Talking to Your Spouse About Finances

Time is Money
When couples are asked to list the things that cause stress in their marriages, money always comes up in the top five. There is something about money that causes issues for people no matter what their marital status. Add another person who you share your earnings with and now you have a major source of discussion and debate. What is it about money in a marriage that causes so much stress? And, how do you begin to talk with your spouse about money in a way that both partners understand one another and can move forward together?

Start with You
When it comes to talking about money, it is important to have a handle on your own triggers, goals, and ideas on how to manage it. Before you talk to your spouse about money ask yourself: How do I feel about budgeting our money? What things do I typically spend money on that I could eliminate if need be? What are my goals for our money? Are those goals realistic? Or, are those goals built around my own agenda for what I want?

Consider Your Spouse
Once you have had a chance to wrestle down your own thoughts and feelings about money, it is important to begin to think about your spouse and how he/she views money. Does your spouse share your views on money? In what ways would my money habits cause my spouse anxiety? How good of a job do you do of communicating about money to each other? Where would my spouse say I mishandle our money? The more you understand where your spouse is coming from the better your conversation about money will be. Like other areas of your marriage, understanding your spouses perspective will go a long way to avoiding blow ups and conflict when it comes to discussing money.

Sit Down and Talk Together
Once you have both prepared yourselves by understanding your own views on money and what you think your spouses’ views are, set aside some time to talk about your finances together. Start with a word of prayer together to set the tone for your discussion. Invite the Lord into your conversation and pray for His wisdom on how you handle your finances. Then begin to talk about your finances together. As you discuss these things do the following:

1.
This is not a business negotiation: Don’t treat your spouse as an opponent to out negotiate to get what you want. Instead, you need to see your spouse as a partner who has an equal share in what you do with your finances.

2.
Come with what you will give up: Instead of defending your spending habits, each of you come with things you are willing to give or cut back for the sake of the budget. That will keep either of you from digging in and not compromising together.

3.
Keep the good of the family in the long run ahead of what you might not get in the short run: This is about planning for your future together which means some sacrifice is inevitable.

4.
Remember to honor your spouse in the conversation: This discussion is about your future together. Don’t belittle or dishonor your spouse in the process of having this conversation. If at any time you find that you are getting mad at each other or going to name calling, quit and come back to it later. If you feel you can’t over come your impasse, ask for help from a mentor couple or someone at your church. You never want money to become an issue that comes between you.

Talking about money can be difficult but it can also be a bonding experience if you are willing to hang in there and see it as an opportunity to get on the same page and have the same goals together. There will always be times where you will not agree 100% but how you handle those times of disagreement could help you grow closer together.
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Modeling a Healthy Marriage For Our Kids

Family
Marriage can be hard enough without the addition of kids. Take two people who are naturally selfish each with a crazy schedule. Add a schedule for each kid including school, homework, and other activities. Then add all of the issues that come from raising kids including discipline, chores, hygiene, etc and you have the makings of a time-starved marriage. Many couples handle the chaos by resolving themselves to the fact that they are just not going to have much of a married relationship, never mind dating and romance. They figure that once the kids are old enough to be on their own, they will somehow rekindle the romance and pick up where they left off before the kids came into the picture. The problem is, most couples who have this perspective, wake up one day and realize they don’t really know the person sleeping next to them. With no effort put into the relationship they are left with a partnership instead of a marriage. Not only does that type of marriage hurt the couple, it also models for their kids what marriage is all about for good or bad. So how does a couple keep the marriage going while dealing with changes that happen in a home with kids?

Make Time a Priority
First, we need to make time together a priority. One of the biggest relational issues I have found in surveying couples at Saddleback Church is time. In fact time is usually second to communication which can’t happen if you don’t have time! Now your time together may be different than it used to be, but you need to make it a priority if you are to stay connected to one another. Not making time together a priority tells your kids that marriage is not really that important and there really is no work to it. So what do you do to make time for one another? Instead of dividing and conquering all the time, make it a point to ride together to pick up the kids or drop them off at the next event. During those events grab a cup of coffee or hang out together. Another opportunity is when the kids go to bed (make it early) or while the kids are in school. Find those moments where you can connect. There is wasted time you could definitely utilize!

Protect Your Time
Second, let your kids know that mommy and daddy need their time together. Your kids need to learn what a healthy marriage looks like and the only way they will learn is by observing how important that relationship is to you and how you model it for them. If you only exist together, your kids will learn that marriage is about sharing resources. If your only interaction is arguments or disagreements, they will learn that marriage is about winning. If they see no romance in your relationship or love for one another they may actually learn that marriage destroys relationships instead of being one of the most intimate of all relationships. You get the point. Model the marriage you would want your kids to have so they have a chance at having it. Otherwise, they won’t have the skills or the background to know how to have a healthy marriage.

Grow Your Marriage
Third, make marriage enrichment a priority. There are plenty of marriage enrichment activities you can plug into and there are more resources in the area of marriage than at any other time. If you don’t work on your relationship your relationship will not grow, in fact it will go backward. Plus modeling for your kids that you actually take the time to learn how to love one another better is a lesson that every parent would want for their kids.

Connect Spiritually Together
Finally, make time to grow spiritually together. Those who are followers of Jesus Christ know that sharing together what you are learning through time in scripture and prayer is an important part of building a strong marriage. It doesn’t have to be difficult. It could involve talking about what each of you is learning in your bible study and prayer or reading a devotional together. Here again, is another opportunity to model for your kids what role faith plays in your marriage so they can “catch” the importance and see what it looks like.

Adding kids can feel like you are blowing up your marriage or at least putting it on hold for a while. But putting your relationship on hold does not help you to grow healthy kids. Instead it has the potential of growing kids who know nothing of what it takes to have a great marriage. You’ll also end up with a marriage that lacks intimacy and connection. So the big question is, what are your kids learning about marriage through observing you?
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Dealing with Dissappointment in Marriage

fighting-couple
Expectations of how things should go and when they should happen in relationships can be a deep source of pain and disappointment and can cause us to develop a short term view of relationships. The reality is that your spouse will let you down and you will let your spouse down. It is also reality that you will feel your spouses offenses against you are greater than your offenses against your spouse. We always weigh our own experience of pain more heavily. When we allow this evaluation and constant pondering about our woes and what we feel we are lacking in life because of our spouse to drive our emotions and perception of the world, we will grow resentful and heap all of the problems in our life onto our spouse. When we do that, the intimacy that we should have with our spouse goes out the window because who could feel close to someone we believe is the source of all of our problems? This then leads to emotional separation which, left unchecked, is how people get to the place of wanting physical separation. For those who leave a marriage based on this cycle, they believe there is someone out there who won’t let them down, not realizing that they had a major role to play in the downfall of the marriage. So they go out and find someone else only to experience the inevitable let down that happens when two imperfect people live together in close quarters and then experience the same process and wonder how they got there again. So how do we avoid this trap that has caused so many people pain?

Have a Long Term View of Relationships
The first thing we all need to do is to remember that great relationships are always based on a longterm view and are developed over time. There is no instant success in relationships. We never really arrive because marriages are living organisms of sorts. They are either growing or declining. We have to work at our marriages if we hope to stay connected and close with our spouse. This work takes place over a long period of time. I can’t tell you how many couples I have worked with who quit just before they could have experienced the greatest sense of peace and closeness in their marriages. A history with someone is not something that is easily developed or easily thrown away and a longterm view of a relationship allows couples to relax and not spend every moment of their lives evaluating whether or not the relationship is “working.” The relationship will work if both parties have a long view towards building a healthy marriage. It usually takes years to get over our own views of how things should “work” and when we finally let go of our demands and choose to love and move towards each other in life, we experience a rhythm to life that we never even had on our radar as part of the “dream.”

Admit and Respond as if You Are an Equal Part of the Problem
As I said earlier, we are all experts on how the other person is failing. Few of us are experts on our own failures or if we do admit we have areas where we have failed they are usually minor compared to what we believe our spouse is doing to fail us. When we work to fix our spouse or complain or criticize our spouse for all that he/she does wrong we are only causing more problems in our marriage and pushing our spouse away. If we really want to experience all that our marriage has to offer we have to look in the mirror and make our own behavior the project we are working to improve. If you have not been working on yourself as it relates to your marriage or if your list of what is wrong in your relationship is longer for your spouse than it is for you, you are probably still blaming your spouse for most of the problems. It is the rare case where only one person is causing all the pain in a relationship. It takes two to tango as they say and we all have to admit we have a part to play in the problems we face as a couple.

Get a Grip on Your Expectations
Many times we believe that our expectations are always reasonable and everyone in the world has the same view and is experiencing all the things we feel we are lacking. We get into the comparison game from a distance and assume that those we admire have it all together and are getting what we are not in our marriages. The reality is, everyone is experiencing conflict. Anyone who says they are not, either has a spouse who is dead, or someone is not talking and it usually isn’t the one who is saying everything is great! Take some time to evaluate how many of your expectations put an unfair burden on your spouse to come through for you in order to make you “happy.” Any expectation that puts my happiness or mood in the hands of another person is dangerous and unfair. Just as we teach our kids that someone else is not responsible for how they act, we too need to avoid making our spouses responsible for how we act or feel.

Marriage is a beautiful and difficult thing. It can be the source of our greatest joy and connection and the source of our greatest pain and rejection. But the measure of success in a marriage is not how much joy I experience on a regular basis, but how much we grow together in the midst of conflict and joy. It is the ability to work through difficult times and still stay connected that is measure not only of the strength of our marriage, but the character we possess individually.

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Needs Obsession

Recently in my work with couples I have noticed this obsession that keeps many couples from growing a healthy marriage. It seems so logical at first that most would say, "What's wrong with that?" but looking at what it does to relationships tells me it is not a healthy focus. The focus I'm talking about is usually called by many couples "meeting my needs." Now on the face of it we would all say that we have an expectation that our spouse should meet our needs. After all there are books written on the subject of needs all over the place. Everyone recognizes that we all have needs. So why would I say that the concept of needs is causing problems in relationships?

The main thing I see for many couples is the focus on their own needs and more importantly how their spouse is failing to meet those needs. That blame then leads to resentment and a sense of entitlement. They start to feel like their spouse is not doing their job and begin to evaluate and rate their spouses performance when it comes to meeting needs. This just leads to greater disappointment and resentment and eventually the couple begins to move apart because their conversations turn to negotiations and lectures on needs and who is doing what in the marriage. In a twisted way we cause to happen what we suspected from the beginning. Since we assume our spouse didn't care, when we push them to do what we want them to, we drive them away. When they fail to engage we say to ourselves, "Ah-ha, see I knew you didn't care." Overtime each spouse starts to feel ripped off and criticized at the same time and distance is the natural result which only reinforces the idea that the other person is not meeting their needs. I've even had some people say that it feels abusive when their spouse ignores them or doesn’t meet their needs.

The problem in all of this is one of focus. Do we all have needs in a relationship? There is no doubt we do. Most times, however those needs are overblown. We call wants needs all the time and when we confuse the two it only creates more problems in a marriage. Everything you and I want is not necessarily a need and we need to be careful to make the right distinction between the two.

When it comes to true needs the problems come when I focus on what I need instead of what the other needs. This approach then makes me an evaluator of the other person's performance. It immediately develops a sense of entitlement in my mind and I start to have feelings of neglect and being ripped off. Compare this attitude to the one Jesus had. “..since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” Just as Jesus did not demand that others serve him, even though he had every right to, we need to stop demanding that our needs be met and start to focus on our spouse. When I choose to focus on the other person and understanding my spouse more and the needs that my spouse has, I take the focus off the other person's performance and I begin to see the other person from a place of compassion and love. I am then more naturally able to respond to the other person's true needs and since I understand him/her better my responses more accurately hit the needs of my spouse. This in turn usually causes my spouse to want to return the gesture and you then start to have a better relationship where each of you is better able to meet each others needs occasionally. I say occasionally because rarely will you ever have every need in your life met all the time. We are not good at it as humans and since we are living in a fallen world where things don't work the way they should, we will always live with some sense of longing for more. There are needs that only God can fulfill in our lives and we have to be careful not to make our spouses the source of fulfilling those needs. It is impossible for them to do that and we are setting them up for failure.

The more we choose to look to the needs of our spouse, the more likely we will be to have most of our needs met. The more we choose to focus on what we feel we are not getting out of the relationship, the more we will feel resentment and cause our spouse to move away from us. The choice really is ours and where we choose to focus. If you are feeling ripped off in your relationship, take a look at your attitude and how much you are focusing on what you are not getting out of your marriage instead of focusing on how much you understand and meet the needs of your spouse. My guess is, your marriage reflects where you choose to set your focus.

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Should I Date My Spouse?

couple holding hands
Dating is something of a lost art form in our society today especially as it relates to married couples. It seem like all the creative ideas, the things you see in movies, were gone the moment you said “I do.” We guys used all our good ideas to actually get our wives to say yes and set the bar so high for ourselves that we could never measure up on our best day. Our wives used to think we were the best thing since sliced bread and let us know about it both verbally and non-verbally in how they responded to us. There is something about getting into the regular rhythms of life that cause us to abandon one of the most enjoyable and fun parts of our relationship with one another. While we may never go back to the days of husbands who think they are poets and wives who actually think the poetry is any good, we certainly can revive the excitement of dating one another and making that time as important as any other appointment or activity in our lives.

Research shows that time together is one of the leading indicators of whether a marriage is going to survive or not so making time for one another is not a luxury you add from excess time you happen to find, it is a necessity if you want to have a healthy relationship. So what do you do on a date? What do you do together once you make the time?

Well I don’t pretend to have all the answers for every couple out there because we are all different. For some jumping out of an airplane together is fun. For other, more normal people, dinner is just fine. Whatever it is that you enjoy as a couple here are a few things to consider:

Pick a Regular Time and Block it Off Your Calendar
This whole dating thing cannot be something you get around to when you have time. Just like any other important appointment you would never miss for fear of getting fired or missing a huge opportunity, your date life needs to be a high priority. For Cheryl and I our date time is during the day on my day off while the kids are in school. It works best for us and is a time we look forward to. Figure out what works best for you and make it a recurring event.

Talk Together About What You Want to Do
Instead of putting the pressure on one person who has to determine all the details and might or might not get it right, talk together about what you want to do. If you like the idea of coming up with new things and really want to have one person take the lead, trade off each date time on who will plan the day. Whatever you do make sure you have time to talk and connect together. A date where you only face forward and never interact with one another is not a date. That is happening to have someone near you while you do something else. Make your date a time to connect. For Cheryl and I, we go to Starbucks in the morning and spend time talking together and usually go to lunch together. We leave the time in between flexible so we can decide what we want to do week to week.

Check in with One Another and Reconnect
In your date time together talk about life and use it as a time to catch up with one another. This is not a time to bring up all the things your spouse is doing to make your life miserable. That is not a date but an interrogation! This is a time to enjoy your time together and focus on the other person instead of what the other person can do for you. A few things you could ask each other would be:

-How has your week been?
-What are some of the challenges you are facing right now?
-What has God been saying to you lately in your time with Him?
-What things are you excited about?
-What plans do we need to make together as a couple?

These types of questions allow you to explore one another and enjoy talking together. Remember not to use questions to manipulate your spouse or lecture them. This is a time to enjoy one another’s company.

Do Some Kind of Activity Together
Explore some things you like to do together. It may be as simple as going out to eat all the way to bike riding together. Whatever it is pick something you both enjoy and find a hobby you can do together.

Kindle your Physical Relationship
I know just putting this one out there some of you just let out a cheer and some of you want to stop reading. I put this out there not to say that every date has to end with sex. In fact that would be the wrong reason to have a date if the whole thing is just a set up for sex unless you both agree that is where you are going. I put this out there because the physical part of many couple’s relationships is something that can be left unattended. Over time sex becomes less and less an expression of the relationship and more and more a looming expectation or an experience laden with fears of disappointment. Like anything else, sex is something that we need to be intentional about if it is to be an enjoyable part of our relationship. With so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings that can surround our physical relationships, talking about it and making time for it are vital. Sometimes just scheduling when you will have sex can take the pressure of guessing when the right time would be away and can create a great opportunity to connect. In a future article I will talk about how to talk about sex but for now, consider how you will tend your physical relationship together whether that is during your date time or not.

Hopefully this gives you a place to start in thinking about your dating relationship. Guys remember your wives like to be pursued and what you did to get her to say yes to marrying you probably would still work today. Ladies remember your husbands liked it when you showed that you appreciated them and what they did had an impact on you and doing the same today for your husband will have a profound effect on how he pursues you. Now get out there and start dating each other and remember why you fell in love with each other in the first place!

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Overcoming Patterns of Conflict in Marriage

infidelity-in-marriage
In my work with couples I have found that we tend to follow certain predictable patterns when we allow our relationship to drift or get out of control. We all want to experience happiness and closeness in our marriages. None of us married our spouse because we wanted to learn how to fight better or because we wanted to work on patience. We genuinely thought this person would make us happy and we thought we would be happy together. Happiness is not a bad thing. In fact if you got married for any other reason there is something wrong. But when we make our happiness dependent on what the other person does and allow that person’s actions to dictate our mood, we have set up unrealistic expectations that are bound to lead to anger and despair.

Typically what happens in most relationships is the man pursues the woman to the point where they get married. He is the most charming man in the world and does things he normally wouldn’t have done all in the name of love. Once they get married, he thinks that his life just goes on as it used to with the addition of a wife in the picture. He doesn’t really think much in his life will change and, in fact, he is off to the next thing he feels he needs to pursue like a career. The woman has bigger plans for the relationship. She sees a man that she can talk with and relate with and feel safe with. Someone who will always cherish her and someone she can trust. During the dating phase she is caught up with this man who always thinks of her, is thoughtful, talks to her, and makes her feel safe. She admires and respects him and let’s him know it not only by what she says but in how she even looks at him. She knows her life will change when they get married and she abandons everything to put her attention on the marriage.

Once they get married these expectations hit reality and things don’t seem to work like they thought they would. The wife suddenly feels like she went from first place to somewhere down the list. While she wants to spend every minute with him, he wants space. So she pursues thinking that something must be wrong. He interprets the pursuit as her trying to control him or smother him so he withdraws to create space. She pursues even more because his withdrawal confirms for her that something really is wrong and he’s just not willing to talk about it. They might start to argue over things that don’t matter. He feels he can’t win a fight so rather than engage he starts to play the silent game where he communicates he is mad non-verbally but won’t engage in the discussion figuring he can’t lose if he doesn’t play. She starts to feel more insecure in the relationship because she has no idea what is happening in his head. Since he won’t talk she starts to be more critical of him which gets him mad but she figures bad engagement is better than no engagement at all. He takes the criticism as disrespect which causes him to withdraw even more. His withdrawal makes her feel insecure. Eventually he has completely checked out and she hates his guts for making her feel that way. So how does a couple get past this point?

In every marriage it takes two to cause an argument or a conflict. It really doesn’t matter who started it or who each feels is more at fault. Bottom line there is no perfect anyone in a marriage. If a couple is to move past this crazy situation there are a few things they need to consider:

Get Control of Your Mood
As I stated earlier, it is important that your mood is not dictated by your spouses behavior. If you tie your mood and how your respond to your spouse or your interpretation of how they act, you will feel bad more than you will feel good. Feels are not a good gauge of reality and to make someone else responsible for how you feel is a totally unfair situation that will only set you and your spouse up for disappointment. Feeling happy should not be the main goal. Connectedness is what you should be after and connectedness can only be developed when both parties own their own mood and responses.

Pinpoint Your Part
It is easy for each of us to point out what the other person is doing wrong. We are experts on our spouses failures. Yet when it comes to labeling our part most of us tend to struggle. Or, if we do admit we did something wrong, it always seems minor compared to what we claim our spouse has done to us, as if it is a scoring system. The reality is, there is no conflict without two people doing something wrong. The sooner you are able to label your part, the sooner you will be able to move towards a solution because your attitude and behaviors are really the only thing you can control. So know what your part is.

Seek Forgiveness
Be the first one to admit your wrong, label it, express your regret, and ask for forgiveness. The fastest way through an impasse is when one party is quick to admit, confess, and seek forgiveness for their part. When was the last time you said, “I’m sorry” and meant it?

Gain Empathy
The more you see the cycle you and your spouse have gotten into, the better you are able to have empathy for your spouse instead of blaming your spouse for all the things that have gone wrong. Just as you have been caught up in the cycle so has your spouse. The more you are able to see those things, the better you will be able to have empathy for your spouse and give him/her the benefit of the doubt. When we give our spouses the benefit of the doubt we create an atmosphere of understanding which causes us to draw near one another instead of apart.

Choose to Engage in a Positive Way
This is probably one of the more difficult things to do. The husband needs to stop disengaging for fear of being criticized or “losing” the fight and start engaging his wife in order to bring back a sense of security that she needs to move towards him. This won’t be easy and won’t even be believed at first. But if you choose to be consistent and engage, you will have more opportunities for positive things to happen than if you take your ball and go home because you don’t feel you can win. The wife must stop trying to make her husband into what she thinks she needs to be secure by pointing out all of his failures and choose to see the things in him that she can respect and point those out. Realizing that your happiness is not dependent on your spouses reaction and choosing to look and speak to him the way you did when you were dating, will cause him to want to draw near to you.

Conflict in marriage is something every couple that has ever walked this earth has experienced. It is not the end of the world, nor is it a sign that the relationship is in trouble. How we handle that conflict and how we choose to interact with one another is where most marriages get into trouble. If husbands would truly understand their wives needs for security and work hard to make her feel secure in the marriage, their wives would be their biggest supporters and their conversations would be richer. If wives would understand their husband’s need for respect and look for ways to speak into his life through that language and choose to define him by his successes instead of his failures, their husbands will be drawn to them. When this happens you have a marriage that is not perfect, because no one is perfect, but one that is connected.

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Saying "I'm Sorry"

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We all have been taught at one time or another in our lives that we need to say we are sorry. We are told that when we do something wrong we need to admit it and then seek to make it right with the person we have offended. This act of confession & making a relationship right is something that was established long ago. In the Old Testament we see the importance of admitting a wrong and making it right. Leviticus 5:5 says, “when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.” Not only are we to confess our sin we are to do it from a heart that truly understands the pain that was caused. David in the Psalms confessed his sin in many different circumstances. He says, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” When was the last time you were actually troubled over what you did wrong? So true confession is a process of understanding the depth of what I have done wrong. It is almost common sense to anyone you talk to, yet when it comes to adult relationships we struggle to actually admit anything we did was not for a good reason regardless of how much it hurt the other person.

In marriage confession and forgiveness is a huge key to building and maintaining an intimate relationship. Who wants to be married to someone who believes they are never wrong and seems to be an expert at pointing out every time you are wrong? Yet that is how many of us live and act in our marriages. We are experts on our spouses short comings and failures and we are blind, or at least feel we have good reasons, for our own failures. So rather than drawing our spouse towards us we become the source of pain that pushes our spouse away, which we then point out as one of our spouses problems that needs to be fixed. If we are to have intimacy in our marriage we need to put into practice what we were taught as a kid and what we teach our own kids today.

Confession: Admitting When You Are Wrong

Confession is something that few of us like to practice in our society because it puts us in a one down position and we don’t like to be seen as failing at anything. We know we are not perfect, but we really don’t want someone else to know it because we feel it puts us in too vulnerable of a position. After all, we have good reasons for why we did what we did. Those reasons usually have to do with something the other person did that “caused” us to respond the way we did. So rather than confess anything or admit we are wrong, we feel at some level our spouse deserved what he/she got which causes us to feel a sense of being vindicated or that our actions where somehow just given the circumstances. The reality is, we are rationalizing our behavior and selling the intimacy we could have in our marriage for the cheap imitation of feeling superior to our spouse or getting even. If we are to grow close to our spouse we have to admit when we are wrong.

There are some who do confess when they are wrong, usually after it is so obvious to anyone who looked at it or because we want to hurry up and get past the conflict. So we confess quickly with little or no feeling or heart put into it, almost like we are demanding the other person move on, like we did when we were made to do it as kid. The motivation is not to truly understand our wrong and make the relationship right. That would feel like rubbing our noses in what we did wrong. Instead we just want to move on from the incident as quickly as possible. The result is usually our spouse questioning whether we really are sorry or not responding in the gracious way we felt our apology warranted. Then we get mad all over again, this time at the fact that our spouse won’t move on as quickly as we think he/she should and we start the argument all over again, this time with more ammunition about how our spouse has no grace. This game we play with confession and forgiveness only reinforces the fact that too many of us are out to be right instead of being intimate. We want intimacy but without any kind of cost. The reality is that you cannot have intimacy without being willing to be vulnerable. If you are unwilling to be vulnerable, the best you can have is proximity.

How to Seek Forgiveness
True confession and forgiveness, starts with a true realization of how I have wronged my spouse. It is not just to get over the situation or to quickly move on from an argument so I can sleep at night or move on to my next thing knowing I have resolved the conflict. Instead it is truly feeling how it must have felt to be my spouse when I offended him/her.

From that heart I confess and admit my wrong to let my spouse know I understand the pain I caused and I am truly sorry for the way I hurt him/her. Then I ask for forgiveness and wait for my spouse to respond. He/she may not be ready to forgive me and that is ok. I need to give the time and space for my spouse to process the event in his/her own way. It is important to never confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Forgiveness can be given but that does not mean that everything is back to normal instantly. Forgiveness is not the ultimate do over. There was still pain and there is still a cautiousness that results that needs to be worked through for true reconciliation to happen. The pain we cause our spouse has consequences and those consequences usually have to do with the time it takes to recover to a place of full reconciliation and intimacy. But without confession and forgiveness, true reconciliation cannot happen.

So when you have wronged your spouse, even if your spouse wronged you in the process. Take some time to consider your part, confess your part to your spouse and ask for forgiveness, In doing so you demonstrate your commitment to him/her, empathy for their pain, and you start a process of reconciliation that leads to greater intimacy.
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Criticism & Relationships

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I see a lot of people in marriage who try to use criticism as a way to connect with their spouse or to help make their spouse a “better person.” I really believe that most people think that their approach to criticism is a good one and only have the best of intentions for their spouse. In fact they feel their form of criticism is constructive or not really criticism at all. The problem with criticism is no one really wants it. Think about it for a moment. How many people would raise their hands and say they could use more criticism in their lives because they really want to grow and be the best they could be? Would you really want to receive the criticism you give to your spouse?

Criticism in a marriage almost always leads to defensiveness and some kind of resentment. Criticism says, “You have something wrong with you and I am going to point it out to make sure you change it because I don’t struggle with those kinds of things in my life.” It almost always comes across as a superiority thing and usually feels condescending at best. It usually communicates that you do not really accept your spouse completely and won’t accept them until they get certain areas of their lives “fixed.”

So if criticism is not constructive, how do I help my spouse change the things that are off? First you need to check your motives. Are you really concerned with helping your spouse grow? Or are you trying to make your own life easier by getting your spouse to go along with your program? If you are doing it for selfish reasons then it will almost always come out wrong. Next, Have you built into the life of your spouse? If you have invested no time into your spouses life and haven’t recognized the positives in your spouses life and pointed them out, it will be difficult to hear your words of correction. Think about it this way, do you honor your spouse as much as you try to change her/him? How many encouraging comments do you give to the number of critical ones? Would your spouse even be able to hear your words of help in areas of her/his life that she/he may need to work on? Or, are you so negative that she/he can’t even hear your words anymore? Have you banked enough encouragement in her/his life that she/he respects and responds when you point out a fault?

If you want to have influence into your spouses life, you need to be a person your spouse trusts and knows has her/his best interests at heart. It is when you have that kind of relationship that it is easy to listen to things you may need to work on in your life. Of course in that kind of response it is not criticism at all but truly helping one another to grow.
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Nineteen Year Anniversary

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Nineteen years ago today, I stood before God, my family and friends, and pledged my love, life, and faithfulness to my beautiful bride and the love of my life. It was a beautiful day in September and I will never forget seeing her for the first time in her wedding gown as the doors opened and she began walking towards me. I remember thinking how beautiful she was and feeling like the luckiest guy in the world in that moment. I smiled so much that day that the muscles in my face hurt (and it wasn’t just from smiling from all the pictures that are usually taken at a wedding).

Our story was not necessarily unique as stories go but has enough uniqueness to make it uniquely ours. Cheryl and I grew up in the same church together. We both have pictures of events we were in at the same time, but as is the way of things as young kids, I had no use for girls at that time so I never really noticed her. It wasn’t until high school that I really “noticed” her. She was dating someone else at the time so I never really talked to her too much and I probably never would have as I was pretty shy in those days. It took a divine intervention to bring us together.

Cheryl’s school had a Sadie Hawkins Dance, which is basically an excuse for the girls to ask the guy who would never ask her to a dance because he was too shy or usually too dense to know she liked him. Cheryl and a bunch of girls from our youth group decided to put the names of some guys from the youth group into a hat and they had to ask the person whose name they drew to the dance. Now it is pretty obvious to me now that they put the names of people in the hat who they were sure didn’t have a date which is how my name got into the hat. I think I weighed all of 60 pounds and if I stood sideways you wouldn’t notice me except that my nose stuck out. So, in God’s divine providence, Cheryl drew my name out of the hat and she asked me to this dance.

Now I had no idea of the name drawing so I assumed she liked me. After all, why would a girl ask a guy to a dance if she didn’t like him? So I thought it would be a good idea if we went out before the dance and she said sure. So in order to impress her, I decided to take her to Sizzler. Sizzler for those of you who don’t know, is basically Denny’s with a salad bar. It actually sounds better than it really is. So we went to this place and I wanted to impress her so I ordered the biggest drinks they had and they give you a tray to take the drinks to your table while you wait for the food. As we got to the table I tilted the tray and the drinks began to slide off the tray. It all happened in slow motion because that is how I remember it. Coke went everywhere but all of the ice from the cups went into the purse of a women whose back was to us. Being the godly guy that I was I turned to Cheryl and said, “Quick let’s go before anyone notices.” We went and sat in the back corner. I was so embarrassed. As we were sitting there we saw the woman go to get her purse and see all the ice in it. She then looked up at her son and smacked him on the back of the head assuming he put the ice there. So I caused a kid to get busted for what I did on my first date with my wife!

So that is how it all started. We dated for six years until I could graduate from high school and college. I remember the day I proposed to her. I had already taken her dad out for breakfast and asked for her hand in marriage. I was ready to get engaged and wanted to make it special. I told Cheryl we were going to Santa Cruz to hang at the beach and then go to dinner afterward. There was a special spot at a Christian Conference Center where Cheryl and I spent a lot of time talking together along a creek. I knew I wanted to propose to her there so I had my friend Jimmy take the wedding ring and a huge shell and set it on the beach of that creek with the ring in the shell and wait for us to come so I could propose. The plan was perfect and I figured she would have no idea.

One thing about my wife is the fact that she has a way of smelling out any surprise. Her parents tried to throw a surprise party for her and all I had to do was take her out for dinner and bring her home to a house full of all her friends. I did well all the way up to where we were going into the door and she wanted to make me go first. I asked why and she said so everyone on the other side of the door would say surprise to me not her. She really can sniff this stuff out. Well on the day we were going to the beach she was getting all dressed up with full make up and everything. I was pretty dense at that time and thought, “Oh good. She will look great when I propose,” not thinking that she was thinking the same thing.

When we got to the Conference Center, where we always would stop when we went to Santa Cruz, she was looking around everywhere on the way to our spot. Then she asked me point blank, “Where is Jimmy?” She even knew my friend was there! Well we get to beach and the shell is there but she doesn’t see it because she was too busy looking for my friend. I start to worry that she will either find him or he would pass out somewhere in the weeds so I point out the shell to her. She sees it and says, “Cool my mom loves these things.” She picked it up and the ring fell out and by the look on her face I knew I had her. I got down on my knee and proposed. Now most women would say yes and the violins would start playing with hugs and kisses. Instead of yes, she says, “Did you ask my dad?” Now I have an audience in the bushes and this didn’t quite go how I thought it would. I told her I did and thankfully we then had the violin moment followed by a voice from the bushes saying, “Can I come out now?”

We have story after story like that. I am so blessed to be married to my best friend and such a beautiful woman as Cheryl. She knows me better than anyone else and knows what I need to hear at the times when I am the most high and the most low. She has a way of looking at me that tells me when she is proud of me and her eyes are the most beautiful I have ever seen. To say I am lucky is an understatement. I can’t imagine my life now nineteen years into my marriage apart from her. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had our lows in addition to our highs, but we have chosen to work through those points and it has led to a strength and comfort with one another that everyone really dreams about. This strength and comfort only comes through a track record and a history and history is only built over time. I am so excited today to be married to my high school sweetheart and look forward to another nineteen years and beyond of building this history we have that we call our marriage! I love you Cheryl, and happy anniversary!
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What's Wrong with My Spouse?

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I had an interesting conversation with a couple the other day about the dance that happens between men and women in married relationships. It is fascinating how we all seem to follow patterns without really understanding what is going on and as a result have conflict over thinking the other person is insensitive or not committed to the relationship when in reality, that person really not that much different from the typical man or woman out there.

In a typical relationship during the dating phase a man pursues a woman and seems to be super connected. When they are together he is intense in his connection and seems to be the most romantic and attentive man in the whole world. He makes the woman the center of the evening and everything he does seems to revolve around her. At the same time she responds to him in a way that says he is the best man in the whole world. She looks at him in such an admiring way the he is captivated by that and feels like he can take on the whole world with her by his side. Most words out of her mouth are words of encouragement and praise.

Then this couple gets married and lives with one another for a while. Over time she starts to feel like maybe his whole dating thing was just a way to trick her into marrying him. He doesn’t seem as attentive as he used to be and she is not getting as much focused attention as she seemed to get when they were dating. He seems preoccupied most of the time and doesn’t seem to want to spend much focused time with her unless it is scheduled or on a date night, but even then it doesn’t feel the same. He starts to feel like he went from being a man who could do nothing wrong to a guy who can do nothing right. Her words of praise have seemed to be replaced with words of criticism. Rather than a look of admiration he feels like she looks at him like an artist who doesn’t like what he has painted and can’t quite figure out what is wrong. They both feel like the other person has changed and have no idea how to bring the other person “back.”

Tho understand what is going on we need an understanding of the differences between our dating lives and married lives and how men and women perceive and live differently. Men tend to have the ability to focus on one thing at a time with intensity. This tendency for men to focus means that they can usually only handle one thing at a time. That is why a guy can be working on a project and the whole house could be burning down around him. Women tend to see everything as interconnected. One thing springs into another and so on. That means everything means something and women have the ability to be aware of everything around them at the same time and tend to see links between things and constantly be processing things in their mind. Just talking about this you can already see where conflict could come into a relationship.

Now go back to the dating phase of the couples relationship. For a guy that intense focus shows up in the times when they date. For that date his only focus is her. So she is the recipient of all of his attention and it feels great. But there is a point where that date ends and the man goes back home to his own place and she goes to hers. They both have to work usually so their contact is limited to some extent. What she doesn’t know is every man sees his home as a place of solitude, where he can let down and kind of disconnect from the world where he has been giving focused attention all day. So guys kind of check out many times when they get home.

What he doesn’t know is when she gets home she is still processing everything that happened and looking forward to the next time they are together.For the woman her admiration of him is based on her thoughts about him and his ability to make her feel secure through his attentiveness. She figures his thoughtfulness is interconnected with everything he does and he thinks about her every moment because, after all she is interconnected and that is how her world works.

Fast forward now to the marriage. He comes home from work expecting to unwind and disconnect from the world. She is waiting for him to come home to engage in his world and share all of the things that have been happening in her world. You can see the disconnect that happens. She views his lack of desire to connect on an ongoing basis as a sign that he has lost interest in her and he views her disappointment in him as a sign that she no longer thinks the world of him. Over time, he starts checking out more and she becomes more critical of him in an attempt to get him to connect. What they both need to understand is how each of them are built and then respond in kind. He may need a little more space to unwind and she may need a little more interaction spaced over time. I have found that when the wife gives the husband a little more space and the husband checks in with his wife on a regular basis combined with an intentional date night or some intense time together once a week helps the couple feel connected.

Most of the issues we face in relationships are based on viewing things only from our perspective and failing to see and understand the whole picture. When we do understand, however, and put into place a plan that takes into account our differences, our relationships will grow. Sure there are times when we are all insensitive, but every time we feel our spouse is insensitive may not be insensitivity at all but simply the way they are as a man or a woman.
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Where to Start if You Are in Conflict with Your Spouse

A question I get frequently is what do we do if our marriage in not in a good place? What types of things should we do to move in the direction of making our relationship healthier? If you find yourself in a place of conflict and you want to start resolving it yourself, here are a few things you can do to get back on track and start moving in the direction of health:

First, you need to look at yourself. The problem most of us have in relationships is we are experts on what the other person is doing wrong. We instantly become mini-psychologists and can tell you everything that is wrong with our spouses and what they need to do get on the path towards healing. So all of our focus is on the aspect of our marriages we can’t control! If you have ever seen your spouse as a fixer-upper and tried to change him/her you have probably found what a frustrating and exhausting effort this is. The reason is, no one likes to be a fixer-upper and everyone wants to be accepted for who they are not for what they might become. So the only thing you can change in your marriage directly is yourself. Start with looking at who you are in the marriage and where you are failing and make changes in your own responses and how you relate to your spouse and see what happens. Many times it only takes one person to make changes in their life to cause the other person to have to adjust and make changes too. Now you must remember not to change as a way to manipulate your spouse to change. That doesn’t work. Make changes yourself because you believe it is the right thing to do and expect nothing in return and leave the results up to God.

Second, overcome your fears and choose to move towards your spouse. This is usually the most difficult part because we get into a stalemate in our relationships where we are waiting for the other person to flinch first. We figure we have tried everything we can think of and the ball is now in the other person’s court. The problem is both of you are thinking the same thing and no one moves. I usually ask couples, “whats the worse things that can happen?” If your relationship is moving in the wrong the direction the worst thing that can happen is it continues to move that direction. But if you try something different you might get different results. Most men are afraid of being put down and losing another argument so they check out. Guys you need to overcome those fears and choose to engage your spouse in a loving way and see what happens. Women tend to fear being a door mat and walked all over if they try to engage. Over come that fear and try to engage your husband without trying to change him and see what happens. If we overcome our fears and make positive strides many times that starts to move the marriage in the right direction.

Finally, focus on what you are grateful for instead of what you want to change. What you choose to focus on will dictate what your attitude will be. If you always focus on the negative and what is wrong with your spouse and marriage you will only see the negative which will fuel your anger. If you choose to focus on what is right and the positive aspects of your relationship your attitude will change to one of gratitude and your responses will be more positive. Your attitude needs to be checked when it comes to your marriage. Many times the only thing that changes is not the other person but our attitudes.

Now I know that this seems simplistic and in many ways it is. Sometimes it is the small things that can make this biggest difference and focusing on these things can really help the state of your marriage. Don’t expect instant results or some kind of miracle. These things take time and having a long term view will help with your outlook. Making these adjustments in our attitudes and expectations can lead us in the direction of a healthy marriage.
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Helping Your Parents Adjust to Your Marriage

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One of the biggest challenges a newly married couple faces is what to do with the in-laws. In fact this is such a universally recognized issue that it is the brunt of jokes and sitcoms all pointing to the problems of meddling parents who get in the middle of the couples goal of marital bliss. It isn’t long before lines are drawn in the sand with loyalty to one’s spouse pitted against loyalty to one’s parents. With this type of either/or thinking it is no wonder so many marriages get off to a rocky start.

So how does a newly married couple deal with the in-law issue? One of the things it is important to understand is that your parents are going through an adjustment just as you are. They are adjusting to the fact that they are no longer the primary influence in your life and they struggle with how to be a parent to a married child. There really isn’t much out there on how to be a good in-law. So most parents just have to figure this out on their own and most usually struggle with letting go of their influence and control in the life of their child. So they continue to parent their child even though he/she is married now and tend to see the new spouse as a threat to their influence which causes power and control struggles for who will be the primary influence into the adult child/spouse. The only way to help make this transition a smooth one is to recognize the difficult task of adjustment going on for your parents and to take certain steps that allow you to continue to honor your parents while helping them to understand their new role.

First, you need to thank your parents for all they have done to raise you in the right way. Start by acknowledging your parents influence in your life and the things they have done well in preparing you for life. One of the things most missing for parents today is gratitude for all they have sacrificed for their children. Every parent needs to hear they have done a good job as they are constantly analyzing where they messed up or things they should have done before you got to adulthood. Reassuring them on the job they have done will put their hearts at ease and allow them to hear what you are going to say to them about their new role in your life.

Second, let them know that you are committed to making your marriage last the for the long haul and, next to God, your marriage is your primary focus. This will help your parents know that your marriage comes first in any decision you make which means that your spouse has to be a part of those decisions.

Third, tell them that you appreciate their advice but that you won’t talk about your spouse or the marriage with them because it wouldn’t be fair to your spouse. This sets the boundary early on that they will not have a direct influence into the marriage unless the two of you ask for their advice. Many parents really want to see their kids succeed so they will have a tendency to handle that desire by constantly speaking into your marriage through you. This creates problems because you feel like you have to at least act on the advice given (that’s what you did most of your life) and usually that advice is one sided as they are only getting what they see or hear from you. It is important to hold the line on this to help your parents understand where the limit is on their influence into your marriage.

Fourth, let them know that you know they want you to have a successful marriage and to do that you need to form new traditions together as a couple. One of the most divisive issues in a new marriage is what traditions to continue from each person’s past. There is a loss for your parents when you get married because the family traditions that you are so used to where everyone is present now suddenly have to be shared with another person’s family. The newly married couple can feel torn between the two families with questions of loyalty and equal time coming up in the conversation frequently. It is important to establish with both sets of in-laws that you will do what you can to be fair with everyone but in the end you have to make the best decision for the two of you. Setting this expectation early will help your parents begin the transition to the new reality without prolonging it. Too many couples cave in to the most demanding parents and only prolong the day when this type of discussion will have to happen anyway. By prolonging it, you create more problems because the demanding parents don’t understand why you are drawing those lines now that you have already been doing it after you got married.

In all of this remember that your parents are going through a transition at the same time you are. By taking steps to set boundaries with them you are actually helping them to make the transitions in the best way possible. You need to be prepared for them to push back and even blame your spouse for being the one who is making this decision and having too much control over you. It is important that you stand your ground and let them know it is a joint decision and that it is what is best for your marriage. You may even ask your parents if they want what’s best for your marriage and when they say of course you can let them know this is an important step in helping you start off right. In the end you will help your parents with the transition, strengthen the bond with your spouse, and set up a future of a great relationship with your in-laws.
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How Does Marriage Fit into God's Story?

There’s a great article on the theology of marriage entitled “Marriage in God’s Story” over on the Resurgence Blog. How we view marriage plays an important role in how we relate and interact with our spouses. If we see marriage simply as something to make us happy and to get what we want, we will only end up hurting each other and using each other to get what we want. If however, we see marriage as a part of God’s plan to grow us to be more like Christ and as a reflection of his relationship with his people, our perspective and approach to marriage takes on greater significance. From the article:

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Biblically, Moses first characterized marriage: “Therefore (because of marriage – my emphasis) a man shall leave his father and his mother, hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:6–7) and Paul (Ephesians 5:32) affirm Moses and agree with God’s definition of marriage:
  • It is exclusive (one man and his wife).
  • It is not defined by temporal family ties but by permanent covenantal promises (leave father and mother).
  • It is a lifetime commitment (hold fast).
  • Intimacy (oneness) ensues (they become one flesh).
However, marriage was never meant as an end to itself.

The article goes on to talk about the parallels between God’s relationship with his people, both Israel and the church and how that plays out in the context of our marriages. When you think about it our marriages says something about the that relationship and therefore the gospel to the world. What do people see of gospel when they look at your marriage?
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Contract or Covenant?

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When it comes to marriage, most couples believe they entered into a contract with their spouse when they got married. After all they had to go down to the courthouse and get a document that they had to sign along with a minister and two witnesses. Looks like a contract right? As a result of this contract view of marriage, many couples feel they have a right to evaluate how well their spouse is doing at keeping up his/her end of the contract. Just as a person would evaluate the work of a contractor that signed a contract for certain services, doesn’t it make sense that a spouse would have the right to evaluate the performance of the other?

The problem with a contract view of marriage is the focus on performance. Whenever performance comes into the picture in a relationship couples tend to put their focus into making sure they “get what they deserve” or have a “right” to certain things from their spouse. This leads to huge conflict because no one wants to be evaluated all the time and no one really praises anyone for doing what is expected on the contract. Think about it, if I treat my marriage the same way I treat a contract with a plumber the entire focus of our relationship is whether or not my spouse fulfilled the duties stated in the contract. I could be very cordial and even overly kind. But in the end if I feel the person did not do what I was “paying” him/her to do and I feel like the job was not done to my satisfaction, I will call “breach of contract” and look to get my money back. Can you see how that mentally can do damage to a marriage? If I am constantly evaluating my spouses performance instead of focusing on doing what I said I would do regardless of the other person, I am in effect treating my spouse like a plumber I hired for a job!

Instead of allowing our marriages to be shaped by a contract mentality, we need to model our marriages after the covenant God made with us. If God had made a contract with Abraham and evaluated his performance as a condition of the contract, the bible would have ended in the middle of Genesis! Thankfully God made a covenant with Abraham that he would fulfill what He said he would do regardless. In the same way, in God’s eyes, each of us who are married, made a covenant with one another before God to love and cherish, etc. until death us do part. That means our focus needs to be on how we are doing not on how our spouse is doing. Evaluating our spouses performance is not the way to a lasting marriage. Instead we need to realize we are in a covenant with our spouse and seek to live with him/her the way God lives with us.

When was the last time you evaluated your own performance? Could you live up to the standards you require of your spouse? What “rights” and demands do you need to give up?
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Love Is Here Live Broadcast From Orlando Tomorrow

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The Love Is Here website is broadcasting the Marriage and Family Ministry Track from the Orlando 2011 Conference on their site at 1pm EST tomorrow April 5th (that would be 10am for us in California). Come listen to the trends in Marriage and Family Ministry HERE.
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Empathy: The Key to a Healthy Marriage

Imagine for a minute you are working with a married couple who is struggling with their relationship. You sit down and ask them what the issues are. Each person proceeds to describe what they think the problem is. Their description is filled with all the things that their spouse is doing wrong with the occasional sprinkle of admission of the “small” things they may have done to contribute to the problem. After both parties have described their concerns you turn to one spouse and ask, “What do you think your spouse is feeling right now?” Or, “Put yourself in your spouses shoes and tell me what you might be feeling.” Silence. Then a fumbling attempt at an answer that usually is far off the mark. Why do we struggle so much with putting ourselves in another person’s shoes?

The ability to put yourself in your spouses’ shoes is called empathy. Empathy allows you to consider how things may be effecting your spouse, to see his/her perspective, and to be able to actually understand where he/she is coming from. This empathy skill can save you hours of conflict and can actually develop in you a deeper understanding of the other person and even an appreciation for his/her point of view. It is empathy that allows couples to overcome many obstacles and arguments. The beauty of empathy is even if you are wrong in what you think your spouse is feeling, just the act of trying to understand communicates love and connection. If more couples would work at this skill and take risks in asking one another questions instead of always trying to “convince” their partners that they are right or their perspective is the only logical one to have, we would see a huge reduction in the amount and level of intensity of the conflict many couples face.

So how do you begin to have empathy in the context of marriage? First, you have to commit to yourself that winning an argument or having your spouse understand to your satisfaction your perspective are not the goals of your relationship. As soon as you make it about you and your perspective, you fail to have any bandwidth to actually have empathy for your spouse. Second, your goal is to have your spouse say “you got it” either verbally or non verbally. That means you need to take a risk and say to your spouse, “It seems like you are feeling x.” Or, if you have no clue, “what are you feeling right now and how can I help?” These types of questions will help you become an expert on your spouse the more you practice them. Finally, instead of then going on to forcing your spouse to get your perspective try to move towards your spouse in a way that shows you understand how he/she is feeling. It may be a hug or allowing your spouse to vent. Whatever it is, as long as your emotion and response are appropriate to what he/she is feeling you are showing your spouse you understand and care.

Empathy is one of the major keys to making relationships work and to draw a couple closer together. In what ways have you experienced empathy from your spouse? What are some ideas you can share with others on how to show empathy to your spouse. Share your ideas on the comments section below.
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How Do I Date My Spouse?

Dating is something of a lost art form in our society today especially as it relates to married couples. It seem like all the creative ideas, the things you see in movies, were gone the moment you said “I do.” We guys used all our good ideas to actually get our wives to say yes and set the bar so high for ourselves that we could never measure up on our best day. Our wives used to think we were the best thing since sliced bread and let us know about it both verbally and non-verbally in how they responded to us. There is something about getting into the regular rhythms of life that cause us to abandon one of the most enjoyable and fun parts of our relationship with one another. While we may never go back to the days of husbands who think they are poets and wives who actually think the poetry is any good, we certainly can revive the excitement of dating one another and making that time as important as any other appointment or activity in our lives.

Research shows that time together is one of the leading indicators of whether a marriage is going to survive or not so making time for one another is not a luxury you add from excess time you happen to find, it is a necessity if you want to have a healthy relationship. So what do you do on a date? What do you do together once you make the time? 

Well I don’t pretend to have all the answers for every couple out there because we are all different. For some jumping out of an airplane together is fun. For other, more normal people, dinner is just fine. Whatever it is that you enjoy as a couple here are a few things to consider:

Pick a Regular Time and Block it Off Your Calendar
This whole dating thing cannot be something you get around to when you have time. Just like any other important appointment you would never miss for fear of getting fired or missing a huge opportunity, your date life needs to be a high priority. For Cheryl and I our date time is during the day on my day off while the kids are in school. It works best for us and is a time we look forward to. Figure out what works best for you and make it a recurring event.

Talk Together About What You Want to Do
Instead of putting the pressure on one person who has to determine all the details and might or might not get it right, talk together about what you want to do. If you like the idea of coming up with new things and really want to have one person take the lead, trade off each date time on who will plan the day. Whatever you do make sure you have time to talk and connect together. A date where you only face forward and never interact with one another is  not a date. That is happening to have someone near you while you do something else. Make your date a time to connect. For Cheryl and I, we go to Starbucks in the morning and spend time talking together and usually go to lunch together. We leave the time in between flexible so we can decide what we want to do week to week. 

Check in with One Another and Reconnect
In your date time together talk about life and use it as a time to catch up with one another. This is not a time to bring up all the things your spouse is doing to make your life miserable. That is not a date but an interrogation! This is a time to enjoy your time together and focus on the other person instead of what the other person can do for you. A few things you could ask each other would be:

-How has your week been?
-What are some of the challenges you are facing right now?
-What has God been saying to you lately in your time with Him?
-What things are you excited about? 
-What plans do we need to make together as a couple?

These types of questions allow you to explore one another and enjoy talking together. Remember not to use questions to manipulate your spouse or lecture them. This is a time to enjoy one another’s company.

Do Some Kind of Activity Together
Explore some things you like to do together. It may be as simple as going out to eat all the way to bike riding together. Whatever it is pick something you both enjoy and find a hobby you can do together.

Kindle your Physical Relationship
I know just putting this one out there some of you just let out a cheer and some of you want to stop reading. I put this out there not to say that every date has to end with sex. In fact that would be the wrong reason to have a date if the whole thing is just a set up for sex unless you both agree that is where you are going. I put this out there because the physical part of many couple’s relationships is something that can be left unattended. Over time sex becomes less and less an expression of the relationship and more and more a looming expectation or an experience laden with fears of disappointment. Like anything else, sex is something that we need to be intentional about if it is to be an enjoyable part of our relationship. With so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings that can surround our physical relationships, talking about it and making time for it are vital. Sometimes just scheduling when you will have sex can take the pressure of guessing when the right time would be away and can create a great opportunity to connect. In a future article I will talk about how to talk about sex but for now, consider how you will tend your physical relationship together whether that is during your date time or not.

Hopefully this gives you a place to start in thinking about your dating relationship. Guys remember your wives like to be pursued and what you did to get her to say yes to marrying you probably would still work today. Ladies remember your husbands liked it when you showed that you appreciated them and what they did had an impact on you and doing the same today for your husband will have a profound effect on how he pursues you. Now get out there and start dating each other and remember why you fell in love with each other in the first place!
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The Importance of Remembering Your Commitment

Reposted from the Married Life Blog (5/14/2010):
Many couples go through a marriage ceremony but quickly forget the significance and the vows they made that day. Our vows were not a simple contract set up between husband and wife that says if you do this I will do this. This kind of view on our wedding vows leads to many couples calling “breach of contract” when one spouse doesn’t do what the other thought he or she should have. Rather, our vows are a covenant that we make before God to do what WE promised. Reminding ourselves of this is an important part of keeping our marriages on track. This is something we talk a lot about in our
Married Life Essentials Event on Partnership.

Surfing the net, I came across an article in
People Magazine about a tradition that Seal and Heidi Klum have put in place to remind one another of their wedding vows. Every year they have a vow renewal ceremony with their family and friends:

"It's so special to us, something we love and something our children have gotten accustomed to," Klum says. "It's like, 'Hey, Mom and Dad love each other and they get married every year!' "

Added Seal:
"Each year, Heidi and I get remarried. It's a great party, but for about an hour, we go off on our own down to a private beach. We sit there with the kids and read vows to each other as the sun sets. It's a very special moment to us."

What a great way to recommit to one another and do so in front of the kids so they see what a good marriage is all about and what it takes to commit to one another. I don’t know anything else about their relationship or their lifestyle but in this area of their lives, they seem to have a great tradition. How about you? Have you ever considered renewing your vows to one another? Do you even remember you vows?
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