New Book Coming!

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 1.47.50 PM             After writing this blog for 10+ years, I finally decided to write a book. The Shocking Marriage Series will include books that contain many of the life lessons provided in this blog over the years. The first book “Rules of Engagement” provides a structured way to be proactive in a marriage by anticipating and planning for issues before they arise. While the notion for this concept originated in marital conflict, the book provides readers with suggested approaches to topics such as communication, intimacy, grief, dealing with outside influences and parenting. Life has taught me that the “heat of the moment” is not the ideal time to figure out how to act or know what to say or do. Taking the time to create some guidelines for your relationship in a “calm” time is an essential step in creating a Shocking Marriage that continues to get better over the years.

Using scripture and God’s design for marriage as a backdrop, this book will enable couples to incorporate tactical agreements in their marriage that can help them get through rough times and ensure that great times remain plentiful.

The book should be available in bookstores and on Amazon.com starting in May 2018.

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #5

shutterstock_342885284Step 5 – Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto is – Be Prepared. As an Eagle Scout myself, incorporating that motto has helped me across a variety of scenarios in my life. In a nutshell, this motto suggests that you look ahead and anticipate the possible issues that could arise in a given situation. For something like camping, that means looking at the weather forecast and packing foul weather gear. In terms of emergency preparedness, it might include having a first aid kit, smoke alarms and a family escape plan from your house. In most instances it pays to look ahead and plan for contingencies. It is much better to be prepared for a situation when it arises as opposed to having to scramble to improvise a solution in the heat of the moment.

This is every bit as true for marriage as it is in other aspects of life. Let’s look at one issue that every couple goes through from time to time: conflict. Disagreements within a marriage are inevitable. When two distinct personalities come together there are going to be times when they don’t see eye to eye. In the heat of an argument, our natural tendency is to try to convince our spouse that our perspective is superior and our thoughts should be pursued. When a conflicting line of thought is raised, it needs to be “shot down” as it must be inferior. Tensions raise, the volume increases and judgment ensues. Sometimes these issues get heated. In these times, words may be said that cause damage to the relationship. While apologies may follow later, the damage has already been done.

How often have you been in a situation like this with your spouse only to look back later and wonder how things escalated so quickly? Sometimes you wonder what you were even fighting about. It started out as one thing and quickly morphed into another. In reality, this situation is really no different than being in a smoke-filled home and wondering how to get out. Without a plan, everyone is running in a different direction. It’s tough to make good decisions in the heat of the moment when emotions are running high. That’s where preparation comes in.

So, how do you prepare for an argument? What if in a calm time you and your spouse were to sit down and openly discuss conflict? Talking about it in a calm time would allow each of you to express your opinions of how arguments unfold, and where they often derail. You may also discover that you each have a distinctive style of confrontation, which on the surface may be incompatible.

An example of this would be when one partner wants to get things off their chest as soon as they arise and the other is more contemplative. When they hear something new, they need time to process it before they can react. In this case, the first partner tries to force the issue to quick resolution before the second has really considered all the options. This can lead to an argument, even if the latter partner might ultimately agree if just given the time to process. Suddenly the argument is not really about the topic initially raised at all…

Imagine discussing this scenario in a relaxed manner. When both of these perspectives are raised (when no issue is at hand) the couple can realize and agree to fight differently. The spouse can still raise issues, but now understands they need to give their partner time to process and think before they begin serious discussion. This could become a “rule” that is followed in the marriage.

Other proactive guidelines can be established as well and followed by the couple. Examples could include things like:

  • Never threaten divorce
  • Avoid words like “always” and “never”
  • Focus on the issue not the person

There are many more that you might create within your marriage. Having these in place will change the way you argue forever.

Proactivity need not stop at conflict however. What if you developed guidelines to guide you through parental issues before you face them (e.g. discipline, curfews, allowances, etc.). Imagine how much better your marriage will be if you are in agreement on these items before you’re approached by your child needing an immediate answer. Other areas could be covered as well, from financial management, to communication, even to intimacy!

Being prepared for a situation before it arises puts you a great step ahead and, when combined with the previous four steps, will help you to create a shocking marriage.

Note: Jerry McColgin’s first book in his Shocking Marriage Series – “Rules of Engagement” will be released this spring. In it, he details out a proactive approach to creating the types of rules and guidelines described in this post. Watch for it on on his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/shockingmarriage or on Amazon.com

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #4

shutterstock_742358413Step #4 – Set Goals

A shocking marriage is one that improves over time. As we’ve already discussed, this doesn’t happen naturally, it takes prioritization and intentionality. Without a concerted effort to improve, marriages simply degrade over time. Anyone who has been in any type of corporate or non-profit setting has experienced the act of setting goals. Typically this is done once per year and your performance is based upon how well you achieved the goals that were set. In some cases your annual increase or bonus is determined based upon this rating. Marital goals are not about performance evaluation and reward. However, they are still critical for ongoing improvement.

Every year my wife and I go out for dinner on our anniversary. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year. We typically go to a nice restaurant that is quiet and romantic – the kind of place that is conducive to intimate conversation. We’re in no hurry on these evenings and let the wait staff know that upon our arrival. As we enjoy our meal, we’ll talk about a variety of things, but one of the key topics is a look back at the past year. We’ll talk about the goals that we set a year ago and openly discuss how we progressed toward them. What went well? What did not go so well? Where have we grown as a couple? Where have we digressed? It’s not like we have a flip chart at our table and are capturing each topic in bullet point form – it’s merely a conversation. But it’s always illuminating. Inevitably, there will be an area that I was blind to that impacted her in a negative way. Again, I’m not talking about earth-shattering discovery here… Typically it’s something far more subtle like “You don’t call me from work everyday like you used to. I miss that.” From my perspective those words told me two things. First, she appreciated when I would call (sometimes I felt like I was bothering her or interrupting her day). Secondly, without realizing it, I had fallen out of the habit of calling. That’s an easy fix!

In addition to sharing “concerns” (that feels like too strong a word for the situation), we celebrate growth and success from the year. As an example I might say, “We went through a rough couple of months financially, but we really pulled together and made it through”. Bringing attention to accomplishments is a great way to increase the bond between spouses.  Sometimes it’s only when you look back that you can appreciate what you really did and how you benefited from it. Acknowledging those victories is critical to moving a marriage forward in a positive way.

Once we’ve  finished looking backward, we begin to look forward to the coming year. We know much of what we will be facing (e.g. a child going to college, or an aging parent that needs care) and we acknowledge that there is much that we don’t know. We discuss plans for the known. But in addition, we focus on areas that we collectively feel we could improve upon. Some years it’s specific items (e.g. we need to pay off the car loan) and other years it’s more of a theme (e.g let’s focus on keeping the spark in our relationship alive). In either case, by agreeing on a direction, we both tend to focus on the same thing in the coming months. Trust me, it feels great the following year when you can look back and say “Wow! We did it”. That typically leads to the realization that we’ve just completed our best year of marriage yet, only to be surpassed by the coming year.

Let me recap. You want a Shocking Marriage? Understand that if you do nothing, it will erode. Be intentional, make your spouse a priority in your life and set some collective goals that the two of you can focus on to take things to another level.

 

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #3

shutterstock_319287863Step #3 – Set Priorities

We saw in the first two steps that (1.) if you do nothing, your marriage will deteriorate and (2.) you need to be intentional in terms of focusing on your relationship to keep it strong. In this step we talk about the need to make your marriage a top priority.

For most couples, marriage starts out as a top priority. Look at any newlywed couple and you’ll see them spending as much time together as physically possible and extending every effort to meet the needs of their partner. This is beautiful and natural, but it doesn’t last forever. In time,  couples begin to take their eyes off of each other and put their attentions toward other people and other life issues. It could be a career that begins to take prominence or it could be the addition of children to the family.

Situations like these need attention and it’s natural for them to consume much of our time. The problem is when the pendulum swings too far and we go from being  spouse-obsessed to barely acknowledging them. Putting our spouse second in our life (first after God) should not be a passing phase, but rather a way of life. Genesis 2:24 says That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. This one flesh concept is unlike any other relationship mentioned in scripture, therefore it is unique.

I have seen many devout Christians who spend daily time in the word and in prayer. They also spend considerable time each day with their kids, helping them with homework, school projects and transporting to and from a variety of events. But when it comes to their spouse, it seems like they get only the passing moments between other commitments.

Of course our children are critical to us and we have to provide them with loving care. But let’s be honest. If we allowed them to, they would take up our every waking moment. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s natural. But we’re called to make our spouse our second priority, then our kids… not the other way around. I’ve seen couples where the wife gets so consumed with “mommy mode” that she has little time or energy for her husband. The implied message to the man becomes “You needed me to give you children, now I’m expendable”. That’s certainly not God’s plan.

I’ve heard it said that the greatest gift we can give our children is a great marriage. Is this a paradox? No! In fact, we model great marriage when we demonstrate this “pecking” order in our relationships. It provides a tremendous sense of security to our kids when they know that mom & dad are in love. This doesn’t mean that we remove focus on our kids and place it completely on our spouse. It’s a balancing act. But a child that occasionally doesn’t get to do something because of spousal plans will survive.

There are always exceptions to this rule. Newborns, sickness, failing parents are all examples where priorities will shift for awhile. the key is to make sure that when possible, your attention shifts back to where it should be. Your relationship with God should come first. When that is in good standing, your next focus should be on your spouse. Keeping things in order will not only build your marriage, but your entire family.

 

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #2

shutterstock_767098984Step 2 – Be Intentional

We saw in Step 1 that it is important to realize that marriages will erode if they are not focused on and maintained. In this step, we look at the importance of being intentional in a marriage and not letting the relationship slip into auto-pilot mode.

Take a look at your calendar. In a given week, you probably see time blocked out for Dr. appointments, business meetings, children’s sporting practice, piano lessons and volunteer commitments. In our culture, it is rare to have a day or an evening that is not fully booked several days (for some weeks) in advance. It is great to be organized, it prevents us from falling into stress-induced chaos. But our calendars ultimately show our priorities. How many items are on your calendar are specific to your spouse?

Many say “I couldn’t possibly reschedule the events I have this week – they are all critical”.  That could be true, but there are exceptions. My father recently passed away. Within a few days of his passing, all four of his sons and most of his grandchildren were able to travel from all over the country to attend his funeral. I’m sure that each person there had a full calendar before his demise, but they were able to shift things around to make arrangements to be present. That’s because his funeral was a higher priority than the other events they had scheduled. So it’s apparent that we do have some flexibility in terms of our schedules, it’s just a matter of what we deem critical.

Scripture tells us that our most important relationship is with God, and our second most important is with our spouse. While many of us will put church events on the calendar, it does seem that #2 gets shorted in terms of scheduling time. It’s as if we’re saying that marriage happens in the non-scheduled gaps of time. The problem is for many of us, we have few if any such gaps.

So what does it look like to be intentional? This will vary from couple to couple, but in any case it requires setting time aside to do something with your spouse. Take date night for example. You may wait until you have a Friday night with nothing else scheduled to go out. The reality is, by waiting until the last minute your baby sitter may not be available, or the restaurant you’ve been dying to go to has no reservations available that evening. Giving date night the same (or greater) importance as other events in your life will prevent that from occurring.

Spontaneity is a great thing. In my marriage the things we decide to do on the spur of the moment are often times the most fun and memorable. We take advantage of that whenever possible. But these moments should be enjoyed in addition to scheduled time, not instead of. If growing your relationship is dependent of unexpected free time, you’re in trouble.

I’ve blogged about this before, but one simple thing that we did when our kids were young was to schedule something we called “martini Mondays”. Because our weekends were often so full with family and church activities we often struggled to find time alone where we could just be together to talk, plan and dream. So we chose Mondays, a day that otherwise could be somewhat miserable, to set aside an hour once I got home from work. We would enjoy a drink together (sometimes a martini, sometimes iced tea – we were beverage agnostic) and talk for an hour. The kids were home, but they came to respect that hour as “sacred’ mommy and daddy time and knew not to disturb us unless there was a true emergency. What was otherwise a rough day of the week became our very favorite because of this intentional time. An unexpected benefit of this was that we were modeling behavior for our children that we now see in them now that they have kids of their own.

Your marriage is the most important relationship you have with another human. Be intentional. Set aside time to make sure you are growing it and not just allowing it to erode. Your spouse deserves some calendar time…

 

 

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage – #1

shutterstock_286958120Step 1 – Understand Entropy

Entropy is a fancy word that comes out of the world of physics and thermodynamics. Put in its simplest terms – “Stuff that is in order now will over time fall into disorder”. In other words, nothing gets better on its own. The barn shown in the image was not built with a leaky roof, missing doors or failing mortar. I’m sure that when it was first constructed, it was a fine looking barn – probably the envy of all the neighbors. But without ongoing maintenance and upkeep, it is now quite dilapidated.

God’s original design for marriage was for a man and a woman to unite in marriage and to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). But it is important to note that His design was described before the fall of man. We see in Genesis 3, after man sinned and was expelled from the garden, that life would become much tougher. Rocks in the fields, weeds in the crops and pain during childbirth are just a few of the hardships specifically mentioned. It is safe to assume that problems during marriage also originated at this time. I believe this is the point in history where entropy was introduced.

And that is where we find ourselves today. We live in a world where anything subject to neglect will in time degrade to the point that it no longer functions. Marriages are no exception to this. So why do so many couples put their relationships on auto-pilot, putting the bulk of their attentions elsewhere?

We see it all the time. The couple that hasn’t had a date night in years. The couple whose interaction is limited to the brief passing periods between work and running the children from event to event. The couple that can’t remember the last time they made love – not for lack of desire, but rather because they’re seldom alone together. These couples all have one thing in common. They all believe that things will get better in the future. When the kids are older, when work settles down, when the kids go to college, when the finances ease up.

There are at least a couple of bad assumptions in these situations. First, the belief that tomorrow will be radically different than today. Yes, situations change, but new situations always arise. Look backwards in your life and you will recognize this as truth. Waiting for the ideal time to focus on your marriage may never come.  Second, the thought that a relationship will be where it was when you “left it on the shelf” is wrong. Just as you can’t let a barn sit for years without ongoing maintenance, you can’t ignore a marriage and assume it will not erode.

Here’s the bottom line. Marriages are hard work. They take time and attention. They must be prioritized. Just as with the barn that is pictured, it takes considerably less effort to do the upkeep as you go rather than wait until it has nearly collapsed. No marriage stays where it is over time. Either you focus on it and make it continually better or you ignore it and it disintegrates. The choice is up to you. Just remember, a non-choice is ultimately a choice for entropy.

 

 

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Godly Marriages are Supernatural

Dictionary.com defines supernatural in the adjective form as “of, relating to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law  or phenomena; abnormal.” As a noun it is defined as “direct influence or action of a deity on earthly affairs.”

You’ve probably never thought about marriage in these terms, but perhaps you should. The very institution of marriage was designed by God, as can be seen in Genesis 2. In this familiar chapter we see that God determined that it was not good for man to be alone, so he created woman to be his helper. Looking back on the definition shown above, it seems clear that this was direct action of a deity on earthly affairs. So there’s no question that the first marriage was in fact supernatural.

“But what about today?”, you may ask. If you keep reading in Genesis you will see in verse 24 “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This verse can’t be taken as purely contextual, since clearly Adam had no earthly mother or father. Rather, in this passage God is describing His ongoing intent for the institution of marriage.

Nowhere else in the Bible is any relationship described in this manner. Two completely independent beings uniting into one. Other translations use the term “one flesh”. That doesn’t just happen randomly, nor does it happen naturally. It happens through the direct action of a deity (God) on earthly affairs.

I’ve heard many theologians assert that is the act of sexual relations that cause the two individuals to become one flesh. I remember a youth pastor once that gave a demonstration to illustrate this point. He took two different colored Legos and put them together, then pulled them apart. He said this was a common form of coming together as people then separating, something we all do with multiple people everyday. However, he said that when sex occurs, things change dramatically. He went on to put a drop of superglue on the two bricks then defied anyone to separate them. He contended that this was the equivalent of becoming one flesh. He said in our fallen world, people will break apart what was intended to be together forever. He then took a screwdriver and forced the two bricks apart. Though they could be physically separated, each piece retained fragments of the other brick that had broken off.

I loved this illustration, but I don’t completely agree with it. While I agree that sex is a powerful force, and you may leave a piece of yourself behind with each partner you have, I don’t think every copulating couple becomes one through divine intervention. Rather, I believe this intervention takes place when a couple forms a covenant relationship with God and with each other.

The reality is, in our culture we seem hesitant to do this. Taking this approach would require that we cede control to God, allowing Him to intervene. I’ve read varying statistics, but most studies show that well over half of all first time married couples in our culture were living together at the time of their marriage. Reasons cited vary but typically include wanting to “test-drive” the relationship before committing to marriage, or waiting to save up money for a big wedding. I’m not going to condemn these couples. While it may be a sin to live together outside of marriage, it’s not unforgivable, nor is it worse than any other sin that we commit in our fallen natures. But is God going to reach down in these situations, bless the couple and take action to merge the two into one?

Our culture has clearly redefined marriage from God’s original intent. Divorce is common. Common-law marriages are recognized. Homosexuals can marry.  It is not my intent to deny the right of any two people in love to live together and share benefits. But if you believe God truly designed the concept of marriage, it makes sense that He could establish the boundaries around it. He designed it as a committed relationship between one man and one woman with God as the focal point. Relationships outside of this should be considered civil unions, and enjoy all of the legal and societal benefits that come with that. But to expect God’s blessing or direct action in these variations from His plan is not realistic.

Maybe you didn’t create a covenant with God when you got married. Maybe you lived together for years prior to tying the knot. Does that mean you’re unable to receive God’s blessing? It’s never too late to bring Him in to the relationship. If you make an intentional commitment to Him and ask for His ongoing blessing, you will receive it. The couple who agrees to do it “God’s way” and creates a covenant relationship in the process can count on the promise that He will make them into one flesh. And what God has brought together, let no man separate.

 

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