Life seems stressed these days,
doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress.
Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church
demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact
our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a
result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.
But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.
Although not part of the study, I
believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one
another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one
we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are
massaging (our partner). Massage reduces
stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In
addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection.
Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and
appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to
give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven
of relaxation and intimacy. Enjoy!
My friend sent me a…well, rather surprising news article from CNN (I spared you this article to avoid pictures of the golfers). How do I describe it? Let me just ask…Did you know the “Wandering Bares” just had a nude golf event in Australia? Well, not completely nude…they did wear shoes to protect their feet and hats to protect their hairline from the sun. If that’s not enough, the 11th Annual “World Naked Bike Ride” was held on June 23 this year (2018). That’s right, 11th annual! I discovered “naturists” promote nude volleyball, tennis, and trail running as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to participate in any sport nude…especially in public. There is only one place I want to stand “naked and unafraid.” That is in the presence of my spouse. Only in marriage can we truly stand before one another “naked and unafraid.” Even that proves difficult enough! Maybe I better explain that a little more.
“Naked and unafraid” with our spouse involves an intimacy much deeper than simple physical nudity. Standing before our spouse “naked and unafraid” is not simply standing physically nude but being present with our spouse in complete emotional vulnerability, mental transparency, and spiritual acceptance. The freedom to stand before each other emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked yet unafraid” flows from mutual acceptance, warts and all. It demands a shared commitment to live our lives as one. How do we develop the sense of acceptance, commitment, and intimacy that will allow us to stand with our spouse emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically “naked and unafraid”? Here are some tips.
Commit to your marriage and your spouse. Assure your spouse that you “only have eyes for” them. Stick with them in the good times and the bad. Share the joys and the sorrows. Also, look to the future you will share together. Do you have infants? Talk about your shared future as parents of teens. Do you have teens? Talk about your future together in the “empty nest.” Do you have young adult children? Talk about how you will grandparent together. Do you have a dream vacation? Plan to take it in the next five years. You get the idea. Look to the future and plan your future together.
Share your dreams with one another. Even more, support one another’s dreams. Learn about those things that interest your spouse and grow with them in those areas of interest. This also adds to the idea of committing to your spouse “for the long run.”
Show your spouse unconditional acceptance. Take time to admire the traits you love in your spouse. When you have disagreements, reaffirm your love. When you discuss those little irritations, let your spouse know how much you love them anyway.
Share your ideas with one another. Talk with your spouse about a book you’re reading. Discuss the politics of the day with your spouse. Share an inspiring verse or a lesson learned. Become mentally transparent before your spouse.
Share your fears and your joys with your spouse. Become emotionally vulnerable. Talk to your spouse about the movie that “brought tears to your eyes” (yes guys, I’m even talking about us) and the act of kindness from the random stranger that “touched you.” Express your frustration over the injustices you witness or read about in the news. Don’t forget to share stories of joy and inspiration as well—the gift that made you “so happy,” or the love that changed you. In other words, become emotionally vulnerable before your spouse. After all, you know they offer you unconditional acceptance (see #3).
When we do these things, we will find ourselves standing before our spouses emotionally vulnerable, mentally transparent, spiritually united…and unafraid. We will find ourselves “naked and unafraid.” I long for that intimacy with my spouse. Don’t you? BUT, you still won’t find me playing golf (or any other sport for that matter) in the nude…and we’re all glad about that!
The Journal of Consumer Research published a series of studies drawing participants from Italy and the United States. They discovered that U.S. citizens associated busyness with status. We tend to view people as important when they skip leisure and work all the time, even complaining they “have no life” because of work or desperately “need a vacation” but are too busy to take one (Lack of leisure: Is busyness the new status symbol?). Unfortunately, this mindset is deadly to a healthy marriage and family. In fact, according to a Baylor University study in 2016 the best predictor of happiness within families was spending time together engaged in familiar leisure activities (Pleasant family leisure at home may satisfy families more than fun together elsewhere, study finds). As overwork and busyness have become status symbols, we have become enslaved to the slave driver of our cultural frenzy. But familiar leisure time at home promotes family happiness, not constant running and busyness. This presents a “bit of conundrum,” doesn’t it? Ah, but I have a solution, an ancient solution that we often overlook when considering our marriages. A healthy marriage needs rest, not just any rest but a Marital Sabbath Rest. A Marital Sabbath Rest will help us experience the rhythm of God in our marriages, a rhythm that invites us to look forward to reigniting our love together, savoring our connection in the moment, and remembering who we are as couples. A Marital Sabbath Rest will restore God’s freedom from the slave drivers that compel us to overwork so we can experience the gift of freedom to worship and rest. A Marital Sabbath will refocus our perspective on our delight for our spouses. It will allow us the time to “re-create” and revitalize the unity God has given us in marriage. Status will not give a lifetime of joy; a happy marriage will. We need a Marital Sabbath Rest to restore that knowledge. To incorporate a Martial Sabbath Rest into your marriage:
Set time aside for you and your spouse. Develop a simply ritual to separate your Marital Sabbath Rest from the rest of the week. The ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle or eating a meal together. Just establish the activity as one that signals the change from “regular time” to “Marital Sabbath Rest time.”
Acknowledge, adore, and admire. Begin your Marital Sabbath Rest by acknowledging your spouse. Recognize and thank your spouse for their investment in your marriage and your home. Tell them one or two things you admire about them. Let them know a couple of things you adore about them. This can also serve as part of the ritual separating the Marital Sabbath Rest from the rest of the week.
Enjoy a meal together. During your meal, enjoy conversation. Save conversation you know will lead to heated disagreement for another time and enjoy friendly, fun-filled conversation with one another. Speak to one another as friends and lovers. Recall times of celebrations. Discuss dreams and anticipate future fun. Share your meals.
Play. Stop working to accomplish something and simply enjoy your time together. Don’t worry about time; savor the “eternal moment” of play and love. Forget about productivity and just enjoy God’s gift of your spouse and your marriage.
Rest. Take a walk. Sit on the porch. Listen to some music. Relax. Go to bed a little early and enjoy your spouse. This is a time to relish in your relationship and savor the intimacy that culminates from a day of enjoying one another.
I know enjoying a Marital Sabbath Rest takes a little preparation and effort. However, the dividends are amazing—a greater peace, a growing sense of security, an increasing joy, and a deepening intimacy.
Did you know smell is one of our strongest memory inducers? It’s true. Think about it. Have you ever had a scent tickle your olfactory and find yourself transported back to high school in an instant? Or caught the whiff of a passing aroma that reminded you of your spouse…or a grandparent? (Not that your spouse smell like your grandparent…I mean, it’s ok if they do…but…oh, it’s just an example….You know what I mean.) Do you remember the smell of your grandparent’s home? (Whew, good save?) Scents hold our memories securely in their aura. They do more than trigger memories. Scents can also lower stress. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found the scent of our “romantic partner” helps lower stress. They randomly assigned women involved in opposite sex relationships to one of three groups. The women in one group wore a T-shirt previously worn by a stranger. Those in the second group wore a T-shirt previously unworn and those in the third group wore a T-shirt previously worn by their husbands. None of the women knew which group they were in. All the women then went through a stressful mock interview and completed a stressful mental math task. Results?
Those who wore a shirt exuding a stranger’s scent were the most stressed and had the highest levels of cortisol (stress hormone).
Those who wore the shirt releasing their husband’s scent had the lowest stress level and lowest cortisol levels.
If the women recognized their husband’s scent on the shirt, their cortisol levels were even lower, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of their husband’s scent was strongest when they recognized his “aromatic essence.”
With this in mind, you can use the power of smell to enhance your marriage. For instance, the scent of your spouse can trigger positive memories when you wear your spouse’s favorite perfume or after shave on a date.
If your spouse is away on a trip, take a whiff of his/her shirt. It may ease the longings and reduce the stress of missing them. (Just hope you don’t find the same disheartening result as Ty Burrell in the Gain commercial.)
When you have a particularly stressful event, take a moment to recall your spouse…and their aroma. You might just experience a reduction in stress.
Oh the power of a scent! Enjoy the aromatic aura of your spouse…and enjoy less stress.
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 just had to tell you about this study. It really is a great study and can benefit your marriage a great deal. Researchers at McGill University explored the possible link between engaging in regular sex and memory. They asked 78 young women between 18- and 29-years-old about their sex life and then gave them memory tests involving facial recognition and verbal recall. The results: women who had more frequent sex had significantly better scores on the verbal memory tests. In other words, regular sex was associated with better memory in verbal areas (not so much for facial recognition). (Read more about this study in Sex on the Brain). A similar study involving men is currently in process and seems to be leaning toward similar results. Regular sex is associated with better memory.
The authors suggest that making love may benefit the participant’s memory in a number of possible ways.
It may boost the level of neurotransmitters in the brain which, in turn, supports new brain cell growth in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a brain structure important for memory.
It involves exercise; and exercise promotes new brain cell growth in the hippocampus as well.
It increases blood flow to the brain, which also supports new brain cell growth.
Interestingly, previous studies have also found an association between regular sex and lower risk of dementia. In other words, making love to your spouse could help you both increase memory and stave off dementia.
So, I figure we may have found this year’s New Year’s resolution, one you and your spouse can enjoy while enhancing your memory and helping to shield one another from dementia. Enjoy regular times of physical intimacy and love making. Only one caveat to remember: making love is more than just jumping in the sack. It all begins in the kitchen (Read Improve Your Sex Life…Before You Hit the Sheets and Forget the Flowers & Do the Dishes for more on starting in the kitchen).
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.
A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Read Article Abstract Here) revealed a simple way to increase your spouse’s sexual desire for you…and you can do it anywhere! Here it is: the secret to increasing your spouse’s sexual desire for
you. You can increase your spouse’s sexual desire for you by being responsive to them outside the bedroom. The authors of this study exposed their findings after having 100 heterosexual couples keep a 6-week diary recording their own sexual desires and the responsiveness of their partner outside the bedroom. Responsiveness emerged as a key factor in maintaining sexual desire over time. Responsiveness to our spouses reveals a deep concern for their welfare and an awareness of what they really care about. It exhibits a willingness to invest emotionally and mentally in the relationship, making the relationship feel special, unique. When you respond to your spouse’s wants and desires, you also communicate his/her special value in your life. All in all, this leads to increased sexual desire. And guys, the effect was bigger for women. So, the more responsive you are to your wife’s wants and needs outside the bedroom, the greater sexual desire she will feel. Need I say more?
Revlon commissioned a study in 2015 and partnered with Fordham University to complete it. This study recruited 710 women to follow a “daily beauty ritual” and report its impact on their love life. The “daily beauty ritual” included looking into a mirror while applying a fragrance, applying eye make-up, enjoying a chocolate, applying lipstick, taking a deep breath, and smiling. (My favorite parts are enjoying a chocolate and smiling.) After four days:
97% of the women felt a positive change in themselves
77% of the women felt more outgoing and social
74% of the women were more likely to flirt
71% of the women reported wanting more romance
65% of the women noticed an increase in compliments from their partner
60% of the women said their partner was more affectionate toward them
58% of the women said their partner was more romantic
56% of the women felt that others, including their partner, flirted with them more
Overall, this study seems to suggest that a daily beauty ritual charges their internal and external environment in a way that increases the likelihood of romance and intimacy. I have to admit, I have reservations (and questions) about this study and its validity; but, it does make a good point. You can deepen intimacy and heighten romance in your marriage by intentionally taking care of yourself and “looking your best” for your spouse. Taking care of your self—dabbing on some make-up, enjoying a small treat, putting on nice clothes, exercise—enhances feelings of confidence and competence. It makes us feel better about ourselves and we express that confidence in our actions and our interactions. Even more, when we take care of ourselves for our partner—putting on clothes to look nice for them, looking our best with them in mind—we also express how much we value them and their attention. Let’s face it…that is romantic! We find it romantic when our spouse thinks about our desires and our ideas. So, if you want to deepen intimacy with your spouse, take care of yourself. If you want to heighten the romance, take care of yourself with the tastes of your spouse in mind. And, most important, enjoy the romance.
Want more positive interactions in your marriage? Become more spiritual! That’s the findings of a research team from Bowling Green University. They explored the connection between spirituality and marriage in a study involving 164 heterosexual couples having their first child (click here for full article). The members of the research team defined “spirituality” as the “disclosure of one’s journey, questions, and doubts” to a spouse who “offered non-judgmental support when receiving the disclosure.” The results suggest that couples who report more spiritual intimacy also exhibit more positive behaviors and fewer negative behaviors toward one another, even in the midst of high conflict discussions. Perceived spiritual intimacy motivates couple to remain kind and increases their desire to preserve and protect their spouse and marriage. This study also found that those who view their marriage as sacred—as eternal and holy, reflective of God’s intentions—experienced more positive marital interactions as well.
So, we ask again: do you want a marriage with more positive interactions, even in the midst of conflict? Become more spiritual…and here are 4 ways to help you do this.
Consider how your marriage reflects God’s intentions. For instance, Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. The opportunity to serve your spouse represents an opportunity to reflect the servanthood of Christ as described in Philippians 2. There are more to consider…like 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 4:25-29, Colossians 3:12-17. Reflect on how your marriage reveals God’s intention.
Share your life’s journey with your spouse. Recognize that life is a journey for all of us. Like any journey or adventure, our life’s journey is more enjoyable when shared with another. Share it with your spouse. And spouses, listen to that journey. Allow yourself to recognize the miracle inherent in your spouse’s story. Sharing our journey and standing in awe of the miracle of that journey will increase respect and intimacy in ways you never imagined.
Accept your spouse where they walk in their journey. We are all in different points on the journey. We all have doubts and questions. Listen to your spouse’s doubts and questions. Accept those doubts and questions and join your spouse in his or her struggle with them. Enjoy the intimacy that grows from exploring those doubts and questions. You might be surprised at how much your intimacy grows through the struggle.
Recognize the sacredness of your marriage. When you married your spouse, you set your relationship apart as sacred. Your relationship with your spouse is holy, a step above all other earthly relationships. You set your marriage apart as the place to share your deepest joys and your most profound sorrows. Your marriage is a place set apart to share your greatest creative work, the raising of children. In marriage you ordain your relationship as the place of personal growth, a place of sacrificial giving, a place of dying to yourself in order to promote your spouse’s growth. Marriage truly is a most sacred place.
Consider how your marriage reflects God. Share your life’s journey with your spouse. Accept your spouse’s journey. Recognize the sacredness of your marriage. Take time to do these four things and you will experience greater intimacy, more positive interactions, and more joy in your marriage. (And, might I say a more satisfying sexual relationship? Yes, I think I will! You will experience a Sacred Sex, as Tim Alan Gardner so aptly names it.)