Love's First Spark
Remember your beginning
Reflect on your present
Re-ignite your future
It has been quite a journey for myself in writing this study. This all started back in 2014 and was written in 2016 - well it is 2023 and we have been married now for 36 years going on 37 later this year and we have 5 beautiful granddaughters. Thinking that God had placed it on my heart to hopefully help other couples turned out to be only part of the journey. God's plans are greater than our plans and His ways are greater than our ways - how true that is.
What started out as a passion for others, God used as a way for me to face things that I had tried to bury way back in the closet. This turned into a journey for myself as He taught me through what He had me write. This study is truly from God, not myself. It is a study of remembrance and reflection along with a few suggestions to help Re-ignite your marriage.
My hope is that God will use our journey to touch at least one other couple and help them along their path but then again God can do more than we can ever imagine, can't He. We talk a lot about legacy at times and when we do it is usually about things to leave for our children or things that we do so that we will be remembered through history. Well, if this can help one couple who helps another couple, then helps another and so on, all for the glory of God - then that's a legacy worth leaving.
The study below is broken down into sections which include questions and couples exercises. I would like to encourage you to not just simply read through but to answer those questions and do the exercises as a couple. If your marriage is strained and you can't get the other to join you now, go through it yourself. Maybe, just maybe and with God's help - the changes in you may be what brings them along side of you as you go through this journey.
If you prefer a PDF version, simply follow the link below.
Love's First Spark
A Couples Study
Written by: Doug Bessert
Copyright © 2016 Please contact us for permission to use content.
In the fall of 2014, I was in a meeting with our conference superintendent and several other lay people and pastors from all over our conference who were chosen as delegates to the 2015 Free Methodist General Conference. Early in that meeting the superintendent asked us to introduce ourselves, tell everyone where we were from and what out passion was; what was it that God had placed on our hearts – that which drives us forward. Starting at one side of the large table and working around the room would put me about dead center in the group. I had to admit, I was at a loss. I started listening to others as they introduced themselves and spoke about their passion and I wondered to myself; what will I tell them? What passion has God placed on my heart? Is there even a passion there and have I even been listening? Then it was my turn. I introduced myself to everyone and where I was from but had to admit that my wife and I had recently pulled back from some of the responsibilities we had in the church and for us, this was more of a year to pull back, refresh and get a new perspective. It had been great seeing how others stepped up and the growth we were witnessing in their lives but as for me, what was my passion? At that time, I didn’t really have one. There were things I still enjoyed doing within the church but as far as a passion or direction I felt lead, there wasn’t one. It was more like we were in the middle of a season of rest with no clear sense of direction.
Once asked though, that question never left me as I thought about it quite often. A few months later, the superintendent came to speak at our church and while he was there I talked with him about that very question he had asked during the previous meeting. That question kept going through my mind and the more I thought about it, the more I thought about working with couples. This was not the first time that this had crossed my mind though. The first time happened several years ago but the timing never seemed to be right and honestly, I don’t believe that it would have worked then because certain things needed to be in place and mature, including myself. So in reality, that passion or desire has been on my heart for quite some time, even before the superintendent had asked that question. It is as if God started preparing my wife and I those many years ago so that, when His timing was right, we would be able to share what He has done and is still doing in our lives. Now that we are ‘an old married couple’, something our children may say, we need to share and mentor others.
So, what is it that makes us qualified? Since the very first time I told my wife about working with couples, that very question went through both of our minds yet we didn’t know the other was thinking about it until one evening when one of us spoke it out loud. Just saying it out loud to one another reminded me that we are a team. It is no longer simply Sandy or Doug; it is Doug and Sandy. We are still two individuals but through marriage we are also one. Stating this question out loud also reminded me that communication in a marriage is critical. For far too many couples, I believe that problems can be caused due to the lack of communication or that of clear communication. So what about that original question of what makes us qualified to lead others? What is it that qualifies us to mentor other couples? The answer is, drum roll please ---------------- Absolutely nothing.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV
My wife and I are not “wise” as the world looks at wisdom, neither one of us went to college and neither one of us feel particularly like taking the lead on this subject is one of our strengths. We don’t say this to bring attention to ourselves rather as it says in verse 31 above – “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” This is not from us; all that follows in this study is from God. The thoughts, layout and direction of this study is just us trying to be obedient in what we feel led to do at this time. We are quite content with being behind the scenes rather than out front leading. I think that far too often we, and I mean people in general, can miss doing what God wants them to do because we second guess or over analyze too much instead of just being faithful – we simply miss the opportunities put in front of us. Putting this study together along with whatever happens is God’s work. I keep telling Sandy that I should have a tape recorder with me because of all the thoughts that keep going through my mind as if God is speaking to me – the question then is, will I listen? It is always there, even at night I wake up and things are already going through my mind. I can’t get back to sleep and sometimes have no choice but to write down what I am thinking because if I wait, I will forget. Writing this couples study has not been my idea, rather it is something I have felt God telling me to do and it has evolved through the process as I try to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. There are a lot of good studies already written, so why not just use them? The plan seems to be going that way but I feel that we need to put first things first; what better place to start then at the beginning of your journey together as husband and wife.
For those who don’t know us, here are just a few quick thoughts so you can get a better sense of who we might be. Sandy and I both grew up in larger families, she being one of thirteen children and I was one of eight. I wish I had been able to meet her father but about a year before we started dating, he passed away from cancer. My parents divorced after we were already married. After all of my brothers and sisters had moved away from home, my mother had come to me and confessed that my father had an affair, not the first, and that they were going to divorce. My wife and I have two grown children, both who are married now. We have one Granddaughter and have two more grandchildren due only about a week apart in May and June of 2016. For most of our dating and married life we have worked at the same companies. This means that we get up together, ride to work together, sometimes see each other at work, ride home together and spend our evenings together. Several at work just don’t get it. They think that we need to spend more time apart because, as they would put it, ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’. In other words, the world's view is that we need space apart. This does not mean we are never apart, but we have found the opposite to be true for us, the more time we spend together, the better we get along and the better our relationship is – but enough about us.
I once made a statement at a men’s group I was attending that I don’t understand when people say a marriage is hard work. Even as I was saying it, the statement sounded a little arrogant. I thought about what it was that I really meant and was able to talk with a couple men about this later. See, I don’t mean that Sandy and I have just had everything perfect – but to me it hasn’t been work. It’s almost as if society has taken something that God set up to be a wonderful experience and turned it into a chore, a job. Instead of looking at it as a privilege to work with our spouse we have turned it into a chore and of course, as we learn from childhood, chores aren’t fun. God doesn’t want your marriage to be a chore, something you dread; this was never the intention.
So, let’s be real for a moment – how are we doing in our marriages? The rate of divorce has been on the rise as is the number of one-parent families. Far too many children are growing up without a father as a male role model. The roles of husband and wife are constantly under attack as being outdated and/or completely false. Marriage is far too often entered into with no real commitment. Instead, there seems to be this attitude that if things get tough, we can just get a divorce and go our separate ways. Many couples don’t even ‘bother’ with getting married and want to just live together. When Sandy and I were first dating we even knew one couple that was completely content and happy for fourteen years before they finally married. Then one year after their marriage they were divorced. Why? What is it that, for some, changes the moment they say ‘I do”? How can we expect our children to grow up and live a productive healthy married life when we as adults are acting like children? I’m unhappy; I want a divorce. They hurt me; I want a divorce. It goes on and on doesn’t it?
Do Sandy and I have a perfect marriage – of course we don’t but the book of Titus talks about older men teaching younger men and older women teaching younger women. To me it just seems logical that older couples, or mature couples, should teach younger couples. What started out as a question from the superintendent has turned into something I feel God is asking of us, as if He is saying the timing is right. We may not be perfect and never will, but we should pass on what we have learned and what we are still learning. May God use our foolishness, our weakness and our mistakes to teach and encourage others while bringing glory to Him.
This study is set up for you to learn about yourself as well as your spouse or future spouse. In reality part of the process in this has caused me to take a look at myself; learn about myself and face things either long forgotten of simply pushed back because I didn’t want to deal with it. Take time to answer the questions yourself before discussing them as a couple. Be honest with yourself and with your spouse or future spouse and as you lean about each other
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires."
Don’t’ forget to listen to your spouse. Communication is key to a good marriage and communication involves both speaking and listening. Our hope is that this study will challenge you, individually and as a couple, and help you grow closer and stronger in your relationship. We were challenged ourselves as the study took shape while we discussed things and at times had to take a serious look at ourselves. What is it that makes me think the way I do? Why do I react the way I do? We were also challenged, as we felt called to share small parts of our own story.
We would encourage you to be open, honest and vulnerable with each other. This is the way that you will grow. Dare to fight for your marriage if needed, hold on and never give up.
Part 1 - In the Beginning
Remembering what brought you together / Made for each other
Remembering what brought you together
I still remember that day some 30 plus years ago. I was only 18 then and had graduated high school in the spring of 1983. I did my normal summer jobs of helping farmers get their hay crops in but since I hadn’t made any solid plans of going on to college, I needed a steady job – a first 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week job. One place I applied at was a restaurant in Monroe Wisconsin and at that time I had no idea how much filling out that application would change my life. At this point, I believe my wife would say that she might have already seen me or at least, as I believe she would tell it, she was there the day I put in my job application. Although, at this point I hadn’t even noticed her yet.
I started the 3-11 pm shift as a line cook and some days would walk in to see her there. She worked mornings and sometimes through the afternoon. All I new at first was that she had beautiful soft eyes and a gorgeous smile. Oh yeah, she also had short brunette hair which outlined the smooth silky skin on her face and neck – not that I really noticed, well maybe a little. There was always small talk when I got to work. She didn’t even believe I was out of school yet and I had to bring in a diploma to prove it to her. Thinking back now, maybe she was even flirting with me but of course, I was sure she was way out of my league. Besides, someone nice like her with those looks probably already had someone else.
Several months passed and I switched to first shift as a prep cook which included making all the specials for the day. This meant we had more time to talk, which also meant that since I now knew she wasn’t dating anyone; I had to work up the nerve to ask her out. Every day she would walk through the kitchen; the change from her tips would jingle in her pockets and I would give her a hard time about all the money she was raking in. Eventually it turned into all the money she was raking in and when was she going to take me out for dinner now that she could afford it. Several of these conversations passed until one day when, either I wore her down or she felt she had made me wait long enough; she told me it was the man who was suppose to take the woman out. Even now I don’t know how I responded the way I did by asking her out on a date. After all, I never expected her to throw it back my way. She of course said yes; then about an hour later, sorry I forgot I have plans and finally yes again once the night was changed. It was like a roller coaster ride just setting the day and time for our first date. So on March 14, 1984 we had our first date. We ended up going to a girl’s regional basket ball game where I had gone to school.
She insisted on driving herself, not sure if she wanted a quick getaway or not. Anyway, almost half way through the second game she still wasn’t there – I had been stood up is what was going through my mind. Half time came and she finally showed. Turned out to be a good night after all. This of course led to a second date and another basketball game, this one a road game and this time we went together so she was there longer than just part of the game. At the second game, when she took her coat off for the first time, I found out how much the waitress uniforms didn’t flatter the waitresses and that there was more to her than just a pretty face – wow. I have to admit it; I was very, very pleasantly surprised. I have truly been blessed because even today that awe hasn’t left. I still find myself looking at my wife sometimes and I can hardly take my eyes off of her. Has it all been sunshine? Of course not, life can get in the way and we can stop looking at our spouse the way we did when we first met. Quite a few years ago I started asking God to help me see my wife through His eyes not through my sometimes-foggy eyes. Life can drag us down but God can give you new perspective. I have been shown an inner beauty that just keeps me in love with her and an outer beauty that will still grab my attention so that I don’t want to look away. Just like it was when we were younger, I sometimes almost stand there and just say wow.
So when did I know that she was “the one”? It might shock you; I know she had a hard time believing me when I finally told her when it was that I knew she was the one I would spend the rest of my life with. I had not dated much, only about three or four times before we went out and out of those only one made it to a second date while none of those made it to a third date. That was until now because here was one that was making it to that third date. The third date went well; this time we went to a movie, although to this day we still disagree what the name of the movie was, pretty sure I am right though. I took her home and we talked a little while before I left. As we walked toward the back door is when it happened. She had made it to a kiss or it was just that she was the only one I felt the need to kiss goodnight. The very first girl I kissed, “our” first kiss – this was the moment I knew. Yes, at that moment when we kissed, I knew I would marry her. Since that day I have always known she was the one. I felt as if we were brought together by a power greater than ourselves. Over the years I have come to understand that God brought us together and most of the time I feel as if I received the better part of the bargain.
Ah… the beginning. For everything there is a beginning, this includes relationships with the excitement and thrill of starting something new. We all have beginnings - starting with our birth, our first step, the first day of school and our first crush as we start to notice that boys or girls may not be that bad. Then of course, who could forget that special day – you know what I’m talking about, that day when you first saw that special girl or guy who just happened to catch your eye. There was just something special about them that made you look, and look you did.
You remember that day, don’t you? You remember what caught your eye and made you take a second and third look. Or has it been far too long since you thought about it? You know, that thing which made you take notice of the one you said or will say ‘I do’ with. Those days when the nerves started up, your hands got a little sweaty and your breathing would become just a little heavier as the excitement and anticipation kicked those nerves into overdrive. At the beginning, all you wanted to do was spend time with them. It didn’t matter what you did, as long as you were with them. Those times when you were apart, your thoughts would go back to them. Those firsts you had together; the first date, the first time you held their hand and of course, the first kiss. Surely you haven’t forgotten about that first kiss – have you?
Throughout the years you may have had many more first. Of course you will or have had your wedding day, and of course night together, first child, First anniversary and so on. Quite a few people chose marriage for a good reason yet the divorce rates are still high. Why? Let’s take a look at some of the stats to see what they say about top reasons people marry. (Granted most give multiple reasons)
91% Marry for love
66% Legal status for financial security
88% For companionship
62% Because of religious beliefs
82% To signify a lifelong commitment
50% Response to family pressure
79% Security for children
45% Desire for a special occasion
77% To make a public commitment to each other
Why is it that we seek someone to share our life with? And has it been so long that you can’t even remember what brought you together in the first place?
We were made for each other
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18
In the beginning, God created the earth and everything in it. He created man and every living creature on the earth and when He looked at everything He had created, it was good. For six days this went on – God created and He said it was good. But after God created man and looked around, He could not find the perfect match for man. God saw that the man was not complete, that he needed something or someone, which would make him complete – that would make him whole. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone. So God put the man to sleep and took a rib bone to create the perfect match, the perfect companion and the perfect mate that when joined together; they would be an expression of God’s perfect love.
The woman was created to complete the man because without her there was something missing. Something that made man complete. The woman had something that could bring out the best in a man. In this way man is one half of a whole just as woman is the other half and when these two halves are brought together – they can make the perfect one, the perfect couple, the perfect match in God’s eye. God did not take the bone from the man’s head because he was not to rule over her. Nor did God take the bone from the man’s foot because he was not to trample over her. Rather God took the bone from the man’s rib so that the man could come along side of her and in doing so; he could love and protect her.
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined
To his wife, and the two are united into one.
Genesis 2:24 NLT
Adam and eve had no human father or mother – this is God creating marriage in order to join the man and woman and unite them into one. Some other versions have different words for united. In the English Standard version it says that that the man will “hold fast” to his wife. Scripture is telling us that when we marry we are to break some of the bonds with our parents and we are now joined to our spouse. We are not one with our mother or father; rather we are one with our spouse. We are to take hold of that fact and not let go for anything. Our spouse has now become our focal point and their opinion and needs should be taken into consideration before others, including your parents. This can help explain the desire we have to search for someone to share our lives with, someone to be connected with.
And so the dating scene begins as we search for that special one who will complete us. While dating, do we always get it right the first time with that first boy or girl? No, but then again we don’t let that stop us, do we. There can be times when we thought we have found the one but then before we know it, it’s over, the two go their separate ways and that flame we thought we had started goes out. There can be tears and pain along the way but we keep searching for our other half – the one who will complete us and make us whole.
Sometimes in our married life we can get so wrapped up in the day-to-day activities that we even forget why we chose to spend the rest of our lives with the one right next to us. We can get so busy with work, the children and other activities that we have forgotten why it is that we left home and became ‘united into one’ – why we decide to ‘hold fast’ to our spouse.
That flame may be flickering and in need of some fresh oxygen to get it flared up again. Maybe you just need to be reminded what it was that caught your eye, Take a fresh look at the one next to you, and start looking at them the way you use to. If you need help, ask God to help you see them as he does and as you did when you planned your life together.
Let’s take a little time to look back at he beginning, that time when your other half was always in your thoughts. You may not be thinking about them all the time now with all of life tugging you in different directions, but at one time they were the center of who you were.
What is it that first caught your eye or that you first noticed when you saw you spouse or future spouse for the very first time?
As you began dating, what was it that drew you even closer? What is it that made you want to spend your time with them? What character traits were you drawn to?
When did you know that this was the one, the person you should spend your life with? Why?
Couples exercise: Take some time to write the story of your beginning. When you first saw them, what you though, what caught your eye, your first date, first kiss, when you first knew that they were the one. After you are done come together with your spouse and exchange stories. Will you both remember things the same? Probably not – don’t sweat it, these are their memories. As you read, it will probably even remind you of things you have forgotten or it might just teach you something about your spouse that you never knew.
Build up or tear down
Build up or tear down
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
But a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
Proverbs 17:22 NLT
To be cheerful is to be ready to greet others with a welcome, a word of encouragement, an enthusiasm for the task at hand, and a positive outlook on the future. Such people are as welcome as pain-relieving medicine. (NLT Study Notes)
A Cheerful heart can lift you up when you’re feeling down, it can diffuse a bad situation, and it can even change someone’s mind and heart. The opposite is true of someone whose spirit is broken. As the verse says, it can “sap a person’s spirit”.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we have a bigger influence or our spouses attitude and mood than we may want to admit. This is very true in our own marriage. I have told Sandy multiple times that she has more power than she realizes. She has such a big influence over my attitude, my mood and yet sometimes I don’t think she understands how much she can really affect my outlook on things. She has the power to bring me down or lift my spirits with just a few simple words; a smile or a hug and whisper of “ love you”. I only hope that I can influence her in a positive way just as she has done for me.
Do we spend our time pointing out what our spouse is doing wrong or do we build them up? Are most of your comments to your spouse like building blocks or are they more like a bulldozer? This does not mean that we never talk about things simply because it may be on the negative side. These need to be talked about within a marriage, but ask yourself – how is it I approach these things with my spouse? Am I on the attack or am I approachable for a response?
I have heard of different ways that people have used when they wanted to talk with their spouse about something. One approach even used a stuffed elephant (the elephant in the room). The person who wanted to talk about something would leave the stuffed elephant on the countertop as a signal. This way if the spouse came home from work and wanted to unwind for a little while they could. When ready, the spouse would bring the elephant to the one who wanted to talk and they would sit down together to discuss whatever the issue was. This kept both open minded and not feeling as if they were being attacked because they had the time to clear the day out of their head and turn their focus to where it needed to be. There are other ways to approach what could be difficult conversations but the simple act of letting your spouse know you want to talk to them without being aggressive can turn a difficult situation into one that can go much smoother.
We need to also remember that our spouse does not always see things the same way we do. That does not make their way wrong, just different. We also need to remember that we are selfish, all of us. This includes me and this includes you. One question we may need to ask ourselves is, do we complete each other or do we compete against each other? The one is purely selfish and the other is done out of love. You see, as a couple we have different rolls but together we need to learn how to dance. Just as it is with the waltz or any other dance, there is one who leads and one who follows. If we both fight to lead, just as in dancing, there will be a lot of toes stepped on, but if we stop fighting over who will lead and who follows harmony and joy can abound as we cross the floor with our partner. Submission is not always agreeing with leadership but rather following that leadership no matter what.
Let’s not compete with our spouse rather let’s build each other up. It may be by leading your spouse or it may be by submitting to your spouse. In other words, build them up and encourage them – don’t tear them down.
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:31-33 NLT
When it comes to your spouse, are you being good medicine or are you just sapping their strength? Remember your viewpoint may be different than your spouses. That does not mean they are wrong – it is how they feel. You may be doing something without even knowing it; this includes both the good and the bad. If needed, this is a great time to apologize and seek forgiveness. You can’t make corrections unless you are willing to admit the need for them.
When was the last time you laughed together over stupid, silly and sometimes embarrassing things that maybe only the two of you may know? Both of you should answer – What was the most humorous moment together as a couple? How does that shared experience bond you more deeply together? What are some other humorous experiences you have shared?
Let the humor in your life become family folklore. Don’t be afraid to share some of the stories (within reason of course) with your children, parents and close friends. Don’t worry if you tell the story more than once. After all, it just may become a legend to your great grandchildren. List a memory or two that you may want to share again, maybe even with your children and grandchildren.
Something I've always wanted to share
Something I’ve always wanted to share
Have you ever had something that you know you should share with your spouse or the one you are dating but simply had trouble coming up with the right words or maybe the timing was just never right? During a study within our men’s group I learned about the D.T.R. Some of you know what I’m talking about while others are thinking exactly the same as I did when I first heard about this. What in the world is D.T.R.? I asked my wife and even she had never heard about this. Well here is what it means – define the relationship. Now my wife and I never had this conversation that so many men seem to shy away from, we just never felt the need. Thinking about it though, I believe we had our own D.T.R moments without having the conversation that goes with it. It’s those moments when one has something to share that could change your relationship forever. It is moments like these that define your relationship – in other words, moments like these define how committed you really are.
One of those moments happened when we had been dating somewhere between 4-6 months. This was one of those that just seemed like no time was the right time to bring it up. We were both working first shift at the restaurant were we met and in a conversation with one of the cooks something slipped out. I’m not sure what started the conversation or if he was being serious, joking around or what. I just knew that what I heard or thought I heard was something I needed to find out if it was true. Once everyone heard the ‘cat was out of the bag’, no one was talking. Apparently I was the only one who didn’t know what ever it was and no one was going to spill the beans.
Sandy and I usually took break together in the small break room and it always seemed like others would go out of their way to walk through the break room just to say hello and chat with us. This day was different; no one came in the break room because no one wanted to interrupt us. It was as if they knew that this was important and could make or break our relationship. That particular day we just talked; not much eating took place as my appetite quickly went away. Sandy talked – something she needed to tell and no time was a good time and to her this could mean the end of a relationship but it was something that needed to come out in the open. I asked a few questions but by the end of break, we both knew we weren’t done. Boy, did I ever have a lot to think about.
That evening several of us had already planned to meet up at one of their homes. I just couldn’t stop thinking about what I had heard earlier and showed up early at our friend’s home. She was a good listener, not pushy, just letting me work through my thoughts and feelings. Later she even told me that she knew I would be early and would need to talk. This was a defining point in our relationship, one of many over the years. No matter how I rationalized back and forth on what Sandy and I discussed earlier, I just couldn’t run. I loved her and what I had been told mattered but didn’t matter, if you understand what I mean. This was a shock to me but at the same time it didn’t change how I felt about her. This particular subject has been discussed multiple times over the years and even today, I don’t fully understand – but I still love her no matter what. We may have never discussed our relationship at the time, but this was a D.T.R. point for us – was I committed to the relationship no matter what?
Sometimes there is just no-good time to tell your spouse, or future spouse something. You could wait a long time and it will never get easier. Actually, it may get harder to tell them the longer you put it off and the hurt can grow as now you not only had something to tell them but kept it a secret from them. As if you didn’t trust them with what you had to say.
A gossip goes around telling secrets,
But those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.
Proverbs 11:13 NLT
We were made to communicate – with God and with others, this includes our spouse. Yet some find it easier to talk with friends, counselors or even strangers than they do with their own spouse. Think about it, you are sharing some of your deepest secrets with others and ignoring the one that should understand you the best, the one that should be in tune with you because simply put, they are your other half.
This can be a trap for some as they simply pour out their hearts to someone they know. For him it may be a female coworker and for her it could be a male friend. Over time an emotional bond starts because they finally have someone who listens to them. Then the bond becomes stronger and builds up even more feelings. Before you know it, you have a stronger bond with this other person than you do with your own spouse. Why? What would it have been like if we had only gone to our spouse and worked through what we had wanted to say? We could have made the bond with our spouse that much stronger. Yet we ran to someone else, why? What keeps us from sharing or deepest secrets with the one we love? For most everyone the bottom line is fear.
Fear of judgment and betrayal by our spouse. “Can I trust my mate to keep my secret?” This is probably the single most reason we don’t share with our spouse. Above all else, we must learn to be an utterly trustworthy mate. Are you?
We fear that what we say will damage our relationship. “What effects will this have on us?” This is the fear that our mate will think less of us if we share this with them. We must learn to accept our spouse for who they are – sinners, just like ourselves and save by Grace just as we were. Do you accept your spouse as is? Do you listen non-judgmentally?
There are only two ways to get past this fear:
Both must be willing to share deep thoughts
Both must be utterly committed to trustworthiness. This includes both keeping in confidence what the other shares and not being judgmental of how the other one feels. We may not understand how or why they feel the way they do but to them the feelings are very real and we need to listen without condemning. If needed start small and grow from there.
Does this mean we share every thought that goes through our head? No – start by asking yourself:
Has the Lord impressed me to share this?
Will it edify or encourage my spouse?
Will it deepen our connection to each other?
Will it clear the air between us?
Is not sharing this standing in the way of a right relationship?
What will happen if I don’t share this?
What makes you hesitate to share things with your mate?
If there is anything you have ever wanted to share, take that risk. Do not judge – listen and affirm your love for them.
Men, if your wife shares with you don’t try to fix anything – just listen. We tend to be fixers, we see a problem and want to start right away by taking care of the problem. We want to fix it so that it is checked off of our list and we can move on to the next thing. When this thought comes to you as your wife starts sharing with you, just stop and listen. You are not meant to do some grand gesture and somehow take care of the problem right then and there. Instead, you need to hear, truly hear your wife and if needed reaffirm that you heard what she said. When you take the time to really hear her, you are letting her know that she is treasured.
A Christ-centered marriage
A Christ-centered marriage
There is a simple truth about every couple out there whether or not they want to admit it. They may say that they have a great marriage and yes, they may have a good one, but is it the best they can have. To have this closeness, this oneness with our spouse, we will need help – sometimes more than others.
What we really need in order to have the best marriage possible is to put Christ at the center of it. When we focus more on Christ and less on ourselves, He can help to clear our vision so that we can see our spouse as He does and yes, forgive as He does. When was the last time you have ever asked God to help you see your spouse through His eyes? Maybe it has been a while, maybe never. Start today and let God give you a new vision and a new love for your spouse that you may have thought was gone or maybe thought was great to begin with. Through God’s eyes, it can be even better.
Maintaining a Christ-Centered Marriage: A Christ-centered marriage upholds stability because its principles and values are harmonious in nature. The Christian way of life emphasizes such things as self-discipline, benevolence and fidelity, all of which are significant in a relationship. It acts as a shield against potentially damaging behaviors such as gambling, materialism, or addictions to drugs or pornography. These values create a solid foundation for a marriage. With Jesus Christ always at the center, there is a common understanding, focus, and commitment that rises above earthly pressures and solidifies the bonds of marriage.
Take time as a couple to read God’s word together, to pray together and to talk with each other. In doing this we can share our burdens and lift each other up. Our partner is one with us and as such, we should be able to talk with them about anything without judging or condemning after all the other is pouring their heart out to us. This in itself can be quite intimidating so we must remember that, just as we would want, it must be a safe zone for the other when they come to us.
By putting God at the center of your relationship, you have the perfect example of how to love, truly love your spouse. It is through reading God’s word that we can find out what it means to be a child of God and what it means to truly love. Do you want to do something very intimate with your spouse? Study God’s word and praying together as a couple is a very intimate. It is also a great opportunity to lift up and support each other in both good times and during those bad times.
We need to remember that when we talk about marriage, ultimately it isn’t about you and it’s not even about your spouse. Your marriage is or should be a picture of the gospel and everything that you do for your spouse should not be done to simply please them but rather to please God. If your goal is to please God in your marriage, you will strive to do what is best for your spouse and in turn please your spouse. This can be difficult at times when a tough decision needs to be made. You may need to ask yourself ‘my wife (or husband) may not be pleased right now if I make this choice but ten years from now, will they be happy?’ Some decisions need to look toward the long-term happiness of our spouse as we strive to please God.
If you haven’t already started devotions as a couple, I would like to encourage you to start today. For far too many years this had been missing in our own marriage. We had talked about it more than once and had even started only to let things get in the way and eventually just let our time together with God fall to the side. Make a commitment starting today – pick up a devotional if needed and tell another couple to hold you accountable if that’s what it takes – but start today. For us, we made a commitment to follow a devotional through the New Testament this last year. One had to be done over the phone as we were apart, but we had made it the full 12 months and didn’t miss a day. I’ll admit, there were several days that I had struggled for one reason or another, but Sandy was strong for the both of us and took the lead for me on those days. One issue is some medication I am on and the way it can affect my mood. I didn’t necessarily want to read but I would listen because I knew it was import to her and for us. Intimacy between a couple isn’t there at the beginning – it takes time and grows as your relationship grows. It is true that one of the most intimate things you can do with your spouse is to have devotions and pray together.
The goal of every husband should be to lead his wife into a deeper relationship with Christ and the goal of every wife should be to help her husband to deepen his relationship with Christ. By putting Christ first and growing in our relationship with Him we are then able to love our spouse and our spouse is able to love us the same as Christ loves; pure, unconditional and without ending.
I’m sure many of you may have already seen the image below. It shows how we as husband and wife should focus on Christ within our marriage. I had seen this before but there was something I was overlooking every time I saw it; I guess its one of these thing you know but never quite got the reason why. Take another look at the illustration below and tell me – do you want to be closer to your spouse? You may ask ‘how is getting closer to God going to get me closer to my husband or my wife? See the triangle created when you both focus on Christ; see how the sides get closer together as they get closer to God? As the two of you strive to get closer to God as a couple, you naturally grow closer together as husband and wife. It is through Christ that we can truly love our spouse as Christ loved the church.
Husband --- Wife
If you and your spouse don’t already have daily devotions and / or pray together, I would like to encourage you to start. One of the men in our men’s group challenged me with this. That is why after nearly 28 years of marriage, we finally started reading and praying together. I was told that it would be the most intimate thing I would ever do with my wife and they were right. To hear your spouse as they open their heart to God – this truly is intimate and can bring the two of you together in ways you never thought. Your desires, your goals will intertwine and become one as together you can be transformed by the renewing of your minds. This can be a great opportunity for the two of you to grow as one. To those with children, I would encourage you to start devotionals with them as a family. This is one area of regret as we let those years go by. Think of the missed opportunity to show your children how to have a God-centered marriage. Our Journey may have taken this long to reach this point but yours doesn’t have to. Spend time as a Family with God but also let you children know that it is important for you as a couple to spend time with God - lead by example.
Do we as a couple have regular devotions? Why or why not?
If you have children, do you have family devotions? Why or why not?
If you don’t do devotions as a couple, would you be willing to start? Maybe you have been thinking about this as a way for the two of you to connect, not only with God but also with each other. Maybe, just maybe, both of you have been thinking about this but just haven’t said it out loud. It does happen. Even with putting this study together, my wife and I had some of the same concerns and worries. It wasn’t until one of us shared those thoughts that we were able to connect in a way we hadn’t before. Share with your spouse – new communication lines can be opened and a deeper relationship is able to grow.
Spend time as a couple, just the two of you, and reminisce about fond memories. You may not have done this for a while or maybe not at all, but spend some time just talking and sharing some of your fondest memories with your spouse. It may be uncomfortable at first if you have never done this or if communication has come to a standstill, if needed, just take it slow. As a couple you should do this every now and then to help you reconnect and remember why you are no longer two but one.
If needed start at the beginning; when you first met, then while you were dating, when you were first married, anniversaries, etc. depending on where your relationship is right now, you may simply want to start talking about when you first started dating – remember those crazy things you did when you first met, what you saw when you looked at them, the first time you held hands or even kissed. For some this may be as far as you go right now, you may have to take it slow because years of garbage and hurt have gotten in the way. Just remember there was a reason you chose them and they chose you – you just need to be reminded.
This exercise is for the two of you so yes, you can get as explicit as your relationship will allow. From time to time in our marriage we have done this. Sometimes choosing favorite anniversary memories and even favorite, shall we dare say, intimate times. Of course we can say it, we are married and after all, where do you think the children came from - besides, this is such a big part of married life. Ask most wives and they will say it is the husband who always seems to be thinking about this. That is simply the way God made us and it helps to reminds us to be good to the girl.
Now, if the two of you disagree on any details, don’t get hung up on it. Not everyone remembers everything the same, we all have different perspectives – just keep moving forward. Just use this time to remember some great memories. Memories that you can talk about and sometimes laugh about. Even today Sandy and I disagree about the name of that first movie. It was through one of these times of talking about the past that we started researching the years the movies were released and yes, that is why I think I’m right. In the end, for us it’s not about whether or not someone is right – it’s more about the memories themselves. To me, it’s more about the night I knew I would marry her. When you look at it that way, the movie title doesn’t matter anyway.
Part 2 - What Suffocates Your Marriage?
Marriage the way it was designed / How do you see your other half?
Marriage the way it was designed
God, the creator of humanity and the creator of marriage itself, laid out His plan of marriage being a lifelong union. God knows that this design is best and that when we stray from His design, the results are damaging on many levels. Unfortunately, the divorce rate in the church is on the rise. Many who say they are Christians see nothing wrong with divorce, at least in their own particular situation. But the Bible clearly addresses marriage and divorce.
Marriage is the first institution created by God. In Genesis we see that God created the heavens and the earth along with everything in the heavens and everything on the earth. God created man and after having the man name all the animals, saw that there was no companion suitable for him. Then God created Woman, Eve, for Adam. He blessed them and their union and gave them the earth to rule over. For the most part, we have all heard this before but what we may have skimmed over or overlooked altogether is that this all happened before sin entered the world. Marriage between one man and one woman is part of God’s perfect design for mankind. Jesus, himself, underscored the importance and sacredness of lifelong marriage in His own teachings.
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
Matthew 19: 4-6 NLT
Look at what Jesus said in verse six near the end – “Let no one split apart what God has joined together.” It is important that we in the Body of Christ encourage those in troubled marriages to seek counseling and restoration – because most divorces are neither necessary nor unavoidable. So then, why do so many marriages end in divorce? What is it that gets someone to the point that they are willing to split apart what God has joined together? You see, God designed what we call or at least at one time called marriage – not man. And yet, throughout history we, that is mankind, have tried to change and mold marriage and divorce in order to fit our needs while ignoring the original design along with the one who designed it.
During most wedding ceremonies there is a symbol of the two becoming one. At the wedding of one of our sons, they mixed two different colored sands together to show how their lives were now intertwined. At a recent wedding we attended they had a cross that was made out of several pieces; one piece for the husband, one for the wife and nails representing Christ that held it together. For our wedding, we did what was more common back at that time – we light a unity candle. We took two separate candles and brought them together to light a larger candle that represented our lives together as one. We then blew out the individual candles to represent that we were no longer two separate individuals. Instead, we were now one.
Let’s use the candle example even if you used something different. Things were great at first and your candle was burning strong. It seemed as if nothing could cause your candle to flicker, but let me ask you now – how is that flame doing? Is it still burning bright? Is it flickering? Or maybe for you, it seems as if it has gone out completely.
If the flame in your marriage is flickering or starving for oxygen, there is hope. In his DVD “Striking a Match”, Dan Seaborn talks about several reasons or things that can suffocate the flame we started when we first met. These are simple yet if you are struggling it may be more difficult than you thought because we can’t always put the blame on someone else, we need to be willing to look in a mirror and see our own shortcomings. Let’s spend a little time going through some of the reasons Dan talks about in his DVD.
How do you see your other half?
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT
I can look at these verses above and think to myself ‘I have failed miserably’. I have not always loved Sandy, as I should. There was even one time when I didn’t like myself very much simply because of the way I saw my wife, this had to change! That is when I started to ask God to help me see my wife as He does. I needed a fresh perspective; a new set of eyes. I needed to stop looking at my wife the way that the world looks at marriage. I was in need of a renewing of my mind so that I would start thinking and seeing things more like God would. There was nothing wrong with my wife; I just wasn’t looking at her through clear eyes. This wasn’t just something I asked God once and figured it was good. Oh no, I have been asking ever since and yes He is faithful to answer prayer. In the years since that first prayer, God has given me a new appreciation and a new love for my wife. Does that mean I don’t screw up – that is far from the truth. But it does mean that I see my wife in a new light and for me, she has both an outer beauty and inner beauty that will just amaze me over and over.
Let me ask you something – how do you see your spouse. Part of what I mean is, when you look at your spouse do you see the flaws or do you see something different? Over time and quite often through the garbage of life that can build up, we don’t always see our spouse through clear eyes. Now, let me ask you another question – How do you think God sees your spouse?
Go ahead and read the verses from 1 corinthians again – How do you measure up? Do you love your spouse this way? So many marriages end today because we love with a selfish love. Society teaches it every day and we can easily fall into that trap if we let our guard down. Did you notice though, it also says that love never gives up and that it endures through every circumstance. Throw what society believes about love out the window and dare to love as Christ loved, dare to love as God loves you. Let your spouse know that nothing they can do will make you love them less. We can have a hard time liking something that our spouse does but that should not mean that we stop loving them. Instead, we should keep no record of being wronged, never lose faith, always hope and let your love endure. Dare to fight for your marriage when it is needed.
The man who finds a wife finds a treasure,
and he receives favor from the LORD.
Husbands, do you see your wife as a treasure? Do you feel as if you have received favor from God because of the wife you found? In my own marriage, from the very beginning of our relationship, I have felt that God brought us together. My wife has at times been my strength, my compass, and my very own example of how much God loves me. She has lifted me up in times of trouble, she has kept me on the right path whereas my own sinful nature would have taken me in a different direction and she has loved me even when I haven’t deserved it. To me she is an example of God’s love, unconditional and undeserving, something I had never really felt before I had met her and something I am still trying to fully understand. So yes, I have a treasure in my wife and it is God showing me favor every day we are together. Even if a day would come when we are no longer together here on earth, God’s favor would still rest on me for the life we had together.
Let me ask the wives the same question - is your husband a treasure, a blessing from God? Both of you, husbands and wives, may have paused before answering, don’t worry about it. Life may have been throwing a lot of garbage at you for quite some time but here is another question for you – when was the last time you ask God to help you see your spouse through his eyes? To see them, truly see them as the blessing He has given you. It’s not always easy and yes, there are times when we might have a hard time liking them because of one thing or another but God still loves them – do you? It is even more important during those tough times to be asking God to help us see through His eyes.
What do you see when you look at your spouse? Do you see the positive or is it negative?
When you talk with your spouse is it building them up or is it suffocating to them?
What are one or two things I have forgotten or ignored about my spouse that I need to remember to appreciate more?
How do I love my spouse? Go through the list in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and ask yourself how you are doing? What is it that I need to work on?
What part of this list does my spouse do really well? Tell them – let them know you appreciate them for loving you in the way they do. Let them know how they have been a blessing to you.
How do you define marriage?
How do you define marriage?
I know this section is titled defining marriage but I would like to take just a little time to first of all define Love a little bit. We have already touch on it earlier in the last section when we talked about 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, after all this is considered the love chapter but a lot of this tells us what love looks like not what love is. You hear about love all the time in TV, movies, various conversations and you even hear about love in church. For quite some time I have been making a comment to my wife when this subject comes up – “define love”. The question I am asking is, what is love and how do you know you are in love? Quite often I think that love is simply broken down as a feeling or emotional response to something and to me there has to be more to it. Yet how do you know you love someone or something? Let’s start by seeing what the dictionary has to say.
Love – an intense feeling of deep affection; a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone; a great interest and pleasure in something.
See if we were to define more as the world sees love, it would be easy to see why people seem to ‘fall out of love’ all the time because love is simply a feeling. If this is the case, we could fall in and out of love several times throughout a single day. Looking at love through the eyes of the world, it’s a wonder that we even know what love is. We love coffee, our homes and our pets, but does that or could that even begin to describe what true love is – the love that God designed which could bind two people together for a lifetime. The world even uses the phrase ‘to make love’ when they are talking about sex. Love is not simply an emotion and love is not sex. Far too often I think sex or should I say passion or desire is mistaken for love. The passion can fade in a marriage and instead of putting any effort in and working on it we say we have fallen out of love with our spouse when in reality we have let the passion and our desire for our partner grow dim. Come on, we don’t simply fall out of love with someone like it was an accident - oops, I didn’t mean to but I fell out of love with you. This too is a conscience decision. Instead of facing something head on, we take the easy way out.
Love, or the love we have for our spouse does usually start as a feeling though. We see them and like what we see, and then we start dating and affection grows as we get to know them. Here is the difference though – I believe something else takes place when we do fall in love. At one time or another each one of us made a conscience decision that we care for and love our spouse. See love is not merely a feeling, it is also a decision that we love and care for them even when they irritate us. We may have a hard time liking them at one point or another but we still love them and because of that love we stick around to work it out. Go back through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 again – is love based on feelings or is there more to it? For everything listed in those verses, there is a conscience decision behind it. We choose not to be jealous, proud or rude because we love them don’t we?
Matthew 22:37 tells us “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” and this is repeated in Mark 12:30 although strength is added to the list. These two verses don’t’ just stop with feelings of love, they go much deeper. You are to love God with all your heart (feelings and desires); all your soul (God should be our center, our core); all your mind (a conscience decision to love) and strength (love put into action). Now if we are to love the Lord like this and if God created marriage for us as an expression of His love, shouldn’t we love our spouse in the same way? We should love our spouse with our heart (feelings and desires); our soul (deep down to our core, our inner most being. You know – a feeling that when they are gone, something is missing); our mind (a conscience decision that no matter what, we will stick by them) and our strength (our love put into actions). Now let me ask you – do you love your spouse like this?
I was talking with someone at work recently about this study I have been working on. They went out on a first date the past weekend and talked about how she had set down a few ground rules on their very first date. Listening to her it was quite clear that she had been hurt before and didn’t want to be hurt again. She told me that she had said to him that they were not dating, rather they were going on some dates and oh yeah – she had better not hear ‘I love you for at least six months’. She showed me something that a friend of hers posted on Facebook because she thought it went along with what we had talked about.
The difference between ‘Like’, 'Love’ and ‘In Love’
is the same as the difference between ‘For Now’, ‘For a While’ and ‘Forever’.
So that love you have for your spouse or future spouse – is it a “Forever” love?
If you are strictly looking for that feeling you once had of ‘being in love’ but haven’t done anything to nurture it, then you might be looking for a while. Those feeling of ‘being in love’ that you had before – you know those feelings that got you to the alter and kept you going for several years. Well, they need to be nurtured or they will eventually fade away. It is the conscience decision to love that gets you through the tough times and when you put your love into actions – well that nurtures their heart which gives them the feeling of ‘being in love’ and in return they put their love into actions that lets you know you are loved. It is a process that needs repeated over and over by both of you. Maybe it’s been too long since you showed them you love them – well, what are you waiting for? Seriously, if its been a while, just stop this study and go find a way to let them know you love them and are thinking of them, then come back and continue. Even if it’s a simple text; putting the kids to bed so they can take a relaxing bath; giving them an unexpected hug and kiss; asking how their day was and listening or even simply picking up your dirty clothes and putting them in the hamper. Now don’t forget, do it again and again – let them know you love them.
Let’s pause here for those who may have had to remind their spouse that they are loved.
No, really – if you need to --- go ahead and let them know you do love them.
Yes, I’m serious. If you need to do it, go ahead. I can wait.
Told you I would wait.
So now that we have looked a little at love, let's get back to the question this section is about - how do you define marriage? In today’s culture, defining that very thing can be a tricky and far too often controversial subject. Just bringing up your Biblical idea of what a marriage is can have you under attack as being prejudice or a ‘homophobe’. I know because this has happened to me more than once at work, even after I have told them that if they don’t want my answer – don’t ask the question. This is a subject that people quite often take very serious even if they do not live or ever intend to live the lifestyle they defend with such passion. It has been said that I am not tolerant of others choices. This of course, coming from those who do not tolerate that I may have a different opinion. It is quite hard for some to separate that you are not trying in any way to personally belittle or judge those that have chosen to live a lifestyle other than what God intended us to live. They take it as if it is a personal attack although my response is not toward an individual; rather an act of sin, an act of rebellion against God. We need to base our decision on God’s word, not our own personal opinion. This subject can even cause division within the church. And yes, there are times that we need to take a stand, we need to draw a line and say ‘this is what I believe’ and this is what scripture has to say about it. It is God who convicts and saves people from sin, not us. At the same time, it is our responsibility to be faithful to what God is telling us through His scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In researching this subject, I came across an article written by Jim Daly from Focus on the Family that was posted on their web site and thought I would share it. The Title of the article is “Why We Share the Blame for the Redefinition of Marriage”
Why We Share the Blame for the Redefinition of Marriage – by Jim Daly
· Same-sex marriage is now legal or nearly so in 35 states.
· Of those 35 states, only 12 came about via ballot box or the state legislature. Judicial decree accounts for legalization of homosexual unions in the remaining 23.
· In a rare moment of good legal news, the 6th Circuit federal court ruled last month that marriage amendments passed by popular vote in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee were constitutional.
· That said, the Supreme Court is likely to pick up one or more of the various cases that are in conflict. If they do, many analysts believe there are enough votes on the current court to mandate the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
And so, if those are the facts, what are we, as Christian’s who support traditional one-man, one-woman marriage, to do?
I’m asked that question a lot by members of the media. I see these interviews as real opportunities to share about the beauty and truth of God’s design for marriage. Just prior to the election, I spoke with Jeremy Diamond of CNN about all of this. We had a good conversation, which resulted in a fair article. However, the headline seemed to indicate that Christian leaders, myself included, were backing off our commitment to marriage. Jeremy didn’t write about me backing off, nor did he quote me saying any such thing, but that sentiment was captured in the headline.
Here’s a fact: Nothing could be further from the truth!
I’ve sometimes noted in these interviews that with activist judges disregarding millennia of history and tradition regarding the very nature of marriage—not to mention God’s revealed design—a marriage license from the state no longer holds the same meaning from a Christian perspective. In essence, activist judges have gutted the state’s definition of what marriage truly is.
But, you know what? Judges aren’t the only ones to blame for this assault on God’s design and definition of marriage.
We, as Christians, share a portion of the blame, too. Here’s why:
Decades of no-fault divorce have undermined the concept of lifelong commitment. Many Christians simply tire of their spouse and allow themselves to be whisked away by a fantasy, that the grass will be greener on the other side of the fence. Premarital sex and cohabitation have become commonplace among those professing to be Christian. Calls to our Counseling department reveal that Internet pornography is destroying marriages on a daily basis. And many individuals, again including younger evangelicals are simply choosing to forego the altar altogether. In fact, I saw a recent report saying that for the first time ever, more than half of U.S. adults are unmarried.
At Focus, we vigorously continue our efforts to uphold the concept of one-man, one-woman marriage, but currently the trends are not moving in our favor. So, what if the Supreme Court decrees that across our nation marriage is no longer reserved for the union of one man and one woman? Does that mean marriage ceases to have meaning for the Christian?
On the contrary, I think our witness to the beauty and goodness of true marriage becomes all the more important. It will be up to us to show a fraying culture that marriage is so much more than “just a piece of paper,” or merely an association of any two or more people who profess to love each other.
Marriage is a sacred union of a man and a woman that brings with it myriad benefits to spouses, their children, and society at large that simply cannot be replicated by any other relationship. I would go so far as to say a society cannot ultimately flourish, even long survive, without stable marriages at its core.
Above and beyond that, for Christians, is the recognition of what our marriages symbolize. In some mysterious way, the Bible tells us, the husband-wife bond is a reflection, a miniature representation, of the relationship Jesus has with His bride, the Church (Eph. 5:31-32). When we demonstrate unwavering commitment and sacrificial love to our spouse, we are mirroring to our culture the very love Christ has for His people. What an awesome responsibility and privilege!
That’s why I take every chance I get when speaking with Christian audiences to urge us to pour into our marriages. Research tells us that for those Christians who take their faith seriously, the divorce rate is notably lower, but even so it is still far too high. What kind of testimony might we have to our neighbors if our divorce rate as believers was but a fraction of the general population?”
After I finished reading this article, I continued down the page where people were allowed to leave comments and discuss the article and subject of defining marriage. As I read through the various comments, I found quite a range of opinion. There were those who flat out disagreed with Jim and his ‘out dated, prejudice and judgmental view'. Then there were those who reached out to defend what Jim was saying. One thing I noticed though was that it seemed as if no one was using scripture to define what they were saying. Rather, they all seemed to use popular belief of the current culture, both for and against Jim’s article, to back up what they wanted to say. God’s word stands on it’s own and what we should be doing is using His word to define what we believe, not using what we believe to define God’s word. We have no need to redefine marriage or to try changing the meaning of scripture to ease our conscience about the choices we want to make. Instead, we need to look at how God defined marriage when he created it. After all, who better to define something than the one who created it?
What we need to do is to study God’s word. Our decisions, our mindset and ultimately our actions, what we say and do, should be from what God reveals to us through His scripture not what is popular in todays culture. We should not and cannot water down the Bible in order to have it say what we want. Remember, it’s not about me (us) rather it is about Him. I sometimes wonder what Jesus would say today about how we, the human race, live our lives. Are we that different from what was going on when He was walking the earth teaching His disciples? My guess would be no, we are not that much different. If we were, would the Bible be so accurate and speak so clearly to what is going on today? Do we wish to be like the church in Laodicea found in Revelations 3:14-21? They were considered lukewarm because they had become idle and failed to take a stand for anything.
Study note from the Life Application Study Bible – Revelations 3:14-21
Verse 16 - Lukewarm water makes a disgusting drink. The church in Laodicea had become lukewarm and thus distasteful and repugnant. The believers didn’t take a stand for anything; indifference had led to idleness. By neglecting to do anything for Christ, the church had become hardened and self-satisfied, and it was destroying itself. There is nothing more disgusting than a halfhearted, nominal Christian who is self-sufficient. Don’t settle for following God halfway. Let Christ fire up your faith and get you into the action.
Some may think I am putting too much emphasis on this but then again if we become complacent and don’t take a stand for what we say we believe, then we are no better than the church from Laodicea. We will be lukewarm and not very pleasing to God. If we don’t stand for something then we stand for nothing and we become the same as those in Laodicea as we become idle and indifferent to what marriage even means until we simply see it the way the world does – something to be defined by whatever fits our situation. See God created marriage between a man and a woman. Some see this view as an attack against those who choose to live other than this way because, as they see it, they should be able to have the same rights when it comes to health care coverage and time off work to care for loved ones along with many other things when they are in a long term committed relationship. Don’t get me wrong, these things they are fighting for should be basic human rights but to redefine marriage is in my opinion an attack on marriage itself and rebellion against God and what He created marriage to be.
How we define marriage is also important because I believe far too many, including many who are churched, enter into marriage without the understanding of what God truly intended when He established it so long ago. It is as if people enter into marriage with the attitude of “well if it gets tough, we can just get a quick divorce and move on with our lives”. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to come down on those who may have gotten a divorce, it is address in the Bible, and it takes the work of both the husband and the wife to keep it together; one can’t do it alone. Although, it seems like marriage isn’t always entered into with the same attitude as it once was. I still remember when we were married. We hadn’t planned any honeymoon because money was tight but I went to our boss, yes even back then we worked together, and told him that I was planning on getting married once so he shouldn’t expect us back for a week. As I saw it, I had one chance at a honeymoon right after I got married and I wanted to surprise her with one, even if it wasn’t much. When I said I was planning on getting married once, I meant it. What about you – when you entered into marriage, did you mean ‘til death do us part’?
How do you define love? Do you love your spouse the way you should?
How would you define marriage?
Do you think you define love and marriage the same as your spouse or future spouse? Have you ever discussed this with them? If not, why?
Once you define a Godly marriage ask yourself, am I living out what I believe? Am I showing it to my children? If not, what changes do I or we need to make?
Being committed to you spouse
Being committed to your spouse
Let me ask you a question - are you committed to your marriage no matter what? You may say sure, but has it ever been put to the test? Back in part one we talked about “Something I’ve Always Wanted to Share” but what I didn’t share was about the time I had something to share with Sandy.
A couple years after we were married, it was my time to tell my wife something. She was about 7 months pregnant with our first child and I had to go away for work. I’m sure some are already positive where this is going, but let me finish. We were both working for a different restaurant chain than the one we were working for when we first met and we had just moved back to Sandy’s mothers house in order to help her out after having a stroke. We had spent the last year in a town about 2-3 hours away. The manager of the restaurant, where we moved from, had been let go and another temporary manager was brought in to cover for a while. After about 2 months they wanted to let him go home to see his family and asked if I would fill in for a weekend since the workers and customers already knew me. So, I left my wife with her mother and went away on business for a long weekend.
The weekend went well as I got to reconnect with friends, both co-workers and customers. My final night there, some us were goofing around and eventually I found myself in a private conversation with a good female friend that both Sandy and I knew. I’m still not sure exactly how the conversation got started, and may not have actually been giving my full attention to the conversation at hand as I was I thinking of other things related to getting the restaurant closed in the next hour or two. Yet within the course of that conversation I came face to face with something I thought I would never encounter. I was faced with the real possibility of an affair. How it got there I don’t remember but fortunately we were distracted with work which turned out to be a good thing because I think it made us realized were the conversation had gone and that it could cost us more than we wanted in the long run. When we finally talked again, we both agreed that the conversation had gone to far and we needed to get back to the work at hand.
I was finally able to get the restaurant closed for the night and everything locked up, said good night to everyone and headed back to the hotel. I was supposed to spend the night and leave the next morning to go home but in reality I knew that I had to get away, I couldn’t stay there – instead of staying there for the night, I needed to get back to were I belonged and that was with my wife. It doesn’t matter if you are a husband or a wife; if you ever do find yourself in a situation you know you shouldn’t be in, do whatever you have to do in order to get away from it – literally run if you have to. For me that meant I got on my motorcycle and rode until I got home about 3 o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t going to be content until I was with the one I belonged with.
I could rationalize that nothing happened. Physically that was true but scripture tells us how adultery starts in the heart so even looking at or talking with another woman (or man if you are a woman) in an inappropriate way is not acceptable – that’s why I felt so guilty and that is why I needed to talk to my wife. Not something to just clear the air or for a clean conscience. This was something I needed to face up to, to confess and to ask forgiveness for. Not just from God but with my wife as well. We were joined together as one on our wedding day and there is to be no one that comes between us. This was another D.T.R. for us. For me it ultimately came down to this one thing – would I be faithful to my wife? In other words, did I take my wedding vows serious? Was I committed? None of us are perfect, but when the ‘rubber hit’s the road’ what choice will we make?
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT
I don’t say this to build myself up because I was able to avoid what could have been an even greater mistake. Rather, I had let my guard down and it almost cost us dearly. I say us because it not only would have affected me but my wife and unborn child as well if I had made other choices. Sin has a way of having a rippling affect. You may think you’re the only one who pays for what you have done but far too often those you love, those closest to you, suffer as well.
Proverbs 4:23 study notes:
Our heart—our feelings of love and desire—dictates to a great extent how we live because we always find time to do what we enjoy. Solomon tells us to guard our hearts above all else, making sure we concentrate on those desires that will keep us on the right path. Make sure your affections lead you in the right direction. Put boundaries on your desires: Don’t go after everything you see. Look straight ahead, keep your eyes fixed on your goal, and don’t get sidetracked on detours that lead to sin.
For some it may be that you have a problem with pornography while for others it may be something else. You say you are committed to your spouse but there is something that is taking the place of your spouse. Something that only distorts what love is truly about; something that, if left unchecked, will determine the course of your life. You may try to defeat this on your own but the only way to defeat it, the only way to break the power it has on you is to expose it for what it is. As a secret, it has power over you but when you confess it to others those chains can be more easily broken as now you have a support group.
This is not just a husband issue; this is also a wife issue. Wives, guard your heart as well. Far too many affairs either by the husband or wife simply start out because of feeling lonely or that your spouse doesn’t listen or spend enough quality time with you. A simple friendship with someone of the opposite sex can bring up feeling because you are getting the attention your spouse isn’t providing for you. Believe it or not, most affairs do not start out being about sex. It is more about an emotional connection, feeling as if you are both on the same page, that you are both one. It then grows from there and if left unchecked can easily become physical.
Guard your heart at all times and be committed to your spouse.
Take some time to evaluate yourself and ask yourself:
Have I ever left my guard down when I shouldn’t have, even if it was for a split second?
Have I ever talked with or looked at another (man or woman) in a way that I shouldn’t have?
What is it I can do to help guard my heart?
Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
Malachi 2:15-16 NLT
Come together as husband and wife and discuss some of what you may have learned about yourself through your self-evaluation. Now if your marriage is struggling right now you may want to go into this slowly. When you come together don’t judge the other. Remember no one is perfect not even you. Also remember that men and women don’t think the same and yes we are wired differently. That is how God made us and He made us that way for a purpose. This can be a good time for confession, forgiveness and growth as you are able to get closer to one another by opening up your heart to each other. Confession can be difficult and can cause hurt and pain. Go into this remembering that what is shared is not meant to cause division or distance between you. Rather it is a time to grow closer, a time to confess, a time to forgive and a time to heal from what could be open wounds. Close by spending some time in prayer for each other either quietly or out loud
Slow to speak, slow to become angry
Slow to speak, slow to become angry
Let me ask you a question – when the two of you have a discussion or maybe even a heated discussion, are you slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to become angry? My guess is that most, if not all, of us could work on this one. Most of us will automatically get defensive or maybe even go on the attack and strike first in hopes of slowing the others attack strategy. Now, how has that been working for you? My guess is not very well. So why do we so often keep doing something that hasn’t been working? Maybe it’s time we start to rethink our strategy.
More than likely, if you would ask my wife about my temper when we first started dating and when we were first married; she would probably say frustrating. Now today I’m not always like I was but I wish I were. “What are you talking about” – that’s probably what you are thinking right about now. Well, let me explain.
See when Sandy and I started dating and for quite some time after that, I never raised my voice or got angry when we were ‘discussing’ something. What would happen is that if we had a full out discussion, ok – argument, I just kept talking with the same tone in my voice and never seemed to get very worked up over it. This in itself was often the subject of many of our discussions. It seemed that Sandy preferred it if I got upset and raised my voice. Thinking about it now, I guess she may have just wanted some kind of emotion from me, maybe a way of letting her know I cared, but to me it seemed counterproductive and that it wouldn’t solve anything. Well, let’s just say that almost 30 years of marriage and 2 children have successfully broken me of my ‘bad’ habit at times, although I do wish it wasn’t so.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
James 1:19-20 NLT
Let me ask you, what do the two of you fight about. In a marriage, most fights can be narrowed down to three or four topics, Sex or feeling loved, money and children. Now these are the common fights, but what are the “stupid” fights you have? You might say all of them and in a way you might be correct. But what are the really stupid fights? If you look back to when we were first together, how stupid is it for you to argue about the fact that the other one doesn’t raise their voice during an argument. It seems rather silly to us now. Actually, today I’m sure my wife would prefer that old me when it comes to this. Truth be known, I would too.
Let’s create an argument – although for some I may hit close to home. Let’s say that he dropped the towel on the floor in the bathroom again. This starts an argument - think about it. Sometimes we need to just pick our battles and in reality is dropping a towel on the floor a game changer? If we are starting to argue over things that do not matter, like the towel is on the floor again, then maybe we haven’t really gotten to the real issue at hand; we haven’t opened up and told our spouse what is truly bothering us. More than likely the real issue isn’t that the towel is on the floor. It may be that they don’t feel appreciated for keeping a clean house when you just throw dirty clothes on the floor. Then again, if you are the one throwing the towel on the floor and it has been mentioned or started arguments a couple times already, do you care about their feeling enough that you can simply drop it into the hamper instead or hang it on the convenient towel rack so it can dry? Avoiding an argument takes but a few seconds that can save hours of frustration.
Take another look at the verse from James chapter 1 again. When we argue and snap at each other, are we being quick to listen, slow to speaking and slow to becoming angry? And when we are quick to argue, how does that usually turn out for you? My guess is – not very well. Yet, next time there we are again doing the same thing over and over. I have heard it said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So in a sense, when we keep having the same argument again and again while expecting a different outcome yet not changing how we approach it – we are a little, ok maybe a lot, insane.
Here’s another thing to consider, how can we truly hear our spouses heart if we are not quick to listen, this includes being slow to speak and slow to become angry? The first example is selfish love but the verse itself talks about a Godly love. When we are both trying to shove our point at the other one, no one wins.
What are some times when I seem to pick fights about stupid things?
What are some things that I know may upset my spouse but I don’t seem to take steps to prevent it?
What can I do to help prevent stupid fights?
Take some time to write a letter to your spouse.
Talk about what the wedding vows you made or will be making mean to you and how they may or may not have changed over the years.
Talk about what your marriage means to you and what being married to them means to you
Let them know how you see them. Let them know what is it that this study has reminded you about them and how they are special to you because of that.
Make new vows to your spouse. New promises as you go forward from this day on. What commitment would you like to make to them today?
Part 3 - Is the Honeymoon Over?
The honeymoon is over and you start to settle into what is known as life. There is work and other things that pull you in one direction or another. There may even be children and maybe you bought a house that needs kept up. Things just seem to build up and before you know it, there seems to be something missing; but what is it? Oh yeah, that spark you once had. The romance when they pursued you; the game or cat and mouse when each would chase the other in order to capture the prize, that being you, whenever they were successful. What once was exciting now seems a little humdrum.
The courtship and the honeymoon stage – Wow, what romance, what excitement there can be as you learn about each other. You just naturally want to do things for each other – things that are sweet, things that are romantic and yes, some things that are shared just between a husband and wife. Why do we do these things? We simply want to express our love and desire for each other. After all – as we see it, this is our other half, our soul mate that God created for us before we were ever born.
Have you ever read the Songs of Solomon? Wow, now there were two people that were in love and they weren’t afraid to express it. The first part of the book teaches about their dating, courting and wedding. The rest of the book chronicles the joys and struggles of marriage.
If you have read this book, did you take notice that it isn’t just the man who is pursuing the woman? The woman is quite often seeking out her lover, her husband. This can be contrary to what some believe in today’s society. I have been told myself by someone that it is the exclusive roll of the man to keep romance alive in the marriage – when in reality, this is so far from the truth. Ladies, let’s set the record straight, even if your man doesn’t want to admit it out loud or in front of others, he likes it when you pursue him.
This is something you need to be careful of in a marriage. If the pursuing only goes one direction, sooner or later it will more than likely slow down and could eventually grind to a halt as the only one who pursues starts to feel undesired by the other. Be careful though to remember that the pursuit is not all about the physical connection between a husband and wife. You should also touch each other’s hearts; touch them emotionally, not just physically. Let them know that they are precious - that they are the one and only one you desire. Believe it or not, deny your spouse enough times and they will start to pull back as the feeling of not being desired will build in them. Actually, this even happened in our own marriage.
Now I know my wife is not very romantic, just never has been and I’m fine with that – most of the time. There was a turning point though for me. Every year I always tried to do something special for our anniversary and then one year it just seemed like every time I made plans, she had a reason we couldn’t go away that weekend. This went on for a while until I had just given up. I finally told her that if she wanted to go away with me, she would have to make the plans. I had given up because to me it didn’t seem important to her that we spend time away – just the two of us with no children. Some time had passed and I made no attempt to even try to plan a getaway for the two of us. I had given up completely because I felt as if I wasn't that special to her anymore, that it just didn’t seem to matter to her. You might think, well this was just one time we were having problems with timing. Even though I love her dearly, she just isn’t the romantic type and the bulk of pursuing in our marriage to this point has been by me. I always thought I had no problem with it but this time it just seemed to come to a head and even surprised me with the feeling of frustration and defeat I had. Just like a car needs gas and will not run without it, we need pursued to fill our emotional tank. I knew my wife loved me but as far as romantic love went, it was as if my tank had finally reached empty and maybe we both just seemed to ignore the warning light that was probably blinking right in front of us. For me my tank was empty and romance, or the pursuit of romance, came to a screeching halt.
Well, one Sunday morning after church, someone came up to me and asked if I could do something on a specific date and I said yes as I had no plans. Looking at my wife’s face though told me this was the wrong answer – it turned out that after all these years she had finally taken the time and effort to make plans for that weekend and the same struggle I was having – she now had and fully understood my frustration. This was not something that just newlyweds or those married a few years deal with. At this time we had been married probably close to 15 years or more. Romance helps to bond a couple together and must be worked on by both of you until ‘death do you part’. We need to remember that our spouse is important and we need to connect with them. There are times when we need to put other thing on hold and spend that time with them. There is one person that God wants us to connect with and please more than others – that is our spouse.
So, let's get right down to it. This is a couple’s group discussion and you had to know sooner or later we would get to this subject. That’s right, you know what I’m talking about – sex. After all, even though romance isn’t all about sex, where can or does it quite often lead to. Romance is used to connect with your spouse and sex is a gift from God that a husband and wife can share with each other to connect on a deeper level than they do with any other person. Yes, for the most part ladies, all you need to do is show up and us men are ready to go. But as with our story earlier, men still need and desire that romance from you even if it is never spoken out loud. I’m not going to go too deep into it but will share a few thoughts. Scripture even deals with the relationship between a husband and wife. This is just one of many passages that I would encourage you and your spouse or future spouse to study.
The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 NLT
These verses talk directly about how we can help our spouse to withstand sexual temptation but let’s not forget that we should also help our spouse to withstand emotional temptation by fulfilling their emotional needs as well. As I stated above, the bond between a husband and wife should not be built on physical needs alone. Remember that the emotional needs of your spouse can be just as great if not greater than their physical needs.
Let me ask you a question – is a fully satisfied sexual experience simply about sex or is it about your relationship and connecting emotionally with your spouse? See, if your relationship is suffering, if you are not connecting emotionally with your spouse, your sex life will suffer. Do you want a better sex life? Then connect emotionally with your spouse. Remember though, your spouse may not have the same sex drive you do but if you make that emotional connection, you touch their heart. That can go a long way in improving those times when you do connect physically.
I’m sure most will agree that for men the physical appears more important and for women the emotional takes the lead. This is not always the case but generally this is the way that God made us and for us men it simply helps to remind us that if we desire the physical, we need to remember to touch her heart and fulfill her emotional needs as well. Now on the flip side ladies, how do you get your husband to meet your emotional needs? How do you get him to touch your heart? Think about it – do you see where logic leads. I’m not say that you simply always have to fulfill you husbands desire with the hope that he will meet your needs. Instead, yes you may have to simply ask for what you need and as your husband meets your emotional needs, your physical desire for your husband then grows. Yes, I said you might have to ask. You may think you shouldn’t have to ask because he should somehow know what it is you need but let me say it again – ladies, you may need to just ask – probably more than once at times.
Do you remember the TV show ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’? My wife and I actually have all nine seasons on DVD and will watch some from time to time. The reason we find it funny is because the situations they go through and the things they deal with, as a married couple, are so true to life. In the TV show they deal with the same things a lot of couples deal with. Season 6-episode number 2 is titled “No Roll”. In this episode their sex life has been in a bit of a dry spell and Ray thinks he would buy a game to help spice things up. The game itself has two different colored squares, pink for romantic and blue for naughty. Debra is all up for playing the game but when they try, Ray just wants to go straight to the blue squares – no surprise, right ladies. In the process of Ray trying to gloss over the pink squares they begin talking. Ray starts asking what he needs to do to be romantic. After Ray goes through a list of things he has done, Debra finally admits that it’s not the romance. Instead, it’s because of the blue squares. Ray has been selfish hasn’t been catching onto her signals of what she needs. He finally asks that if he wasn’t picking up her signals, why didn’t she just ask? According to Deb, “it’s embarrassing” to which Ray responds “Not as embarrassing as finding out you have been doing it wrong for twelve years.” Then Ray asks Debra that if he is supposed to know her then she should know him. She should have noticed by year three that he wasn’t picking up her signals and said something back then. In other words, and this could go both ways here, there are times that you just may need to ask.
Some may deny the importance of the emotional and physical relationship because it should be about more than just that. This may be true but whether you want to admit it or not, it is a bigger factor than you think. Many times, I have told my wife that she has more power and control over my mood and how I feel about myself than she realizes. What I mean is that my mood, my outlook, can fluctuate depending on whether or not I feel loved and desired by my wife. This does not mean that every minute of every day needs to be magical and filled with hugs and kisses. Of course not, but are you keeping your spouse's love tank full by what you say and do.?
Here is another question for you to consider – would you be content with just being together? This question was brought up at a marriage encounter that we attended. The explanation was that we would be together, no expectations of anything physical; you didn’t even have to talk. Just being together, would you be content? I’m not sure if it’s because we are older but for us the answer would be yes. For me, she doesn’t even have to be in the same room; just knowing she is at home somewhere whether inside or outside is comforting. Just knowing she is near brings peace. That does not mean we don’t like being pursued or pursing the other but when your emotional and physical needs are being met, you are fine with just being together.
Who does the pursuing in your marriage? The wife? The husband? Both? Neither?
When was the last time you actively pursued your spouse? If it takes a while to think of when it was then maybe it’s been too long.
Do you pursue with the expectation that you will get something in return or do you pursue to simply show your love and desire for your spouse, an unconditional love? In other words, will you be greatly disappointed if nothing physical happens or if things don’t play out exactly how you plan when you pursue your spouse? In other words, are you selfish?
Are your emotion and physical needs being met? This can be a good time for open discussion with your spouse as to what your feelings are. This is not a time to judge your spouse or play the blame game. Rather express your feelings and then listen to your spouses feeling. If needed, repeat what you hear your spouse saying to make sure you understand what they mean.
Are you content with just being together? Why or why not? If not, quite often the reasons can be found in the previous question.
The honeymoon is over; you move into your first apartment or home together and start unpacking your baggage while you begin your lives together as husband and wife. But do you really unpack all your baggage? Far too many husbands and wives tend not to unpack everything. I’m sure pictures are hung, clothes are put away and the rest of your house is put in order, but that’s not the baggage I’m talking about. The baggage I’m talking about is usually tuck way back as far in your closet that you can put it or should I say that closet in the back of your mind. You know the one that you don’t like to open or talk about. After all, we are starting a new life together and we don’t want to burden our spouse with things that are long gone and don’t have any effect on the here and now. Sadly, this is how many couples start their marriage and this is why some marriages end. Communication breaks down because there is some unresolved baggage from before you were married that you were unwilling to share with the one you chose to spend your life with. It might be that you didn’t think it was a big deal or maybe you just want to forget about it. You just want to ignore it and let it go – that may be easier said then done for some. The baggage you bring into a marriage is different for everyone and some handle it a lot better than others. Yet, for some this baggage can be paralyzing at times.
Let’s face it – marriage is not all sex, romance and starring deeply into each other’s eyes. Far too many times our baggage from years past can come bursting out. Things from our past; you know, those things that we may have forgotten or tried to forget about can rear their ugly head. Whether you want to admit it or not, everyone brings baggage into a marriage. Some have more than others but everyone has something from their past that can and often does affect their marriage in one-way or another.
Truth be known, this section has been a challenge – or at least to me it has. I am not necessarily talking about writing or putting this section together. As it is, I have plenty of baggage myself and God has given me plenty to think about on this subject. For me at least, my baggage has been tucked back in the back of my closet without a single thought of ever opening it. Although, I think some of it has been open throughout the years and Sandy knew all about it but as for myself, I never really stopped to face some of it head on. It’s not that I think I have to confront anyone for things from my past. Instead, I needed to come to terms that those past experiences have affected me more than I would want to admit and then make a decision to do something about it.
Those who have known me for most of my life also know some of my story. Let’s just say that growing up and even up to just a few years ago when my father past – well, I always thought that if you looked up dysfunctional in the dictionary that you would find a picture of our family; although I’m sure others my say that they can claim the same thing. Hearing others stories over the years, I have found that my story is considered to be normal. It is unfortunate that I say it is normal because that means dysfunctional and blended or split families are considered normal as divorce grows and simply living together becomes even more popular.
I’m sure some who know us would never guess about any baggage I may have carried for so many years, yet others I’m sure knew. Even a former pastor at our church just looked at me after I told him a little about my side of the family and said “I can’t believe you said that with such a straight face”. You see, the junk in our lives can start to become so normal that after a while we can start to become numb to its affects which is quite often a type of coping mechanism. I may have even discussed some of my baggage from the past with my wife but working on this study has caused me to start looking closer at how the past may have affected me and caused me to take a deeper look at what I never wanted to see again. Although, maybe that is all part of God’s plan for me and why I felt led to do this. I came to a point where I thought I was done with this study and was ready to pass it on to a few that I have asked to preview and proof read it for me. Then I felt the nudge that I believe God often gives us but too often we ignore or simply don’t hear because we aren’t listening – I needed to face my own baggage and be willing to share more of my story. I needed to, if I dare, be vulnerable. Something I think most would agree is tuff to do.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD.
“They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.”
Let’s begin by saying that no one is a mistake no matter what your circumstances are and that God has a plan for you. Knowing that God has a plan for us should give us hope but I think far too often we start to believe the lies that satan has told us over all the years. Some of you know the lies I’m talking about. Maybe you think no one will ever love you or that you will never measure up or you are not good enough no matter what you do. You see, satan has a plan also and his plan includes filling our lives with lies. These lies build up over the years and for many become the baggage they bring into a marriage and then they just try to just shove it into the back of the closet never to be seen again. The problem is that even though you think the baggage is hidden, it never truly is and when we try to keep it a secret – what we really are doing is giving those lie’s more power over our thoughts and eventually our actions. Proverbs 23:7 KJV tells us “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” So, you see, the battle with satan is quite often fought in your mind and our hearts. What we think, the battle that goes on in our mind, will affect our heart or feelings and everything about our life which in turn will eventually affect the lives of those we love.
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Ephesians 6:12 NLT
So, as you can see - often - well, actually quite often or most of the time, our fight is not with those we love; those within our marriage and family. Our true battle, our struggle with our baggage is with satan and it begins with all the lies he has told us over the years. For some this is amplified by years of physical, emotional or mental abuse from those they should have been able to trust. Yes, satan uses his lies to keep us captive. There is some great news though; there is hope. The verses in Jeremiah weren't written specifically about this subject but they still ring true. Remember Jeremiah 29:11 – God has a plan for us and since He knows the future and He is in control; this should give us hope. If you continue into verse 12 – 14 you will find the following promise “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” What a promise, what hope we can have if we seek after God to help us overcome all those lies satan has told us for the past 10, 20, 30, 40 or maybe 50 plus years. God is there and wants to help. This may mean that we need to turn to Him every day, or maybe every hour, or maybe even every minute when you are struggling hard. The key is to not give up and to not get discourage. You may have believed some of these lies for years so don’t expect that you will get over it in a day. Can it happen? Yes, but often it can be a slow process – sometimes very slow.
So why share some of my baggage? Like most, I put my baggage aside or at least tried to put it aside or down play it before I was even married. Then when I did get married there were distractions that helped to keep it at bay so that I didn’t have to face things that had built up over the years. This is different for everyone – some may go through similar events in their lives and not have much baggage at all while others have a closet full. That is not to say that any one person is better than another. God has simply given them the ability to deal with situations in a different manner. So, to be honest – for me at least, I think I need to stop keeping secrets and letting satan’s lies have power over my life. Satan loves to hide in the shadows and in the lies and doesn’t like to be exposed for what he is, a liar and a thief who is stealing your joy in life. What we need to do is claim the promise of the end of our captivity by wholeheartedly seeking God.
Another reason I feel I need to share is the lie satan tells us that everyone else has it all together and we are the only one who struggles with this baggage we have been carrying around. I want everyone who reads this and thinks they struggle alone to know one thing for certain --- you are not alone. There are plenty of others who, if they admitted it, quite often struggle just like you do. Unfortunately, we too often believe satan’s lie and never share with those around us for fear of rejection or judgment. We can look around at everyone else and think that they have it all together, yet at the same time they may be looking at you thinking the same thing. We have a tendency to put on a strong front to those around us when inside we are falling apart. To believe that we alone are struggling while everyone else has it together is a lie and you can have hope. I want to encourage those who struggle to never give up, never surrender and never let go of that hope. God has a plan for you. A plan for good and not disaster – a plan that gives you hope for the future. I would also encourage you to seek out those around you that can help support you and hold you accountable when needed. We are social beings and were not meant to do this alone but fear starts and that is one of the first things we try to do. The lie that “I can handle this alone” or “I can overcome this temptation by myself” can keep us in a vicious never-ending cycle of failure and regret. Often, we need to stop relying on ourselves and lean on God. After all, He may have placed someone in your life to be the support you need and have been looking for.
For me, one of my bags that I have been carrying around for 40 to 50 years is that as a child I never truly felt loved and accepted. Does that mean I wasn’t loved as a child? Of course not, but this is a time when those lies of satan can cause the most damage and can last a lifetime if not dealt with. It may even be that I was loved and didn’t recognize. Maybe the love I experienced was in a language I couldn’t understand. Quite often this search for love turns into something that we keep chasing for most of our lives. And yes, maybe we chase because we aren’t sure what it should really look like. I’m talking about an unconditional non-judgmental love – a love I have come to know that only God can give. To me, my wife is the closest to God’s love that I have ever seen or known. Yet at times even that has been hard for me to believe or has felt foreign to me because I wasn’t sure what it should look like. Thinking about it, this might even explain why I always would make the comment “define love” whenever I heard someone talking about it. This search for love is a battle satan isn’t afraid to fight with us and most likely he started telling you the lies when you were young. Maybe for you, the family life was great but school was a struggle. After all, kids can be cruel. If this is one you struggle with, it may be as simple as satan knowing where you are venerable and he’s not afraid to attack you there.
One that I think piggy backs off of searching for love or acceptance is that of low self-esteem or that of having a lack of self-worth. Actually, for me, this one has been one of the hardest. When growing up, what is it that children want from their parents? I think most would like the approval, acceptance or encouragement of their parents. Maybe a little pat on the back and a “good job” – they simply want to please their mom and dad. I’m sitting here trying to think of a time when I received this but I can’t right now – or at least from those I thought I needed to hear it from. Again, don’t misunderstand me; I may have received encouragement and praise when I was young but let’s face it – sometimes we tend to focus on the negative more than the positive.
Even as a young child, I remember dad sending us to his work truck to get a tool for him only to be told we brought the wrong one. No explanation of what it should even look like, just disappointment that we couldn’t get it right. It may seem small to an adult but to a child constant disappointment can have a lasting effect. Later at a high school basketball game; making my first basket – boy the coach was sure excited for me. It seemed as if he had been hoping for that shot for quite some time. At home, no good job; it was more of “I don’t know why you’re even going out for the team – it’s not like you’ll get to play”. My senior year I was going to try for a class office. Of course, I was told I didn’t have a chance anyway so why not try for senior class president. So, I did --- and I won – still nothing. Then graduation day came and I graduated as senior class president and a member of the national honor society along with several other awards. Did I hear congratulations? Not that I can remember. My dad didn’t say anything and about all I remember my mom saying was “you know, if you studied a little harder you could have been a straight A student.” This I already knew but by then didn’t seem to care. By that time, to me at least, it still wouldn’t have been good enough so why try. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to bash my parents here. I have come to realize over the years that they may have done the best they knew how and it’s not my place to judge them. I only have control over how I react and how I learn or don’t learn from past experiences. I’ve also come to realize or believe that my parents had their own baggage that they may never have wanted to open. And yes, I have feared over the years that I may have made some of the same mistakes with my own children simply because I didn’t want to face how my past may have affected me.
This issue of self-worth or lack of self-worth has been a tough one for me. Always feeling like I don’t measure up and never will no matter what I do. This one even affects my wife. I can see the disappointment on her face when she tries to give me a compliment or a ‘job well done’ only to have me deny it or flat out reject that what she is saying is true when I know that all she wants to hear is “thank you”. This is something I have been trying to work on for years and still it is hard – sometimes harder than other times. See, I had believed satan’s lies for way to long and the longer you buy into his lies, the harder it can be to break free. Too often we look for our self-worth in the wrong places. We look to our parents, our spouse, our peers or what society as a whole says. What we need to do is start getting our self worth from where it really comes from.
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27 NLT
Knowing that we are made in God’s image and therefore share many of his characteristics provides a solid basis for self-worth. Our value or worth is not based on possessions, achievements, physical attractiveness, or public acclaim. Instead, it is based on being made in God’s image. Because we bear God’s image, we can feel positive about ourselves. Criticizing or downgrading ourselves is criticizing what God has made and the abilities he has given us. I did a Google search recently and came across an article on a web page called Got Questions.org. The question was “What does the Bible say about self-worth?” I want to share their answer with you because I found it encouraging.
“The Bible actually has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:26-27 says we are made in His image, the very image of God. Psalm 139:13-16 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and all the days of our lives were written in God’s book before we were ever born, confirming God’s prior knowledge and plan for our lives. Ephesians 1:4 says God chose His children before the foundations of the earth were ever formed, and in Ephesians 1:13-14 we’re told we are God’s own possession, chosen for the praise of His glory, and that we have an inheritance in heaven with Him as His children.
But notice the wording in each of the above phrases: “are made,” “are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “were written,” “God chose His children,” “we are God’s own possession,” and “we have an inheritance.” These phrases all have one thing in common: they are things done to us or for us by God. These are not things we have done for ourselves, nor have we earned or deserved them. We are, in fact, merely the recipients of “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Therefore, we can conclude that our worth is not really of the “self” at all; rather, it is worth given to us by God. We are of inestimable value to Him because of the price He paid to make us worthy—the death of His Son on the cross.
The Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In fact, we “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). What worth is there in dead things? None. God imputed to us His own righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) not because we were worthy of it, but because we were unworthy, unlovable, and unable to make ourselves worthy in any way. But—and here’s the miracle—He actually loved us in spite of our condition (John 3:16), and because He did, we now have infinite worth.
John 1:12 tells us that to those who received Christ and believed in His name, God gave the right to become His children. First John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re really worth as children of the most high God.
Our self-worth is too often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. The one, true authority on our self-worth is Jesus Christ, and since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we really are.”
Did you get that last little bit? Too often our self-worth is based on what we think other people think of us. We can spend a lifetime trying to please everyone around us and at one time or another; we will fall short and disappoint everyone. Yet Christ died for us, He gave up everything just for you and for me even though we are not perfect. That should be our standard of how valuable we are. We don’t always live up to what we think we should. Yet, Christ still did what He did despite our failure.
So here is the last baggage I am going to open. One I wish I had never seen and one I would never wish on anyone. I have never shared this much because shame is also a powerful tool that satan uses. A few do know though, including my wife. This is how I know she truly loves me – when I told her; she never once judged or condemned me. She simply accepted me for who I was and at times has been my compass, keeping me going in the right direction. You see --- when I was a teenager, I was exposed to pornography. This is something that can so easily warp your sense of love and sex or at least love and sex the way God designed it. This can cause damage that can easily last a lifetime, especially at a young age. I remember when my two boys were teens, my concern and my prayer was that they would not be exposed to this and that they would be protected from it and not have to face the damage it can do. Even so-called experts give advice to couples that watching porn can help spice things up in a marriage that appears to have lost its passion. This is so far from the truth because it only does more damage than good. The world tells you lies that this will help but in reality, all it does is distort the truth and destroy relationships. So many people hide in fear that others will find out who they really are while others feel only shame of what they have done. Again, this is satan using lies to hold you captive. Sometime the only way to be free is expose those lies to someone who can hold you accountable and help pick you up and encourage you when you fall short.
Who we become is created from the experiences of our life including all of our baggage. These struggles can hold someone back from pursuing dreams or living a fulfilling life. Some may be searching for love while others struggle with self-worth, pornography or other things that can end marriages simply because they feel as if they never measure up to what their spouse wants or deserves. This self-image issue is thrown at us from a very early age through TV, movies, magazines, advertising and quite often the words that are spoken to us by our parents, siblings and peers. In today's world the pressure is even greater as the Internet has made everything available with the click of a mouse. Children can even learn their self-image from watching their parents. Think about it, looking in a mirror are you critical about how you look? Now think again, did you son or daughter see you putting yourself down? Maybe your hair never goes how it should or you keep talking about that little bit of weight you can never get rid of. Let’s be careful because they quite often learn from watching and listening to us.
We don’t want to admit it but we all bring baggage into a marriage. It may be the result of a broken family, being the victim of a crime or abuse as a child, exposure to sex at way too early of an age either physically or through pornography. It may be alcoholism, drug addiction or even with social media the way it is today, I would dare to say a digital addiction. It is as if people are looking for validation through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. You may feel as if you have made a mistake and you don’t deserve forgiveness or love as you continue to hold yourself guilty over and over. You may have failed before and because of that experience you are not trusting to leave yourself vulnerable to your spouse. There may even be other reasons why you feel that need to be in control, to never let your guard down and so you never truly open up completely with your spouse.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
Hebrews 4:13 NLT
Think about it – nothing is hidden from God. In a way this should give us the freedom to come to God in a way that we may have not experienced before. We can approach Him in prayer with a freedom that we don’t have to try to hide behind the right spiritual talk. The feeling that we need to say the right thing or that we need to feel a certain way. Instead, we can approach God as we really are, feeling how you really feel and needing what you really need. See, He already knows all about you so you can just be real with Him. He doesn’t just look at what you have done alone; He looks at who you are and who you can be. God doesn’t see us the way the world does - 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT says “…..The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God already knows your struggles and loves you anyway. That’s not a free pass but it does allow us to freely approach Him and bare our unedited disappointments, struggles and fears, along with our joys, hopes and dreams.
If you were asked ‘who are you?’ what would you give for an answer? Most look at who they are the way that the world sees you. Some are defined by what you do for a living; a doctor, a baker or a stay-at-home mom, while others are defined by the mistakes they make; an alcoholic, thief or liar. In reality, none of this defines who you really are. All it does is tell what you do of have done, not who you are as a person.
Just remember - we are made in God’s Image
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
We were created in God’s image. He knew us before we were ever born as He knit us together, just as He wanted. The fact that God did this for each and every one of us gives us value, no matter of our past. Our value is not determined by looks, intelligence or popularity but by a God who loves us and made us in His image, His perfect image.
We need to remember that whatever the baggage we have, it was not God’s plan. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve first sinned and because of that sometimes, bad things happen. These negative events are the things that we have a tendency to remember even more than the positive. They can have such an effect on us that it can take a long time to build someone’s self-image back up.
Knowing that we were made in God’s image is one thing but applying that knowledge to our own self-image can be a difficult task. Even simple things like ‘I just need to lose these last 5 to 10 pounds can stick with a person because even after that weight is gone, the body part still doesn’t look the way we want. People are going to surgeons every day to “make them beautiful” in their eyes but ask another and they would say the person was beautiful to begin with. What we need to do is ask God to help us see ourselves as He does. To overcome this baggage, these struggles that we have or will bring into this marriage, we must first be able to recognize them and admit that they are real. It’s not always easy, but ignoring the baggage will only give it more power. To bring it into the light can help take away the power it has over you.
If you haven’t talked with your spouse or future spouse about your baggage, I would like to encourage you to do this. God created man and woman not just to populate the earth, but also to be helpers for each other, to lift each other up and to encourage each other, God created the man and woman to complete the other so they may be one and may be whole. Remember, you two are one. This is a great thing because this means you have a support system and you should be able to tell the other one anything with out feeling judgment and being condemned. In the same way you have the privilege of being a support system for your spouse.
I think we all have a bag or two that we don’t want to look at ourselves let alone have anyone else see what is inside. The bags themselves can have a variety of tags and satan often uses shame, low self-esteem and fear of rejection to get us to work at keeping these bags a secret – hidden from others, even our spouse. What we often overlook or just don’t realize is that by keeping them a secret, we allow them to have power over us. Satan will use all kinds of lies to attack us. This is one of his specialties and quite often he will start when we are young, impressionable and vulnerable. He is relentless and far too often we buy into his lies and after a while it is hard, very hard to break free. Some can work the rest of their lives and still struggle. How about making today the day you start breaking free from these lies and start to live the life God intended.
Some may be thinking right now that I have spent quite a bit of time talking about this baggage thing and you would be right. In reality, I believe this is so important and more relevant to so many couples in ways that they may not even realize. Many problems in marriages, if looked at closer, can be traced back to unfinished issues from either your spouse or your own past. If everything you do needs to be perfect – why? If you have a hard time trusting – why? Do you need to always be in control of everything all the time – why? Do you struggle over and over with a particular issue – why? Simply ignoring our past, our baggage, will not make it go away and will not help with the future. Just brushing aside your spouse's baggage will not be healthy for your marriage in the long run. These are real issues that make or break a marriage for some and for others that struggle can simply keep you from having the best and happiest marriage you can. So, yes, I encourage you to face your baggage head on. Not by yourself though. Remember, the two of you are one and when you add Christ into your marriage there is nothing you can’t face together.
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
It is time to fight against these lies that satan has been telling you all these years. Honestly, this is why it has taken 2 years to complete this study. The main study came together in a very short time because at the time I was focused only on what I felt God was telling me. Yes, it has evolved but go back to the beginning of the study – all the way back to the introduction. If you remember, Sandy and I had finally asked each other “who are we, that we should lead couples”. You see, satan knows where to hit us – he knows how to make us struggle and he is not afraid to use everything at his disposal. For me, that meant at times I have struggled with feelings of being inadequate to complete the task and of shame or guilt simply for struggling when I thought I shouldn’t. The thing is that satan knows that if he can control your thoughts – he can control your life. As Christians, there may be times when we need to simply decide to believe God even when our faith is struggling. We may need to take that leap of faith even though those lies in our head are telling us something completely different. Your mind is a battlefield and satan is pulling out all the artillery he can – go to God’s word and your spouse and others if you need to for help in order to fight the good fight. We can be free of satan’s lies. That does not mean he will not attack but we can be free.
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Here is something to consider – recently I was watching a broadcast from Rockford First - now called City First. This is a large church in Rockford Illinois that broadcast their sermon several times throughout the week. The Pastor put up a quote on the screen:
Things do not happen to you;
Things happen for you.
You see, we will have trouble – the Bible tells us that, but things don’t necessarily happen to you so you can simply have a pity party. Instead, they happen for you to help you grow. It is our choice on how we will react to them. Are we going to sit around and have that pity party or are we going to bring it to Jesus, lean on Him for his strength and ask Him for the wisdom to overcome. Everything that happens to you is in reality a chance for you to learn and grow.
What are some of the circumstances or experiences from your past that have impacted you both positively and negatively
What kind of issues or baggage have your past experience caused you to bring into your marriage? You may also want to include positive traits that past experiences have taught you and how they have changed you.
How do you feel your past experiences have affected your marriage, either positive, negative or both?
Have you shared or talked with your spouse or future spouse about any insecurities or issues you may have with your self-image? Why or why not?
What are one or two pieces of baggage that I need to talk with my spouse about? (Remember – no judgment – no condemning when they come to you. You are each other’s support system. You two are ‘ONE’)
Who are you? Take some time to define who you are. Then define who your spouse is. Come together as a couple and share your answers with each other. Open your hearts and be vulnerable and real with each other. Allow them to hear who you think you are and listen when they tell you who they think you are. It may surprise you to see how others see you.
Bringing back the fun
Bringing back the fun
By now you may be thinking that we have been focusing on all the negative junk that can simply suck the life out of your marriage. In a way we have, but that is real life at times. These are some things that will start to pull at your marriage from day one and if ignored, can destroy a marriage. So, let’s look at a couple ways to start feeding that flame in your marriage again.
Let’s face it; we just let the everyday junk get to us. You buy a house and start to put things off to save a little money. Then children come along and other things are put off to the side, not only because of money but because of time as well. Your lives start to be focused on the children, even your schedule is often set around the children’s activities, not yours. Our lives can get so wrapped around the children and work that we can and often forget how to even relate to our spouse if we don’t make an active attempt to keep connected with them. Life goes on with more activities; promotions at work; business trips; school programs and plays; sports; graduation and on and on. Then finally the time comes that we had planned for and even looked forward to – the children have all moved out of the house - ah, empty nesters. We have been waiting and waiting for this but when we look over at our spouse, we see a stranger – someone we don’t know anymore, someone we have lost contact with over the years – this can be avoided.
My wife and I have made a point of getting away for a weekend, longer, when possible, just the two of us with no children. We tried for a bare minimum of 2 or 3 times a year and made it a priority, as this was our time to reconnect as husband and wife not as a mother and father for our children. This was our time to just have fun as a couple. No schedule except what we made as we reconnected emotionally, spiritually and physically. A time to let the other one know that “your fun to be with and I love spending time with you”. We had even given the children time with Grandma for a week and took a vacation; time for us to just be together, almost like a second honeymoon.
“We may never be rich but I promise that life will be interesting” – I’m not sure what my wife thought when I made this promise to her so many years ago. Hopefully I have filled that promise to her as quite often she never knows what I’m going to say or do – I just like keeping her on her toes. Once she even told me that one thing she loved was the fact that I make her laugh. I don’t always understand what she means so recently I asked her about it. Apparently, some of my observations in life just seem to be funny to her. I guess that just goes to prove that the funniest things in life are true as quite often I’m just stating the obvious that no one else seems to want to say.
There was this one morning I remember; we both woke up right about the same time and as we rolled over, I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry”. Sandy asked what I was talking about to which I responded, “not sure yet but I know I’ll mess something up today. I just wanted to get that in ahead of time.” I’m pretty sure that statement was proved true as well. I mean, come on now – I’m a man, that’s what we do.
In the past I use to scare her from time to time. You know – just for fun. One time I just waited patiently around the corner, in the dark of course, not a sound; no boo, no scream or at least not from me – I just stood there. Sandy turned the corner, let out a scream and both feet came off the floor. Remember the Saturday morning cartoons when both feet were off the floor just going like crazy but the cartoon character wasn’t moving – that was Sandy. I have since pulled back on the scaring, we are both getting older and I don’t want to cause a heart attack or anything, although this does make me wonder………mmm….............. or maybe she is just waiting to set me up.
Not everything has to be crazy and silly. My wife and I also go golfing together, camping and ride motorcycle together. Now for each couple, fun can look different. We have even had people say something because they think we are having a fight. In reality, we are just having fun picking on each other. What brings fun and excitement into one marriage may not work in another. What one couple enjoys doing is not always something the next one will enjoy. What is it that the two of you used to like to do together? How long has it been since you have done that? To take a saying from the movie Star Trek Insurrection when a child is teaching Data how to play – “Just don’t forget to have a little fun every day.”
Is there something about your spouse that just brings (or use to bring) fun into your marriage? If they don’t do it anymore, why? Is it something you have discouraged? Did you ever let them know that it was fun?
Have you stopped doing things that use to bring fun and excitement into your marriage? Why?
Are there things that the two of you use to enjoy doing as a couple that you haven’t done for a long time? If so, what?
Why haven’t you done these things as a couple lately?
What is something you can start planning right now to bring fun back into your marriage?
Focus on the positive
Focus on the positive
Let’s face it – in today’s society it seems as if we are always focused on the negative. Just flip on the evening news and what do you see? The odds are that the stories don’t focus on the good things that are going on in your community or around the world. There are some of course, but for the most part someone is arrested, someone is shot or some tragedy has happened. Like I said there are some positive stories but for the most part what we hear about when the news is turned on is what is wrong with the world not what is right. Even the weather report comes across as negative sometimes. They may be talking about how the weather isn’t going to be good today as rain is moving in, but what they seem to have forgotten is that it’s dry out there and the farmers can really use that rain. It is almost like its human nature to think about the negative. Think about it, if your spouse was to say they need to talk to you – do your thoughts go to the negative or the positive?
Pick up a tabloid paper or turn on some type of entertainment TV show, you know something like “Extra TV” or “entertainment Tonight”. Now tell me about all the important ‘news’ out there, news we can’t seem to live without. It seems that one person after another is torn apart and thrown to the wolves all in the name of entertainment. People make a living off of putting others down and making fun of them with what seems to be very little if any consequences. It’s as if we have come to a point where the way to make ourselves feel better about our choices, our lives, is to have someone else torn down. Has the world come to a place where we can feel better about ourselves by making someone else miserable?
You see it not only on TV but also on social media where things are said that would probably never be said face to face, throughout our work place when people claw their way trying to get up that corporate ladder and in our school system as bullying has grown and grown. Now not everyone, of course, but why do some feel the need to better themselves or at the very least make themselves feel better at the expense of another?
This happens in marriages also. I would venture to guess that at one time or another each and every one of us has at one time or another been focused on the negative about something in our relationship with our spouse or future spouse. Come on be honest, not everything has always come up smelling like roses, has it. There have been conflicts when thoughts were not always pleasant. I’m right, aren’t I? I know because just as all couples have had conflict, we have also. You don’t get married and then it’s smooth sailing from there. Oh no, there are times that you will need to weather out a storm in order for the calm to return. The question is how long will you focus on the storm before you seek calmer waters?
Another way of focusing on the negative can be when you are so obsessed with your own flaws, flaws that your partner either doesn’t see or doesn’t care about, that you never take time to see your strengths along with those other things that your partner adores in you. You may even see something as a flaw but in reality, it is something your partner adores about you. It seems like we have been so focused on seeing the negative that we stop looking for the positive.
How are you doing? In your marriage, do you focus on the negative or the positive? Do you bring up past offenses? If so, it’s a good sign that you’re focusing on the negative. When you look in a mirror what do you see? Are you happy with what you see? Are you disappointed?
In our marriage, what percentage is focused on the negative and what percentage is on the positive? Why?
When I look in a mirror, what percentage is focused on the negative and what percentage is on the positive? Why?
List 5 positive things about your spouse or future spouse. If more, keep going – keep adding them to the list if you would like.
Now let’s see if you can list 5 positive things about yourself?
Get together as a couple and talk to each other about your answers. Use this as a time of confession and forgiveness for focusing on the negative along with a time to build each other up by focusing on what you see positive about each other.
Lessons from successful couples
Lessons from Successful Couples
As in the book of Titus where older men should teach younger men and older women should teach younger women, I believe that older couples should also help to teach younger couples. After all, where is the best place to gain knowledge and wisdom if not from those who have already made the mistakes and have learned from them? In my own study and research for this couple's study, I came across a ‘top ten’ list on the web site for Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Go ahead and read through the list as a couple and take time to discuss each of the ten points as you go.
Ten secrets to a successful marriage – Focus on the Family
Successful couples are savvy. They read books, attend seminars, browse Web articles and observe other successful couples. However, successful couples will tell you that they also learn by experience – trial and error.
Here are 10 principles of success I have learned from working with and observing hundreds of couples:
Happiness is not the most important thing. Everyone wants to be happy, but happiness will come and go. Successful couples learn to intentionally do things that will bring happiness back when life pulls it away.
Couples discover the value in just showing up. When things get tough and couples don't know what to do, they need to hang in there and be there for their spouse. Time has a way of helping couples work things out by providing opportunities to reduce stress and overcome challenges.
If you do what you always do, you will get the same result. Wise couples have learned that you have to approach problems differently to get different results. Often, minor changes in approach, attitude and actions make the biggest difference in marriage.
Your attitude does matter. Changing behavior is important, but so is changing attitudes. Bad attitudes often drive bad feelings and actions.
Change your mind, change your marriage. How couples think and what they believe about their spouse affects how they perceive the other. What they expect and how they treat their spouse matters greatly.
The grass is greenest where you water it. Successful couples have learned to resist the grass is greener myth – i.e., someone else will make me happy. They have learned to put their energy into making themselves and their marriage better.
You can change your marriage by changing yourself. Veteran couples have learned that trying to change their spouse is like trying to push a rope – almost impossible. Often, the only person we can change in our marriage is ourselves.
Love is a verb, not just a feeling. Everyday life wears away the "feel good side of marriage." Feelings, like happiness, will fluctuate. But, real love is based on a couple's vows of commitment: "For better or for worse" – when it feels good and when it doesn't.
Marriage is often about fighting the battle between your ears. Successful couples have learned to resist holding grudges, bringing up the past and remembering that they married an imperfect person – and so did their spouse.
A crisis doesn't mean the marriage is over. Crises are like storms: loud, scary and dangerous. But to get through a storm you have to keep driving. A crisis can be a new beginning. It's out of pain that great people and marriages are produced.
My wife and I would like to add number eleven if you don’t mind.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Things will happen at times that in reality don’t matter one way or another. Before making a mountain out of a molehill, consider whether or not it is even worth it. In other words, is it something that is even worth starting conflict over?
Make plans for a fun – date night.
If meeting in a couple's group and if possible, have that date before the group meets again – Just the two of you, no children. Remember – you are not married to your children; you are married to your spouse. This is a time for you to reconnect as husband and wife. I would like to suggest that both of you plan a date night. You don’t have to let the other in on what you're doing. Actually, sometime part of the fun is planning something for someone you love. What is it that you two have done in the past that brings back fond memories.
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So – have you had that date night yet? Why not? Now be honest – who made the plans or initiated the date night? You should both take turns planning these date nights. After all, part of the fun should be in the planning and the pursuit of your spouse.
Some Final Thoughts
Some Final Thoughts
So, in reality what does all this mean? What is it that those who make it to their ripe old age have that others do not? They are still married, still in love without the desire to ring each other’s necks, well at least not all the time, and still happy and content – well there again, most of the time. What secret have they uncovered? I don’t know if there is one all knowing, totally correct answer to those questions. Some things seem to work for one couple that others would just shake their heads at.
In our own marriage, I am sure that is also true. Just think about this – as a couple, we are together far more than most. We get up together; drive to work together; work close enough that if I go into another area of the plant, not really that far away, we can talk. We then leave work together, run errands if needed and drive home together where we usually spend the evening together before going to bed to get some rest so it can be done again the next day. Thinking about it, we are together a lot, a whole lot, yet this is what works for us. Others would go crazy and soak in the silence if their spouse would go away for several hours, days or weeks but for me the house is just strangely empty if she is not there. There is just something missing – a part of who I am, the better part as far as I’m concerned. I have gone out on the motorcycle by myself when she has been sick and sleeping in bed. It’s not the same; something is missing and the ride just isn’t as enjoyable. We don’t need to talk all the time, it’s not about that, but there is just comfort in being together. It is as if I can face anything that is thrown at me because there is someone I can count on, someone who has my back; and this brings comfort. Think about it - could this be a reflection of what a relationship with God could or should be like. One that brings comfort and peace no matter what life throws at you. One that feels as if something is missing when there is distance between you and your Heavenly Father.
I would like to coin a phrase from Rick Warren’s book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ – “It’s not about me.” See in a marriage, as in life, we often act the exact opposite; me, me, me and more, more, more. In his book, Rick talks about how our relationship with God is not about us rather it is about God. He tells us how we are to put God first, not ourselves. This is a great example of how we should be in our marriages also. Yes, God should be at the center of it but just finish this sentence and put your spouse's name in the blank. – Our marriage is not about me; it’s all about ______________.
So how did you do? Did that sentence just flow out or was it difficult because you realized that it hasn’t been true in your own marriage. If it hasn’t, what do you plan to do about it? Remember back to where you two began? What has happened to the two of you? Have you let too much junk get in the way? If so, what are you going to do about it? See, life is about choices and what you do about those choices. You may not always make wise ones but right now is a good time to start working at correcting some of those.
So, has your flame gone out, is it flickering or is it burning bright? You may think one thing and your spouse may feel differently. Communicate, yes talk to each other. You use to do it all the time when you first got together. If the two of you have stopped talking – why? If the two of you are still talking – is it just about the kids and the schedule? In all the crazy frantic times in life, don’t forget about you as a couple. Make a commitment to keep that flame burning.
Dare to fight for your marriage. --------- Dare to fan your flame.
A little information about the author:
Doug first came to Grace FMC here in McConnell as a teen when he started attending our youth programs and became active in Bible quizzing. After graduating from high school he had moved out of the area for a little while for work but returned after several years bringing a wife and newborn son along with him. He has been involved in several different committees along with teaching Jr. high youth in years past. Doug is currently serving as our Delegate to the NCC conference in 2023 along with serving on our Board of administration as both a committee chair and as our delegate. He is also active on Sunday morning as our worship leader. At a conference level, Doug has been a delegate to the General conference in the past and is currently serving on one of the many conference committees.