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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hang Out...A Lot - Third Strategy for a Successful Marriage

Have you noticed that spending time with someone creates a bond with that person? Maybe you’ve experienced it at work, playing sports, or by taking a vacation with your family. There’s  something about spending time together with other people that connects us with them, whether we want to be connected with them or not.

Like everything else in life, connecting with other people has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the most important advantages of human connection is that married couples have the opportunity to experience relational fulfillment in a deep, intimate relationship with one another. But the natural connection which takes place between humans can also wreak havoc on our marriage. We can find ourselves bonding more with other people than with our spouse, causing us to feel very disconnected from the person we love the most.

If you want to have a successful marriage, then I would encourage you and your spouse to intentionally carve out time in your busy schedules to spend focused time with one another.

How Much Time Should You and Your Spouse Spend Together?

It depends. There’s no apply-to-all answer to this question. But in research conducted by Willard Harley, author of the best-selling book His Needs, Her Needs, he concluded that couples who maintain love for one another intentionally spend fifteen or more hours a week together.[1] That’s a lot of time!

Does every married couple need to spend that much time together? Not necessarily since it depends specifically on you and your spouse, but of the married couples Willard Harley surveyed, the ones who were most satisfied in their marriages spend at least fifteen hours a week together.

How does anyone have time for that? Well, with everything else going on in our lives, we don’t. This is where we have to prioritize what’s most important to us. When Amy and I decided to start intentionally spending at least fifteen hours a week together, we also made the decision to give up some of the things we were doing, some of which were good things, but not things that were enabling us to spend the amount of time together we needed. That’s not to say that giving up things is the only alternative; we also found that we could do some of the things we were already doing, but do them together instead of doing them separately. If continuing to grow deeper in your relationship with your spouse is important to you, I’m certain you’ll both figure out a way to make time for each other.

Can You Spend Too Much Time Together with Your Spouse?

As with practically everything in life, there is such a thing as spending too much time with your spouse, not because it’ll cause you to get on each other’s nerves, but because it can result in neglecting other important parts of your lives such as time working, with kids, friends, and family.

Amy and I have experienced seasons of our lives where we spend an excessive amount of time together, which has been extremely helpful for our marriage, but has resulted in distancing ourselves from some of our closest friends. Although our marriage relationship should come first, these other relationships are also an important part of our lives which we don’t want to lose.

What Are Some Ideas for How You Can Spend More Time with Your Spouse?

If you’re anything like us, spending fifteen hours a week sitting across the room from each other to talk about your day will get boring really fast. What we learned is that it’s helpful to mix up the things we do together. One way a lot of people seem to bond is through doing activities together, so why not find some activities you can both do together? Here are a few examples of things Amy and I do together that may help get your creative juices flowing:

  • We go for walks together
  • We go fishing together
  • We play tennis together
  • We watch movies together
  • We play video games together
  • We go to live sporting events together
  • We clean the house together
  • We go kayaking together
  • We do things that husbands and wives do together when they’re alone in their bedrooms 😉

Do we both enjoy all of these activities? Not exactly. I don’t particularly like watching movies, especially if the movies are chick-flicks, but Amy likes watching chick-flicks, so I sacrifice sometimes and watch movies with her. Amy doesn’t particularly like fishing, but she sacrifices sometimes and goes fishing with me. There’s virtually nothing on the list that we enjoy doing equally, but we’ve both learned how to do things we may not necessarily want to do, but can do in order to spend time with each other.

Intentionally spending more time together has resulted in us cutting back on some of the activities we used to do that we couldn’t or didn’t want to do together. For example, I stopped playing all competitive sports except for hockey in order to spend more time with Amy. Likewise, Amy stopped doing some of the after-work activities she was involved with in order to spend more time with me. Neither playing sports nor engaging in after-work activities were bad activities; they simply weren’t as important as spending time together. We’ve learned that it’s not about what we do, but about who we do it with.

Regardless of how you and your spouse decide to spend time together, the principle here is to spend lots of time together doing things that you are both agreeable to doing. You’ll be amazed how much more connected you’ll feel to your spouse.

How much time do you spend with your spouse on a weekly basis? If you’d like to spend more focused time together, what things can you change in your life to encourage spending more time together?

[1] Willard Harley, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2011), location 1032-33, Kindle.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Communicate Openly - Fourth Strategy for a Successful Marriage

In the Nicholas Sparks classic, The Notebook, Noah and Allie, both teenagers in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, fall in love with each other over the summer. But at the end of the summer, their relationship is broken apart when Allie’s family moves to Charleston. A few years later, Allie becomes engaged to a wealthy man named Lon. Noah, still in love with Allie, ends up crossing paths with her. They hook up at his house for some unsanctioned activities. The following morning, Allie decides she needs to go back to Lon, but Noah isn’t so quick to let her go. Here’s a brief snippet of their interaction:

Noah: Would you just stay with me?
Allie: Stay with you? What for? Look at us, we’re already fighting.
Noah: Well that’s what we do: we fight. You tell me when I’m being an arrogant son of a bitch and I tell you when you’re being a pain in the ass, which you are, 99 percent of the time. I’m not afraid to hurt your feelings. They have like a two second rebound rate and you’re back doing the next pain in the ass thing.
Allie: So what?
Noah: So, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be really hard. And we’re going to have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you.

If you’ve read or watched The Notebook, then you know that shortly thereafter, Allie breaks off her engagement to Lon and marries Noah.

Why Is It Important For Us to Communicate Openly?

Although Noah and Allie may not have had everything going for them, one thing they had going for them was that they were able to communicate openly with each other. They didn’t hesitate to tell each other how they felt, even if it meant that the other person’s feelings were hurt from time to time. This was certainly the cause of some of their fights, but in the midst of the fights, there was no question about how each of them felt about the other one.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I know in America we value our privacy. Most Americans shudder at the idea of personally unveiling their deepest thoughts and emotions, let alone the idea of revealing them to another person. We’re afraid that if anyone discovers our deepest secrets, they’re going to reject us. So we continue to try to hide all this stuff, hoping no one will ever find them out.

Although I personally wouldn’t suggest hiding all your dirtiest secrets from yourself and other people, if you’re a single person, you could theoretically live your entire life this way without too many repercussions. But if you’re married, continuing to be Fort Knox is a recipe for certain disaster.

One of the most foundational building blocks of any marriage is trust. And trust is built upon transparency. Assuming that our transparency is coming out of the love we have for our spouse, the more transparent we are, the more our spouse will trust us. On the other hand, if we insist on being Fort Knox, then our spouse may never completely trust us. Opening the gate of our vault to let our spouse in is one way we can strategically position ourselves for a successful marriage.

Could Your Transparency Lead Your Spouse to Reject You?

This fear of rejection from being transparent is completely legitimate. To be transparent is to be vulnerable and vulnerability is risky. If knowledge of my deepest secrets gets in the hands of the wrong people, then it can result in all sorts of devastating consequences.

When we are transparent with our spouse, there’s always a possibility that our spouse could reject us, especially when our transparency reveals that we have racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, have been looking at pornography, or have been engaged in an extra-marital affair. It’s possible that admitting something like this could result in your spouse’s rejection. But it’s also possible that your transparency will build trust with your spouse and open up an opportunity for you and your spouse to work together as a team to overcome your struggles.

What Are Some Ideas for How to Openly Communicate with Your Spouse?

Maybe you’d like to take some steps towards communicating more openly with your spouse, but you’re not sure exactly where to start. I have two suggestions. The first is to read some of the “generalized” tips below and figure out how you can personally apply them in your marriage. And the second is to drop me a note and I’d be more than happy to work with you to come up with some ideas for your specific situation.

Information to share with your spouse on a regular basis. In his book His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley lists four types of open communication which are important in a marriage:

1.      Revealing information about your thoughts, feelings, likes, and dislikes.
2.      Revealing information about your personal history such as particular events that demonstrate personal weakness or failure.
3.      Revealing information about the events of your day, specifically the events which may impact him or her.
4.      Revealing information about your thoughts and plans for the future.[1]

By collectively sharing this information with one another, you and your spouse have an opportunity to get to know each other more and figure out how to be more united.

How to begin sharing more information with your spouse. Beginning to share information that hasn’t been shared before can be very difficult because it involves change, and most people resist change. One of the temptations you may face is the desire to dump everything you’ve been holding back for years on your spouse all at once. Unless your spouse is Jesus, I would encourage you to resist the temptation to dump it all on at once because it will be very overwhelming. Instead, I would encourage you to slowly ease your spouse into it. This will most likely help your spouse to better cope with the changes and may even cause him or her to be more vulnerable as well.

How to share a big shortcoming with your spouse. This one is really hard since every person responds differently in stressful situations. It’s possible your spouse may get really upset with you for being honest. Nonetheless, I’d encourage you to communicate your shortcomings with your spouse, especially your big ones. Structure your message in such a way that you take ownership for your shortcoming, express a sincere apology, and communicate the love you have for your spouse. Depending on your knowledge of your spouse, it may also be helpful to communicate that your shortcomings aren’t your spouse’s fault.

Hopefully you’ve been able to take away something from this article which you can apply in your marriage. Do you have any other thoughts on how spouses can be more transparent with one another?

Check back next week for a discussion on our third strategy for a successful marriage: Hang Out…A Lot.

[1] Willard Harley, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2011), location 1636-42, Kindle.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Make Decisions Together - Fifth Strategy for a Successful Marriage

It was a cool February evening. Although I couldn’t see the sun due to the overcast skies, I knew its light would soon disappear and I’d be left with nothing but darkness for the next twelve hours. Taking one final look at the depressingly cloudy sky, I hopped in my red Ford Escape to begin the hour and a half trek from my job at OSU to our Lead Pastor’s home in Marion.

A couple months earlier, I was approached by the Lead Pastor of our church with a request to pray about becoming a member of our church’s Elder board. I was flattered that the board would consider me, a twenty-three year old, for a position, but I had already made up my mind many years earlier that I was never going to be involved in church leadership. So when asked about joining the board, I prayed about it and then regretfully declined the invitation, much to our pastor’s disappointment. But he was never one to give up easily. A month later, he approached me again and asked if I’d be willing to hear him out about the responsibilities of the position over dinner at his house. Apparently, he knew the right bait to use because I’ll always take someone up on some free food. This was the meeting I was about to have on that cool February evening.

After a quick greeting and invitation to sit down at the dining room table, I began scarfing down pancakes while our pastor dove into expounding upon the role he wanted me to fill. I don’t know if it was something he put in the pancakes or the way he talked about it, but I went into that conversation convinced I didn’t want anything to do with church leadership and left the conversation convinced that church leadership was exactly where God was calling me. I was sold. What I experienced that night was nothing short of repentance, not a mindset shift towards God but a mindset shift towards becoming an elder in our church.

After saying my goodbyes, I hopped back in my car and gave Amy a call to let her know I was on the way home. When she asked me how the meeting had gone, I told her that I had accepted the invitation to become an elder. I don’t know exactly what expression came across Amy’s face nor how she would’ve responded in person, but I’m certain that it turned out better for me that we weren’t in the same room. You see, I’m one of the lucky few people who have experienced the wrath of Amy. And that night, I got a chance to experience it again.

“What did we talk about,” she asked rhetorically, “Didn’t we decide you weren’t going to be an elder?” I spent the remainder of my ten minute drive home attempting to persuade her that this was what was best for me and the church. By the time our conversation ended that evening, she was far from being convinced that I had made a good unilateral decision, but nonetheless, she decided to support my decision.

Why Is It Important For Us to Make Decisions Together?

In the Bible, we’re told that when two people are married, they become one.[1] As a Christian, I believe the Bible communicates truth to us, so I believe that Amy and I are now “one.” But even if you’re not a Christian and don’t believe everything contained in the Bible, I’m sure that if you’re married, you recognize that your decisions impact not only you, but your entire family, and especially your spouse. If you accept a job offer that requires you to relocate a thousand miles away from where you currently live, your decision impacts your entire family, most notably in the fact that you’ll have to pick up and move.

When I made the unilateral decision to accept the invitation to become an elder at our church, I made a decision which impacted both of us, yet Amy had no say in the decision. Thankfully she was willing to go with it, but my choice to accept it wasn’t what she wanted at all.

In the past few years, we’ve grown to understand that marriage isn’t about what’s best for each of us as the two individuals who are involved in the marriage; instead, it’s about what’s best for the one being we’ve become. As one, we work together to make decisions that are in the best interest of our family, even if those decisions happen to not be what might look best for one or both of us.

This isn’t to say that we consult each other about every little thing we do every day such as what outfit to wear or what food to eat for lunch. But when it comes to decisions which impact us as a family, we have found it be very beneficial for us to make those decisions together.

How Do We Know What’s Best for Our Family?

One of the hardest things we’ve had to wrestle with in the process of trying to make decisions together is figuring out what is going to be best for our family. How do we really know what’s best for our family? Because we both spent the first twenty three years of our lives learning how to make decisions which only impacted one person, thinking in these terms was anything but natural.

First, we had to learn how to care for each other as much as we cared for ourselves. When we first got married, we only knew how to be concerned with making decisions that were best for our individual selves. But as we learned to love each other more, we began learning how to sacrifice our own desires so that we could give each other what the other one wanted.

However, this strategy, by itself, doesn’t necessarily lead to a successful marriage. There’s another step we had to take: we had to figure out what was really best for our family. I’m not going to claim that we have figured out exactly what’s best for our family and I don’t think we ever fully will, but we have taken steps to point ourselves in a common direction through developing a family mission statement. Our family mission statement gives us a purpose for why our family exists and guides us in our decision-making. Sometimes we make decisions which don’t seem like they’re going to benefit either of us individually, but which will greatly benefit our family. If you're interested in learning more about developing a strong family mission statement, check out my blog post entitled “Busy?” from June 14, 2017.

If Amy and I had recognized the importance of making decisions together and had developed a family mission statement when we first got married, we would’ve saved ourselves a lot of heartache in our early years of marriage. Don’t be like us; learn from our mistakes. If you’ve been married for a while, it’s never too late to change. I’d encourage you and your spouse to make the decision today to start making decisions together. If you’ve recently gotten married or are planning to get married soon, I’d encourage you to start your marriage off on a good foot by making decisions together from the start. I can’t guarantee anything, but our experiences tell me that making decisions together will allow you to experience a deeper relationship with your spouse.

Lastly, don’t forget to check back next week for a discussion on our fourth strategy for a successful marriage: communicating openly.

[1] Genesis 2:24.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

5 Strategies for a Successful Marriage

Finally...the stress from planning the big day was gone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never forget how supported and encouraged I felt seeing all of our family and friends gathered together in one place, but I was glad when that day was over. We were finally able to get away and enjoy some quality time alone, first in a log cabin in the mountains of Tennessee, and then floating aboard a large ocean vessel about the size of the Titanic in the Caribbean Sea.

When we arrived back in town two weeks later, the most stressful thing on my mind was how I was going to personalize the wording on the 200 thank you cards I needed to write. What was I supposed to say to the person who gave us the tenth crock pot? “Thank you for the crock pot…it’ll fit in well with the other nine we already received!”

A couple weeks later, I began my first job with Turner Construction as a Field Engineer. Don’t let the title fool you; I was nothing more than the low man on the totem pole of the fifty-man construction management team. Meanwhile, Amy went back to her job as a Project Engineer at Marathon Petroleum where she had already been working for a year. How else would we have been able to afford a wedding?

For the first few months, it was pretty much all butterflies and roses. Our weekdays were pretty much all the same: we drove an hour in opposite directions to work, worked between eight and ten hours a day, drove an hour home, ate dinner, spent some time together, went to sleep and did it all over again. Our weekends were packed full of wedding hopping. It was great to just show up with a $50 gift, eat some amazing food, and then go home. But the best part of being married was that we were finally able to come home to one another every evening.

I don’t know exactly when the switch flipped; maybe it was more like a slow fade. But a few months after being married, our relationship didn’t seem so much like butterflies and roses anymore. Our conversations became centered on our workdays. Due to our rigorous schedules, we were becoming more and more exhausted. And we went back to our old habits of being easily irritated with one another.

What was wrong with our marriage? It wasn’t turning out to be much like the fairy tales where prince charming rides in on his white horse, sweeps a beautiful princess off her feet, and rides off into the sunset where they live happily ever after. Did prince charming and the beautiful princess have jobs like us? Did they become exhausted like us? Did they get irritated with one another like us? I don’t know. The movies Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella all end when the prince and princess ride off together into the sunset. As observers, we are left without a clear picture of what happens on the other side of the sunset.

To one degree or another, I think all of us pictured our lives to look more like the fairy tale Disney movies than like what we have actually experienced. We thought riding off into the sunset meant bliss for the rest of our lives, only to find out that there are fiercer dragons out there than the one prince charming slayed in order to rescue his princess. Some of you thought you would’ve already ridden off in the sunset a long time ago, but are still waiting for prince charming to come along and sweep you off your feet.

Whatever your situation, I’m 99.999…% sure your marriage (or lack thereof) has turned out differently than you thought it would. First, I’m sorry it didn’t work out like you thought it would. I’m sure you’ve experienced a lot of pain and frustration like us which you wish you wouldn’t have had to experience. I wish there was something I could do so that none of us would have to experience that pain.

I don’t profess to be an expert on how to have a successful marriage nor would I claim that our marriage is perfect, but Amy and I have learned a few things both during our first seven years of marriage and from counseling other married couples which have helped us to have a great, loving relationship with one another. Over the course of the next five weeks, I will be sharing five of these “strategies” with you in hopes that you may be able to apply one or more of them to your marriage.

Before I wrap up, I need to make a couple clarifications. First, even the best application of our strategies isn’t going to take away all of the pain. Because you’re a human being who is married to another human being, the hard reality is that you’re going to hurt one another, whether you intend to or not. Our strategies aren’t going to take away all the pain. But I hope that successful application of our strategies will enable you to experience a deeper, more intimate relationship with your spouse.

My other clarification is that our strategies don’t come in a template, apply-to-all format. Although I’ll be sharing stories of how we have applied these strategies in our marriage, that doesn’t mean the exact same application of these strategies in your marriage is going to give you the same results. Every person is different, meaning that every marriage is different. What I hope you’ll get out of the strategies I share is a basic principle which you can then figure out how to apply in a way that is going to work for you and your spouse.

I'm excited to go on this journey with you as we take a look at a few of the struggles many of us are facing in our marriages and attempt to develop some strategies to lessen the struggles. The fifth strategy, which I'll be presenting next week, is: Make Decisions Together. I look forward to connecting with you again next week!