquisitive eyes.
John Gottman believes “91% of the time the ground is ripe for miscommunications” in a marriage. I don’t know about the percentage, but I know conflict and misunderstandings arise in every family. It is inevitable. But, have you notice that family conflict can go from bad to worse in no time? Grace gets thrown out the window and everyone involved begins to respond with anger, blame, accusations, and defensiveness. These responses lead to more anger, blame, accusations, and defensiveness. They may even result in withdrawal from the relationship and the death of a family. How can you avoid this terrible end? Respond with grace. Grace is an unmerited kindness, a favor given to someone even if they do not deserve it. When at least one person responds with grace, the outcome of the interaction will change. The people involved in the argument have a greater chance of connecting rather than pushing one another away. The argument has a greater chance of reaching a resolution. Let me share a baker’s dozen for responding with grace in the midst of troubled family relationships.
Rather than blaming the other person, look at your own contribution to the current situation (the log in your own eye).
Rather than making accusations, accept responsibility for your own actions and your own limited understanding.
Rather than responding with defensiveness, respond with curiosity about the feelings and emotions of the other person.
Rather than shutting down, communicate with the other person.
Rather than arguing and fighting, share a friendly conversation about something that interests the other person. If some topics lead to arguments, table them for another time.
Rather than assuming negative intent about the other person and their actions, look for the times they showed love. Assume positive intent—even in seemingly negative behavior.
Rather than trying to control the situation or the other person, pursue an understanding of the other person.
Rather than focus on the negative you perceive in the other, focus on what you admire and adore in them.
Rather than trying to make the other person change or “grow,” focus on your personal growth. You are only responsible for your personal growth.
Rather than criticizing and making accusations about the other person’s past or character, practice kindness…and give a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
Rather than making assumptions about the other person’s motives or intents, believe the best and simply ask what the other person wants.
Rather than speaking in sarcasm, speak in patience and love.
Rather than taking responsibility for the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and decision, take responsibility for yourself. You cannot make the other person happy—that is their personal responsibility. You cannot make decisions for the other person or determine how they will live—that is their personal responsibility. Let the other person take their responsibility and you take your responsibility.
Responding with grace in the midst of troubled family relationships will change, filling you with greater character and personal strength. It will change your relationship as well, filling it with greater joy and intimacy.