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Friday, February 28, 2014

Romantic Marriage

Feeling romantic today?

Feeling the slightly giddy, can't-keep-from-smiling warmth toward your mate that you remember from courtship?

Well, I hope you remember it.

Most couples, on reading the opening lines of this post, would smile ruefully, and say..."Well...no. We've been married for years, and those feeling just go away, and are replaced by contentment and familiarity. Giddiness is for kids."

Believe that, and you're cheating yourself. Cheating your spouse, too. To a large degree, our feelings are a product of our mindset, and equally a product of the actions we take.

Consider feeling 'good'. If we make an effort to think positively, and fill our surroundings with positive images and actions, we'll feel better than if we dwell on hopelessness, listen to sad songs, and watch depressing movies.

So, here are some suggestions to bring romance back to life in your relationship.

Remind yourself why you're there - keep a special diary, or even a notebook, and every day, at the same time (to make it a habit), write down one reason you enjoy your spouse. Don't worry about getting repetitive - the object is to focus on something you like that day.

Be physical - when you pass in the hallway, touch, even if it's just a passing caress to the hand or shoulder. Walk up behind your spouse unexpectedly, put your arms around them. and kiss the back of the neck. Hold hands when you walk together, even if it's just to the mailbox.

Take care of yourself - Guys...shave. Please. Ladies...uh, same thing. Take care of your hair first thing in the morning, and make breakfast a date. What does it say to your spouse when you appear at breakfast with your hair a disaster, slopping around in floppy slippers and a worn bathrobe? Does it say, "I love you, and I'm glad to share this time with you?" Or does it say "Yeah, whatever, I'm tired, and I don't have to look good for you"?

Dress for success - Dress neatly, in clean clothes, even if you're going top paint the barn together. You're not dressing for a task or for convenience when you're together - you're dressing for one another. So ditch the baggy sweats, and the stained t-shirt that you wore on Spring break in Mazatlan.

Smell good - Wear perfume or aftershave that your spouse likes on you. We can't really tell how a fragrance reacts with our own body chemistry, so your mate's input is vital. Don't wear Old Spice or Chanel No. 5 because it's a family tradition; wear what appeals to the most important person in your life.

Do fun things together - Shared enjoyment is the cornerstone of a good romantic relationship. When you were courting, you choose activities that were (usually) about equally fun for both of you. Yes, you were centered on the being together part, but you probably still thought about how an activity would go down with your beloved.

What about now? Do you still do this, or has "I'll go to the opera with you, if you'll go to the tractor pull with me" crept into your schedule?

Look for opportunities in the unexpected. "Oh, that might be fun!" can be a doorway to a whole new chapter in your life, whether it's skydiving or ballroom dance (both of which I heartily recommend for couples).

Share your scent - Before you part for the working day, hold a close embrace, and breathe in the way your mate smells (this is where good grooming becomes important, okay?). This is a physiological process, an imprinting, that says, I'm your, you're mine.

It's a good thing to carry into the world with you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vacationing With Your Mate - Make It Memorable!

One of the things most married couples look forward to the most are 'just-the-two-of-us getaways'. Leave the kids and the pets and the lawnmower behind, and celebrate what brought you together!

And it's often a disappointing experience, leaving a nagging might-have-been feeling that lingers like a grass stain on a white skirt.

Why? I mean, you're together, alone, and out from under most of the pressures than can make everyday life something of a trial.

What gives?

Two things. lack of context and different expectations.

Lack of Context - We tend to define ourselves by what we do and where we are. My wife would say, "I'm an accountant, and I live in New Mexico" first, if someone asked.

But when we're on vacation, those ID hooks are temporarily put away. Suddenly we're free spirits, unattached, at least in our imaginations, in Hawaii or Yellowstone or Cleveland (do people vacation in Cleveland?).

And we act weird. We wear clothing that would blind a flock of sheep at a hundred paces, we drink too much, we eat things we'd never try at home, and our behavior just gets...well, screwy.

So the person we're with, and to whom we happen to be married, finds they are relating to a side of you they don't know. Intimacy has to grow into the Hawaiian shirt and "dance till 3 am" persona.

And you have to adjust to the temporarily new person your mate's become, as well.

Different Expectations - On a vacation, most men are hoping for sport and sex. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is.

Most women want romance, intimacy, and engagement (with their spouse, and with the place they're visiting.

It's a recipe for collision, and disappointment through frustration or through grudging acquiescence.

What can we do to improve our chances for a fun, fulfilling, loving, and above all memorable vacation?

It's not hard. It just takes some planning, some communication, and some compromise

Choose your destination wisely - Try to pick a spot that offers what you enjoy together, and at least one thing that each of you can enjoy separately.

It's obvious that you should be able to enjoy most of what your vacation offers as a couple. It's important not to pretend - don't go along to get along. Be specific, and work together at finding what you'll both truky enjoy. Giving in and later being able to play the martyr defeats the whole purpose.

Why separately? because tired happens, sick happens, and sometimes people just need to be alone. Being able to tell your mate, "Look, I'm not feeling too great, but you go, and have fun! I'll be looking forward to hearing about your afternoon when you get back," - that's a gift.

Plan ahead - work out at least a general schedule for each day, and make sure the activities you want are available on the days you set aside for them.

Spending a couple of hours after breakfast trying to figure out what to do can ensure that you don't do much of anything. It's easy to spend so much time deciding what to do that you don't have time to actually do it.

Take into account differences - Okay, sensitive topic. Guys, you need to understand that your wife may get far more from holding hands in the moonlight that she will from intercourse. Give her that gift, not to get what you want...but because you love her, and want her to be happy.

Gals, remember that your husband married you partly because he wanted you - physically. For men, courtship is partly pursuit, with one goal being...well, sex. It's not the whole thing, but for every man, that's part of it.

And after years of marriage...he still wants you. That's something to honor.

Have contingency plans - If it rains, what will you do? (Guys, not the obvious, please.)

Make sure that there are activities or events that you can enjoy no matter what the weather. Sitting in a lobby and watching rain gets tiresome after awhile.

Commemorate! - Take pictures, take videos. Bring home ample resources for scrapbooking - and do the scrapbook.

You don't need to go overboard on souvenirs, though. What looks like a cute memento in the gift shop is often something that will have no logical place in your home when you get back.

 A spousal getaway can be a wonderful treat...and it can rejuvenate a marriage that's starting to feel stale. With a little bit of care, foresight, and consideration, it can exceed your expectations and become a memory you'll cherish for decades to come.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The One Secret to a Good Marriage


Sound simple. I mean, you married this person, right, so you are there.

Physically, yes, but how many of us are there and available for our spouses, all the time?

Not many. If being there was a widespread phenomenon, half of the marriages today would not end in divorce. And remember that divorce shows the tip of the iceberg. A lot of marriages roll on, tolerable but lacking, and the partners do not know if they'd do it all again.

All because of being there.

What does it mean, to be there for your mate? Is it a life of indentured servitude?

If we look to Jesus as our model - which we're supposed to do - then yes, it is.

The kind of service we're talking about isn't measured so much in acts as it is in attitude.

The acts can be pretty mundane. If you're at the end of your favorite TV show and your spouse wants to tell you something, you hit mute and listen.

You want to sleep in, and your spouse wants to get an early start painting the backyard fence...you don't complain, ask for five more minutes, or pretend to be asleep. You get up, with a smile and a willing heart.

You want to go out to dinner and your spouse is tired from a long day at the office...yeah, you guessed it. Stay home, and you make dinner.

Two things are required for this to work. Only two.

The first is trust. You have to trust that what your spouse wants is important enough to them to override what you're doing, or they would not be asking. It's not always going to be true. Sometimes your mate won't notice what you're doing and that it has some importance for you, or they'll be in a selfish mood and won't care.

You just have to assume that most of the time, your mate knows what he or she is doing.

The second is unconditionality. No quid pro quo's. You're not serving to get service back. You're doing it because it's the right thing to do, before your spouse, before your own sense of honor, and before God.

Yes, you might find yourself taken for granted.

Yes, you leave yourself vulnerable to manipulation.

But that's life. Being taken for granted is just across the fence from dependable, and you can't have intimacy without vulnerability.

So it all circles back to trust.

Unconditional trust.

As God trusted the world with His Son, so you have to trust your mate with your time, and with your heart.

And when your heart gets broken...you have to rise again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wives, Husbands, and Rhythm

On the freeway, we all have a speed we're comfortable with. Slower is too slow, and we itch impatiently, feeling that we're dawdling.

And too fast gives us a slight frisson of fear.

Life is the same way. We have a pace at which we live, at which we work, talk, and even relax. So do our spouses...and those paces are usually different.

Here's a test - are you given to finishing you mate's sentences?

It's a cute trick, and speaks of how well you know each other, but it's also saying that you're moving faster, and subconsciously you feel your mate isn't keeping up.

When courting, we match our pace to that of our spouse. We slow down, or speed up. This tends to be masked by the fact that in courtship we're doing different things, from what we did when we were single, and there's no solid yardstick we can use to judge the change in pace.

I mean, guys...did you go for long romantic strolls on the beach, hand in hand with your buds? I thought not. (I hoped not.)

None of this is bad. Marriage is a tough exercise, building intimacy between two complete strangers. It's a welding process, using the heat of emotional and spiritual attraction, hopefully under spiritual control and guidance.

But when you weld two pieces of steel together the properties of the individual pieces remain the same outside the zone where they're welded and combined.

So it its with marriage - we're changed by the bond within a certain range, where we interact emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But outside that, we're still pretty much the same.

Ever hear the advice - "Don't marry someone with the intention to change them?" That's it, right there.

When it comes to the pace and rhythm at which we live, it's important to achieve a balance. Otherwise the 'faster' partner feels frustrated and constrained, and the slower mate can feel left behind, or condescended to. None of this is good for the relationship.

What can we do?

Take walks together, holding hands - This simple physical act is probably the most important thing you can do to marge your paces successfully, and with least strain. Physical contact is important - through it we feel warmth and emotion and, yes, the pulse of our mate.

A short walk every evening (weather permitting) is one of the best gifts you can give to your marriage.

Make an intentional effort to match your mate's pace - If your husband enjoys 'pajama Sundays' while you would rather rise at six in the morning and do yardwork, take every second or third Sunday and spend that time with him. He'll be surprised and delighted, and you may learn that you can slow down.

Don't make it a quid pro quo. Make the time you spend with him a gift, and don't hand him a pruning saw next week as the sun comes up. Also, don't complain about, or even mention, the time you may feel has been lost, or what you could have accomplished if you'd kept your preferred schedule.

Agree to disagree - Take time to go at your own pace. Before Barbara and I were married, I ran seven miles, every evening, and had dinner between ten and midnight.

She came from a life where she ate at six, and spent the evening quietly.

I tried to live her way, and it was a disaster. My body didn't adapt well to the change - I was restless, and had trouble sleeping. It was bad for both of us, and the relationship, so finally I went to a modified running schedule (shorter runs), had a small meal with her at six, and my main meal at the time to which I was accustomed. It sounds cumbersome, but it worked, and what was causing distance brought us closer together - because oit took the strain away.

Remember that pace is not permanent - one day, you are likely to find that you've slowed down, since the things that drove you aren't as important...or that you've sped up, because you've realized that they are that important. Same thing is likely  to happen to your mate.

If you understand this, and look at life's rhythms as being part of a symphony rather than a consistent drumbeat, you'll be ready to take the opportunity to welcome your spouse into the pace of your pulse, as you slow down to catch up with one another.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Of Husbands, Chick Flicks, and God

In Joker One, his memoir of the Iraq war, Donovan Campbell describes an evening when he entered his platoon's billet, and found them engrossed in a movie.

Porn, you think?

Maybe Gladiator?


Nice try. It was (drum roll, please) The Notebook.

Yes, that adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' sentimental novel about love lost and found in the South, in the years after World War Two.

Campbell entered the room close to the end of the movie, and his men were crying.

What gives? If you're a woman, you've probably had the experience of using bamboo slivers under your husband or boyfriend's fingernails to convince them to watch a 'chick flick' with you.

Society has made the process of damaging men's souls something of an institution, with the enthusiastic help of the victims themselves.

Men are supposed to be harsh and unsentimental, with a love for gadgets and sports and commitment-free sex. And beer. Can't forget the beer.

And male entertainment is assumed to be incomplete unless is includes cleavage and guns.

Can this be totally wrong? Could it be that men are really human, with yearnings toward romance and permanence, and possibly flower-arranging?

Okay, maybe we'll leave the flowers be. But as for the rest, the answer is a resounding yes.

Both men and women have, in their hearts, a pull toward the transcendent. As a flower turns to the sun, hearts turn toward God.

Romance, which is the basis for most 'chick flicks', has the ultimate aim of marriage and a stable, enduring love...and that relationship is, in Christian terms, sacramental. Which is a fifteen-dollar word for saying it's a representation of something divine.

God's love for us is something we don't need to doubt - He came to earth and died for us, after all. Doesn't get much more real than that.

But we can't see Him, we can't hold His hand when we walk through WalMart. We can't listen to music with Him.

But having a mate - we can do these things, and we can - ideally - experience the kind of love that says, No matter what, I am in your corner.

God's love is ultimately the only thing we really have. In a world of "you can't take it with you", this is one thing you can take. And yes, sometimes it feels far away, and aridly intellectual.

So we have marriage. Not the same thing, but a shadow, or a reflection. Something to hold onto when the night is long and dark and cold.

And that is what these films are really all about. Even if we're happy in our relationships, they reaffirm what we were looking for. They reaffirm that God was an is moving across the face of the dark waters of our darkest nights, and that He left a sign of His presence, that He would be there in the morning.

In the love we found.

Society doesn't particularly oppose this message, but it would have men see themselves as the brutish hunter, bloody handed and never introspective.  That model sells itself, because it plays to another set of primal forces; those that meet the lowest common denominator of animalism.

Being an unreconstructed caveman frees men from responsibility to the people around them, and to themselves. If little is expected, little is required beyond the unthinkingly violent, skirt-chasing, beer-swilling Action Man ideal.

Substitute martinis - shaken not stirred - for beer, and you've got James Bond.

Men have this side. There's no question about that. But they have so much more to offer.

Just like the members of Donovan Campbell's platoon in Ramadi, violent capitol of Anbar Province, they want to touch that which they can give.

If you're a woman - how can you help?

Make chick flicks accessible - You have them in the house, but what I mean is making watching them a part of your relationship. In most cases, this means trading off. This time we watch Notting Hill; next time, it's Iron Man 2.

Omit the shoulds - Don't make it an obligation - "you should watch this" brings up the response "oh, yeah?" Instead, just say, in the simplest terms, "Please watch this with me". Don't go past that; no "I want to share this with you". Let him be a giver of his time, and he'll get caught up in the story.

Don't talk about it afterwards - This may seem counterintuitive, but for most men discussion of a film is pretty intimidating. They feel they must have missed something, that the conversation becomes some sort of test.

If he wants to bring it up, fine, keep the conversational ball moving, but don't flood him with your thoughts. If he finds something to say - even if it sounds negative - let listening be your main goal.

And to set an overall tone in which he'll be receptive...never emasculate. Mot men are extremely proud of, and sensitive and insecure about, their manliness. Just getting older, they realize that their potency (and not just sexual) is slipping.

Never point this out. Never say, "act your age" or "you're not getting any younger" when he overreaches. Build him up, instead. That is, after all, what you signed on to do when you took the vows. You're not his teacher in life lessons - you';re his spouse.

And, yes, if you do these few small things, you can bring the most monosyllabic knuckledragging male to the point where he chooses to put Bridget Jones' Diary into the DVD player.

To watch with you.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday on www.MessyMarriage.com. If you click on the link below, you can go there to find a great blog, and links to other bloggers who celebrate marriage...in all its beauty and banality.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sex and the Married Christian - Part 3 - What You Must Never Do

A good sex life is, as we've seen, a cornerstone to a healthy marriage - and is specifically rated that way in Christianity.

Fortunately, it's not all that hard to maintain a good intimate relationship. Part of that is accepting that it doesn't have to be Hollywood-perfect. It's not a competition. It's really supposed to be fun.

But there is an underside of that coin. There are a few things that should never, ever happen between husband and wife. They can kill physical intimacy stone dead.

And once it dies...emotional and spiritual intimacy are at grave risk. Forget everything you may have heard about 'white' (asexual) marriages. They're not marriages, except on paper. There's no 'holiness' there, merely avoidance of an ordained responsibility.

A stool needs at least three legs, else sitting on it will result in a painful tailbone after a short fall. Likewise, marriage needs the spiritual, emotional, and physical 'legs'. They support each other.

So, what are the never do's?

Never use sex as a reward or withhold it as punishment - Physical desire is a very basic force in the way humans have been designed, and it's connected with both emotions and spirituality on a very fundamental level. When it's pulled into the intellectual realm of punishment, that entire connection is yanked - like the roots of a plant. Everything is affected, and the physical relationship becomes an "if I do this, I will be allowed that" operation.

I am using the word 'operation' deliberately, because imposing a punishment/reward system on intimacy is the quickest way to make it mechanical. Intimacy becomes a goal - release - rather than a process - shared, loving closeness.

Using sex as a reward can be almost as bad...or maybe worse. It puts the 'grantor' into a position of having seized power, and the act of granting intimacy can become condescension, either explicit, implied, or assumed.

And yes, men can feel sexual condescension, and can feel demeaned by it.

Never make a blanket negative comment on your physical relationship - The comment "our sex life was/is awful" is powerfully destructive, and can completely ruin intimacy for the person hearing it.W
The assumption is that the person making the comment isn't at fault. You're not likely to hear, "we have a lousy sex life, and I'm to blame!"

The sad thing is that a comment like this can be well-intentioned, with a sincere desire to improve the relationship. It might be modified by saying "it's improving"...but the initial negative will have done its work.

The immediate result is to make the recipient extremely self-conscious, first about their sexuality ...and later about their very physicality. Start feeling sexually inept, and one will soon start feeling ugly.

Recovering from something like this is almost impossible, unless the comment is quickly retracted, with the apology that it was delivered in anger.

If it's reiterated, with examples and justifications, color intimacy gone.

Yes, intercourse may still occur, but it will always be tainted, offered as either an obligation or (see above) a reward. A couple will probably never be 'together' in intimacy again.

Never compare - This should be fairly obvious - never compare your mate with a previous sexual partner. And I mean never - either negatively or positively.

You don't need ghosts in the marriage bed. The whole thing about physical intimacy is to reinforce the couple, and adding any names or faces to the mix can only be destructive.

A corollary to this is to never ask for a comparison. If your mate has had prior relationships, don't try to find out 'where you stand' in the hierarchy. It's an unfair question to ask, and it can be seen as baiting - "you were pretty free before, eh?"

For husbands - NEVER, NEVER, NEVER force sex - Forced sex is RAPE. Get it?

The minefield isn't very extensive, and it's pretty well-marked.

But step on one of these, and you'll blow up.

 Any other items you'd like to add? Please do!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sex and the Married Christian - Part 2

So...in time for Valentine's Day...what can you do to improve your sex life?

Oh, boy. A lot of ink has been spilled on this subject, and I'm about to add some more.

Well...here goes.

To start with, Joseph Pote made the comment on Part 1 that women put a lot emotion into their sexuality, and men use sexuality to express emotion. (Joe's splendid blog, Redeemed, can be found here.)

If we don't connect with this basic truth, we'll never have a satisfactory connection with one another.

The suggestions I'm listing below are not "how-to" action items. You can get those in a lot of other places.

They are also not 'tricks' to get your way. If you're approaching physical intimacy from that point of view, a review of your ethics are - to put it bluntly - in order.

For men

Courtship doesn't end at the altar - the best way to a wonderful physical relationship - that will be happy for both of you - is to continue courtship past the wedding. Every single day.

What did you do when you were courting? You probably sent loving emails or texts, sent flowers, opened doors, touched your now-wife gently, stroked her hair, held her hand...

...and you listened to her.

Do you do these thing now? Most men have dropped at least a few, and some have dropped all..."Hey, she knows I love her! Why should I have to..?"

You have to because your wife needs to feel wanted. She needs to feel cherished. She needs your attention and care. She needs you to hear her. She needs you.

Encourage your wife - whether your wife is in the wage-earning labor force or is taking care of the household, learn about what she's doing, and encourage her.

She needs it. Women are still very undervalued in our society, equal rights notwithstanding, and getting strong support and a boost from the person to whom she's closest means a lot to any woman. You know her strengths, and her weaknesses. Others don't - she trusts you, and values your opinion more than you know.

Learn to be sensual instead of sexual - it's a cliche that women like cuddle-time more than most men do. Men are primarily visual, with a quick connection between eyes and hormones. Women are far more sensitive to touch (non-sexual touch), smell, and sound.

Touch your wife's 'perimeter', rather than focusing on the sexual bits/ Run your hands along her shoulders, and arms, and the outside of her hips.

You may be invited to 'go on', but sometimes...for your wife, this is enough. This is what she needs, rather than overt sexual release. If you're willing to follow her lead, the trust you earn will be immeasurable. You'll be a true rarity among men, and among husbands.

An additional benefit of this approach is that your body will become more sensitive to touch, and you'll find enjoyment where you did not think it possible.

Physical intimacy is a process, not a goal - if you're not regularly touching your wife - again, non-sexually - you're probably not on the same page as far as sex is concerned. Saving physical contact for sex does not work for most women. Your wife may go along - she loves you - but she's cheated of something she deserves.

Kiss her, sometimes gently, sometimes firmly. Hug her, and keep your hands where they belonged during courtship. When you're out together, hold her hand. When you go to the movies, put your arm around her shoulder.

Aside from making her feel loved - this process attunes your bodies to one another. You fit together.

Set the mood - This doesn't mean quickly putting out scented candles in the bedroom, and throwing a Luther Vandross CD onto the stereo. It means helping her to keep a home environment that she enjoys. Taking out the trash, cleaning up the clothes you dumped on the chair, doing the dishes...

Women are all about environment. Again - for your wife, sex is a wholistic experience, and the more you can contribute to that, the happier she'll be.

For women -

Be positive - This is probably the most important thing a woman can do. The male ego is fragile - that's no secret - but it's nowhere more delicate than in regard to sexuality.

Just saying "why don't we try this?" rather than "please don't do that" can make a huge difference. Both statements can express the same thing - but the positive statement makes your husband feel like a valued participant, and reinforces togetherness. The negative comment separates, and implicitly blames.

Try to accept the visual - Many men prefer lights. Many women don't. You can 'trade off', or alternate settings, or you can fight your corner to get what you want.

Or you can realize that your husband wants to look at you. If the lights are on, he's not off in some mental fantasy. He's with you.

Slow things down with a hand massage - Huh? Well, think about it. How do your hands feel, right now? Mine are pretty tight and slightly painful.

If you give your husband a hand massage, you won't relax him to the point of impotence (a full-body massage can do that). What you will do is reinforce the primacy of touch - your touch. You'll also make him feel like the center of attention, which enjoyment is not lost on most males.

Realize that your husband may sometimes need a quick and vigorous release - I hesitated to write this, because it's not good to make it a habit. But it is true that there are times when your husband will feel a drive and enthusiasm that go beyond the norm.

And it may be too fast for you to fully enjoy.

This is a gift to consider giving, though, even when you might feel a little bit disappointed for yourself. It lets your husband be himself, and if you can get into at least the emotional mood, he'll get the subliminal message that you're enjoying him...for him.

For both of you -

Learn together - There is no shortage of educational material on married intimacy. Find something that appeals to both of you, and go through the process of learning together. Make it fun, and take it seriously. (Guys, don't use this as a shortcut to quick sex...in other words, don't jump ahead in the textbook.)

Don't ever give up on each other - It's all to easy to put intimacy on the back burner because life gets too busy, or too stressful.

Some situations make sex well-nigh impossible. The death of a parent, for instance, kicks over a primal anthill in both men and women, and shuts down the hormones...sometimes for months.

But you can't let abstinence become a habit. Abstinence is for single people.

When you practice abstinence in a marriage, you lose the physical sense of your mate. You begin to forget one of the reasons you got married in the first place - the feel, the smell, the taste of your mate.

Can you get it back after months? Yes, but it takes time, and takes courtship.

After years? Much, much harder, because both partners will really begin to wonder what they saw in each other. It's a harsh statement, but it's commonly true. There is a point of no return, beyond which intimacy is the satisfaction of a 'legal' obligation. Yuck.

Sex is a gift, just as your spouse is a gift.

Cherish both.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sex and the Married Christian - Part 1

A satisfactory sex life is vital to the health of a marriage.


'Unfortunately' because in many marriages, it's almost impossible to achieve. A combination of history, unrealistic expectations, and a profound lack of understanding of one's mate's gender work together to make physical intimacy something of an ordeal...and often avoided.

There's no question that Christian couples are meant to engage in satisfying physical intimacy, and not just for procreation. Paul doesn't even mention procreation in this context, and the reference to Jesus as the Bridegroom is an unsubtle hint. He could have been King, Prince, Prime Minister...but no, he's a Bridegroom. Deal with it.

And then there's the Song of Songs. Which is way more explicit than anything I'll ever write here.

Sex is a gift, and why does it become a problem? Let's take a look.

History - I'm speaking primarily of history within the marriage. Sex between newlyweds can be wonderful, but it can also be jarringly uncomfortable. The problems usually come from unfamiliarity and clumsiness, but if they are allowed to build a wall of resentment of embarrassment, it can become very hard to move forward and improve things.

There are other aspects of history, as well. A previous infidelity can make a good sex life almost impossible, and a premarital history with other partners can also be used to ill effect through comparison or an attempt to 'shame'.

Unrealistic Expectations - The media throws huge amounts of sexual and romantic imagery our way every day. Couples are portrayed as young, lithe, exciting, and highly sensitive to sensuality.

Romance novels and movies feed on this - even those that are Christian-based.

The reality is that that far-away look in a man's eyes probably mean he's thinking about a bass boat, or he has to find a lavatory - now.

For men, the expectations come from a sordid place - pornography. Not that all, or most men frequent this stinking sewer...so our society has made it come to them. From the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to beer commercials to Viagra ads, a titillating an wildly unrealistic view of sexuality is peddled - for profit.

And to the loss of thousands of couples, whose marriages are hurt from this enemy without becoming an enemy within.

Lack of Understanding - So much can be overcome through understanding. It takes so little effort...and even that can be beyond us.

Of course, once again society rides to the 'rescue'. Men and women are different.

Oh, dear, I said a bad thing. Here comes the Thought Police, ready to slap my wrists!

To break it down simply - for me, sex is a part of life. For women, life is a part of sex.

A man's body can react quite quickly to some stimuli, especially visual - and where men are concerned, visual input is a prime factor in sexuality (ever wonder why they "prefer the lights on"?). The response can be quite independent of emotion, or even physical condition, including illness and fatigue. Men can be "ready" almost instantly.

They aren't beasts. They aren't unfeeling. They are just feeling things differently from women.

Women are far more complex, and they are touched by a number of stimuli acting together - and usually at a slower pace. Smell, non-sexual touch, a feeling of being cherished...all these form a part of the buildup to a readiness and desire for intimacy, and they can - and should (hear this, guys) take several hours.

Start in the morning, with love and care, for what might happen in the evening. Better yet, do it every day, regardless of what might happen. Do it because you love your wife.

What to do?

How do you make this part of life into something it's supposed to be?

That's for the next post.

Please comment! What can you add? 

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Heart of a Spouse

Take a plate, and throw it against the wall, so it shatters.

Now say, "I'm sorry."

Did the plate reassemble itself, so that it was good as new?

The human heart is something like that. Things you say, things you do can shatter a heart, and no amount of apology can ever restore it to what it was.

You can glue a plate back together. Krazy Glue works wonders.

Time and care will let a heart function again, but the scars will always be there.

The only cure is prevention, and the way to prevention is a filter on your words and actions.

Do I really need to say this?

Do I really need to do this?

When you're married, your heart is no longer your own. And your mate's heart is held in your hands.

It's your choice, to cherish it, or in a fit of anger or selfishness or ignorance...or just plain carelessness, to throw it against a wall.

Omar Khayyam said it well -

"The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.
Not all your piety nor your wit
will lure it back to cancel half a line,
nor your tears wash out a word of it."

You have freedom of speech.

And you have the obligation to use it wisely, because sometimes the greatest freedom comes from freedom unexercised.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Is Your Mate a Blamer?

"Well, if you hadn't done this, I could have accomplished that!"

Does this sound familiar, either in its specifics or in its general tone?

If it does, you may be married to a 'blamer' - someone who has to determine responsibility for everything that goes wrong.

And, oddly enough, these folks are, in their reality, almost never to blame.

When you read it, this sounds kind of awful. I mean, being chained for life to someone who ducks responsibility for bad things, and makes sure the blame falls elsewhere? Yuck!

But not so fast, please. Relax that "I just bit into a lemon" face, and stop mentally forming retorts you'll never deliver.

Let's give them a chance. They're not bad, or disloyal. They've been hurt, and they're still lashing out.

Blaming is learned at an early age. The Bible says to raise a child in the way you'd like her to continue, and that shows how important early conditioning is.

Blamers get lousy conditioning. Almost all of them grew up in an environment in which blame had to be determined. Everything stopped while the jury was in session.

And the children of blaming parents took a large share of the blame, as well. They were convenient targets who couldn't fight back.

The result? An adult who will do anything to avoid taking negative responsibility, and who will try to shift that responsibility - and anchor it - elsewhere.

They were never good enough. The 'blaming culture' demands a target, and children in that environment simply can't escape. No matter how hard they try to be perfect and escape the blame, they won't. A minor slip...or even no slip. Just being there can put a child in the dungeon of blame ("If you hadn't been born I could have gone back to school!" As if conception was the child's responsibility.)

They're scared. In many blaming families, there's an implicit threat of rejection for repeated screwups. "What am I going to do with you?" is a banal phrase for an adult, but for a seven-year-old it's a real, open question - and seven-year-olds are quite capable of understanding that some children wind up away from their home and family.

For an adult, the fear is that admitting one mistake will cause their 'perfect' house of cards to collapse, and you won't want them any more.

As I said - not bad people. Just trying to live through early bad examples. But how do you live with a blamer?

Realize that it's not really about you. This is hard, when you're on the receiving end. But the whole point of pointing the finger at someone else is to escape, and carve aa safe niche for themselves. It's all about them. Remember the old adage - when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

You won't win. Arguing the point is useless. You're doomed to lose, and these arguments can get verbally bloody...and cause a lot more damage than the original issue would have. Remember, the blaming spouse has been in this mode for his or her whole life.

Instead of trying to win, just work to get past it. An answer like, "I don't agree, but I understand how you might feel that way" gives the blamer something of a win, but doesn't commit you to a loss.

Forget it happened. An interesting part of 'blamer' behavior is that they often reset quickly. Once responsibility is established, the sun comes out.

Accept the sun. Don't hold your ill-treatment to your heart. Let it go. Yes, it will repeat, but think of it as a recurrent storm in life. In a real storm, you use an umbrella and raincoat - but would you keep them on when the sun comes back out?

Look to the positive. You married this person for a number of very good reasons (at least, I hope so!). The blaming behavior may have been there during courtship (if it was, probably not directed at you), or it may have come out only after your mate was back in a 'family' situation.

But remember - the person you married is genuine, and maybe has a few flaws.

So do we all.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to Talk to Your Husband

Use small words, and grunt a lot.

You think I'm kidding?

In general - and I am basing this on generalities - men and women communicate so differently that's it's sometimes surprising that they can relate to each other at all.

Women are masters of subtlety. A woman's world is vivified by nuance, tone, and color of language and gesture.

Men are...well, not subtle. Guys pride themselves on speaking plainly, but the truth is that they're ill-equipped to do anything else.

Subtlety requires attention to one's conversational partner, and this is where men tend to come a bit unglued. Think about it - how many men have you met that you could count as good listeners?

Dates don't count. A man on a date is a man on a mission, and listening is a means to an end.

Narrows the list, eh? Most men will patiently wait for you to finish talking, so that they can then talk.

Some women do this too - but most are actually listening. Women internalize what they hear from others, because it makes them more a part of an interconnected world.

Men don't want to be a part of no stinkin' interconnection. Men want to ride high and wide and alone. John Wayne, riding into the sunset.

For a man, how he talks defines who he is. Everything's a statement of manhood, in one way or another. Get a man to be touchy-feely, and he'll think he's turning into a girl.

So, how do you talk to a man?

Use small words and short sentences, with a clear subject.  Make sure your message is delivered quickly and unambiguously. The longer you talk, the more a man's eyes will glaze over.

Maintain eye contact. Don't harp on it verbally, but if a man's eyes start to drift away, his mind's already gone. Stay in his vision, and 'talk with your hands' if possible.

Build in required responses. Not the standard, "Don't you agree?" - that sounds like manipulation, and most men are pretty quick to detect that. Instead, ask for involvement by asking a man for his opinion. Men love to share opinions. "What do you think?" can be magic.

Always be specific. If you talk around an issue, with oblique references, don't expect a man to pick up on it. He won't.

Use flattery. The bigger the ego, the more fragile it is. Most men tend to need ego boosts regularly, which explains their sometimes absurd way to impress others (particularly female others). Salt your conversation with things like "Wow, I never thought of that!", even if your cat would have understood it clearly.

Stand close. Men feel honored when a woman stands close to them - and they will be more forthcoming in this small shared intimacy.

Stay on topic. Women can often jump between three topics in the same sentence, while men are doing well to follow a sentence to its single-focused conclusion.

Be yourself. If you don't typically use sports or military analogies in conversation, don't start. These are areas in which a guy can 'protect' his maleness, and most men find it uncomfortable when a woman starts speaking their 'language'. If you had a consuming interest in sports through the relationship (or are a veteran), it's a different story; but don't start in an effort to make communication better. It'll backfire.

It's really not hard to communicate with men. We're eager to please, and we want to talk with the women in our lives.

We love you, after all. In a raw-meat-eatin', chest-poundin' way, of course.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday on www.MessyMarriage.com. If you click on the link below, you can go there to find a great blog, and links to other bloggers who celebrate marriage...in all its beauty and banality.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Fight With your Spouse

No, it's not pistols at twenty paces.

When you're sharing life with someone, you're going to disagree from time to time.

When your disagreements are on points that are important to one or both of you, you're going to argue.

And when you argue, sooner or later - it'll escalate to a fight.

It would be wonderful if all disagreements could be settled amicably, with well-reasoned dialogue and acceptance of an ultimately agreed-on solution. That's something for which to strive, and a lot better than the alternative.

Ann Landers (remember her?) once wrote that a marriage in which the partners didn't occasional fight would be as dull as dishwater.  I beg to differ; fighting requires the erection of defenses against the closest person in your life, and those defenses can become habitual. Very easily.

Fighting also leaves scars. Someone gets hurt, and those hurts are remembered. This isn't a Hallmark world, in which we all kiss and make up. We remember when someone we trusted delivered a rapier thrust into an area we'd left vulnerable.

We remember the shock and the hurt, and the feeling that we were fools not to have seen it coming.

Fighting's not good. It does happen, so how do we mitigate the damage it'll do?

First, is it really worth it? Many, if not most arguments are over trivia that take on importance like a snowball becomes an avalanche. Marriages are ended because of things like a coat being slung over the back of a chair, or a dented car door.

These arguments accelerate because of pride - because no one wants to back down. If this happens to you sometimes, don't feel bad - that's how WW1 started.

Step back, when you feel the red mist start to descend, and ask yourself, is this the hill to die on?

Next, pick up a Bible. This sounds silly, but it's really hard to be uncivil when you're holding God's Word in your hands. Don't use Scripture to 'prove' you're right. That's not what the Bible's in your hands for.

Use a talking stick. The person who';s holding the stick gets to talk, and can't be interrupted.

Fight in public. The front porch is fine, or the lawn. An audience inhibits bad language and worse behavior. And no, the kids, in the house, don't count, because many parents are only too happy to fight in front of the kids.

Fights end at sunset. Inviolate rule, "do not let the sun go down on your wrath". And not, it's not 'bedtime', it's sunset. The argument ends there, and you resolve the issue. Granted, there are things that can't be fully resolved at a deadline - but these are fewer than you might think.

Most of what we fight about is the trivia of life, and it can be resolved summarily. Look at the last hting you argued about...

Oops. Can't completely remember? Is the point proven?

Finally - and this isn't strictly part of the 'argument' process...

Maintain a physically affectionate relationship. I can't overstate the importance of this. It';s easy to become emotionally distant from someone with whom you're already physically distant, and arguments only widen the gulf.

Hold hands, hug, kiss, and, yes, have sex regularly. It's part of the glue that bonds a marriage; that kind of physical familiarity makes it that much harder to hold onto destructive anger.

What do you think? Anthing you'd like to add?