Vision Creep in Marriage

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Talk to any engaged couple about their dreams for marriage. You’ll get a pretty vivid description of life-long love, friendship, passion, joy, and excitement. In their minds they may be in a good place in life right now, but things are only going to get better once they are wed.

I believe that’s the way it should be. People should be excited at the onset of any new adventure (and marriage is an adventure like none other) and dream of the possibilities of what could be. I’ve heard it said that you can’t out-achieve your dreams. So setting a big vision for the relationship is a very promising thing to do.

The problem I see in many marriages is that the tactical planning toward the vision stops at the wedding ceremony itself. Months upon months will be spent in planning a ceremony and a reception. But little time is spent in planning actual life beyond that special day. For many, the days/months after the wedding (and honeymoon) are about “getting back to normal”; resuming careers and establishing routines. The pressures of life quickly find their way in and the individual spouses find themselves focused on their own lives as opposed to the union.

While some will regain a sense of balance (in terms of time and attention) many others find this to be their new normal. The relationship itself becomes neglected in lieu of other priorities. After awhile, complacency then boredom sets in. Once in this state, many couples will choose to divorce to pursue “greener pastures”. Of those that stay together, many do so in a loveless, co-existing state. They find it’s easier to just stay married rather than go through the time and expense of separating and dividing their lives. Couples living this way find that their original vision diminishes over time to the point they’re simply hanging on.

So how do you avoid this? You put goals and plans in place to pursue the original vision. Lifelong love and excitement don’t happen on their own. But they will happen with  intentional effort. Couples need to set relationship goals early on and revisit them on a regular basis to see how they are progressing. Want to have lifelong excitement? That won’t happen if you never try anything new. Set a goal that as a couple you will try something different at least once a quarter. That could be as simple as eating at a new restaurant or as involved as taking up a new hobby together. The point is, set the goal and pursue it. Want to have life-long passion? Set goals to keep the spark alive. Date nights, get-aways, nooners and role-playing are all examples in this vein. Lifelong friendship? Call your spouse everyday from work. Eat dinner together at the table as opposed to eating in front of the television. Make time to take a walk together or set aside time just to talk without distractions. What you do is far less important than setting a goal and doing something. Couples that live this way have a Shocking Marriage and find that their vision actually expands over time.

Casting a vision for your marriage is a great exercise. Putting intentional steps in place to pursue that vision will take you to levels that you can’t even imagine. Do nothing, and you will see your vision diminish to the point of non-existence.

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A Great Week Away…

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I’m always telling people how important it is to get away with just their spouse. The benefits are huge and it is an investment well made in terms of time and money. Recently someone asked me when was the last time I got away with Tara?  The question stopped me dead in my tracks. While we’ve had a few one-night escapes to a downtown hotel, it had been eleven years since our last true get-away (and that was for our 25th wedding anniversary). I had no idea it had been that long, and I felt convicted to do something about it.

So, I checked my frequent flyer miles and the calendar and we escaped last week to New Orleans for four nights. We had a blast! It’s funny, because it had been forever since she and I had shared a bed in a hotel. We’ve been on family vacations, but I end up sleeping with my son and Tara with our daughter in separate beds. I love my son, but certainly prefer lying next to Tara than a sweaty teen boy!

I had been to New Orleans before on a business trip, but Tara had never been. I knew from what I saw there that she would love the city and I needed to take her there. We had the perfect balance of planned activities (think meal reservations…) and unstructured time which suited us perfectly. We soaked in the food, the music and the culture and experienced many things together for the first time. But equally enjoyable was the time by the hotel pool in the heat of the day. Just sitting in two chaise loungers with a cold drink and talking about life.

There’s something about being together, away from home that allows you to focus not just on the pressing issues of life, but rather on dreams and aspirations. Not just for ourselves, but for our kids as well. Rekindling passion and intimacy has a way of freeing the mind from constraints and opening it to possibilities.

Think back to your dating days, maybe even to your early marriage. Remember the time you spent dreaming of possibilities and the “what could be’s?” Over time the pressures of ongoing life naturally draw us back to the pressing realities of day to day life. It’s hard to have a one-on-one conversation around the kitchen table that doesn’t quickly devolve into items like budget, resolving schedule conflicts or issues with the kids.

Corporations realize this. They know that the best way to conduct true strategic planning or to generate new ideas is to go off-site to hold their meeting. There’s something about a fresh environment that opens up the mind to new possibilities and to break the natural patterns that our brains fall into when in familiar surroundings. Why don’t we realize the same holds true within a marriage?

Tara and I are good communicators. That’s true no matter where we are. Getting away for date night is good. We can have a great conversation over dinner. But the reality is, that is not sufficient time to really “shake off” the home environment or the pressing issues of the day. Getting away for a mini-vacation allows you to work through that and begin processing at the next level. That is magical.

Don’t think this has to be a two-week, mega-adventure. While those can be fantastic, they are also very limiting in terms of budget and time. But a single night away may not be enough time either. It’s funny. Our first two days away we did find ourselves talking about current issues and concerns (but note – in a far more free way than we would have at home), but the conversations of the next two days were where we began to dream. To me that time was invaluable.

This week I find myself in a more optimistic place with an extremely bright future. I’ve got things I want to work on that were dormant before. But most importantly, I feel closer to my wife of thirty-six years than ever before. That’s an investment worth making!

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Forgiveness is Mutual

Let’s be honest. When you find yourself in an argument with your spouse, your initial thought is that you are 100% right, and your spouse is 100% wrong. Your goal is to point out the error in their behavior or thinking and convince them to think like you do. The problem is that they typically think the exact same way, except with the blame shifted back at you.

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I was part of a reconciliation effort once with a group I was a member of. An outside counselor explained to our group that while there may be clear blame to place, it is never 100% on one side or the other. In extreme cases it might be 90% blame here and only 10% blame there, but in any case there is some fault that can be found on both sides of the conflict.

Before true peace can be realized, both parties must acknowledge and own their own issues. Once that has been done, they need to sincerely seek forgiveness. When this happens, an issue can truly be resolved and a couple can move beyond it. When this doesn’t happen, the proverbial pendulum begins to swing back the other way.  Lets look at an example.

Bill and Sue have been married for seven years and have three young children. Two years after the birth of their third child, Bill feels that all intimacy (sex) has vanished from their relationship. Sue’s total world seems to be focused on the children, and seems to have little time or energy for his needs. From Bill’s perspective, he is still a young man and has legitimate physical needs. He ‘s not looking for an outlet aside from his marriage, but in a moment of weakness one finds him. At first he is racked with guilt, but he begins to justify his actions due to the lack of affection from his wife. In time, Sue discovers the affair and calls him out on it.

Threatened with divorce, Bill snaps back to reality and sees what he stands to lose. In that moment, he knows he was wrong, admits to everything, ends the external relationship and vows to never stray again. At this point he is accepting 100% of the blame. Over the coming months Bill works hard to reconcile and to win Sue back into his life. In time, he is “forgiven” and the daily conflict subsides.

It’s about this time when he realizes that nothing has happened to restore the physical intimacy that he continues to crave. He begins to think back to the feelings he had before his affair and resentment starts to build. In his mind he has bent over backwards to atone for his wrongs, but Sue has done nothing to recognize her role in the situation. Though he fights it, his mind begins to wander once again…

While this is an extreme (but unfortunately not uncommon) example, there’s a point here to learn from. Bill’s behaviors and choices were inexcusable and it will take time and concerted effort to restore relationship between he and Sue. But for ultimate healing to take place, Sue will have to take a hard, hones look at herself to see what role she had in the situation. Even if Bill was 95% to blame, Sue shared a small portion herself. If this is not addressed, the couple runs the risk of Bill returning to his straying lifestyle.

It is important to note that this is not an effort to assign blame, but rather to encourage taking responsibility for each of our actions. When we find ourselves in conflict with our spouse it is important to realize that we are responsible for some portion (albeit a very small one sometimes) of the problem. When we own up to that and seek forgiveness for our issues the relationship can be restored. Sometimes it can be made better than ever!

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you are granting forgiveness to your spouse, ask yourself, “Is there something I need to ask forgiveness for as well?” You’ll be amazed how far that will go toward true reconciliation.

 

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Turn the Lights On in Your Marriage

pexels-photo-132340.jpegJohn 3:20 says “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed”. In many instances, spouses have numerous secrets that they keep from one another. There’s just certain things that they want to keep in the dark.

In some cases, marriages start off with an agreement to this effect with separate checking accounts, separate social circles, even separate vacations. It’s an attitude of “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours”.  It could be argued that when taken to this extreme a marriage doesn’t really exist. There’s no coming together, no one-flesh attitude. It’s strictly an arrangement to live together as long as each partner sees some benefit. It’s easy to bring together and its easy to dissolve later.

But for most marriages, the separateness is far less obvious.  Darkness creeps in. It could start out simply enough; a small purchase that he doesn’t need to know about or innocent flirtation with a secretary at work. It might involve parenting – “Okay, I’ll let you do this, but don’t tell your mother…” The thinking is there is no reason to raise an issue that could cause strife or conflict. The act is justified in the name of protecting the spouse from angst.

Technology plays a big role in our culture and in our attitudes toward privacy. It used to be that you had to have physical contact with another person in order to get involved in a compromising manner. Not any more.  How many couples do you know have had issues with “emotional affairs” online? They start out innocently enough – just connecting with an old “friend” on Facebook. Until such a time that you find that friend is now divorced and begins expressing their long suppressed feelings for you. Suddenly, you’re getting flirtation and compliments that you don’t receive from your spouse… And you get sucked in to feelings and behaviors that were never intended.

Physical affairs still happen as well. How often are those discovered when a string of text messages are found on a cell phone? I can personally think of five different marriages where a discovery of this type either started the path toward divorce or at least significant damage.

So how can this be avoided? First, by recognizing that marriage is unlike any other relationship. God designed marriage and intended for two people to become one-flesh. One of the keys to this notion is that one flesh cannot keep secrets from itself! In a true one-flesh relationship, there is no “mine” and “yours”, there is simply “ours”. The light shines on everything.

My marriage is not perfect (none are), but we really try to not keep secrets by keeping our lives in the light. We have a joint checking account, we know each other’s passwords for our cell phones, emails and all social media accounts. We don’t spend time regularly checking out each others accounts, but we know that we could if we wanted to.

When we’re struggling with an issue, we openly share it with the other. My wife knows immediately if something is bothering me – as if she can sense it in herself and vice versa. That leads to a conversation – bringing the issue into the light.

What areas of darkness exist within your marriage? How can you eliminate these by shining light on them? Total trust can only exist within the light, something every marriage should strive for.

 

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Rules of Engagement – Available Now!!

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 1.47.50 PM       God designed marriage to be like no other relationship, yet most couples go through life taking their spouse for granted. No matter where your marriage is today, this book will help you take it to the next level.

This is the perfect book to work through with your spouse or to study as a small group. In this you will find life-tested advice to help you get the most out of your marriage. You deserve a Shocking Marriage – let me help you get there today!

Click here to purchase your copy now!

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There is now Here

navigation-car-drive-road.jpghad an epiphany this morning. (I love the word epiphany – it is clearly a $5 word). I am an inherently impatient person. I’m the guy that when he plans a vacation would almost always prefer to fly – I just want to get there. I fail to enjoy or embrace the journey when I drive. That mindset carries over to other aspects of my life as well. If I sense that God is calling me to a new place I just want to be there. But this is simply not the way that He operates.

There is no final destination (“there”), at least while we’re here on Earth because God is never through with us. Unlike a vacation destination, we are never able to truly arrive to where God is leading us. As soon as we think we’re approaching our “there”, we realize that He has moved our target further down the road.

But it’s really more than just about an ever-changing destination. I can get so focused on a goal that I can be blind to God’s influence around me in the meantime. A typical conversation between God and I looks something like this.

God: Jerry I want you to leave where you are and go in this direction

Jerry: Okay God, I’m on it. Heading “there” now.

Imagine some time passing, me forging through life with my head down focused on the goal…

Jerry: Uhmm, God, am I ever going to get “there”?

God: Define “there”

Jerry: Where you told me to head, you know… “there”

God: Silly man, yesterday’s “there” is now today’s “here”. Stay faithful and keep going in the direction I told you.

The point of this dialogue is this. We may envision a “there” in our lives or in our marriages, but as long as we’re breathing, God is not done with us yet. It is important for us to not be so focused on an ultimate goal – as if we’ll meet God there. We must realize that God is present with us every step of the journey. He is bringing things into our lives that clearly shape our present and continue to direct our future. It’s easy to miss these if we’re not taking the time to encounter God along the way. Practically speaking, how many times are we looking for a specific answered prayer only to miss the variety of answers God is providing all around us?

My goal is to stop living for a future state, but to enjoy each and every day as God provides it. It doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning the vision that He has created for me, but it does mean that I will attempt to recognize His answers to me all along the journey.

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No Marriage is Perfect

 

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I work with people in various levels of marital distress. I like to think that I provide them with Godly counsel and practical advice on how to make their situation better. But the key here is the word – “better”. I didn’t say “perfect”.

I am blessed with having a great marriage. But it is not perfect. Truth be told, there are some days (week/seasons?) where it much farther from perfection than others. Over the course of time, our relationship is clearly trending “up and to the right”, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some short declines from time to time.

If you want to put your marriage to a real test (and who doesn’t – insert sarcastic, laughing emoji here), lead a marriage workshop, mentor another couple or just give advice to a friend in need. As soon as you step out to help others, you put your own marriage in the crosshairs of the enemy. I’m a firm believer that the spiritual realm surrounding us operates much in the same way as the physical realm in which live does. In physics, you learn that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…”. When we step out in faith, when we share our own real-life examples of marriage trials and successes we often find there is an unseen, but very real push back.

NOTE: I am not implying that God and Satan are equal and opposite, God the creator is clearly superior, but that doesn’t eliminate efforts from “the dark side” to thwart us.

I distinctly remember the days in the past when Tara and I would lead a marriage workshop at our church. Inevitably, on the drive there, we would get into some type of ridiculous argument about who knows what. By the time we would arrive, we would both be so flustered and aggravated that it was all we could do to stop, pray together and go lead the sessions. We might not have argued all week, but sure enough – on that day we would fight passionately.

It should come as no surprise that as I went through the process of writing “Rules of Engagement”, we would find ourselves once again disagreeing on a number of issues. There were days when I felt like a complete hypocrite. “How can I release a book instructing couples on how to fight fair when we can’t do it ourselves?” I would ask. Several times, I questioned my own qualifications in writing it.

But I’m convinced that God doesn’t want us to focus on the little things. He wants us to keep the big picture in mind. Truth be told, our marriage is in a better place than it was when I started writing. I remain convinced that it will be better yet this time next year.

When you read my book (and I really hope you will), I want you to remember that it was not written by a person that has perfected marriage. And if we have the chance to meet, please know that I struggle from time to time in my relationship, just like you do. But do remember – this is a guy that is committed to making it better. At least over the long run…

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