All posts tagged Marriage

What Belongs in Love?

What is love? Am I really in love? I love you, but I’m not sure I like you right now. Looking for love in all the wrong places. Agape. Phileo. There are many things we say and ask about love. Hopefully this post does not muddy already murky water.

I frequently have conversations with people whose definition of love is about to exhaust them (physically, emotionally, or financially), but they feel incredibly guilty if they “love less.” How could that be loving, Christ-like, or God-honoring?

Unless we answer this question many of us will become burned out and/or bitter by trying to do what we believe God calls us to do.

Let’s start with an image. Picture love as a basket and begin listing the actions, motives, and dispositions that belong in the basket. Service. Protection. Sacrifice. Joy. Pleasure. Forgiveness. Benefit of the doubt. Etc…

If we are not careful, we will end up saying that “love is everything.” But as with any word, when it means everything; it means nothing. Even the fact that love could require almost anything (moral) should not push us to say that “love is everything.”

So, how do we begin to take things out of the basket? We can start by recognizing that we are finite lovers. That means that my ability to love is limited by a 168 hour week. Nothing that requires more than the time I have to give can be placed in the basket. I also have a limited financial budget over which God has placed certain instructions (i.e., tithing, saving, avoiding debt). Nothing that love requires should cause me to live outside those instructions.

This begins to change the questions. Before, we might ask, how could I be loving and not do [blank] for my spouse? Or, how could I be loving and not give [blank] to my kids? I would have wanted those things, and I am called to love them as myself. They would be in a better position for life if given this opportunity.

These questions are rooted in guilt, because they are rooted in the assumption of an infinite resource. They could be applied to any good thing and with a little emotional tug result in everything going in the love basket.

The new question becomes, what is the best way(s) to love [name] with the blessings God has placed in my life? This recognizes that God blessed me in order that I might be a blessing (Gen 12:2). It also recognizes that to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). So love is challenged to be sacrificial.

However, it also recognizes that there are limits to what we can put in love. The widow could only put in two copper coins (Luke 21:2). When we try to put more into love than God has given us to give, this is one way to define what is often called codependency.

When parents buy things for a child they cannot afford in the name of “sacrifice.” When a friend “protects” another from the consequences or revelation of substance abuse. When a spouse “forgives” physical abuse without contacting legal authorities or demanding counseling. In these cases, sacrifice, protection, and forgiveness do not belong in the basket of love (at least as defined in these examples).

But as long as we define love as everything nice, we will feel guilty when we “love less” by taking things out of the basket of love that were never ours to put in the basket.

Should Married Couples Have Any Secrets?

Let’s start by admitting that this question rarely comes up at neutral times. The context for this question is usually when one spouse wants more information than the other is willing to give. So in most settings as soon as you answer, you are “taking sides.”

I think it would be helpful to differentiate a few words as we seek to answer this question. Admittedly, the definitions are provided with marital application and will lead the discussion. But at least it will help us avoid using the same word to describe different things.

  • Secret – the intentional withholding of information from one’s spouse about yourself in order to cover up an action that would cause another person to be upset or one’s self to be in trouble.
  • Confidential Information – the intentional withholding of information from one’s spouse in order to effectively care for another person.
  • Privacy – the ability to dispose information about yourself voluntarily and not have that information extracted by involuntary methods.
  • Transparency – intentional choices made by a married couple to allow key information regarding marital health and fidelity to easily and constantly be available to both parties without requiring a direct request for information.

Hopefully you can see that our simple question seeking a yes-no answer, just became a bit more complex. But without these additional categories a simple answer would never be able to navigate the complexities of life. I will now seek to briefly answer each of the four questions that emerge.

Should a married couple have any secrets? NO – A spouse should never engage in an activity that they would be unwilling to disclose to their spouse. A secret (as defined here) is withholding information regarding a sin or legitimately hurtful activity. The reason for not keeping secrets has more to do with personal holiness (honoring God) than relational unity.

Should a married couple have any confidential information? YES – If a couple is going to have meaningful friendships outside the marriage (which is a good thing), a friend may share information that is requested to be kept private. In the name of a “one flesh relationship” confidential information should be information about another person and not yourself.

Should a married couple foster privacy? YES – Honor is a key component of relational health. When a relationship lacks privacy it devolves either into codependency or control. The transfer of information not covered under transparency should be voluntary. When this is violated a spouse is taking on a parental role which distorts the equality of marital partners. A couple should have a healthy enough system of transparency that major relational violations are detected through transparent information.

Should a married couple foster transparency? YES – Transparency is a primary form of expressing the “one flesh relationship” between husband and wife. Finances, general schedule, cell phone records, opposite sex communications, social networking passwords and similar things should be open in the marriage. When life is too busy, unorganized or a couple is defensive about such matters, then the marriage lacks a healthy level of transparency.

Reflections on a Messy House

As I type this my home looks like a box farm. In between the evenly spaced rows of boxes are bag weeds and toys weeds sprouting across the floor. It is a chaos that I do not enjoy. But as I have faced it, I have been surprised at how little (relative to previous transitions) it has affected me.

In all honesty, I do not believe this is because of some spiritual growth spurt. Instead, I think it has more to do with the level of trust I have in my wife. She is amazing. I think she is the prototype Solomon used to test pilot Proverbs 31 (if he was the smartest guy ever, he could have built a time machine).

As I look at my messy home, I know my wife has a plan. I don’t pretend to fully understand all that is going on. There is an order to when things are packed and where collections of boxes are stacked. We have several stages to the move ahead of us – home to apartment to home. Some things will have to go into storage while we wait. We may pass through several seasons during that time – winter, spring, summer (we pray not fall – sell home sell!). Each season has its own needs.

Yet even as I type those things, I am not hyperventilating because I have seen my wife work through many complex domestic dilemmas during the course of our marriage. I am struck by how much stronger my faith can be in my wife than in my God.

Everything that I wrote about my home could have been said about my life. Each description of my wife could also be said of my God (and more). But with one I rest in delight and awe and the other I fret and get antsy. I trust my wife more to orchestrate the moving of our home than I do my God to orchestrate the sell of our home (for one example).

I admit that if there is a relationship I have that borders on (and sometimes crosses) the line of idolatry it is my wife (followed closely by my children). When that line is crossed I should repent of that sin as much as any other.

But that is not the first place my thoughts have gone as I have examined myself in the midst of the moving process. I see in this the blessing of having a “godly” spouse. When my spouse reflects the character of God and I share the closest of personal relationships with her, I learn what it is to trust God.

In this regard, I am discipled by relating to her character as much by living in interaction with her godly characteristics as I am by having a scripturally-informed, theologically-consistent conversation with her. I get a taste, a glimpse, a sense of what it means to follow God in the midst of uncertainty as I walk with my wife through a messy house.

I pray there are ways she could say the same of me. That there are ways in which I emulate God’s character well enough that her daily interactions with me create a living case study of what it means to have a close, daily relationship with God.

Two final thoughts on this post: first, do not let the thoughts expressed here be an excuse not to study Scripture in your pursuit of following God. A spouse is never a replacement for God (that is the essence of idolatry). Second, do look for characteristics of God in your spouse and reflect on how the traits enrich your life. Then trace them back to God and allow the blessings of marriage to enrich your walk with God.

Keeping Score Equals No Winners

This is not a blog post that endorses the politically correct version of children’s sports. Regardless of how many times I tried to tell my son we were just playing t-ball for fun, he still wanted to know “who won?” after every game. But if I don’t depart from this introduction, I will wind up on my soap box.

This is a blog about a fatal flaw in an approach to motivating your spouse in marriage. Too often we resort to keeping score: how many times we had sex this month, how many more chores I do than you do, how many times we’ve gone on a date recently, how many times you’ve said “I love you” lately, or how few letters you’ve written me.

Marital neglect is a serious issue (not addressed here), but this motivational structure is used in marriages that are far from significant neglect. In this post, I would like to point out one major reason (there are many others) why this approach does not work.

That reason is our self-centeredness (do not read this as selfishness). We experience life from within our own body and consciousness. I am aware of everything I do and all the time, energy, and thought I put into those activities. I notice every unseen thing I do for my wife. I hear every unspoken fond thought I think about my wife.

Simply put, I score a lot of points my wife never knows I score. You can ask the deep philosophical questions “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” or “If a husband loves his wife in imperceptible ways, does it count?” if you like. But the point is, on MY scoreboard I should be winning. If I’m not winning on my scoreboard, then I am REALLY losing.

But my self-centeredness disrupts the process even further. When I am doing all of my perceptible and imperceptible nice things, I am generally in a good mood which positively influences my memory. However, when I am comparing my score with my wife’s (only perceptible to the degree that I am paying attention) score, I can often be in a disappointed mood which negatively influences my memory. Again, advantage me!

But there is more to my self-centeredness. In the midst of the already inequitable system, I will give more emotional credit to the things I like best. Personally, that means that a creative meal gets more points than an organized kitchen and a kiss-like-you-mean-it gets more points than my lunch being fixed every day.

There is a name for that – arbitrary, unequal scales. These things are merely my personal preference. Do I want my wife to understand my preferences and display love by putting forth effort at the things that are important to me? Sure. Do I have the right to grade my wife, her effort, and our marriage based upon a system that is defined exclusively by my preferences? Not really.

So what is the point of this little rant? The point is that we should be humble as we recognize how self-centeredly we experience and evaluate life. It is not an attack on personal preferences. It is merely a warning against allowing our preferences to become the definition of love. If we do this we will create such a “home field advantage” in our marriage that it will be difficult for us to ever experience contentment with our spouse.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Marriage” post which address other facets of this subject.

Fresh Eyes Marriage Game

Have you ever noticed that you tend to see what you are looking for (unless, of course, you are me looking for my keys – in which case, I can look right at them a dozen times and never see them)? If you go through your day listening for criticism, you’ll probably hear plenty. But if you do through your day listening for gratitude, your likely to hear more “thank you’s” than you expected.

This is particularly true in marriage. We tend to see and hear (not to mention remember) in our spouse what we are looking for. If we are feeling unappreciated, then we will notice everything we do that he/she does not notice. If we want more affection, every moment we are close but don’t touch will show up in neon lights.

Let me offer an exercise designed to give you fresh eyes to look at your marriage. Admittedly, it won’t give you magic eyes to see what is not there. But hopefully it will give you fair eyes to see a reality not distorted by your driving desires.

The game requires mutual participation and has better longevity if other couples are also playing along. Start at the beginning of the month by writing three expressions of love (in any form) that you intend to perform for your spouse. These should be things outside your normal marital routine. Commit to follow through on those intentions during the next month.

Key: Do not tell each other what you have written down.

Side Note: Even if both you only do two for three, then you will still have one intentional expressions of love per week.

Plan a date at the end of the month. During the date try to guess what things your spouse did to show his/her love for you. Most couples find that they guess actions that were not on their spouse’s card and that their spouses already did on a semi-regular basis. The playfulness of the game merely changed what they were looking for during the month. It also causes the couple to set aside some romantic time to talk about what the other is doing right.

As a part of your preparation for the date, prepare a card with a list of three fresh ideas that you intend to enact next month. Enjoy a month of loving your spouse, watching out for how your spouse is loving you, and have another “guessing date” at the end of the month. At that point you can let the cycle continue.

As I said earlier, the game lasts better if you get other couples involved. If you have other couples doing the same thing, you don’t have to be the only one coming up with ideas. You can “cheat” by “stealing” ideas from one another.

In addition, you can serve as positive accountability for one another. When you see one another during the week or at church, you can flash the number of fingers to represent how many of your actions you have already completed.

Too often, marital peer groups are either non-existent or feed the expectation of neglected marriages as “normal.” With only a little intentionality, that can be reversed as you “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24)” in your marriages. A healthy marriage is an excellent protection against sin, an example of the Gospel at work to children, as well as testimony to unsaved friends.

C.S. Lewis on Savoring Temporal Pleasures

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage (p. 137).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How should we treat temporal pleasures? There seems to be very little balance in the way we live out the answer to this question.

Some people live for temporal pleasures and try to find life in ways that resembles chasing for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – lots of effort, but with inevitable failure.

Other people respond to temporal as if it were a synonym for bad, evil, or wasteful. To them a lack of permanence is the equivalent of a complete lack of value.

Lewis’ quote calls for a balanced response and makes me think of how my wife responds when I buy her flowers. She knows the flowers will not last. She likes them better when I buy the “clearance” flowers, which means she really knows they’re not going to last.

The fact that the flowers will wither does not detract from her enthusiasm for the gift. She gets out a vase, fills it with water, and places them prominently in our kitchen. She comments on them frequently and always looks at them as she walks through the room.

But she doesn’t mistake the flowers for my love, of which the flowers were only a representation. There is no fear in her that when the flowers fade my love is failing with the collapse of each petal. She gets the message of the flowers, so she can embrace the flowers for what they are.

I believe this captures God’s intent for temporal pleasures. They are meant to be a love gift from Him to His children. A good meal, a stimulating conversation, health, a vacation to a beautiful location, or a nice home are all good, temporal gifts.

If we accept them as signs of God’s love and do not mistake them for the substance of God’s love, then we can enjoy them and let them fade without fear or despair. We receive the joy they were intended to give and our affection for the Giver grows.

How would your perspective on temporal pleasures change if you treated God’s blessings like my wife treats my flowers? How would it influence your anxiety and insecurity? How would it affect your sense of gratitude and joy? To whom would these changes be most noticeable?

Do you feel guilty right now? That is another misuse of the gift—further guilt only extends this misuse. If my wife (hypothetically speaking) became too attached to the flowers and missed the love they represented, her repentance would be best expressed through rejoicing in my love—not sorrow.

If my wife (hypothetically speaking) under-appreciated my flowers to protect herself from being disappointed at their fading, her repentance would be best expressed through vulnerably receiving my love—not beating herself up.

If you have not responded well to God’s temporal pleasures through over-indulgence or under-appreciation, repent now by embracing the message of His love that He sent in the form of temporal pleasures. He will rejoice as He sees His purpose for creating those pleasures fulfilled.

Help for Couples Recovering from Adultery or Pornography: Video Tandem 9 of 9

When sexual sin impacts a marriage there is often a great deal of confusion exacerbated by shame. A couple is not sure what to do and is embarrassed to ask for help. The result is often either passivity (pretending everything is okay or that things will get better without help) or reactivity (taking a bold action with little sense of purpose or intent to follow through). The False Love and True Betrayal series are meant to provide couples with guidance for these difficult times.

These two, complementing seminars are each comprised of 9 steps and are meant to supplement a mentoring or counseling relationship. The presentation material is longer for the earlier steps than it is for the latter steps for two reasons. First, the early steps are the time of greatest confusion and, therefore, require more guidance. Second, once a solid foundation is laid for restoration the latter steps become more self-evident.

These materials are meant to guide a couple through the marital restoration phase — taking a marriage that is broken or in crisis and getting back to basic working order.

The Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series is meant to guide a couple through the marital enrichment phase — taking a marriage that is in basic working order and refining it to be increasingly, mutually satisfying. Often it is a misunderstanding between restoration and enrichment that derails a couples sincere efforts at marital reconciliation after the discovery of sexual sin.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

True Betrayal – Step Nine

True Betrayal: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

False Love – Step Nine

False Love: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

Help for Couples Recovering from Adultery or Pornography: Video Tandem 8 of 9

When sexual sin impacts a marriage there is often a great deal of confusion exacerbated by shame. A couple is not sure what to do and is embarrassed to ask for help. The result is often either passivity (pretending everything is okay or that things will get better without help) or reactivity (taking a bold action with little sense of purpose or intent to follow through). The False Love and True Betrayal series are meant to provide couples with guidance for these difficult times.

These two, complementing seminars are each comprised of 9 steps and are meant to supplement a mentoring or counseling relationship. The presentation material is longer for the earlier steps than it is for the latter steps for two reasons. First, the early steps are the time of greatest confusion and, therefore, require more guidance. Second, once a solid foundation is laid for restoration the latter steps become more self-evident.

These materials are meant to guide a couple through the marital restoration phase — taking a marriage that is broken or in crisis and getting back to basic working order.

The Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series is meant to guide a couple through the marital enrichment phase — taking a marriage that is in basic working order and refining it to be increasingly, mutually satisfying. Often it is a misunderstanding between restoration and enrichment that derails a couples sincere efforts at marital reconciliation after the discovery of sexual sin.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

True Betrayal – Step Eight

True Betrayal: Step 8 from Equip on Vimeo.

False Love- Step Eight

False Love: Step 8 from Equip on Vimeo.

Help for Couples Recovering from Adultery or Pornography: Video Tandem 7 of 9

When sexual sin impacts a marriage there is often a great deal of confusion exacerbated by shame. A couple is not sure what to do and is embarrassed to ask for help. The result is often either passivity (pretending everything is okay or that things will get better without help) or reactivity (taking a bold action with little sense of purpose or intent to follow through). The False Love and True Betrayal series are meant to provide couples with guidance for these difficult times.

These two, complementing seminars are each comprised of 9 steps and are meant to supplement a mentoring or counseling relationship. The presentation material is longer for the earlier steps than it is for the latter steps for two reasons. First, the early steps are the time of greatest confusion and, therefore, require more guidance. Second, once a solid foundation is laid for restoration the latter steps become more self-evident.

These materials are meant to guide a couple through the marital restoration phase — taking a marriage that is broken or in crisis and getting back to basic working order.

The Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series is meant to guide a couple through the marital enrichment phase — taking a marriage that is in basic working order and refining it to be increasingly, mutually satisfying. Often it is a misunderstanding between restoration and enrichment that derails a couples sincere efforts at marital reconciliation after the discovery of sexual sin.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

True Betrayal – Step Seven

True Betrayal: Step 7 from Equip on Vimeo.

False Love – Step Seven

False Love: Step 7 from Equip on Vimeo.

For the “Implementation Evaluation Tool” click here: Sexual Sin Plan Eval Form

Help for Couples Recovering from Adultery or Pornography: Video Tandem 6 of 9

When sexual sin impacts a marriage there is often a great deal of confusion exacerbated by shame. A couple is not sure what to do and is embarrassed to ask for help. The result is often either passivity (pretending everything is okay or that things will get better without help) or reactivity (taking a bold action with little sense of purpose or intent to follow through). The False Love and True Betrayal series are meant to provide couples with guidance for these difficult times.

These two, complementing seminars are each comprised of 9 steps and are meant to supplement a mentoring or counseling relationship. The presentation material is longer for the earlier steps than it is for the latter steps for two reasons. First, the early steps are the time of greatest confusion and, therefore, require more guidance. Second, once a solid foundation is laid for restoration the latter steps become more self-evident.

These materials are meant to guide a couple through the marital restoration phase — taking a marriage that is broken or in crisis and getting back to basic working order.

The Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series is meant to guide a couple through the marital enrichment phase — taking a marriage that is in basic working order and refining it to be increasingly, mutually satisfying. Often it is a misunderstanding between restoration and enrichment that derails a couples sincere efforts at marital reconciliation after the discovery of sexual sin.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

True Betrayal – Step Six

True Betrayal: Step 6 from Equip on Vimeo.

False Love – Step Six

False Love: Step 6 from Equip on Vimeo.