Build a Solid Foundation for your Marriage

The Bible tells us to build our lives on the solid foundation of Christ’s words and teachings. It’s like building on a rock. Doing otherwise is like building on sand, where nothing can withstand the storms that life brings. Marriage is no different. We need to build our marriages on solid rock and maintain them over time. In this episode, you will hear how you can “shore up” your marriage by utilizing all the power that God so readily provides.

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Desire a Shocking Marriage

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I love the word appreciation. It has a wide range of specific meanings, all revolving around the concept of value. Items of value increase in worth over time. If you buy a house, it typically appreciates over time. You sell it for more than you paid after a few years. Jewelry, fine wine, art all appreciate. Their values are not fixed, but increase as they age.

It’s not always about increasing from a monetary standpoint. If you’ve ever been to a volunteer banquet, you’ve certainly heard the word appreciation used throughout the evening. Each person that is recognized is appreciated for the value they have brought to that organization. The time and service they provided was recognized in a public forum.

From a personal standpoint, there are things we appreciate. Beautiful sunsets, the smell of home cooking – even the artwork that our elementary aged children bring home. These things brighten our moods and take us to a better mental place.

There are many things we should appreciate that we typically take for granted. I seldom think about getting a glass of water from my sink, though in many parts of the world the thought of clean, flowing water in the home would only be a dream. I may see having to drive to the grocery to buy food as a chore, but it sure is easier than having to harvest my own vegetables or slaughter my own meat.

In far too many cases, marriage falls into this latter category. The person that God joined together with us; the only other person we become one with is often taken for granted. In the early years that’s not the case. As we fall in love we are blind to any faults or shortcomings our spouse has. But over time, our attention shifts. We quit noticing the good things that we see and experience and begin to focus on the flaws our all-too-human spouses exhibit.

I’ve read studies relating to the workplace (and experienced situations first hand) that deal with appreciating and motivating employees. Employees that feel valued and have a sense they are contributing to the bottom line of the company will put in extra effort toward that end, going above and beyond their job description. On the contrary, employees that feel like they are just a “number”, going through the motions put in just enough effort to keep their jobs. Employees that feel like they are constantly criticized or ridiculed find themselves in a self-fulfilling prophecy. They begin to fall short of their job requirements and are often let go from their position.

Marriage is very similar to the workplace in that regard. A spouse that feels appreciated will put far more effort into the relationship than a spouse that is largely ignored. Persistent criticism of a spouse is a fast track to separation and divorce.

What are the things your spouse does for you that have gone largely unnoticed? Do you thank them for preparing a meal? Do you appreciate the repairs they have made around the house? It takes little to no effort to say “Thank You”, yet the power of that simple phrase is amazing.

Proverbs 31:10 “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”

In my mind, the same could be said for an excellent husband. God has blessed you with a spouse. Take time to focus on the many ways they make your life more valuable. Let them know what it is that you truly appreciate. You’ll be amazed what this does for your relationship.

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Trust is not a Goal, It’s an Indicator of Intimacy

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Trust. A simple concept in theory. If you do what you say you will do (or don’t do what you say you won’t do), I will trust you. Violate that, and distrust emerges quickly.

Many people are reluctant to trust quickly. Trust must be earned over time, through a repeated pattern of following through on promises or agreements. Others start out with an attitude of trust, but quickly lose it if someone falls short of their expectations. When that happens, they quickly switch over to the first camp, where trust must be rebuilt over time.

In working with dozens of married couples over the years, trust seems to be one of the most frequently mentioned issues that arise within relationships. These can range from large issues such as infidelity, use of pornography or outright deceit to smaller issues such as not taking out the trash as agreed upon.

In any case there is an expectation that has been violated. And rebuilding trust does take time. So, how can a married couple protect the trust that they have or are working to create?

A recent Naked Marriage Podcast contained the quote “Don’t hide things from your spouse. In marriage, a painful truth is better than a hidden secret.” I completely agree with this notion, but let’s take a look at the two parts of this that are referenced; painful truth and hidden secret.

What makes sharing a truth painful? Why do people hide secrets? There are a variety of things. You may know that your spouse will get angry and you want to avoid their wrath. “It’s just a little thing, they’ll never know – and I certainly don’t want a multi-day argument to ensue…” Or it could be that you don’t want to disappoint them or hurt their feelings. “It’s just this once, they’d be so disappointed if they knew I did this, I’m going to spare them the pain this would cause by not telling them…”

There are ways that these issues can be minimized or even eliminated. I’m not talking about moral or legal issues here, but rather the little things that can damage a relationship. You cannot expect your spouse to honor a list of “rules” that you dictate to them. If they don’t buy into your list or agree to honor it, you are just setting yourself up for broken trust. As an example, your spouse has asked you to never dine alone with a member of the opposite sex. That seemed reasonable, so you agreed. One day at work your boss asks you to interview a person (of the opposite sex) over lunch. In your mind, this seems completely innocent, so you don’t even think about sharing it with them. However, at a social gathering, they hear that you violated this agreement. They feel violated as a result. They even begin wondering of other situations where you might be hiding things from them. Trust has been broken. That may be an extreme example, but I can assure you I’ve heard similar situations arise when coaching couples.

I’m a firm believer that trust is high when intimacy is solid. I don’t just mean physical intimacy, but overall intimacy (this is described in great detail in my book “Beyond the Celebration” – available on Amazon). When you feel close to your spouse from an emotional, spiritual and yes, physical standpoint – trust comes naturally. If you feel distant from your spouse in any of these regards, suspicion has a way of creeping in. Emotional intimacy is especially tied to trust. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable to your spouse and you feel supported, your trust naturally soars. If there are things you feel you just can’t share, that’s a huge warning sign then intimacy is lacking and trust plummets.

The bottom line is, trust is not an end goal, it’s an indicator of how well your relationship is functioning. You can spend unlimited energy trying to build or restore trust and potentially never get there. Spend that same effort on enhancing intimacy and you will find that trust naturally builds along with it.

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Change is a Powerful Thing

View from my back deck

It’s been a couple of months since I have blogged or podcasted or added any content to social media. A lot has happened during that time. Tara and I have moved from the cornfields of Indiana to the mountains of North Carolina! What a change that has been! Every day we are taken aback by God’s beauty all around us. There’s no question that moving is stressful. I’ve seen it listed several times as one of the top five most stressful situations in life. Packing up a house we’d been in for 20+ years… moving to a home 30% smaller, having to make tough decisions on things to purge, the physical effort of packing boxes all take their toll.

That was nothing compared to arriving at the new location. Boxes, boxes everywhere. “Do you know where my ratchet set is?” “Have you seen the pizza cutter?” Nothing is in its normal place, because frankly – there is no normal place yet! I have actually run to the local Lowes store multiple times to buy things that I know I own somewhere, but needed them to assemble or fix something from the move. Having now been here for a couple of weeks, I have set up my office (though it is still crowded with unpacked items) and beginning to recreate a rhythm again.

This whole experience has been a mixed blessing for our marriage. The move itself was trying and I know we frustrated each other with our different styles and approaches to the project. But far more important is the blessing that we are now experiencing as we explore and discover the new area in which we live.

We have made it a point to include enjoyment most days (in addition to the unpacking and arranging). As an example, we drove to the local recycling center to drop off a mini-van full of moving boxes (one of seven or eight trips in total) and realized it was right next to a lovely mountain winery. We felt obligated to check it out of course and found it to be absolutely delightful. The wine is delicious and the views are incredible.

Whereas we were in long-standing routines (dare I say ruts?) at our last home, we find ourselves doing and going to new places on a regular basis now. We have eaten at delicious restaurants, hiked on some challenging trails, rented kayaks, visited waterfalls and shopped at cool little general stores in the middle of nowhere. In some ways it still feels like we’re at a VRBO on an extended vacation.

I love what we’re experiencing together. I also love the energy and the passion that has come back into our marriage. I wouldn’t say that we were in trouble as a couple, but boredom certainly has a way of creeping in to any relationship. This new life we’ve chosen has really reinvigorated us in a lot of different ways.

I’m not suggesting that you need to move across the country to enhance your marriage. But I would encourage you to seek out new experiences together. It could be going to a new place for vacation, a get away weekend to a city you’ve not seen, or sharing an experience that is new to the both of you.

Don’t let routine and complacency eat away at your marriage. Be proactive. Get out there and do something new together. You’ll be amazed at what it does for your spirit, your attitude and your relationship!

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Life as a Jigsaw Puzzle

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I like jigsaw puzzles. But I have to admit, I am very dependent on seeing the image on the box. For every piece I pick up, I look to the box to see where it might fit. Once I know about where it goes, I look to the puzzle in process to see where the shape and specific color of that piece might fit in. This is quite different from the way my parents worked on puzzles when I was younger. They would stare intently at the puzzle then search for a specific piece that would either match an unusual shape, or continue with a color pattern that was already forming from the pieces in place.

My wife pointed out recently that my approach to working puzzles is very similar to my approach to life in general. I like to see the big picture and constantly know what I am working toward. As long as I know where I’m headed, I can connect the pieces to get there. I’m not a detail oriented person; to an outside observer my approach may seem chaotic as I jump from task to task. In spite of the lack of structure, every step I take is taking me toward the vision of exactly where I want or need to be.

God doesn’t necessarily work the way that I prefer. It’s as if He hands me one piece of the puzzle at a time and waits for me to connect it with where I’ve been. While I may know the general theme of the puzzle, I certainly cannot tell exactly where it is heading as it slowly comes together. I would love to see the picture on the box that He has me working toward, but instead I have to determine where each piece fits with what is already in place. That’s where faith comes in to play.

I truly believe God has a purpose and a vision for my life and my ministry. As Steven Covey suggests in his books, I would love to work with the end in mind. Instead, I’ve learned to trust that God’s got this, and trust each piece He gives me will move me forward in the right direction.

I have seen puzzles on store shelves and think to myself, “I would never attempt that”. It could have too much of the same color, or be so abstract that it would intimidate me. In my mind, I simply dismiss it as too challenging and never even begin it. It could be that it was no different for the plan for my life. if I saw the big picture, I might panic, give up or never even begin the effort. It may not be this way for everyone, but God seems to know the best way to keep me moving forward – one piece at a time.

I’ve heard it said that if the vision God has given you for your life doesn’t scare you, then you’re probably not truly seeing His vision. You are instead relying on your own limited thoughts and plans. As much as I long to see the big picture for my life, I need to be patient and accept His leading in His timing and in the manner in which He wants to dole it out to me.

Just as God has a plan for our lives, He has a plan for our marriages. We need to be open to hearing His voice and direction. However He chooses to lay that our for us, our call is to be obedient and trust that His ways are better than our ways. We need to know and trust that He has the best intentions for our relationships, so it is critical that we follow His guidance. Whether He chooses to show you the picture on the box, or expects you to put one piece in at a time, He will guide you. Just be willing to move forward with Him.

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Grow Together in Your marriage

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Appreciation is Key in Marriage

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Appreciation is something we see too little of in marriages. It seems over time we come to accept our spouse for who they are and take their special gifts and contributions for granted.

I appreciate that my wife is not just like me. I’ll admit, sometimes it frustrates me when she doesn’t come to the same logical conclusion that I do when faced with an important situation. I can’t fathom why she doesn’t see the obvious way forward that I do. But oddly, she feels the exact same way about me. Ideally, we would seek to truly understand the other’s perspective so that we can compare it to our own. If we can stay objective, we might come to see that there is an alternative we’d not first considered. Realistically, one or the other of us tires of the debate and simply gives in.

I appreciate that my wife has different skills than I do, though sometimes that can drive me nuts. I’m a big picture person, your proverbial dreamer. She is far more structured and practical in her thinking. I think of a time when we decided to clean out an extra bedroom that had turned into long term storage. When we walked in to begin the task, I was immediately overwhelmed with the breadth and the depth of the work in front of us. Truth be told, if on my own, I would have quickly closed the door and sought out a project in another part of the house. But not my wife. With sheer determination, she climbed over and through the piles and boxes and went straight for the closet. In no time at all, she was taking every item out of the closet, sorting, tossing and reorganizing the space. From my perspective, this was near lunacy. With the entire room in the state it was in, why would she focus on such an insignificant area? After an hour of work, that closet was perfect. So we climbed back over the boxes and piles and left the room for another day.

She will quickly point out that my proclivities can drive her mad as well. We decided that we needed to repaint the trim (baseboards, door frames, etc) around the house. Most of them had become scuffed or bare over the twenty years that we’d lived in our home. I went to the store, bought the paint (and a cool little plastic paint bucket that came with disposable liners) and came home to tackle this project. I couldn’t decide where to start. At the front door and work inward? In the upstairs and work down? Maybe in the corner of the hall and work clockwise. After walking through the house multiple times debating where to begin, I finally started painting. The basement window sills – that is the perfect place. I finished there, but decided the light was bad that time of day, so I went upstairs. I painted around the front door (since the light was better). I considered painting the baseboards, but thought my knee was too sore to bend down that much. So I ventured to the mud room where I painted one of the three door frames before I decided to break for dinner.

When she walked by to check on my progress, she noticed a few drips running down the grooves of the frames, and determined that she was better qualified to take on the job from there. The next day as she began, she found herself in a constant state of shaking her head wondering what my logic had been in terms of what I painted and where.

In spite of our collective quirkiness, our marriage works. There are days we drive each other crazy, and there are days we laugh until we cry. I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world. She says she might try to trade me in, but fears there’d be no offers. Part of the fun of marriage is having fun and even poking (good natured) fun at one another. I love her quirks, and she loves mine. God brought us together for a reason – even if it might have been to spare two other fine people!.

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Laughter, Fun & Perspective

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Couples in great marriages laugh a lot. They laugh together and they laugh individually. It is apparent in watching them that they are truly enjoying life and their relationship. Laughter is associated with fun. Nobody laughs when they’re miserable or bored. It is a symptom of a deeper feeling. So why is it so easy for some couples to laugh regularly, and others seem so terminally serious?

It’s all about perspective. It’s how we choose to react or feel in a given situation. I’m not talking about something dire like an emergency, sickness or death, but simply day to day situations. You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to enjoy the moment and laugh.

My wife and I have been on several cruises. It’s a form of vacation that we really enjoy. Granted some of these trips have been better than others, but we have enjoyed each one of them. When we return, I typically go on line to leave a (positive) review, thinking that others might benefit from things that we discovered and loved. I’m always amazed when I read other’s reviews regarding the same trip. They complain about the food, the service, the filth in their rooms, the horrific attitude of the staff, etc. It’s hard to believe that I was actually on the same ship with them. That’s a great example of perspective. Did everything go exactly as we had planned it to go? Probably not. Was every meal worthy of a five-star review? No. Was every show the greatest we’d ever seen? Of course not. But where was our focus? Overall, we had a great time. The good always outweighed the less than perfect (notice I didn’t say bad). It was a week that we got to spend together, away from work and our routines. I always feel bad for people who go on these trips and “choose” to have such a miserable experience.

Sometimes things can be rough. We took a long road trip out West a couple of summers ago with our teens (son and daughter). Exhausted after driving all day, we needed to find a place to spend the night. We weren’t near any major cities (nearest one was going to be another two hours ahead), so we stopped at a motel in a smaller, Colorado town. This place looked like it was right out of an I Love Lucy episode from the 1950s. Two twin beds (and a cot for our daughter) were crammed into a dark, paneled room with a low ceiling. A 16″ flat screen television adorned the wall. There was no restaurant on site, no ice machine, none of the typical amenities that modern hotels offer. We were told there was a bait and tackle store across the street that served meals when they weren’t out fishing. Our teens were ready to leave at that moment. There was nothing about this place that made them want to stay.

But Tara and I saw this as a great adventure (perspective). We began laughing and making it out to be the greatest place imaginable. We even lucked out and found the bait store was serving dinner! In the middle of the night a long train went roaring by (it seemed within feet) the back of the motel literally shaking our beds. The teens woke up and groused, but Tara and I spoke of the additional ambiance that you just couldn’t get anywhere else.

Would I want to spend a week at a motel like that? Absolutely not. But it was one night, and it was far more memorable than staying at any of the chain hotels we were used to. The bottom line is, we chose to enjoy it. We knew it would make a memory and we laughed and laughed. Now, even the teens look back at it with humor.

We recently met with a couple that is working through some issues. We encouraged them to have a date night between our sessions. When we met with them again, they told us the date didn’t go very well. It turns out that he planned the evening. He asked her which of two types of live events she wanted to go to. He had one he really wanted to see (an NBA game), but offered up a second choice that he knew she liked a play at the community theater. She chose to go to the basketball game. From the moment she walked in she made it clear that this was not an experience she would enjoy. The atmosphere, the noise and the crowd were all aspects she disapproved of. As a result, his hope for a fun evening dissipated. When we met the next time and they recalled this story, we encouraged them to consider their perspective. If this was an event she knew in advance she wouldn’t like, she should have chosen the other option. But once she agreed to go, she should have tried to make the most of it. The purpose of date night wasn’t just to see an event (they could watch that at home on tv). It was to spend time together and experience something different. She got so focused on the “what”, she completely missed the “why”. Sometimes just looking at the “why” can help you to adjust your attitude.

Laughter is an indicator of happiness, which is in turn an indicator of a great (shocking) marriage. Make fun and laughter a priority in your marriage!

NOTE: If Laughter and fun are important to you, that should be a part of the Vision for your marriage. If you’ve not created a Vision, consider crafting one in our free course. It will walk you through the process of creating and living out a vision that can guide your relationship into the future!

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Valentine’s Day – Pleasure or Pressure?

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Valentine’s Day fascinates me. No so much the day itself, but rather how people respond to it. Years ago when I was in High School, they used to sell carnations leading up to the day. They had different colors to represent different feelings. Red was for love, green was for friendship, etc. The thing I remember most about that was the day the flowers were delivered. It clearly put people (especially girls) into one of two camps: those that got a flower(s) and those that did not. There were a lot of tears shed when highly coveted and anticipated flowers were never delivered.

Today, Valentine’s Day has become less about men trying to show affection to women and the responsibility is more equally shared. While the spirit of the day is to show love and affection, it’s become an obligation to do something showy. You don’t want to be the couple that did less than your friends or coworkers. Pressure from social media, retailers, florists and restaurants imply that if you love someone, you will do something very special for them on this day. If you do nothing, you must not care at all.

I am a huge fan of expressing love and affection in a relationship, especially in marriage. We should never become complacent or take our spouse for granted. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show your feelings toward your spouse. But my question is this. Are you celebrating the day to show your true feelings, or are you caving in to social pressure because every one else is?

In our early years of dating and marriage, Valentines Day was a huge deal for me. My love language is gifts, so it was natural for me to express my feelings by buying something special or taking my wife to a nice restaurant. What is interesting, is that her love language is acts of service. She appreciated the things I would purchase, but never came to expect them. During this same timeframe, I remember being disappointed when the day would come and go and there would no reciprocal gift giving (from her to me). It honestly, just never occurred to her.

As a result, most Valentines Days come and go for us with minimal recognition. She doesn’t expect anything, and I typically don’t do much. Now, having said that, let me clarify something. Just because I don’t cave into the pressure to do something on this specific day doesn’t mean that I don’t do things. I still love to express my affection for her through the purchasing of gifts (though I also perform acts of service as well to speak her language). But what I’ve found is that in our marriage, these gifts are far more meaningful when I give them for no specific reason. If I bring her flowers in mid-March, it simply sends the message that I was thinking of her and I love her. To my wife that is more meaningful than to receive roses on Valentine’s Day where she might suspect I simply gave into peer pressure or advertising.

The key is to do what your spouse most appreciates. Not all spouses are like my wife. You may be married to someone that would be terribly disappointed if you didn’t get them something specifically on Valentine’s Day. If that’s the case, please don’t disappoint them. But I can assure you that not limiting this expression of love to one day of the year will be at least equally appreciated, probably more so.

For many, Valentine’s Day serves as a calendar reminder to show our affections. Nothing wrong with that. But I encourage you to check your motivations to ensure that you really are expressing love, not just complying to social pressures. Show your love throughout the year.

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