21 November 2016

5 Reasons To Be Thankful For Marriage

I have a love-hate relationship with fall.

On the one hand, it's nice having the weather cool off slightly after the hot summer months. On the other hand, some days take it a bit too far and I freeze my butt off. I love that autumn means that the leaves become beautiful fiery shades. My favorite is the maple tree that turns bright red. But unfortunately the trees are only one rainy, windy day away from becoming completely bare. I also love fall because it contains my birthday (the best day of the year, of course) and Thanksgiving.

In the middle of trying to plan the perfect Thanksgiving recipes, assembling grocery shopping lists, cleaning the house, and getting swept up in the Christmas chaos that seems to start earlier and earlier each year, I try to bring my focus back to what I am thankful for. My mind drifts to marriage. I will be the first to say that marriage can be hard at times. But despite its challenges, there's still a lot to be thankful for about marriage.  Here's five reasons to get your brain jogging and hopefully you may come up with some more of your own!

1. You have a built-in teammate to help navigate life's many challenges. Life can be crazy at times. Or all of the time. Having a teammate in life allows you to look at your schedule and divide up tasks to lessen each other's load. If you need improvement in this area, you can read five tips on getting your husband to help out around the house (hint: it can also work on your wife!). You have someone to vent to when you need to de-stress and unwind after a long, hard day. He or she can pray for you, build you up, and cheer you on. When you face a tough situation, you know someone has your back. You don't need to face the world alone when you have a spouse by your side.
"Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”(Genesis 2:18)
2. Marriage forces you to grow, mature, and be continually refined, whether you want to or not!
Marriage can be difficult. In fact, marriage is a big, fat, ugly mirror. If you are selfish while single, something has to give once married. If you frivolously spent money before marriage, that now affects your spouse and needs to be addressed. In marriage, you learn how to be selfless, love unconditionally, and forgive daily. Every day is a work in progress, refining us continually, even when it hurts. And oh, how it hurts at times!
“If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.” - Gary L. ThomasSacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?
3. Marriage allows you to specialize yourself to form a power couple. You then get to benefit from the best traits of each spouse. Part of being a power couple requires focusing on each other's strengths instead of weaknesses. If you had the exact same strengths, one of you would be redundant in the relationship, and thus, unnecessary. So be thankful for the unique strengths of your spouse, as well as your strengths that you can contribute to the relationship. You are stronger together than apart!
"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
4. Sex! I'll just leave this one here since it's pretty self-explanatory. But marriage allows a couple to experience sexual intimacy in a truly God-honoring way without guilt or shame. If you need help discussing with your spouse how to strengthen your sexual intimacy (we all do), you can read more about it here.

5. Marriage lets someone truly know you intimately, inside and out. Part of the way my hubby and I regularly deepen that intimacy is discussing our weekly Marriage Monday questions. As I look back on memories with my hubby, I realize I am so incredibly thankful for him. He knows all of my flaws. Every single one of them. Ones I didn't even know I had until the big, ugly marriage mirror flashed them in my face. And he still chooses to be with me and stand by my side. He loves me when I'm being unlovable (more often than I'd like to admit) and he forgives me daily, just as God does for us. That is something to be thankful for!
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
What are you thankful for about marriage? What qualities of your spouse make you thankful? 

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones!

24 October 2016

Share Your Real Marriage, Not Just the Highlight Reel

My little family had pictures taken this past weekend with the talented Mallorie Keck. She assured us she captured some amazing photos of us, and from past experience I know it will be great! I can’t wait to see the final product! I’m sure our outfits will look perfectly coordinated, yet not too matchy-matchy, just like we planned, all of us will be smiling like we don’t have a care in the world, and no one will guess that we just had complete chaos getting ready and a tears-filled car ride there. Our house had an explosion of fresh laundry on every surface since I wasn't quite sure which outfits we should wear. My daughter threw a tantrum wanting her pink boots instead of the brown ones I had set out. My hubby asked if he should just put those on her instead. I told him those do not match her outfit and reminded him (not so nicely unfortunately) that WE are the adults, and bigger than her, so we will put whatever shoes on her that we want. Then the baby pooped through her outfit just as we arrived. Of course. Before we knew it, Mallorie was saying “One, two, three, CHEESE!” and we were capturing a smiling picture that was (thankfully) not at all reflective of the before or after of that moment. Beautiful pictures that I’m so excited and thankful to have of our family! 

This is the reason why you need people that you can be real with about your marriage and family struggles. We all see these pretty pictures on social media and we can’t help but compare our real life to a perfectly curated glimpse of their life. And we think we’re lacking. It's because “we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel” as Steven Furtick so eloquently explains. 

We see a friend posting a picture of her and her husband all dressed up for a nice steak dinner celebrating their 10th anniversary. We wish we could have a marriage as great as theirs, but we fail to see that they just had the biggest fight of their life the night before. We see a picture of a beautiful one month old baby with the mom smiling lovingly at her. But we fail to see the deep post-partum depression she is struggling with. We see a guy posting about his new promotion and we wistfully look at pictures of the huge new house they bought, but we don’t see their pain that years of struggling with infertility can bring. Or we see a family at church with tons of kids who all look completely put together and happy, while we are struggling with just two kids, one crying, desperately needing a nap, and the other one throwing both of her shoes off and running the opposite direction  (yep, that last one is completely hypothetical, ha).

I’m not saying it’s bad to post beautiful pictures on Facebook. I love capturing photos of my family so I can cherish those memories of how they looked in that moment of time. I love being able to easily share it with our extended family that live all over the country so they can feel involved in our lives. I love celebrating the wins in our marriage (yay for our 5th anniversary!) and milestones in our children’s lives. And through that all, I do try to post a balance of #reallife pictures, more for my own sake to be able to laugh at the craziness. But we also have people who we are close to that we can share our burdens, our struggles, our pain, and our tears. 

It is extremely important to have people in your life with whom you can be authentic. It’s exhausting if you are constantly trying to act like you have the perfect marriage, obedient kids, and always-clean household. Everyone has fights and struggles with their spouse, kids that don’t always listen and want to grow up too fast, and I haven’t met many people who truly have a spotless house at all times (if this is you - please come help me with my house!). 

It’s also great to have a glimpse into another couple’s reality so you see that they too have messy lives and crazy kiddos. There’s something oddly comforting when I see another mom struggle with her toddler. I know that sounds horrible, and I do feel badly for her, but it makes me feel less alone since I know how much I struggle with my kids. It's the same with marriages. When I get to know couples that have made it to the 30+ year mark, they often reveal some pretty dark times in their marriage. Yet they fought to preserve their marriage and they made it through to the other side, not only surviving but thriving more than before. This is incredibly encouraging to me!

This week for Marriage Monday, take a moment to reflect on this with your spouse. Who, if anyone, in your life do you have this type of authentic relationship? Who knows the real you? Who can you and your spouse call up when you are trying to work through an issue and hit an impasse? Who do you text for prayer when you both are struggling? Do you perhaps have an older couple that has been married longer than you that you can ask for wisdom, direction, and encouragement? If the answer is no one, use this time to talk with your spouse about how you can pursue a more authentic relationship with a specific couple. You never know, they could be desperately hoping for this as well! 

For group discussion, what are your tips for others to begin to pursue this type of authentic relationship with others?

17 October 2016

Listening Skills Required: Venting vs. Troubleshooting

I used to think I would be an amazing therapist. I loved giving advice to friends and reading "Dear Abby" type columns. Turns out counseling is not supposed to be simply handing out advice, especially not your personal opinion, as it does not help instill confidence in their own problem solving abilities. Nor is it always wanted or needed. Instead of giving advice filled with my own biases and values, I need to listen and ask questions to help them explore alternatives and come up with their own solutions. It takes major listening skills to hear and correctly understand exactly what is going on in someone's life. Unfortunately, this is not a natural strength of mine. 

It sounds so easy in theory. How could there possibly be more than one step? 

Step 1: "Listen." 

Maybe a step 2 could be added: "Keep Listening."

But something so seemingly easy can be surprisingly hard and complex. 

In a marriage, lack of listening skills can result in many problems, some of which we will discuss in subsequent posts. 
My personal struggle that I mentioned already is that is that I often find myself getting lost in my own thoughts trying to figure out what advice to give instead of truly listening. I sometimes completely miss what the actual problem is. Or fail to see that advice is not actually wanted.

I've read several books on this topic and have learned some great ways to practice listening skills. The good news is that, although listening may not be something that comes naturally to you, it is a learned skill that can be strengthened over time!

Today we will discuss a listening issue that has a very easy solution. I'm easing us in! This specific problem arises when you give advice or offer solutions when your spouse really only needs a sympathetic ear to safely vent some frustrations. You may think you don't have this problem, but just humor me and ask your spouse anyway. You may be surprised!

This problem is stereotypically where the husband is the primary offender. Men are often valued for fixing things around the house and troubleshooting at the workplace. So it's hard to shift gears and not offer immediate and hard solutions to a wife describing a problem. It's good for the other spouse to understand that it's a valued skill and gift of theirs that just isn't quite appreciated in this instance. Hopefully we can extend some grace in this area while it is being worked on.

The stereotypical mold doesn't always fit, though. I am very solution-oriented, which can often be a great trait to have. But it can wreak havoc in two ways when I try to offer a seemingly quick-fix for my husband:

1) It brushes past his feelings and disregards how the situation is weighing on him. Thus, it implies I don't care. I may not even have the details of the full story yet and somehow think I know what is best. It shows that I want to move on from the conversation quickly by applying a fast band-aid. It can also imply that I think I am smarter, assuming he couldn't brainstorm a solution on his own (totally not true!). I don't want him to think any of this! But I need to be aware of what I am communicating in these instances.

2) I miss out on understanding my husband on a deeper, intimate level. If I simply ask more questions, I can get the opportunity to hear my husband's heart. If it is your wife that is the one opening up, you can use this time to show that you care about her struggles. If you try to squash the conversation with a quick fix, a husband may realize he can't be vulnerable with you anymore and a wife may shut down that line of communication and only talk to her friends about her struggles in the future. Don't let this happen. Embrace the chance for this true intimacy.

On the other side of the equation, since I like solutions, I get annoyed if I bare my soul to my husband about a tough problem and he just nods and listens. For whatever reason, to me that communicates that he doesn't care enough to help me troubleshoot, and it's my burden to bear alone and figure out. A few months into marriage, I finally told him this, and he was shocked. He thought all women want a man that would sit there and listen to them vent. Well, yes, but not for everything!

After discussing it for some time, we came to this solution. You may want a pad of paper and pen to write it down. Tell your spouse upfront when you only want to vent. And if you want solutions, ask for it. I know. It sounds way too simplistic but it needs to happen. And it works. Your spouse cannot read your mind, despite how much you think she or he should be able to have that skill. If you think you might be the offending spouse, ask what is needed at that time. And yes, this needs to happen every time unless you know your spouse only wants one or the other. 

If your spouse says he or she just wants you to listen, do it. Close your mouth. Literally bite your tongue if needed. Embarrassingly enough, I've had to do that on multiple ocassions before. After listening, it's okay to ask clarifying questions. Try to understand the situation from your spouse's perspective and be sympathetic. That is all. 

Sometimes I've had a hard day with the kids and I don't want my husband suggesting I should read more parenting books. That would not go over too well! I really just need him to be sympathetic and say, "You have such a tough job!" or I may even want him to give me the world's biggest bear hug so I can cry without judgment. But more often than not, I'm usually struggling with something specific like trying to figure out a discipline technique that would actually work on our toddler. In those times,  I truly need advice and to troubleshoot with him. I may need him to sit down and pray with me. If I tell him what I need, he is there - ready and willing. Your spouse most likely will be as well as long as you spell it out for him or her! 

Which one do you usually need? A listening ear to vent to or do you want solutions to be suggested as a default? Ask your spouse this week as well and see if you are surprised by their answer!

03 October 2016

Looking Back to Move Your Marriage Forward

My husband and I celebrated our five year anniversary on Saturday.

Either you are thinking "Congrats! Wow, five years!" or you have been married much longer than that and are suddenly freaked out about taking marriage advice from someone that has "only" been married for five years. Just remember, I have nowhere claimed to have this marriage thing all figured out. I'm simply inviting you along on my journey. But if it makes you feel slightly better, I do have an undergrad degree in Psychology and Family Studies, an almost-completed masters in Marriage & Family Therapy counseling, and still love reading and learning about marriage on an almost daily basis. But back to my anniversary...

Although I usually love being the one to plan dates (is that weird?), I gave up the reigns this year and asked my husband to surprise me. He ended up taking me to Old Town Alexandria. For non-DC folks, that's a cute town on the waterfront of the Potomac River on the Virginia side just across from Washington, DC. We got all dolled up and went to a fancy dinner at one restaurant and then off to another fun restaurant for dessert. I loved it!

While at dinner, waiting on our food to arrive, we did something that we always do on our anniversary. We took turns talking about why we love being married to each other. My hubby told me some qualities that he saw in me that brought tears to my eyes. He seemed blown away and genuinely surprised/touched by what I told him as well.

We also reminisced about some amazing moments in our marriage. We didn't shy away from tough times, though.

We've had financial difficulties that seemed impossible to get through. We also worked together through Financial Peace University and made some crazy-sounding sacrifices to successfully get out of debt.

We transitioned from two salaries down to one as I made the switch to become a stay-at-home mom. As any other SAHM knows, this comes with many blessings combined with lots of difficulties trying to navigate finding a balance and a new normal in that complicated role. It's still a work in progress.

We've lived in three different places in five years, including drastically downgrading into one dumpy place (as in, we had cockroaches for roommates) while we saved money to buy a place that we've made into our comfy little nest.

We brought two beautiful girls into this world and will have to wait until heaven to meet two more twin girls that were miscarried.

We made it through Whole30 to change our relationship with food, pushed each other at the gym, and worked on becoming healthier versions of ourselves. We've also both had some pretty difficult health issues that have driven us to our knees in prayer.

We've had some parenting wins and a LOT of parenting fail moments.

The list could go on. The good with the bad. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. Through sickness and health. We've been through it all, and so have you. Okay, well maybe you are still waiting on the "for richer" part like we are! But taking the time to look back, even at the hard times, shows us we successfully made it through as a team even if we have some war wounds. We can now see how those struggles brought us even closer together and also caused us to cling more tightly to God because that's all we could manage in the moment.

When you have those tough days - when the laundry is piling up, the kids are fussy and clingy all at the same time (how do they know to do that?!), and your spouse has reached "hangry" status because neither of you can figure out how to make the random contents of the fridge magically combine into a dinner, reminisce on the good times.

Remind yourself of how excited you were about your first date or how nervous you were before your first kiss. Talk to your spouse about your memories of the proposal. Discuss how you felt during your first dance as man and wife. Tell your husband your top 1 (or 5!) reasons why you absolutely love being married to him. Tell your wife the top reasons why she makes an amazing wife and mom.

This isn't just to make your spouse feel good, although it certainly does that as well as fosters lovey-dovey feelings. But telling your spouse these things reminds you that the flawed, imperfect person you are standing beside in life has some pretty amazing qualities as well. Enough to make you want to marry him or her in the first place! And there's most likely been some amazing moments in your marriage that can so easily get buried in the craziness of life, but you will instead dig those out and celebrate them.

You don't need to wait until your next anniversary to do this - there's no time like the present! But you can also use it to start a new tradition on that date.

Let those happy feelings of nostalgia bring you back to those good times and carry you forward to create some amazing new memories. Ones that can be brought up and discussed at your next anniversary date over great food, fine wine, delicious desserts, and perhaps some well-earned happy tears.

Feel free to share some of your own memories below in the comments. And don't forget to share with your spouse!

26 September 2016

Marriage Monday: 5 Simple Questions that Will Change Your Marriage - Question 5

This is the final week of the five-part series of Marriage Monday questions. These questions, written by the blogger at Today's Letters, are designed to draw you into a simple, yet bonding conversation with your spouse. It facilitates communication that creates deeper intimacy. If you are just now joining us, you can read the posts in order, starting with the first question.

To recap, here are the five questions:
1) How did you feel loved this past week?
2) What does your schedule look like for this upcoming week?
3) How can I best love or encourage you this upcoming week?
4) How do you feel about our sexual intimacy and how can we work together to strengthen it?
and finally...
5) How can I pray for you?  

You will then pray for each other, out loud, right then and there. This question may seem like the easiest, but it is surprisingly hard for many people. You may pray for your spouse all the time, but praying in front of your spouse, for your spouse, is often awkward. First the sex question, and now praying out loud! When will the awkwardness end?!

The only reason why I'm asking you to push through and try it is because revealing your heart to your spouse will bring about intimacy like you've never experienced before. It builds intimacy when you tell your spouse what is burdening your heart. When your spouse then prays for you right in front of you, it builds even more intimacy. It is incredibly bonding.

If that isn't reason enough, here's another great one. We are called as Christians to share each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2). Especially in a marriage, if your spouse is stressed about work, dealing with a health issue, heartbroken about a rift in a relationship, fearful, overwhelmed, or burdened in any way, you took a vow to walk alongside them in that time of need. You should be the first person to wipe away their tears, listen to them, encourage them, and especially pray for them.

Many people are not used to praying out loud. It is also hard for many men, because they feel pressure to be the spiritual leader, yet so often the wife is the one with more experience praying out loud in groups. Wives - please do not criticize or make fun of your husband's first attempt to pray out loud in front of you. Doing so will guarantee he will never want to do it again.

Praying is simply talking to God, so there's not a right or wrong way to do it. No need to be eloquent. In fact, start out simple. The first week you can each give one request for the other to pray about. Even now, my husband and I usually just give three requests, but feel free to spend as long or as little of time as you want on this one. I'm often surprised at what my husband reveals to me as the top three things that are burdening him. I'm super thankful to have that insight and be brought in to the inner workings of his heart and have the honor of praying over him.

If you need extra motivation to try this, let's think this through. After talking about question #4 you will have sex on the brain. You will then immediately follow that up by praying for one another, so you will feel incredibly emotionally close as well. You will feel super bonded at that point, so you will most likely want to jump into bed together. You're welcome.

Thanks for joining me for the Marriage Monday series! I would love to hear if you've attempted it and especially if you've adopted it as a weekly ritual with your spouse!

19 September 2016

Marriage Monday: 5 Simple Questions that Will Change Your Marriage - Question 4

It's the week we've all been waiting for! Well... except for me. As it turns out, sex is kind of an awkward topic to discuss with lots of people. Some of which could include my parents (hi mom!), fellow church members, and even some people I've never even met (this will be a great ice breaker!). But good thing I don't shy away from awkwardness, so let's dive right in!

If you are just now joining us, we are four weeks into a post series on weekly marriage questions that my hubby and I like to call Marriage Monday (originally from this amazing blog). Make sure to go back to read the questions in order, starting with this post

This week, you will discuss the previous three questions with your spouse and add in this fourth question: "How do you feel about our sexual intimacy and how can we work together to strengthen it?" Just to clarify, if it isn't obvious enough, I am talking about sex. Not just snuggling. Not emotional intimacy, which was covered in prior questions. For question #4 we are talking about sexual intercourse, doing the deed, insert tab "A" into slot "B," nakey time, or whatever you want to call it. Okay, I'm glad we are now all on the same page!

I know this topic is super hard for many people to talk about, especially if you've never discussed it together before. It's interesting to me how spouses will have sex, which is incredibly intimate, but they don't feel comfortable talking about it, because that somehow feels even more intimate and scary to do. For some couples, especially if sex has been taken off the table for awhile by one spouse, this may take a professional counselor to walk through this process. I encourage you to take that step this week to strengthen this vital part of your marriage if you need to.

As Christians, we need to remember that God created sex as a gift for married couples to enjoy! It's meant to be a fun, pleasurable, and extremely bonding experience. My hubby did an amazing job discussing this topic in detail in this video called "Ideal Sex," so I won't take time replicating what he already said, but I encourage you to watch it. If I thought it would be awkward discussing sex on my blog when I can hide behind a screen, I guess my hubby should be given major bravery points for talking about sex in front of an entire church!

One essential aspect to remember about question #4 is that it asks, "How do you feel about our sexual intimacy..." There is a tendency to think how you feel about your sex life is the right way to feel. But your spouse may feel differently and it is important to know this. Your spouse is allowed to feel however he or she feels about it. Feelings are just that - feelings. Not right or wrong. They are subjective. Just remember that the end goal is stronger sexual intimacy, which can in turn strengthen the marriage.

There's lots of things that you could talk about during this question:

- Are you having sex too much? Not enough?
- Do you wish you could try something new or work on a specific technique together?
- Are you worried about a partner's sudden change in libido? (tip: sometimes a doctor's visit or bloodwork could reveal a hormonal shift or other physical ailment that could be fixed to bring the sex drive back to normal).
- Are you experiencing physical pain of any sort during sex? (one couple had a tough conversation but then discovered that lube was their new best friend and the answer to all their problems!)
- Is there past sexual trauma or abuse that is holding you or your spouse back that needs to be discussed with a counselor?
- Is there something your spouse could do more of or less of during sex?
- Could you benefit from spending a lazy Saturday in bed for a couple of hours just exploring each other's bodies?
- Are there any things you are enjoying during sex that you want to become a regular occurrence? It's good to focus on positives as well! What blew your socks off? (suggestion: don't actually wear socks during sex)

Don't be afraid to get very technical with your answer. The more detailed, the better. It may feel extremely awkward and uncomfortable the first time you discuss this question, but it gradually gets easier and less awkward each time. Just hang in there! 

If you are stumped where to even begin, there's lots of great books out there on the topic. My personal favorite that I always recommend to couples is Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage by Dr. Kevin Leman. He is a Christian author that gets VERY explicit on details, how-to's, ideas, etc. There's a chapter on sexual positions, another called "Oral Delights," and another called "Thirty-One Flavors - and None of Them Are Ice Cream!" Trust me, you want to read this book. It prompts some great discussions! I have one friend who uses this book as his go-to wedding gift, which is pure genius. This first week doing question #4, you could tell your spouse that reading this book together is what you want to do to start working on and strengthening your sexual intimacy.

As a mom of two littles, as much as I want my husband to always be at the top of my "to-do" list, sometimes my very honest answer to question #4 is that I'm soooooo stinkin tired (which can easily cause a crazy drop in libido). Since I have to come up with a solution, I suggest that if hubby can get me to bed by "x" time - by helping get the kiddos into bed, dividing and conquering the dishes, etc, I'll be much more likely to still have energy left for him. Instead of leaving my sleep deprivation as an obstacle to our sex life, I clue him in on how we can overcome that hindrance. He is more than happy to help out!

Let me know how your Marriage Mondays are going! Next week we will be discussing the fifth and final question to add to your weekly questions. Your training wheels will be officially off!

12 September 2016

Marriage Monday: 5 Simple Questions that Will Change Your Marriage - Question 3

If you're just now joining this conversation, make sure to read back over question #1, and question #2.

How did it go with the first two questions? Did any of your spouse's answers surprise you? Did you have trouble answering a question? This week you will add a third one to the mix. Question #3 is: "How can I best love or encourage you this upcoming week?" 

Whereas question #1 looked back on what you already did to make your spouse feel loved and could have happened by chance, question #3 gives you a foolproof plan of how to best make your spouse feel loved for the upcoming week.

Pay close attention to your spouse's answer, as it may not always be completely in line with their usual love language(s). One of my main love languages is "acts of service." If Hubby takes over cleaning the kitchen after dinner and gets the toddler to bed, I feel VERY loved! But every once in awhile, especially if we've both been busy, I realize I would feel super loved if he planned a fun date night for us. I would even be fine if we set aside a night in to relax together. This means I'm craving the "quality time" love language. Since my main need changed for the week, it's super helpful for me to clue Hubby in so he is able to best love me in the way I need. Hence why this is such an important question!

Despite sounding easy, sometimes this is actually a hard question to think through. Usually Hubby is stumped (maybe because I show love so well already? Ha! J/k). When this happens, you can probe deeper with the following questions:

- What are you feeling discouraged about lately that I can intentionally encourage you about throughout this week?
- What is stressing you out the most that I can possibly help out with?
- Can I verbally affirm or make you feel respected better in a certain area? (words of affirmation)
- Is there anything around the house that I could help you with to make your life easier? (acts of service)
- Would it make you feel loved if I surprise you with a small thoughtful gift this week? (gifts). Note: there's lots of thoughtful gifts that could be free! Comment if you have any ideas to share.
- Do you need us to set aside intentional time for more physical intimacy this week? (physical touch)
- Is there a certain activity, date, or other time together that would make you feel loved? (quality time)

Usually after asking those types of questions it's easy to pick something to feel loved in the upcoming days.

Once you hear your spouse's answer, WRITE IT DOWN! Email it to yourself, add it to your calendar, grab a post-it note, or whatever you need to do. There's nothing more frustrating than spelling out exactly how you want and need to feel loved, only for your spouse to promptly forget or ignore it. If you immediately know it's something that can't happen (like if there's legitimately not a single free night that week to plan a date), discuss right away when you can plan that date in the future and then ask for a tangible way to make your spouse feel loved during the current week.

For this week's Marriage Monday (or whichever night you do your weekly questions), make sure you ask all three questions that we've discussed so far:
1) How did you feel loved this past week? Read more about this question here.
2) What does your upcoming week look like? (calendar syncing). Read more about it here.
3) How can I best love or encourage you in this upcoming week?

Make sure you come back next week, because question 4 has to do with SEX! Everyone's favorite topic.

If you want to learn more about love languages and how to spot them in your spouse, I highly recommend you read The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman.  I talk about it a lot, especially in our premarital counseling because it truly changes how you show love to your spouse in a way that they actually can feel it!

You can also read about the original weekly questions in the Today's Letters blog post.

Let me know how the questions are going in the comments below!

05 September 2016

Marriage Monday: 5 Simple Questions that Will Change Your Marriage - Question 2

If you missed last week, we are doing a post series on how to set aside important communication time in your marriage. We are walking through five simple questions, originating from a Today's Letter's blog post, to guide you through this, taking it one step at a time. You can go back and read about the first question here, and then join us for question number 2!

How did last week go? You asked your spouse, "How did you feel loved this past week?" Was it interesting to hear his or her response? I know for me, it's often completely unexpected what my hubby picks as his main reason of how he felt loved. Keep what your spouse said in mind this week and see if you can now intentionally do it, or something similar, again to make them feel loved in their native love language. For more on learning your spouse's love language, check out this book.

Now that you've started out with that simple question, it should be easy to add another straightforward question to the mix. Question #2 is: "What does your schedule look like for this upcoming week?"

It always shocks me how I think this will be an easy and boring question but then realize how energized and in tune I feel with my hubby after reviewing our week. Try it and you may be pleasantly surprised that you feel the same way. I once again asked Hubby how he felt about this question. He said reviewing our upcoming week makes him feel like he doesn't have to take on his week alone. He mentioned that even just knowing that I am filled in on his upcoming deadlines and what days might be extra challenging helps lower his stress levels. He feels like he has a partner who understands what he is going through and a teammate that can help him out in any way possible. I totally agree. It's so much easier knowing you don't have to face your week alone, and we each have unique gifting that can be a great help to the other person to lighten their load. That is one of the many benefits of marriage, so it's great to tap into that in such a tangible way!

This question can be tackled a number of ways and it just depends on your preference. For us, we pull out our phones with our google calendars. You may want to pull up your paper calendar, day planner, or whatever you each use to keep track of your days. If you have a spouse that uses none of the above, this is actually an incredibly helpful question, as you can then get the information extracted from their brain onto your calendar so you can be in sync. Once we have our calendars up, I usually go through the week day by day. Our conversation may look something like this:
Me: "Okay, Tuesday night we have our Bible study group. I'm supposed to bring a side dish but I don't think I can get to the grocery store in time with the kids. Could you swing by Trader Joe's on your way home?"
Hubby: "Sure, I'll grab a side dish. I should be able to get off work on time tomorrow since my meetings are earlier in the day. Okay, for Wednesday, I have super busy day so I'm not sure I can make it home for a quick lunch."
Me: "Would it help if I made you a lunch to take with you so you can eat it while working at your desk?"
Hubby: "Yep, that would be such a big help! What's on the schedule for Thursday?"
Me: "Well Thursday I was hoping to be able to have some time to run some errands. I can take the kids but it would go a lot faster if I can go by myself after you get home from work."
Hubby: "That works fine. I can put them to bed if you're not back by then. Okay, nothing else is listed on the calendar, but anything else you want to accomplish this week?"
Me: "I do need some time to work on my blog. And I really want to get caught up on some of the home projects we've been putting off."
Hubby: "Okay, I think we can dedicate Saturday morning to working together to knock those out."
Me: "Great, thanks! I feel ready to tackle our week!"
That conversation obviously varies from week to week, but that's the basics of what it sounds like. For your conversation, here's some guidelines to follow:

- Each person takes turns letting the other know what's on their calendar for the week. You could do one day at a time or review the full week before the other's turn.
- As the other person is telling you what is on his or her to-do list, try thinking about what you could do to help out with it or make it easier for them.
- Review actual events scheduled during the week
- List out any errands you may need help with
- Fill your spouse in on any big projects or things you would like to accomplish, or at least get started on, that may take up time during the week.
- Be direct and ask for help if there's something that is stressing you out or that you know you can't handle or face alone.

I love using google calendar for many reasons.  I can pull it up on my phone or any computer. I use gmail as my main email, so it's easy for me to see an invitation and immediately put it onto my calendar. I have different color coded calendars for different purposes - one for me and one for our shared events. By the color, it's easy to tell if it's something that only I am attending or if Hubby is going with me and needs to keep his day free as well. He also has his own google calendar that he has shared with me so I can view it on mine as well. This makes it easy for me to see what he has coming up throughout the week if something gets added. He also knows that I keep my calendar so up to date, that if someone asks if we are free to go out to dinner, he can immediately check and give them an accurate answer. Let me know if you would like more information or a guide on how to do this!

What have you found to help out with scheduling as a couple?

This week, you will do question #1 and add on this second question. Two questions should still be pretty simple to tackle! As always, set aside a time where you know you can focus, either during dinner or after you put the kiddos to bed.

Let me know how it goes this week and don't forget to join us next week for adding the third question! I'm hoping these questions will truly make you feel more connected and in sync with your spouse. I'm excited to hear how these weeks go for you!

29 August 2016

Marriage Monday: 5 Simple Questions that Will Change Your Marriage - Question 1

"Marriage Monday and Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University."

That is always my same answer as the two most helpful things we've done for our marriage. They both get us talking about topics that we probably wouldn't bring up in normal conversation. They both also guide us through specific discussions in advance that help us avoid fights later.

About two months into our marriage, I stumbled upon an amazing blog called Today's Letters. In one post, Emily outlined her weekly questions that she does with her husband. I quickly emailed them to my husband and said how amazing it would be for us to do them. To my excitement, he was on board to give it a try! After the first time, we were hooked. We named our discussion time "Marriage Monday" and have been doing it ever since!

I asked my husband today why he loves doing Marriage Monday and why he thinks other people could get a lot out of making it a regular part of their week. He said the questions specifically get you to dig a layer deeper than normal conversation. They force you to get into the "meta" of your marriage, not just talking about you and your spouse, but about your coupleness, which is so important to do in order to maintain a strong relationship. He pointed out that in a normal marriage, sometimes days, weeks, or even months could go by without you and your spouse dealing with an issue, a conflict, a big decision, or discussing your vision for the future. And he has heard of couples going 10-20 years without talking about sex with each other. They will have sex, which is intimate, but they won't talk about the sex they have, because talking about it can feel even more intimate. As a result, many frustrations and hang ups remain surrounding their intimacy, and they miss out on communicating with each other and improving their sex life. Wow, that is deep! I'm glad I asked him for his thoughts!

So to kick off this five week blog series, I am going to review question #1 of Marriage Monday. Your assignment for this first week is only to do this one question with your spouse at some point this week. You can pick whatever day works best for you! The original blogger, Emily, does Tuesdays because that is what worked for her and her husband. We do Mondays because we like starting off our week with the questions and Monday nights are the least likely to be busy for us, which is key in being able to keep up with it. You could do "Together Tuesdays", "Wedded Wednesdays," or pick any day of the week and give it a fun name!

Let's dive in. Question #1 is "How did you feel loved this past week?"

This question is so simple, yet so amazing. You get to tell your spouse how he or she "won" this past week. So much in marriage is often focused on the negative. This question switches the focus to look for the positive, bring it to the surface, and praise the effort! This is what Paul encourages his readers to do in his letter to the Philippians. He says, "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Phil 4:8). 

Telling your spouse how they successfully made you feel loved in a tangible way is a great way to kick off the conversation. It's especially good to start off strong, both feeling loved, as you dive into some tough discussion topics.

One of my favorite parts of doing this question is that, over time, I've been able to discover my husband's love languages. I highly recommend the book: The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. The main premise is everyone feels loved in different ways. Some through physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, or through receiving gifts. The book is great to help you discover how you primarily experience love and to make sure the way you are communicating love to your spouse in the way her or she actually receives it. I do think love languages can shift over time or during certain seasons, so this Marriage Monday question enables me to get a constantly updated glimpse of how my husband has felt loved that week. Sometimes I think I know exactly what he will say and then I'm shocked at how seemingly insignificant of a gesture I did that made him feel so loved. The great thing is that I already did it, so it was easy or natural to do, so it's something I can put on my radar to do again that coming week, ensuring he will yet again feel loved!

This week, set aside a day and time to do this one question. It's just one so far. You can do it! Let me know how it goes and also please comment to share if you find a fun name for your weekly questions night! Once you've tried this one, read the next post for question #2. If you are curious about the remaining questions and can't wait, take a peek at Emily's original post here.

***This post may contain affiliate links, but only for items I have personally benefited from and have been recommending for years. These links will help self-fund this site and bring more marriage tips your way!***

22 August 2016

6 Ways to Get More Kid-free Date Nights

I absolutely love going on date nights with my husband. I love being able to try a fun, new, non-kid-friendly restaurant where we don't have to request a highchair, remember to bring snacks to avoid meltdowns while waiting for the food to arrive, or do damage control to avoid all the food ending up on the floor. Seriously, HOW does one kid make such a big mess?! I love getting all dolled up beforehand in anticipation of the date. And most of all, I love the statement that we are making to each other that our marriage is our most important (earthly) relationship.

So WHY is it so insanely hard to make this a priority for us? I'm sure we can't be the only ones with this struggle. I even dubbed August "National Date Month" and had everyone list ideas to swap (see the post here) and I still have yet to personally make our date happen. I think the main answer is... kids. We never had issues planning date nights pre-kids. In fact, every time we dined out was a date night. Now those nights out are taken over by kids menus, diapers, and wiping up food from... everywhere. WHY did you fling your mac and cheese at that poor old man at that table?! So sorry, sir. Not so romantic.

Instead of wallowing in sympathy at the demise of the beloved date night, I decided to compile a list of 6 ways to get more kid-free date nights. I'm hoping this will also be a good kick in the tail for us to finally let go of the excuses and plan one of our own! Now on to the list:

1) At the beginning of the month, plan out your dates. This one seems like it should be an obvious step, but it's often not. Unfortunately, a date night won't magically appear on your calendar. It takes lots of planning when you have kids. Even couples without kids usually have super busy lives. It can easily get pushed to the side and slip through the cracks. Sit down with your spouse at the beginning of the month, pull out your calendars, and mark it down in pen which day(s) you will set aside.

2) Swap date nights with a friend. Lack of money for a babysitter is often a huge issue. It is for us! But guess what - there's probably a friend or two that also have that same problem. Why not do a date night swap? It's a win-win. We love doing this. I would gladly watch a friend's kids one night in exchange for a night out with my hubby on another night. If you're already home watching your kids, it's not that much harder to add a few more to the mix. Maybe even pop some popcorn and make it a kid's movie night! If you seriously don't think you have any friends that would do this, do a Facebook post and you may be surprised.

3) Ask local friends or relatives if they would be able to watch your kids. It's usually hard for me to ask for help, but I'm often surprised at how many people are willing to watch kids just for the joy of helping out or get their "baby fix"! I was shocked at how many ladies at our church jumped at the idea of spending some time playing with my girls. College students also may crave a home-cooked meal in exchange for babysitting. Give them their delicious dinner, put your kids to bed, and then they have a quiet and cozy study space away from the dorm for a few hours! If you find yourself blessed with free babysitting by a relative or friend, make sure you are super flexible with timing and location. Always work around their schedule and offer to drop your kids off at their house to make it as convenient for them as possible since they are doing such a huge favor. Show your thanks by baking them cookies or sending a thank you note! Hint: if you are an empty-nester or just have some time on your hands, remember how tough it was when you had little ones. Perhaps you have long since repressed those stressful memories, but trust me - it's a hard stage of life! You can make a young couple super happy by volunteering a couple of hours for them to reconnect!

4) Be flexible about timing. This was mentioned in the prior tip, but remember that it might be easier to find someone to babysit your kids during the day. Since our kids need to go to bed fairly early, it's difficult to have them at anyone else's house late at night since then we have to worry about spaces for them to sleep, sound machines, and waking them up when we are done to drive them home. Not fun. The other option is to have someone come to our house but we usually only do that if we are paying someone. To make the timing easier on others, be creative about timing! Plan a fun brunch date. Who doesn't love brunch food?! Pack a picnic lunch and go to a park. Or still go to your favorite restaurant but go for a super early dinner. It's often easier to find reservations earlier in the night anyways! Then you can be back to pick up your kiddos in time to take them home for their bedtimes.

5) Save up for paid babysitting. You may be new to an area or just not have anyone that you feel comfortable asking. In this case, paid babysitting is the way to go. Even when money is tight, you may be able to work it into your budget if you plan ahead of time. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's books on personal finance in order to gain control of your money. If date nights are a priority, put it in your budget first and force everything else to work around that. It may mean cutting back on eating out, brown bagging your lunch, or ditching the Starbucks habit for a week to save up. If you only have one or two kids, maybe you can find another family that could split the cost with you for a babysitter that is capable of watching multiple kids at once.

6) Identify other obstacles and work towards fixing them.
- Does it kill you to think about being away from your kids? Remember, a strong marriage is one of the best gifts you can give to your kids to help them feel secure and loved. Make it a priority! And remember it may be harder on you than it is for your kids. They will most likely have a blast playing with their babysitter as a change of pace!

- Does your baby exclusively breastfeed like my baby? Work to find a bottle that they like and pump spare milk. This can be challenging early on and might take a few months realistically, but eventually most moms can find a good time to pump especially once their babies sleep a bit longer. For me, if my baby goes to bed at 7, I try to pump right before I go to bed around 10 or 11. Is it a pain? YES, it is. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

- Fear of being intimate with your spouse? Keeping the kids around can be a great (but unhealthy) buffer in a marriage. If you fall into this trap, you especially need to make it a priority to spend time working on your marriage. Possibly meet with a counselor (all marriages need maintenance!) or start small and take at least a first baby step towards reconnecting with your spouse.

- No money for the date after paying for babysitting? Plan a free date! Get creative. Bring a picnic to a park, take a walk around monuments, visit a free museum, etc.

- Have money for dates but having trouble finding someone? Look at care.com or another similar site. Pre-kids I used to find babysitting jobs through care.com and it connected me with many amazing families. You can run background checks on potential sitters, call references, and even sometimes read other's reviews on the sitters. Or ask around with your friends who they use to watch their kids. Yes, it takes a bit of work, but there are ways to find people!

- Too lazy to plan a date? I often fall into this trap. My husband and I love a night in watching Netflix on the couch after the kids go to bed. Or other nights we will have amazing conversations. This is still great quality time but it's not quite an equal substitute. There's nothing like a date night out that makes us feel like a priority in each other's life. Once out, it often reminds me of when it was just the two of us and when we were first in love. That can do amazing things for a marriage!

Let's discuss. What are some other obstacles that keep you from having as many date nights as you would like? What are some other suggestions for getting some kid-free date nights out that you could add to the discussion?

Let's make "National Date Month" happen! There's still time left in August! Get some great ideas for your date here.

08 August 2016

How to Turn a Spouse's Complaint into Marital Success

I studied Psychology at James Madison University (go DUUUKES!!) for my undergrad degree. I was mainly fascinated by human relationships and wanted to learn everything I could about them. I took lots of classes (even electives I didn't need!) pertaining to this topic - Human Intimacy, Human Sexuality, Social Psychology, Psychology of Women, Gender, etc. And now with almost a full master's degree under my belt for Marriage & Family Therapy, I've read quite a bit on the topic of marriage. One psychologist's research in particular kept popping up on this topic - Dr. John Gottman.

He has done countless studies on marital stability and predictors of divorce. You may have also heard of his "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" that corrode away at marital happiness: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling (perhaps more on that in another post!).

I recently stumbled across this quote from him and wanted to share. A bit of context first - he was referring to a speaker and listener, such as the wife speaking first in a conflict. In that scenario, she would be the "speaker" first and the husband would be the "listener" until his turn to switch roles.

“Converting a complaint into a positive need requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. It may be helpful here to review my belief that within every negative feeling there is a longing, a wish, and, because of that, there is a recipe for success. It is the speaker’s job to discover that recipe. The speaker is really saying “Here’s what I feel, and here’s what I need from you.” Or, in processing a negative event that has already happened, the speaker is saying, “Here’s what I felt, and here’s what I needed from you.” ― John M. Gottman, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples

WOW. That blew me away, especially the idea that when you listen to your spouse's complaint, you can use that for success in your relationship. If you can just take a step back, instead of becoming defensive or formulating a biting rebuttal, you can dig deeper to try to discover what wish or longing lies behind that criticism or complaint. When you find out what it is they need from you, you can know exactly how to reconcile the relationship and make it better than it was before. Ideally, spouses would be able to express these needs in a mature, non-critical fashion, but we are human, after all. Even if it unfortunately comes out as a critique, it's still better in the long run to know what our spouses need so we can begin to make amends.

If you wife tells you: "You never help clean up the kitchen," she may be wishing you knew how completely exhausted she is from her long day with the kids. She may need affirmation of her hard work or she may need your actual help so you can both relax for a bit together.

If your husband says: "You never care about sex anymore," he may be yearning to feel close to you - his wife who knows him the best in the world, and be reaffirmed that he is desired by you.

I know those are completely stereotypical examples, but hopefully they will get your brain jogging. What are some other examples of criticism that could have an expressed need or longing behind them? How can we use that to create a recipe of success for our marriages?

***Also a quick reminder to go back to last week's post to add your ideas to The Great Date Exchange! Gotta get your dates in during the month of August!***

01 August 2016

The Great Date Exchange

August is National Date Month! Okay, I actually made that up but it sounds good, right? So to celebrate, here's a way to make it super easy on you to plan a fun and exciting date with your spouse. I'm calling it The Great Date Exchange!

In order for this to work properly, we all need to participate. There's three easy steps for you to be on your way to some date night fun:

  1. In the comments below, share either: your first date you went on with your spouse, your favorite date, your most creative/unique date, a free date idea, or a "dream" date that has been on your wish list. Feel free to share more than one since it helps others get great ideas for their dates. Sharing is caring!
  2. Pick a fun date idea and reply to their comment to say you are going to try out their date suggestion. Make sure you use the "reply" option to make sure you are responding to their specific comment.
  3. Plan your date. Talk with your spouse and actually put it on your calendar. Ideally for this week but at the very least, sometime in August.
  4. I know I said there's only three steps, and yes, I know how to count! But this one is optional. Or extra credit for those of you Type-A high-achievers. Come back and let us know how your date went. It will probably make the original person happy to know their idea led to so much fun for someone else!

I'm so excited to hear about all of the fun August dates! It's an easy way to spend some quality time with your spouse and keep that spark alive. I hope you enjoy the Great Date Exchange!

25 July 2016

Whole30 and Marriage: Effort Required

I'm pretty sure I'm addicted to sugar.

When people talk about sweet vs. salty, I'm definitely a sweets girl. And I don't just have a sweet tooth, I have a full mouth of sweet-loving teeth. I'm not quite sure how I've never had a cavity, but I'm not complaining! Some of my favorite things in life are Reese's, black and white cookies, chocolate peanut butter milkshakes. If my husband surprises me with a Frosty, I get WAY more excited than if he bought me flowers (this is embarrassing).

I know it doesn't sound like it but I can actually eat fairly healthy on most days. When I cook, I'm very picky about what types of ingredients I use. And having a toddler constantly eating off my plate makes portion control easier than ever! But even on days when I eat healthy I usually need at least a few chocolate chips or a bit of chocolate syrup added to skim milk just to take the edge off. I knew I had a problem but I just didn't know how to fix it.

My friend told me about the Whole30 plan. The book I bought is called "The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom." I need food freedom! I want total health! The basic premise is that it's not a diet, but a program that will change your relationship with food and break its control over you. For 30 days you eliminate all foods from your diet that could possibly be inflammatory or disrupt your hormones, gut, metabolism, or immune system.

My husband and I are totally on board and are about to start the Whole30 program in August (prayers please!). In preparation, we've talked to friends that have gone through the program. We've researched recipes, mentally prepared ourselves for what might be challenging in cutting out certain foods. We even figured out some strategies ahead of time for navigating difficult situations. We've spent countless hours before starting it and will spend many more hours with meal prep and cooking in August in order to complete the Whole30 successfully and become healthier individuals.

As I was thinking about Marriage Monday, I had a thought smack me in the face (does that ever happen to you too?!). Do I spend even half of that time working on my marriage? I know eating is a constant and essential need, but our marriages also affect our everyday lives, as well as those around us. The way we go about our marriages can even affect our children  - how they treat others, their views on relationships, and possibly even the person they will eventually marry.

I'm not saying we shouldn't spend time on our health. I am saying that our marriages deserve and need time invested in them as well. We need to be intentional. Just like a healthy body doesn't happen accidentally, or even quickly, you also can't just stumble into a good marriage without putting in any effort.

Spending time working on a marriage may look differently for everyone, but here are a few ideas to help you brainstorm what might work for you. You could try:

- setting aside Marriage Monday time to discuss a blog post over dinner (I wonder where you could find one of those? Hmm...)
- planning a much-needed date night out to keep the spark alive
- putting the kids to bed and spending time praying for each other
- reading and discussing a marriage book, such as Sacred Marriage or Love & Respect
- creating a budget together to reduce money fights. Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University is great for guidance on this!

What is one way you can (or do) set aside time to work on your marriage?

18 July 2016

Change Your Perspective to Change Your Marriage

I love nothing more than having readers from all different types of backgrounds and walks of life. Discussions are more interesting that way and I love to learn and grow! That being said, this specific post will be mainly directed to fellow Christians who love Jesus. If you don't fall into that category, you are still welcome along for the ride this week! You may still get a healthy discussion out of it with your spouse!

Today we are going to discuss a concept that is one of the main differences that sets apart a marriage between two Christians versus any other marriage. It is what gives those marriages a purpose greater than just the sum of the two.

The other day I heard a verse I've heard many times before: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Colossians 3:23, ESV). Growing up, I've applied it to schoolwork, chores, and later my job. But for some reason it never crossed my mind to apply it to my marriage until I saw it in the full context of the chapter. Future note to self: always remember to look at the full context of the chapter! Ha.

I had to mull it over. This was a doozy! What would it look like if I gave selflessly in my marriage for God instead of my just my husband?

Right before this verse, Paul gave instructions to various groups of people with applications according to their roles. Husbands and wives were among these to love and submit. It's humorous that it seems like God knew what our immediate protest would be:

But he doesn't love me the way I need!
But she is so mean!
But he is selfish!
But she is disrespectful!

So of course the very next verse puts an end to our seemingly justified excuses why he or she doesn't deserve it. Do it for the Lord, not your husband who isn't acting very loving at the moment. Do it for the Lord, not your wife who just let you down yet again.

We need to ask ourselves - what is our ultimate motivation? Is it your spouse's behavior? He or she is imperfect and will not always deserve your love or respect at the moment. But God is always perfect. He is very deserving of our obedience, so our motivation can stay constant if we make that our main focus and goal.

One thing that sweetens the pot is that the following verse states that we "will receive the inheritance as your reward" since we are "serving the Lord Christ" (v. 24).

Those of you who are lovers of justice and all things being "fair" in the world, especially when your spouse really doesn't seem deserving at the moment, you can take comfort in the following: "For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality" (v. 25). You can be a rockstar wife or husband, doing it purely for God, even when your spouse doesn't "deserve" it. You can rest easy knowing that when they are in the wrong, it does not go unnoticed. But your actions will be seen and rewarded. Basically, let God take care of your spouse's actions and just be concerned with yourself.

So when you see dirty laundry on the floor yet again, don't just leave it knowing your spouse should have to pick it up. Do it for the Lord. When your spouse verbally berates you and you want to yell back with an equally scathing comment, instead use your words to build him or her up because your focus is on pleasing God.

What is hard to do for an imperfect spouse, is infinitely easier to do for a perfect heavenly Father. If you can change your perspective, you can change your marriage.

11 July 2016

Marriage is a Big, Fat, Ugly Mirror

"I was a much better parent before I had kids." Yes, SO TRUE! There is nothing like actually being a parent to show you how difficult raising a child can be. Parenting aside, I thought I was a much better person before I got married. I had no idea one person could have so many flaws... and I am talking about myself!

Marriage is a big, fat, ugly, intrusive mirror in your face at all times. Any flaws you didn't know you had will be instantly visible and thrown at you, and flaws you were already aware of will be amplified a million times. Single people - sounds like fun, right?

An unmarried person in a dating relationship can easily walk away if they feel uncomfortable after seeing a glimpse of their selfishness. In fact, they may blame it on the other person and not realize the problem was actually on their own end. But selfishness and flaws in a marriage immediately affect the other person and thus, have to be fixed.

In my case, my ugly marriage mirror showed me I have a bossy streak. I am a first born child with three younger siblings. Growing up, being a momma hen had its advantages and was even necessary at times, but being bossy and taking over situations unnecessarily in a marriage is not a good thing. If I hadn't seen how negatively it affected my husband, I would never have had to make a change and keep it in check. (More later on how birth order affects marriage, coming soon in a post series. Get excited!) I've had to learn how to tame my tongue and do my best to not hurt my husband with my words. Read more about that in this blog post. I saw that I was critical at times, which I had to fix in order to not push out my husband from helping alongside me. And I honestly never realized how lazy I can be at times until I saw how hardworking my husband is!

“If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.” - Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?

Even though it can be difficult seeing all of our imperfections thrown in our face so clearly, God uses marriage to grow us, shape us, and mold us to look more like Him.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17, NIV).

I asked my husband what he thought of the ugly marriage mirror. He replied with this:

"I think I'm a better person since becoming married. When I was single I could carry on as I wanted, only thinking about me as my daily decisions mostly only affected me. As a married man, I am forced to deal with my selfishness, flaws, imperfections, shortcomings and insecurities. Living with someone who knows you more than anyone on the planet brings these things to the surface like nothing else can." - Lane Sebring, aka "Hubby"

So there you have it. We are both imperfect, flawed human beings. Once confronted with a clear image of ourselves that our spouses will not sugar coat, we are forced to continually work on ourselves. We both fail at this every day, multiple times a day when we try to fix this on our own. So we are forced to turn to God to help us become better spouses. It is not easy or fun seeing the flawed reflection of my sin nature, but I am thankful I have that big, fat, ugly mirror in my face to force me to become a better version of myself, one that day by day looks a bit more like Jesus.

What has your marriage mirror forced you to change that has helped you become a better person and improved spouse?

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