Don’t Fear the Ups & Downs

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My 36th wedding anniversary is just a few days away, and that has caused me to contemplate some of the things I’ve learned over the course of my marriage. While I can say that my marriage has definitely gotten better over time, I’d be a liar to say that every single day was better than the one before it. Every marriage has its ups and downs, ebbs and flows, high and low seasons or (insert your favorite analogy here). I suppose this is because we’re human. As individuals we go through these emotional fluctuations over time, it only makes sense that when two individuals come together in a one-flesh relationship, the same variation will take place.

Problems occur when we overreact to these natural changes. It’s easy to get paranoid in a low season of marriage and begin to wonder if you’re growing apart, or if the love is fading, or the romance is gone. Pursuing such a thought pattern can actually exacerbate the problem, causing the negative feelings to grow in intensity.

I’ve been a businessman for most of my career, I see these same characteristics happen in the corporate world. A company has a down quarter, so they cut spending, enact travel restrictions and freeze hiring. A second down quarter and they start laying off employees and downsizing in an effort to right the ship. While sometimes these actions can turn things around, other times they spell the beginning of the end. They enter a downward spiral they just can’t recover from.

Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world and an expert on investing, is credited as saying that the very best time to invest in the future is in a downturn. In other words, if the economy goes into a recession, don’t cut expenditures to the bone, but rather invest heavily in the company. His rationale is that when the economy turns back around, companies that do this will have a huge advantage over companies that merely tightened their belts. These companies are not living day by day but rather investing in a profitable future. A given company cannot control the economy, but they can prepare for health in a brighter future.

I believe this same concept can apply to marriage as well. When you find yourself in a relational downturn, turn up the investment. What does this look like?

  • Plan a date night or a get away weekend
  • Begin planning a spouse only vacation (just the act of dreaming and planning can bring you closer together)
  • Create some goals that you would like to achieve as a couple in the next 6 months, 1 year, 3 years
  • Write your spouse a letter recalling all the reasons you originally fell in love with them

This is not an exhaustive list. But the one thing each of the items has in common is that they get you out of the moment (where you’re feeling isolated) and either look forward or backward to a better time. Unlike companies, a couple can intentionally move out of a low season to a high season with the proper focus and investment. It is important to do these things even when you may not “feel” like it.

When you invest in your marriage (and in your spouse), you are acknowledging that tough times exist, but you are committed to a brighter future together. Take the fears out of highs and lows. Live with the expectation of an ever improving marriage.

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My Wife said it was 55… So did the Officer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo… we’re driving down the interstate on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Posted speed limit is typically 70 MPH, occasionally drops to 65. Like many drivers, I try to limit my speed to 9 mph over the posted limit – an infraction that I’ve been told by many police associates is typically “safe” from ticketing. So, as I cruise at 79 MPH down the road, I notice the signs that show it has dropped to 65. So I do the right thing – I drop my speed down to 74. I also noticed the Sheriff pull onto the road right in front of me. So far, my observational skills are not to be challenged. But somehow, I did not notice the sign indicating the further reduction of speed in a construction zone to 55.

As a quick aside, let’s define construction zones for a moment. In my mind, they include workers, machinery, flashing lights and traffic cones. They certainly involve more than a simple sign indicating a lane shift for a few hundred feet. I think any reasonable American would agree to that…

So… As we enter the lane shift area I find myself passing the Sheriff, legally in the left lane as it’s supposed to happen. In my mind, Sheriffs don’t cruise interstates, so I figured he was off duty heading to visit his mother or some other Sunday activity. Tara clearly tells me that we’re in a 55 zone, but I assure her I had slowed down when I saw the 65 MPH sign.

Within a quarter of a mile (once we’re out of the terrifying “construction zone”) I see flashing lights in my rear view mirror. I slow down and pull over, sure the Sheriff will speed past me in pursuit of a hardened criminal, but he pulls over behind me. Before he can even get out of the car, I feel the intense gaze emanating from the passenger seat. As i slowly look over, I get the look. We’ve been married long enough now, that Tara never has to verbalize the words “I told you so”, but trust me, she can communicate it with no chance of misunderstanding.

The officer comes to my window and says, “Hey, you just passed me in a construction zone going about 65. You know that was a 55 zone don’t you?” I looked him straight in the eye and said “My wife told me that, but I assured her it was 65, as that was the last sign I had seen”.  He went  back to his car and spent the mandatory 10 minutes clacking on his keyboard looking up my past tax returns, any filed complaints from roommates in college and an overdue library fine from 1983. When he came back to the car he started to scold me. Then he saw “the look” still glaring from my beloved passenger. “How much longer of a drive do you have?”, he asked me. I told him about 3 hours. “Ooohhh”, he moaned, “I think that’s punishment enough! Good luck pal”, he commented as he headed back to his car.

For the remainder of the trip, I never complained. That look saved me a $65 fine plus increased insurance coverage. Of course it will cost me a nice dinner and a bottle of wine tonight. But as I see it, that’s not an expense, that’s an investment. I want to thank that Sheriff for his service to the community, but also for his empathy for a fellow married man.

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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.

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