Marriage

Are You Happily Married?

Marriage is a very challenging yet rewarding relationship. I’ve been married now for 24 years and I’m still learning, making mistakes and trying to grow and get better at being a husband. I think a lot of people enter marriage thinking that this relationship will make me happy. That is a dangerous mindset entering marriage. Oh there will be times of great happiness, but there will also be times of sorrow, anger, disappointment and conflict.

All healthy relationships are messy and hard at times. Gary Thomas said this in his book Sacred Marriage, “God intended marriage not to make you happy, but to make you holy”. That is so true if you are a Christian. God uses the relationships in our lives to shape and mold our character. Each of us has a choice in the matter. Do we view marriage as a place to get my needs met, or where I become more like Christ?

Marriage is not primarily about feeling happy everyday. It’s not about getting what you deserve or getting the sex you want. Marriage is a lifelong training ground to knock off the rough edges and reform your selfish nature in order to make you holy. The cool thing is when you become more holy you become more happy.

Marriage is about commitment, giving, serving, forgiving, sacrificing and humbling yourself. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but marriage is also about intimacy. The healthiest marriages have 3 kinds of intimacy: Spiritual, emotional and physical. When all 3 of those areas are healthy and growing there is usually a good bit of happiness as well. However to be healthy and growing in those areas, you must be committed, giving, serving, forgiving and sacrificing.

Knowing how to love your spouse is also a learning experience. Knowing, understanding and applying the 5 love languages that Gary Chapman lays out in his book The Five Love Languages is vital to a long healthy marriage. If you don’t know them, then get the book and read it.

If you want a better marriage it will take some work like reading a book or ten, going to see a counselor and actually being open and honest. It might mean learning new ideas and changing old mind sets about marriage. It might mean learning what your fear buttons are and how that triggers your unhealthy responses. It might means asking for forgiveness or extending forgiveness.

The point is you must work on yourself in order to improve any relationship. The more you focus on yourself and your own issues the better your relationship will get. When you also include God in the process you can transform any marriage or any relationship no matter how damaged it may be.

Love always trusts, always hopes, always remains strong.

5 Practices For A Healthy Marriage

What does a Healthy Marriage Look Like?

To be healthy in any area of our lives, it takes work and being intentional.  If you want to get healthy physically you need to eat right and exercise.  This does not mean perfect but healthy.  When one area of our lives is out of whack or unhealthy it affects all the other areas of our lives.  When we are struggling financially, it causes stress on our relationships and work.  When we are struggling with a relationship with our spouse or children, it causes us to be distracted, unfocused and can even affect our work performance and work relationships.  Many times we try to compartmentalize our work, our family, our faith and our person time, but the reality is that they all affect each other either in a positive healthy way or a negative unhealthy way.

Marriage is one of the most difficult relationships we will ever have in our lives.  I believe marriage is hard work, because we all struggle with selfishness and unhealthy views of what marriage should or shouldn’t be.  Many times we have learned about marriage from our parents, from television or the movies or from other people we see from a distance.  Many of the things we have learned are not healthy.  The way in which we handle conflict; the way we communicate; the way we approach sex; the way in which we parent; the way in which we handle our finances; the way in which we handle extended family issues; the way in which we do household chores.

What I want to share with you today are some of the best practices I have learned over the 23 years of my own marriage and also what I have learned as a pastor over the last 10 plus years in meeting with couples.

1.  Understand & Speak the right Love Language

  • Fill your spouse’s Love Tank or Bank Account by practicing the right love language
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

2.  Recognize & Stop the Fear Dance or Crazy Cycle

  • The Dance – I hurt, I want things to be different, My core Fear is touched, I react in an unhealthy way, My spouse is hurt, they want things to change, their core fear is tapped, they react in an unhealthy way, you are hurt even more.
  • The Crazy cycle – I feel disrespected, I react in an unhealthy way, She feels unloved, she reacts in an unhealthy way, we both are hurt.
  • Identifying your core fear, helps you to stop the crazy cycle
    • My story – I was in the Kitchen fixing a salad, my wife say’s “leave everything out for me, so I can fix a salad as well.” When I was finished with my salad I start putting lids on, she says didn’t you listen to me I told you to leave it out (sarcastic), I immediately get defensive and start explaining what I was doing, she says, “well you don’t have to yell at me”, I say, “I am not yelling!” – We just did the fear dance and the crazy cycle.  I felt disrespected, she felt unloved, my core fear of being inadequate and a failure were pushed and her core fears of feeling invalidated, ignored & unimportant were touched.  That is how quickly we fall into this unhealthy routine and it soon becomes a way of life.

3.  Understand & Nurture the three types of intimacy needed in marriage

  • Emotional intimacy – Friendship
  • Spiritual intimacy – Deep Connection
  • Physical intimacy – Need I say more

4.  Understand & Improve the way in which you communicate

  • Really Listening – Eye contact, positive body language, repeat back what you heard, ask questions
  • Having the Floor – Allow the other person to have the floor and explain their position.  You only ask questions and repeat back what you heard.  Once the other person is satisfied that you heard them, you get the floor and repeat the process.
  • Be interested not interesting – Spend 5 minutes within 5 feet of your spouse everyday
  • Know Your Filter – men & women are very different.  Your background, your experiences all are used to filter what you see and hear.
  • Settle disagreements – don’t allow conflict to go unresolved for long periods of time

5.  Understand How Powerful Forgiveness is – Every relationship has to practice forgiveness.

  • It is not forgetting, but it is the first step toward forgetting
  • Forgiveness trumps anger – unforgiveness breeds anger and bitterness
  • Be quick to admit when you are wrong and ask and give forgiveness
  • Don’t let arguments go unresolved – Are we OK?

These five practices are vital to having a healthy marriage, but it takes work and practice.  It also takes humility to admit that you need to make a change and do things differently in order to improve you marriage.  Sometimes it takes working with a counselor or mentor in order to make the necessary adjustments and changes.  The good news is that your marriage can change and improve and be healthy and all the work is worth it.  Remember that you cannot control your spouse and what he or she does, but you can control what you do.

7 Distractions That Keep Us From Growing

Most of us would agree that there are areas of our lives that are not where we want them to be.  It might be a marriage relationship that has deteriorated or maybe a relationship with a son or daughter or parent that is unhealthy.  Maybe we are not where we want to be in our professional lives.  For some it could be emotional health, hurts from our past that are causing problems in our present lives.  Many of us struggle to be where we want to be spiritually as well.  So what holds us back from growing in these important areas of our lives?  Why do so many people simple remain the same and maintain the status quo instead of growing and changing?

Here are some of the distractions that keep us from growing:

  1. Busyness – Being consumed in a rat-race to keep up and get things done does not allow us the margin to think deeply and focus on the important things. We keep adding things to our lives without stopping other things, so the list just gets bigger and longer.
  2. Comforts – Most people look for and desire comfort and when they find it they become trapped by it.  Getting out of our comfort zone becomes more difficult the longer we stay there.
  3. Too Many Options – Today there are so many opportunities to learn and grow and change that we can sometime be confused by the wide range of options and opportunities.  When we have too many options, we often choose nothing.  This can also lead us to simply be busy because we choose to do too much.
  4. Insecurity – If we don’t really know who we are, how can we know what we are suited to do or where we should go.
  5. The Past – Issues not dealt with will hold us back, and this is often expressed through fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being inadequate and hundreds of other fears.  These fears pop up every time we experience something that connects us to our past hurts.
  6. Laziness – This is often what keeps us in our comfort zone.
  7. Secret Sin – This dulls our senses and blocks our ability to enjoy healthy emotions and relationships.  It keeps us from the vision that God has for our lives and keeps us stuck in darkness and slaves to sin.

One or more of these may be keeping you from growing and making progress in certain areas of your life.  In order to move forward it takes a decision to face these things head on by first acknowledging the problem and then developing a plan to make a change.

I love to spend time planning this time of year.  It is a great time to evaluate where we are at in all the important areas of our lives.  If there is an area we are not happy with, we can begin to focus on how to make a change in that area.  It might mean getting help from someone that has been through what you are dealing with or taking a risk to try something new or different.  The important thing is to acknowledge that you do not want to remain the same and that you desire to grow.  Then start praying and asking God to help make this happen.  A year from now will you be the same person you are today or will you be in a new place spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally and financially?

How Healthy Are You?

 

When we talk about health most of us think about our physical health.  That is an important thing and I try to take that seriously by eating healthy and exercising.  Emotional and spiritual health is something we don’t think about or talk about as much.  I believe that they are even more important than physical health because they contribute to physical health.  When we are unhealthy emotionally or spiritually it can actually contribute to physical problems because of the unhealthy beliefs and thinking that contribute to the emotional state we are in.  So how do we get a handle on how healthy we are emotionally.

One of the biggest indicators of emotional health is the level of trust a person has.  The dysfunction of mistrust hurts relationships, marriages, work environments, churches, families and even entire countries.  Mistrust and control often go hand in hand.  At its core control comes from not trusting others to make healthy and wise choices.  Mistrust is often present when there is not proper clarity and when boundaries are not defined.  When their is a lack of communication people begin to mistrust.  Here are some things that create a culture of mistrust, either at home or at work:

  1. Approaching people from the beginning with an attitude of mistrust. Many people have a built-in attitude of mistrust.  This attitude says, “I will not trust you until you prove that I can trust you.”  That is the reverse of what a healthy person would think.  This attitude often is the result of being hurt in the past and therefore guarding against that ever happening again.
  2. Believing something to be true when you don’t have all the facts.  In other words assuming things that turn out to be false or untrue.  This happens when you don’t ask questions and dig for the truth.  It also happens when you automatically think the worst instead of believe the best.
  3. Believing what someone says without hearing the other side of the story or knowing all the facts.
    Healthy people don’t draw conclusions without doing due diligence.

So how do you build trust?  How do you change a culture in a home, church or workplace that has mistrust?

  1. Choose to trust unless you are given a reason not to.
  2. Assume that motives are right even when you disagree.
  3. Be proactive in clarifying issues rather than assuming something to be true.

Finally here are some trust building principles that will help transform your relationships at home and at work.

  • Choose to Trust – Choose to trust people unless they give you a reason not to.  When trust is broken make the effort to let that person know how trust can be re-established.
  • Be up-front and candid – Tell people what you are thinking and don’t hope they pick up on your hints.  Tell people what your expectations are and be clear about what you are thinking and why.
  • Keep your Promises – Do what you say you will do and be honest when you know you can’t.
  • Act Consistently – Your life needs to match your words.  You need to be consistent in how you treat people, how you express love to people and how you handle conflict.
  • Listen Carefully – This will transform your relationships because it will help to cut down on misunderstandings.  To listen well you need to ask clarifying questions, repeat back what the person said, honestly consider peoples opinions and suggestions and even change your mind if they have a better idea.  Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
  • Caring for People – Be genuine and treat people the way you would want to be treated.  Care about them as a whole person not just for how they can help you.  No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • Be Self-Disclosing -Be quick to admit your own weaknesses and when you have made a mistake.  Share your story with people in appropriate ways.  For people you are close with open up and share the good the bad and the ugly.  If you are hiding something, it eventually comes out in your behavior.
  • Empower people don’t control – Give people the freedom to do what they are responsible to do.  Allow them to make mistakes and coach when necessary.  In a marriage relationship this means allowing your spouse to have other friends and activities they enjoy.  Clarify your desires and vision for your marriage.  Speak their love language without expecting them to speak yours.  Don’t give in order to get.
  • Clarify, don’t Assume – Always believe the best instead of assuming the worst.  When he is late again, believe that he had a busy day and something unexpected came up instead of assuming he intentionally worked late to make you mad.

Healthy people trust, unhealthy people mistrust.  It is the same way spiritually.  Healthy people trust God completely and believe He will do what he says He will do.  I encourage you to get healthy, take a risk and start trusting more.

Asking For Forgiveness

 

How we ask for forgiveness is critical.  I don’t know of any relationship that has lasted very long that has not had to practice forgiveness.  This is the key ingredient that makes all the difference.  Unhealthy relationships lack true forgiveness.  Old problems and conflict are brought up on a regular basis and used to hurt the other person.  I will be writing several posts in the coming weeks on this idea of forgiveness.

If I accidentally spill a cup of coffee on you, I have not sinned against you, so I do not need to ask for forgiveness.  But I should apologize for what I have done.  On the other hand, if I throw a cup of coffee in your face, I have sinned against you.  I need to ask you to forgive me.

So, is an apology the same as asking for forgiveness?  No.  The right way to go about asking for forgiveness is to first name the specific sin, and then explicitly asking the person for forgiveness:  “I was wrong for yelling at you and using that language with you.  Will you forgive me?”  I named the sin and asked for forgiveness.  If I would have said, “I am sorry for yelling at you,” and stop there, the typical response from the offended person is, “Oh that’s okay,”  or “it’s no big deal.”  What has happened there is the offender has not admitted to sinning against the other person.  Secondly, the offended person has lied by minimizing the sin.  It is not okay for someone to sin against another person.  This is not the way to healthy relationships.

So the key is recognizing and admitting when we sin against another person.  When you admit your mistake openly and ask for forgiveness for that offense it now puts it into the other persons court to make a decision.  Either I choose to forgive that person or not.  I may not be ready in that moment to forgive if it was a deep hurt or has been a long term thing.  I should consider if the person is trustworthy and sincere.  Even if they are not totally sincere or trustworthy, it is still my decision to hold onto the hurt or release it by forgiving the person.  Unforgiveness is the root of most anger issues and will destroy your relationships.  Choosing to forgive is the beginning of healing and wholeness.

Next time I will talk about why we don’t forgive.

Relationships Matter – 6 Principles

 

Relationships are so important and yet they are also so challenging.  When you think about it relationships are what matter most in life because that is what people will remember.  I have been doing a lot of funerals lately and am always reminded that none of know how long we have or how old we really are.  That is why it is so important to make sure that we are working on the relationships in our lives.  Checking our priorities to make sure we are actually putting things like family, spouse, children, friends and God at the top of the list.  The real test is what we actually do, not what we say.  That is where the real work comes in, putting effort into the important relationships.

Here are several principles that will improve all your relationships if applied:

  • Choose your words wisely – There is great power in the tongue it can quickly cut someone down or build someone up.  The way in which you talk to someone reveals a lot about the relationship.  If there is sarcasm, belittling statement, swearing, name calling and no respect it shows a very unhealthy relationship.  Often the way to start turning around a relationship is to change the words you are using.
  • Actively Listen – This is different that just hearing what is said.  To work at a relationship you need to actively listen by using good eye contact, and body language such as turning your body toward the person and giving them your full attention.  It is also asking questions to clarify what the other person is saying.  This is a huge key in avoiding misunderstandings which is the biggest cause of arguments.
  • Resolve Conflicts – Working through conflict is vital for healthy relationships.  When we have unresolved conflict it builds up under the surface of our relationship and and eventually comes back out, often in an unhealthy way.  Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it come to conflict:
  1. Don’t bury the problem or the pain it’s causing you.
  2. Don’t use inflammatory remarks, sarcasm, or name-calling. Don’t generalize or exaggerate.
  3. Don’t let the conflict broaden to other issues.
  4. Never use ultimatums or threats.
  5. Don’t use disrespectful body language or demeaning nonverbal communication.
  6. Don’t interrupt, don’t raise your voice, don’t walk away or withdraw or hang up the phone in the middle of conflict.
  7. Do take time out to regain your composure.
  8. Do prepare for the confrontation before you engage in it.
  9. Do ask for advice on what you can do to help resolve the problem.
  10. Do use many encouraging and positive statements.
  11. When possible, reassure the person of your ongoing commitment to them and your desire to strengthen and build the relationship.
  • Practice Forgiveness – Proverbs 10:12 says “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  Anytime you get hurt, it is a great opportunity to respond with forgiveness and loving kindness.  There is no act or attribute that is more pleasing to God than when we forgive one another.  For any relationship to last, forgiveness must be ever present.  To combat anger we must forgive.
  • Fight against pride and selfishness – Those two things will cause the most damage in our relationships.  To fight pride, practice humility which means thinking more about others than ourselves.  It also means that we realize that we don’t know it all and that we can learn and grow.  To fight selfishness we need to serve others.  When we actively look to serve the people in our lives it shows our love and it also helps us to grow in character.
  • Know what the other person’s love language is and speak it often – The five love languages are – Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch and Giving Gifts.

I could keep going, but those are some of the best things we can do to improve any relationship that is important to us.  Keep working at it, it is worth the effort.  A healthy happy relationship will bring great joy and peace into your life.

5 Mistakes Women Make in Marriage

 

My last post was about the mistakes a lot of the guys make in their marriage.  That was easy for me to write about as I am one of those guys.  Writing about mistakes women make in marriage is a little more challenging.  This comes from years of counseling couples and listening to their frustrations and problems.  Just like my post about the guys, I am sure there are other things that could be mentioned, but let’s start with these five for now.  These are similar to the mistakes that men make.

  1. Loving your husband conditionally – This is what I call performance based love.  When the man performs a certain way or does what is expected, the wife tends to show love and respect.  The real test of love is when that is not happening.  When expectations are not met and his behavior is not what you want, do you love him less?  Maybe you wouldn’t say you love him less, but does your response and behavior communicate that to him or does it communicate that when he straightens up then you will show him some love?
  2. Not making sex a priority – Just like the men, women can make the mistake of thinking that men should approach intimacy the same as them.  Men are not as emotional as women and therefore most guys don’t connect emotionally very well.  For most men the thought of intimacy means sex.  Physical intimacy is how most men feel close to their wives.  Without that type of intimacy they can feel unloved.  It may be enough for you to talk, hug and kiss, but for most guys that just gets the engine running.  Talk with your husband about sex and see what happens.  Life can be very busy and hectic, and it can be hard to have time for the two of you to be intimate, but if you don’t it’s a big mistake.
  3. Forgetting how to be your husbands friend – One of the things I have observed in many marriages is that they are no longer best friends.  Most guys desire their wives to be their best friends.  That means doing fun stuff together, hanging out, going out to eat and being able to talk about what is going on in their lives.  Find something you can do together to have fun and relieve stress.  Go back to the days when you were dating.  When you acted like you were interested in sports or cars or his work.  When you did that it made him feel important and that he was sharing his life with you.  He needs you to be his friend, not his mother.
  4.  Not encouraging your husband – Most men crave encouragement.  The way you speak to your husband will say a lot about your relationship.  When you encourage your man, he feels respected, which is even more important to him than love.  Encouragement can come through words either spoken or in writing.  It can also just be simple body language that communicates to him that you are proud of him and think that he is doing a great job.  Being there for him in the important moments of his life whether that is at work or with one of his hobbies.  So when was the last time you encouraged your husband in a positive way?
  5. Not being clear in your communication – Men and women think differently, see things differently, hear things differently and communicate differently.  One of the mistakes some women make is to expect their man to pick up on what is going on in your life.  Most guys are not that observant.  It really helps when you clearly state why you are upset or what you would like us to do.  Hinting about it is very frustrating for most men.  Most men are pretty simple and when communication becomes complicated they tend to shut down.  The more clear you communicate, the fewer misunderstandings tend to happen.  You also need to be aware of your nonverbal communication.  You might be saying something but communicating another because of your tone of voice and facial expressions.  So understand your own communication style and his and make any adjustments necessary.  If communication is a big problem in your marriage, I recommend you get some help.  Go get help from a mentor or counselor.  I recommend you don’t demand he go with you, but let him know you would like him to go if he wants to, but that you want to go to try to improve yourself so you can be a better wife.

I hope some of those thoughts were helpful.  My last thought is this.  Don’t make the mistake of not building spiritual intimacy with your husband.  It may only be you praying for him in the beginning, but that can be very powerful.  Remember you can’t change him, you can only change yourself.

5 Mistakes Men Make In Marriage

 

Healthy relationships take work and a willingness to learn and grow.  For men this can be a very challenging thing.  Most men tend to struggle in relationships because we don’t realize some of the mistakes we are making.  Marriage is the closest relationship we have and as men we need to make some big changes in order to have happy, healthy marriages.  Just a quick word to the guys reading this.  Most guys work hard at improving themselves in their work life.  We study, practice, and learn from more experienced people in order to become better at our jobs.  We do the same thing with our hobbies.  Why should it be any different when it comes to the most important relationship in our lives.

So here are 5 mistakes that I have made along with most men.  Now there are probably a lot more mistakes that the ladies reading this can come up with, but that would feel like nagging and most guys would tune that out quickly.  Here are the top 5 things guys can work on to quickly improve their relationship with their wives:

  1. Loving Our Wives Conditionally – This is hard to admit for most guys, because we like to think that we love our wives unconditionally.  The reality is that most men have conditions for their love.  If she performs in the way we like, we express love to her.  When she cleans the house, takes care of the children, cook the food, and run the household then we are happy and love her.  However when things don’t go like we think it should we tend to get angry, frustrated, disappointed and withhold love.  When she does not show us the respect we think we should have we don’t love her the way we should.
  2. Thinking Her Definition Of Intimacy Is The Same As Ours – When men think about intimacy we usually think sex.  This is not the case for our wives.  It’s about an emotional connection, being able to talk about the important stuff going on in her life.  She see’s intimacy as a deep emotional connection, when we take the time to really focus on her and listen without trying to fix things.  For most women the emotional intimacy and the physical intimacy are very much connected.  For men we tend to keep them separate.
  3. Not Encouraging Our Wives Enough – Many wives do a ton of things that go unnoticed.  Running a household, caring for children, preparing food, planning schedules, paying bills working outside the home, volunteering at school or church.  Most of us husbands take all this for granted and don’t thank and encourage our wives nearly enough.  We can’t say it often enough.  When we take the time to notice all the things she does and thank her specifically for them, it sends a message to her that she is valuable, important and treasured.
  4. Not knowing her Love Language – There are five love languages that express love to the people in our lives.  In marriage this is a vital part of developing a close healthy relationship.  Most of us guys don’t even think about how to express love to our wives let alone understanding what her love language is.  We usually speak our own love language to our wives, which may not be her top love language.  So here are the five areas:  Words of Affirmation/Encouragement, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Acts of Service & Physical Touch.  When we take the time to find out which of those are more meaningful to our wives we send a message that we care and want to love her better.  When we actually do it on a regular basis our marriage will improve dramatically.  Remember actions speak louder than words.  To learn more about the Five Love Languages read the book by that title by author Gary Chapman.
  5. Not Building Spiritual Intimacy With Our Wives – If we want our marriages to go from good to great, then we need to bring the spiritual element into our marriages.  Most of us men don’t ever connect with our wives on a spiritual level.  This adds a whole new dimension of intimacy that is missing in most marriages.  When we as men take the lead on spiritual stuff, it sends a message to our wives that we desire to grow with them.  Being on the same page spiritually brings peace & strength to the relationship.  Couples that are spiritually active together rarely get divorced.  This would include things like church attendance, small group participation, praying together, praying for each other daily, doing devotions together, having spiritual conversations attending seminars or classes together, praying with and for your children.  When we take the initiative to lead our families spiritually amazing transformation starts to happen.  This all starts with us making a commitment to grow spiritually ourselves.  We cannot force this on our wives, but we can start with ourselves.

Well guys, I hope this was a helpful start in making adjustments or changes in your marriage relationship.  My next post will be on 5 Mistakes Women make in marriage.

5 Steps to a Healthy Marriage

This week and gave a speech on healthy marriages at a local business.  I was very impressed that the leader of this organization was investing in his employees by offering helpful information on how to be healthy in all parts of their lives.  They have heard talks about finances, wills and physical health and I was now addressing relational health.

If one area of our lives is out of whack it negatively impacts the other parts of our lives even though we think we can compartmentalize each area of our lives.  When our marriage is hurting, it impacts our emotional state and increases the amount of stress we feel on a daily basis.  That stress impacts our work performance, our parenting skills and our ability to focus and make good decisions.

Marriage is difficult because this is the closest we get to another human being, which brings out all the ugly stuff inside us.  We all bring our picture of marriage to the table.  What we have learned about marriage from our parents, television, movies and friends.  Most of it is not accurate and sets us up for disappointment and failure.  These are the 5 steps I shared with that group that I believe are vital to having a healthy marriage.

  1. Understand & Speak the Right Love Language – We each have a love account, like a bank account that needs to to have regular deposits in it to avoid being overdrawn.  If more is taken out of the account than put in we soon feel empty, hurt and unhappy.  The 5 Love Languages are how we make those deposits.  They are all important, but 1 or 2 are usually more important than others to each person.  We often project our love language on the other person instead of discovering which one is most important to them.  When you understand which language speaks love to your spouse and then work at speaking it through actions the marriage relationship grows stronger and healthier.
  • Words of Affirmation – The way in which we speak to each other either builds up or destroys.  If this is a primary love language words hurt or help even more.
  • Acts Of Service – Actively serving the other person by noticing things that need to be done and doing them before being asked.
  • Receiving Gifts – If this is a primary love language receiving a gift like flowers or even a small token make the person feel like they are valuable and special.
  • Quality Time – Planning time together and where we can focus on just on another.  This communicates to the other person that they are the most important person on the schedule.
  • Physical Touch – Hugs, kisses, holding hands, a touch on the shoulder and sex are some of the ways to speak love to a person with this love language.

The way to identify which ones are most important to you is to ask yourself which ones can I do without and which ones can’t I do without.  If you have not been speaking your spouses love language for a while it will be difficult in the beginning because it will feel somewhat fake.  However the more you do it the better you will become and the more likely your spouse will reciprocate.

2.  Understand & Stop the Fear Dance – The fear dance is the cycle we go through when we have conflict.  I get hurt, I want things to be different or change, I feel my emotions like anger, frustration coming up (Core Fear is touched), I respond usually in an unhealthy way and the same cycle happens with my spouse.  We all have core fears like fear of failure, fear of being inadequate, incompetent, unheard, abandon etc.  When we can understand which core fears we have we can better stop the fear dance and resolve conflict in a healthy way.  To learn more about the fear dance read the book “The DNA Of Relationships” by Gary Smalley.

3.  Understand & Nurture the 3 kinds of Intimacy

  • Emotional Intimacy – This is friendship, we should be best friends with our spouse.  Doing fun things together, sharing what is going on in our lives, being completely open and honest with each other.
  • Spiritual Intimacy – This is connecting on a spiritual level by being in agreement on our beliefs and then doing things together that reinforce those beliefs like going to church together, praying together, reading together, talking about spiritual things together and with others that are like minded.
  • Physical Intimacy – This is when we share our bodies with each other and submit to each other physically.  Knowing how to please the other person.  This is usually where we start in a relationship, but the other two need to come first for this to be healthy.

4.  Understand & Change the Way We Communicate – Communication is vital to a healthy marriage, but communication is not just talking.  Here are a few communication ideas to help improve communication.

  • Really Listen – Most of us don’t really listen.  We make attempts at it, but don’t consistently listen well.  Listening is the most important part of communication, because when we listen well we can avoid misunderstandings and we let the other person know that they are valuable and important to us.  By simply listening, we can improve the health of our marriage instantly.
  • Speaker/Listener technique –  This is a simple way to communicate through conflict.  When someone has an issue they want to talk about they have the floor or the microphone.  Using a pen as the microphone the person explains what the issue is.  The other person can only ask clarifying questions and repeat back what the other person said.  When the person with the floor feels heard they turn over the microphone and the other person can share their side.
  • Be interested, not Interesting – This means that instead of sharing everything about yourself and your day and what you accomplished, you are more interested in what your spouse did and how their day went.  By asking some simple questions and then shutting up and listening you communicate that your spouse is important.
  • Know Your Filter – Men see and hear things much differently than women.  Therefore we always need to make sure that we don’t assume this is what the other person meant.  We also have all had different experiences and circumstances in our lives that cause us to filter things in different ways.  Again, don’t jump to conclusions without asking questions like help me to understand what just happened.

5.  Understand & Practice Forgiveness – No relationship will last very long without practicing forgiveness.  Being quick to admit when we are wrong and humbling ourselves will build a healthy marriage.  Forgiveness is not forgetting, but it is the first step toward forgetting.  When we are healed we tend to forget the previous hurts and don’t keep bringing them back up.  Forgiveness does not mean we don’t have boundaries either.  Sometimes we need boundaries until the other person can show a change in behavior, even though we have forgiven them.

These are some things that have helped my marriage over the last 22 years.  Practice them and I am sure things will begin to improve and become more healthy.  Sometimes we need some help getting started and that is when counseling or mentoring can help.  Meeting with a mentor couple or a counselor or both can help you get on track and start reconciliation.  We offer marriage mentoring at NewPointe Community Church for couples that want to restore and rebuild their marriage.  For more information you can check out this website – Marriage 911.

10 Tips for a Healthy Marriage

Nearly everyone that gets married, goes in wanting to be happy and stay married for the rest of their lives.  So what happens along the way to cause people to end up hating each other or frustrated to the point of divorce?  Why does verbal, physical and emotional abuse happen so often in marriages that started out with so much hope?

Most people that end up getting married, don’t put much work in on the front end.  They may date for a while and many people are now pretending to be married, thinking that is a good way to prepare for marriage.  Unfortunately the results have been dismal.  Couples that live together have a much greater chance of divorce than those that do not.  Couples that do not go through some pre-marital mentoring or counseling have a much higher chance of not making it.  So for people that are thinking about getting married, go get some help in preparing for this lifelong commitment.  Why wouldn’t you get some training for the biggest relationship commitment you will ever make.

For those that are already married and maybe did not put a lot of work in at the beginning, it’s not too late.  Marriages can be improved dramatically with some work and a different perspective.  Here are some tips or thoughts on how to build a happy marriage:

  1. Change your expectations to desires – Marriage is not so much about you, but about serving and loving your spouse well.  If you are looking at your husband or wife to meet all your needs and make you happy, you are heading toward failure and disappoint.  No human being can meet all our needs and make us happy.  Only God can do that.  Many times we put too high of expectations on our spouse and then are upset when they don’t live up to that.  Instead of expecting certain behavior, change your mindset to desiring certain behavior.  When you see it happen it is more meaningful.  That shift in thinking can change your marriage.
  2. Learn to love well – To love well, a person must understand what speaks love to their spouse.  If you do not understand what is meaningful and special to your spouse, you can be doing the wrong things and actually be hurting your marriage.  Gary Chapman wrote a book called the “Five Love Languages”.  He describes 5 ways of communicating love to another person.  Those languages are; Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Quality Time.  Everyone has one or two of those that are more meaningful than others.  Find out what your spouses language is and what yours is and then sit down and talk about it with your spouse.
  3. Focus on growing yourself, not changing your spouse – The more you try to change your spouse the worse it usually gets.  The only thing you have control over is yourself.  When you focus on problems or the shortcomings of your spouse, you are no longer working on your own issues or growing closer to God.  Seek out a mentor or someone that can help you work on your own issues.
  4. Deepen your relationship with God – To have a happy marriage, it will take more than what you have on your own.  When you develop your relationship with God, He gives you strength, courage and wisdom you can’t get on your own.  When you grow spiritually, you grow relationally with others as well.
  5. Bring God into your Marriage – Spiritual intimacy in a marriage relationship is one of the biggest keys to happiness and contentment in marriage.  Making God central in your marriage builds a solid foundation.  Praying together, going to church together, going to small group together, reading the Bible & devotions together and having spiritual conversations together will build that intimacy.  If your spouse is not where you are at spiritually, don’t force this on them.  Instead pray silently for them regularly and demonstrate your faith by loving them well and serving them as best you can.
  6. Build Emotional Intimacy – This is all about being best friends.  Connecting with each other through meaningful conversations, doing fun things together and just hanging out.  This usually happens through the dating process, but often slows down after the marriage.  Start dating again and work at becoming friends again.
  7. Prioritize Physical Intimacy – This area of marriage often get neglected as life gets busy.  Children, work, family functions and children’s activities can keep married people from having enough physical intimacy.  Take time to plan for this if needed.  God designed sex for marriage for a reason.  It was meant to increase closeness and intimacy.  It is a way of serving each other and surrendering yourself to the other person.  Physical intimacy is much better when the emotional and spiritual intimacy are doing well.
  8. Always believe the best about your spouse – When you always think the best about your spouse instead of assuming the worse, you are more likely to be happily married.  Trust is essential in marriage.  Honesty and openness in marriage leads the way to trust.  Connecting emotionally, spiritually and physically helps to deepen trust and belief in your spouse.  When your first response is to believe the best instead of assume the worse, it leads to a better line of thinking.  Less suspicion and more trust.  When trust is broken though, boundaries need to be put into place in order to re-establish trust.
  9. Listen  – Most people are really poor listeners.  When it comes to marriage it can get even worse.  If you will simply work at becoming a better listener, your marriage will begin to improve.  Listening takes more than just paying attention.  It means to actually try to understand what is being said and being able to repeat it back.  It means you follow through on what is discussed.  In other words listening needs to be active, letting your spouse know you are truly interested and want to understand and then acting on what you hear.  First trying to understand before being understood leads to good listening.
  10. Think Team – Your on the same team not on opposite sides.  Team mates need to communicate well with each other and work together through whatever problems come your way.  Problem solving becomes a joint effort instead of one sided.  To function as a team you need to know your role and understand how you best contribute to the success of the marriage.  The approach should always be we not me.

These ten things are not the only things that help build a solid marriage, but they can get you started.  Marriage takes work to be successful.  A selfish person does not make a very good husband or wife.  Pride and arrogance leads to destruction.  So if your marriage is a mess or struggling along, humble yourself and get some help.  If your marriage is doing well and you have worked through some struggles, then you need to help others work on their marriages.