Tag Archive for intimacy

Legos…and Marriage?

The pastor who facilitated the wedding of my daughter and son-in-law offered a very insightful message to the young couple during the ceremony. I wanted to share part of his message with you because his message can help us all build a healthier, more intimate marriage.

The pastor began by telling the newlyweds (and those of us in attendance) that marriage is “kind of like” Legos. When we purchase a Lego set (like the Millennium Falcon), we swell with excitement. We can’t wait to see the completed spacecraft. But we do not purchase the completed spacecraft. Instead, we purchase a kit with all the little Lego pieces we need to complete the design ourselves. The kit also includes instructions telling us which piece goes where and the order in which the pieces go together. Of course, we’re excited to have the Lego set, but the greater joy comes as we follow the instructions and assemble the pieces. Then, when the design is complete, we put the finished product in a showcase for all to see.

The greatest joy, I believe, comes not so much in the finished product but in the process and anticipation of assembling the pieces. We witness the progress made. We admire how the pieces fit together. We enjoy the intricacies of the inner workings of the assembled pieces. We come to know the “in’s and out’s” of the project on a deep level and we admire those little things we learn about the Lego Millennium Falcon others might miss.

I’m sure you can see the analogy. Getting married is like buying a new Lego set. We are excited to start our new life together, our “project” of building a new life together. But, we don’t have a “finished marriage” at the end of our marital ceremony. We only have the kit with all the pieces and instructions we need to build a beautiful marriage. Now we can enjoy building our marriage. In fact, wherever you are on your marital journey, you can still enjoy the process of building your marriage into the final showpiece. Wise “marriage builders” follow the directions that lead to the best possible fit of the marital pieces—pieces of service, working as a team, mutual respect, resolving conflicts in love, mutual sacrifice, gratitude, thinking of your spouse not just yourself, adoring, admiring, etc. The greatest joy comes not in the finished product but in the continuing process of building, assembling, fitting together in love. Patience, perseverance, and attention are all involved in putting together a Lego masterpiece…and a marital masterpiece.

To my daughter and her husband, may you always remember to follow the instructions in building “the Lego set” of your marriage. May you learn from Legos to build your marriage with intention, patience, attentiveness, and wisdom. And may we all join you in that journey by doing the same in our own marriages as well.

“Two Wrongs Don’t….”

“Two wrongs don’t….” I’m sure you can finish that statement. I hear parents say it to their children all the time. Ok. Just in case, I’ll finish it. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You knew that, right? In fact, two wrongs usually just make it worse. Two wrongs add insult to injury. On the other hand, I often hear adults make statements that add wrong to wrong, insult to injury, in their marriages. For instance,

  • I’ll respect my husband when he starts respecting me.
  • I’m not cleaning again until he starts doing his part.
  • They ignore me to play on their phone, so I just play on my phone and ignore them.
  • I’ll listen to her when she starts listening to me.
  • I’ll do more around the house when she quits nagging.

Did you catch the irony? We tell our children that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but then we add wrong to wrong to prove a point to our spouses. Let me just say it, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” even in marriage.  Refusing to respect your spouse until you feel respected only makes things worse. Any time we add wrong to wrong we multiply the pain and add another brick to the wall separating us from our spouse.

Can I suggest a better response? It’s not the natural response or even an easy response. But it’s a response that opens the door to reconciliation and greater intimacy. I’m suggesting that you respond with grace. Give your spouse the good you don’t believe they deserve. Return a blessing for an insult, a positive for a negative, good for bad. Respond in grace.

  • When you feel disrespected, respond with respect.
  • When you feel your spouse is not doing their part in keeping the home clean, talk to them for sure…but keep on cleaning, without complaining, in the meantime.
  • If you feel ignored when your spouse plays on their phone, put your phone down and sit next to them. Put your arm around them.
  • If you feel as though your spouse is not listening to you, intentionally make the effort to listen to them, understand them, and respond to the things they say.
  • When you feel your spouse is constantly nagging, kindly, without complaint, take care of the things they are nagging you about.
  • If you’re feeling like your spouse never shows you physical affection, give them a morning and evening kiss and a hug throughout the day.
  • Respond with grace.

Why respond with grace? First and foremost, because doing so is an expression of love and you love your spouse. At least you did at one point. And responding with grace may spark that love anew.  Secondly, it opens the door to reconciliation and growing intimacy. Third, because “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but grace in response to a wrong creates the opportunity for change.

Don’t believe it? Give it a try and see if grace doesn’t change your marriage over the next month. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

2 Challenges Every Marriage Faces…& What to Do About Them

Every marriage faces challenges. I only want to discuss two of those challenges in this blog.  Both challenges naturally arise as a couple moves along their marital journey.

The first challenge involves busy-ness. Each person in the couple becomes busier at work, in the home, and in the community. Each one takes on more responsibilities and gets involved in more activities. Work promotions increase work demands. A bigger house requires more time in upkeep and maintenance. Children demand more time due to childcare needs and increased activities. Involvement in community groups often means more participation in meetings, planning, and activities. Even church involvement can result in more responsibilities and busy-ness. This busy-ness can begin to interfere with couple time. It can start to pull each person in a different direction, straining the intimacy of the couple.

The second challenge occurs as each person becomes more comfortable with their spouse. They may begin to take less notice of their spouse’s contributions to their home and their marriage. What used to come across as important contributions becomes mere expectations that go unnoticed unless they’re not complete. In addition, each person often fails to spend as much time trying to “impress” their spouse once they have been married for a while. They might wear sweats more often than attractive outfits. Socks get left on the floor and dirty dishes are scattered throughout the living areas. The house gets slightly more unkempt as the schedules get busier. Niceties and politeness begin to slip while expectations and demands begin to rise. In other words, we begin to take one another for granted.

A third challenge that exacerbates the first two challenges involves our growing “affection” for our cell phones. On average, adults spend about 4 hours a day on their phone. This is 4 hours taken away from dedicated time with our spouse.

These challenges, though, present opportunities for strengthening your marriage if responded to wisely and intentionally. Here are 3 ways to respond to these challenges and strengthen your marriage.

  • Intentionally set aside time together as a couple. John Gottman suggests the “magic 5 hours” to create time together with your spouse (you can learn about the “magic 5 hours” here). I want to emphasize three daily times to create space for togetherness with your spouse. One, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each morning. Then spend a few minutes talking about your plans for the day.  Two, give your spouse a hug and a kiss each night before bed. Tell them you love them. Spend a few minutes talking about your days. Three, set aside 20 minutes each day for uninterrupted conversation with your spouse. Use this conversation to talk about things that will nurture the intimacy in your marriage, not daily plans but dreams and things you admire about one another.
  • Intentionally look for aspects of your spouse that you admire and adore. Then intentionally take the time to tell them what you admire about them. Intentionally seek out opportunities to thank your spouse and compliment your spouse. Make it a habit to do this every day, multiple times a day.
  • Intentionally set aside your phone at times to spend quality time with your spouse. Create “tech-free” zones and “tech-free” times in which you focus on your spouse and your relationship. (Learn more in Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes Even for Parents, My Cell Phone Is Ripping Me Off, and Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You.)

These challenges naturally arise in any marriage. Don’t let them sap your marriage of love and intimacy. Use them to intentionally nurture love and intimacy with your spouse. You’ll both be glad you did.

Husbands, Reduce Your Wife’s Stress for a Better Life

Let’s face it, guys. Most of us want our wives to feel less stressed. And, chances are, we’d do almost anything to help alleviate our wives’ stress. It makes for a calmer home. After all, “happy wife, happy life,” right?

You can imagine, then, how pleased I was to discover this simple, enjoyable way to reduce my wife’s stress. Researchers from Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany confirmed the efficacy of this stress reducing activity in a study involving 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants engaged in a stress-inducing test by keeping one hand in a bath of ice water for 3-minutes while maintaining “eye contact with a camera.”   Half the couples were instructed to embrace one another before the ice water hand soaking. The other half did not embrace one another.

Lo and behold, women who embraced their romantic partner prior to the “stress-inducing experience” had a lower biological stress response than those couples who did not embrace. They had a lower cortisol stress response. Ironically, this did not happen for the men, only for women.

I thought perhaps this was a fluke. So I looked around a little more and found another study that involved women anticipating a “small electric shock.” (I know, who volunteers to receive a “small electric shock”?) Anyway, this study found similar results. When a women held the hand of her husband, she perceived less stress while anticipating the shock than one who held the hand of a stranger. And the happier the marriage, the more stress relief the women felt while holding their husband’s hands. The more love, the happier the marriage, the less stress…a good reason to build a strong, loving marriage. There you have it—less of a biological stress response and less perceived stress. If you want a wife with less stress, a happier wife contributing to a happier family life, give her a hug. Even better give her multiple hugs a day. Hold her hand. Show her physical affection often. It’s simple. It’s enjoyable. And it will lead to a more stress-free wife. What a wonderful expression of love and a wonderful gift to give your wife.

Mighty Little Deeds of… Kindness?

Kindness is powerful. Even more powerful because it appears so meek, wrapped in the common, unassuming actions that even a child can perform. A polite response. A genuine show of gratitude. An offer to help.

The simplicity of the act tempts us to disregard its power. After all, anyone could do it. Hold a door open for someone. Pass the vegetables. Pour a glass of tea for someone.

Still, however unassuming and inconsequential an act of kindness might appear, it remains a powerful force. Simple acts of kindness reveal the giver’s humility and willingness to give of their time and energy graciously and humbly in service to another. Who doesn’t like a humble person who graciously offers an act of kindness like taking out the trash or helping to carry the groceries?

Kindness also communicates the inherent value of the recipient. It acknowledges the recipient as worthy of the time and energy sacrificed to offer them a kindness. Sharing a cup of water or a meal. Letting the other guy have the parking space.

Kindness unveils the beauty of both the giver and the receiver. The giver in their benevolence and generosity. The receiver in their kind response of gratitude and appreciation. A simple “thank you” or a smile with a friendly wink of the eye.

Yes, kindness is powerful. Kind acts lift the spirits of both the giver and the receiver. These mighty little deeds promote connection between people. They inspire us to act in kindness to the next person we meet. They restore our faith in humankind.

These mighty little deeds of kindness can build a stronger marriage, a safer community, a healthier world. In recognizing the power of those mighty little deeds of kindness, I have to ask you a question. What mighty little deeds of kindness will you give your family today?

Go Ahead, Sweat the Small Stuff

I know we’re told to not sweat the small stuff. And sometimes that is absolutely correct. But, when it comes to marriage, better start sweating the small stuff. In fact, sweating the small stuff might just save your marriage. For instance, imagine your wife asked you to wash the dishes and you forget. No big deal if it happens once in a while. It’s small stuff. Still, when your wife gets up the next morning to a sink full of dirty dishes, she will feel ignored, invalidated, and unimportant. You didn’t mean any of that. It was a simple mistake. What if this “forgetting” becomes an habitual pattern? She may begin to feel like you forget those small, inconsequential requests “all the time.”  Not on purpose, mind you. You just have other things on your mind—important things like work, the game, an outing with the guys, rest. (Wait a minute… “important things”? Things more important than your wife?)  

Each time you forget to do the small stuff, you drop another pebble into your wife’s emotional shoes—a pebble of feeling ignored, unimportant, and invalidated. Every night she takes those small, inconsequential moments turned irritating pebbles and throws them in the corner with the others. Each night, the pile grows higher and higher. Pebbles of resentment turn into mountains of bitterness all made up of the small stuff like unfulfilled promises & forgotten request. Soon, your wife is being crushed by an avalanche of despair and hurt set off by just one more small request and promise unfulfilled. As she lay under the rubble of habitual small stuff ignored, she knows her marriage is dead…and she weeps. Don’t get me wrong. The same process can occur when a wife lets the “small stuff” go.

Either way, the small stuff can make or break your marriage. Small stuff, like showing appreciation, responding to requests, following through on little promises, showing gratitude, hugs, remaining polite, expressing adoration….. All small stuff when taken one by one. But compounding over time, they will make or break your marriage.

My advice? Go ahead, sweat the small stuff. It can save your marriage.

2 Questions for More Satisfying Sexual Intimacy

Do you want to enjoy a more satisfying sex life in your marriage? Don’t answer that question…it’s a silly question. Every married couple wants a satisfying sex life. So, let me just get to the point. Here are 2 simple questions that, if asked sincerely and openly, will enhance the pleasures of sexual intimacy in your marriage.

First, ask yourself, “If I were my spouse, what would I __(Fill in the Blank)   ?”  Okay you caught me. The first question is really several questions rolled into one prompt: If I were my spouse, what would I want to see? What would I want to hear? What would I want to feel? These questions encourage empathy and perspective taking. They encourage us to consider our spouse’s likes and dislikes. What would lead to greater enjoyment for them?

This group of questions will also help reduce our self-centered desires for personal satisfaction. They strike at our self-centeredness and place our focus on our spouse and our marriage. After all, to paraphrase Paul’s writing to Philippians, we are called to “not only watch out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of our spouse.”  Ironically, when we concern ourselves with our spouse’s pleasure and satisfaction, we will find our pleasure and satisfaction grow as well.

Second, if you don’t know the answer to the first question, and even if you think you do, ask your spouse. Make sure you know what they want. Don’t assume they want what you want or what you think they “probably want.” In other words, communicate. Talk about what you and your spouse like in regards to sexual intimacy. Discuss ways you can bring greater sexual satisfaction to both of you.

An important aspect of this conversation is to make sure both partners feel comfortable enough to voice any activities with which they are not comfortable or that interfere with their satisfaction and joy of intimacy. So, listen. Accept your spouse’s answers. Allow their answers to influence your actions.  

Two simple questions. One to ask yourself and one to ask your spouse. Two questions to nurture a greater sexual satisfaction to your marriage. Enjoy.

Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

2-Week Family Challenge: Only Honor

An interesting study published in 2002 revealed that ruminating or venting about an offense increased feelings of anger and aggression. Distraction, on the other hand, led to decreased anger and aggression. In terms of family, rumination and venting about family frustrations will interfere with a healthy, happy family life. With this in mind, I want to suggest a 2-week family challenge that can improve your family relationships by decreasing rumination and venting. Put simply, this is a 2-week family challenge involves only honor.

First, honor your spouse, your children, and your parents in your thoughts, words, and actions. Only honor them. Say nothing negative or derogatory about any of them, either to them or about them to someone else. Instead, focus only on honoring them with words of encouragement, gratitude, and compliment. Honor them with acts of service. Honor them with thoughts of love.

Of course, differences will arise. You may feel frustration or annoyance at your family member. When you do, honor them by intentionally thinking about positive interactions you have had with them in the past. Rather than vent or ruminate on the negative, honor them by recalling how they support you, your family, and your home. Honor them by expressing admiration for the character traits you see in them and appreciate about them. Honor them with gratitude and encouragement. Honor them with an act of service. In other words, rather than focus on the frustration, focus only on honor.

If a situation arises in which you need to address a legitimate concern or a problem behavior (which will occur), find a way to address that concern with honor. This will require you to address their behavior rather than their character. It will mean honoring them enough to hold the assumption that the problem behavior is not reflective of their better character and was not engaged in maliciously. It will mean honoring them enough to listen if they offer an explanation. Addressing the problem behavior with honor means believing they will attempt to grow and change for the better. Honor them enough to address the problem behavior with the motivation of improving or restoring the relationship rather than blaming or accusing.

I call this a challenge because in our world we tend to move right to venting our anger or ruminating about the other person’s wrong. This 2-week challenge encourages you to move away from the patterns of blame and self-promotion to focus on honoring those in your family and the relationship you have with them.

If 2-weeks sounds too easy, make it a 30-day challenge. In fact, 30-days would prove even more effective. You might like the results so much that you want to extend it and make it a lifestyle, not just a temporary challenge. And, in all reality, the rewards of making this challenge a lifestyle are amazing.

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