Tag Archive for marriage

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.

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.

Even If Your Spouse Doesn’t Know…

A study published in 2017 asked 175 newlywed couples to keep a two-week diary recording when they acted compassionately toward their spouse—when they voluntarily cared for their spouse, when they focused on understanding and genuine acceptance of their spouse’s needs and wishes, and when they warmly expressed a willingness to put their spouse’s goals ahead of their own.

After talking with the couples, researchers found that the spouse receiving the compassionate acts only benefited from those acts when they noticed them, when they recognized them. That’s not too surprising. We lose the benefit of getting something if we don’t recognize that we have received it.

However, the person performing the compassionate act benefited whether their spouse noticed the compassionate act or not. Did you catch that? The person performing the compassionate act experienced benefits even when their spouse did not realize they had been a recipient of kindness. When we show tenderness toward our spouses, we benefit whether our spouse notices the tenderness or not. When we change our plans to accommodate our spouses, we benefit even if our spouses don’t know we did it.

These findings remind me of a verse that describes love: “Love does not seek its own.” Love seeks the good of the one loved. Ironically, when we seek the good of our spouse, the one we love, we benefit even if they don’t know what we did. So, show your spouse compassion today, even if they never recognize it:

  • Do a chore around the house without being asked. Put away the clean clothes. Unload the dishwasher. Take out the garbage. Make the bed. Maybe your spouse will notice, maybe they won’t. But you’ll receive the benefit of knowing you served your spouse in love.
  • Sacrifice your desire to watch something so you can watch what your spouse wants to watch. Leave the last piece of pie or candy for your spouse. Prepare a meal they like, even if you don’t. Skip a night out with friends to enjoy a night in with your spouse. Maybe your spouse will notice the sacrifice, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the benefit of a happier spouse and the joy of knowing you have expressed your love through quiet sacrifice.
  • Give your spouse a backrub, even though you’re tired. Offer to get the groceries or prepare the meal while they rest once in a while. Maybe your spouse will acknowledge the service, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the knowledge that you just acted in love toward your spouse.
  • Express your love in words and actions every day, even if your spouse does not notice…even if they don’t reciprocate as often. You will enjoy the benefit of living out your love in word and deed, of knowing your spouse knows you love them.

“Love does not seek its own;” it seeks the good of the one loved. Show your spouse your love through your acts of tenderness and compassion, even if they don’t realize you’re doing it. You’ll be glad you did since acting compassionately is its own reward.

“She Made Me A Better Man”

I was only in my late twenties, and he had been married over 40 years. We stood together talking in the church vestibule. His wife had died several weeks ago. His tears of grief flowed freely as he spoke of her. One sentence in particular stood out for me as he spoke: “I’m a better person because of her. She made me a better man.”

As a young, single man I appreciated his sentiment, but I really didn’t understand the depth of his comment. Now, 30-some years later with a wife of 30 years, his words bring tears of recognition to my eyes.

In a healthy marriage, our spouses help us become better people, a better version of our selves. They help us gain more knowledge and develop greater character. In fact, if both spouses are not growing as individuals in their marriage, they begin to feel as though they’re “stuck in a rut” and bored.

Marriage encourages us to grow. As “me” becomes “we” and “mine” becomes “ours,” our character develops. To truly invest in “us” and “ours” means becoming less self-centered and more humble. Rather than doing only what I want, I must learn to take pleasure in doing what my spouse wants as well. We honor our spouse by learning about their interests and, on some level, participating in those interests with them. Inevitably, my spouse and I begin to blend our interests and ideas. …and so, we grow as individuals and as a couple.

We also learn from our spouses’ unique strengths. Our thoughtful spouse teaches us to be more thoughtful. Our organized spouse teaches us to be more organized (at least a little bit). Our humorous spouse teaches us to enjoy humor more. And so, we grow as an individual and as a couple.

Interestingly, couples who report feeling more growth as individuals and as a couple also report a more passionate love, greater relationship satisfaction, and stronger commitment. Each one has learned to value the contentment of their spouse and the health of their relationship “as more important than their own.” They have learned to “not only look out for their own personal interests but also the interests of others.” They report more physical affection, greater sexual desire, and less conflict. They have learned how to better resolve conflict. They have learned how to please their spouse. In other words, they have grown as an individual and as a couple.

Here is the takeaway. Dive into your marriage. Learn about your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s interests and dreams. Become involved in those interests and dreams. And invite your spouse into your interests and dreams. As you do, you and your marriage will grow.

Develop interests as a couple. Try new things together. Enjoy quality time with one another exploring new areas. As you do, you grow. Your spouse grows. Your relationship grows. Your marriage becomes more satisfying. And one day you will say: “I’m a better person because of my spouse. They make me a better person.”

Sweet Marital Moments That “Keep On” Giving

We all experience disagreements and arguments with our spouses. We probably even get irritated and agitated with them from time to time. Researchers in this study opened the door for such experiences by asking 154 middle-aged and older heterosexual married couples to have an intimate conversation about a “conflict in their relationship.” Can you imagine? “Have an argument about something you know you disagree about… and we’ll record you while you do.” Sounds like an invitation for trouble, doesn’t it? But researchers invited this trouble into the lab by asking couples to have this type of conversation in their presence every five years from 1989 to 2009. Trained coders observed all the videos to identify times the couple experienced moments of shared positive and negative emotions during the conflict conversation as well as positive synchrony. They witnessed these shared emotions and synchrony through nonverbal signs or unconscious “mirroring,” subtle facial expressions, head nods, smiles, leaning forward, tone of voice, body language, etc. The researchers also measured each person’s heart rate, recording times in which both partner’s heart rates slowed down or sped up simultaneously.

What did they discover? Couples who, even in conflict, shared positive moments of humor and affection and whose heart rates “beat as one” (speeding up or slowing down together) enjoyed better physical health over a 13-year period and were more likely to still be alive 30 years later. In other words, couples whose hearts literally “beat as one” and who could inject moments of humor and affection into their moments of conflict, lived longer, healthier lives. Isn’t that a wonderful gift to give your spouse?

This knowledge invites us to build a marital environment in which our hearts “beat as one” (aka—to become attuned) and an environment that will encourage mutual affection. You can do that by:

  1. Become a student of your spouse. Remain curious about your spouse, their world, and their thought life. Learn about your spouse’s day. Remain curious about their hopes and dreams as well as their worries and concerns. Enjoy conversations about their perspectives on the world around us. Learn something about your spouse every day.
  2. Sync your lives. Eat together. Go to bed together. Spend time each day talking together. Have a regular date night. Worship together. Sure, you will still have times you do things as an individual. But when you do things together you “sync your lives,” you get your hearts “beating as one.”
  3. Become your spouse’s number one fan. When I was in high school, I knew a woman who was our school’s number one fan. She knew the students and the teachers. She attended the school functions. And she only had good things to say about “her school” and “her kids.” Become your spouse’s number one fan. Learn all about them. Give voice to the things you admire about them. Have only good things to say about “your spouse” to other people. Praise them in public. Encourage them and thank them privately and in public. Let your spouse experience your adoration through your words and actions.
  4. Turn toward your spouse. When problems arise, turn toward your spouse for support and encouragement. And offer your spouse support and encouragement when difficulties arise in their lives. When times are good, turn toward your spouse to celebrate and enjoy.
  5. Dream together. Talk about your what would be your dream for 5-years, 10-years, even 15-years down the road. Start dreaming about your 25th or 30th anniversary when you get married…& don’t stop dreaming about it together. Talk about your dream vacation and plan how you might make it happen. Discuss your personal dreams and help one another achieve those dreams. Dream together and live toward your dreams.

These five ways you can create sweet marital moments that will help you and your spouse live a long, healthy life…and a happily married life. Once again, isn’t that a tremendous gift to give your spouse?

4 Surprising Things Happily Married Couples Do

Happy marriages don’t just happen. They develop between spouses who consistently engage in certain actions. In other words, happy marriages are cultivated by couples who actively nurture their marriage. With that in mind, here are 4 surprising ways happily married couples nurture their marriage.

  1. Happily married couples disagree and argue. They know that disagreements offer them an opportunity to learn more about one another. Disagreements and arguments open the door to the intimacy of knowing one another more deeply. So rather than defend, blame, and criticize, they respect, listen, and validate. In doing so, they learn that even their points of disagreement are times to cherish as they nurture a happier marriage.
  2. Happily married couples spend time alone. Sure, happily married couples spend a lot of time as a couple, but each spouse also spends time alone. We all need some “alone” time. Happily married couples enjoy that alone time. Each spouse has a confidence in their relationship that allows them to spend alone time to take care of themselves without fear of it damaging their relationship. As a result, they can purse hobbies and personal growth. They can come back from time alone refreshed and ready to pour themselves into their marriage in new and loving ways.
  3. Happily married couples accept one another’s influence. My friends once asked me to go out with them after work. I told them I had to “check with my wife.” You know what they said: “You’re whipped man.” And that is the most complimentary insult I’ve ever received. It means I allow my wife to influence me. It means my wife and her happiness are more important to me than a night out. It means my wife knows she has priority in my life. It means I accept her influence in my life. Do you accept the influence of your spouse?
  4. Happily married couples give it up for one another. In other words, spouses in a happy marriage sacrifice for one another. Every marriage demands some sacrifice. We sacrifice our unbridled freedom to commit to our spouse. We sacrifice time doing what we want in order to do things our spouse wants to do. We sacrifice the remote to watch a show our spouse wants to watch. We sacrifice the last piece of pie. We sacrifice…. You get the idea. From small sacrifices to grand sacrifices, happily married couples are willing to give it up for their spouse. No, they aren’t just willing, they are happy to give it up for their spouse to lift up their marriage. After all, they love their spouse.

Happily married couples do more than just these 4 things (like serve, honor, encourage, admire, etc.), but these are 4 rather surprising things happily married couples do. Do you?

Will You Take the 30-Day Clandestine Marriage Challenge?

You can support your spouse and your marriage in at least two ways. One, you can offer support in a very visible way. This way often involves receiving some acknowledgment or fanfare in return. Generally, the more fanfare the giver requires, the less appreciated the support.  Still, recognizing and acknowledging your spouse’s support will definitely strengthen your marriage.

But I want to focus on a second way to support your spouse—the invisible, clandestine way. Clandestine support often flies under the radar. It is done without your spouse asking for it. They may not even know you did it, even when they recognize it has been done. And clandestine support will often alleviate stress for your spouse. To me, the most beautiful aspect of clandestine support is the pleasant surprise I see on my spouse’s face when she recognizes what was done.

How can you offer clandestine support?

  • Do a chore that your spouse normally does. And do it without being asked.
  • Prepare your spouse’s favorite food.
  • Bring home a treat your spouse enjoys—flowers, candy, pie (that one’s in case my spouse reads this post).
  • Plan a night out for no special reason…and make it a surprise.

I’m sure you can think of more ideas. The point is to do it without being asked and with no expectation of any fanfare or recognition in return.  Then, enjoy your spouse’s delight and surprise when they recognize what has been done.

In fact, I want to challenge you to participate in a Clandestine Marriage Challenge. Complete as many clandestine acts of service for your spouse as you can over the next 30 days. While you do, pay attention to any changes you notice in your spouse, your marriage, and your children. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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