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Friday, January 31, 2014

Something Husbands Need to Know

Your wife didn't marry you for you.

Feel a little nudge to the ego, there? Not quite the Lone Ranger, the Duke, and Russell Crowe all rolled into one?

She married you for what you could be together.

And that is way more of a compliment, because it involves a committment on her part that's greater than you could ever imagine.

Women are all about connection and community. Their emotional investments in relationships are much deeper than that of men - because relationships are their world.

A man's world consists of boxes. The work box, the friend box, the sports box.

The marriage box.

Women aren't a bit like that. Their relationships in one area define them in every other, and create a world that is rich and interconnected to a degree that most men would find confusing - and, frankly, scary.

Scary because it implies the requirement for response to different situations, different demands.
Boxes are predictable, and controllable - and you can always leave.

Men will typically cut their losses, cut and run...see the euphemism? Cut. Like cutting a string.

For a woman, cutting is more like surgery.

A woman's world is made up of disposable boxes, and there's no exit.

Nor would she want there to be, because you're part of it - and why should she want to depart from the man she loves?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Marriage Wedge

The biggest wedge in a marriage is not the attentions of another, nor money, nor sex.

It's time.

When we're courting, we spend as much time as we can together - and when we're apart we think about one another.

After being married for a few years, how much time do you spend thinking about your spouse?

And when you do spend time together, to you look at your mate, really talk with them? Or do you make offhand comments about what's going on around you, while watching the latest hopeful on American Idol?

When was the last time you took a good look at your spouse?

I know a chap who grew a moustache, and then decided to shave it off. It was not a wispy blond peach-fuzz thing.

It was two weeks before his wife noticed.

This is the sort of thing that causes couples to, in the pretty euphemism that reminds one of sailboats..."drift apart".

Really, it's not pretty at all. It's corrosion and rot, and it's about as pretty as a fungal infection.

(It's about losing interest, at least to a degree, and men generally do it first...women typically feel it happening, and go through a depressing period of adjustment until they can become somewhat more detached, themselves.)

We can control it. It's hard, but it's easy at the same time.

Put away the distractions. Put away the sports magazines and the weekends buried in front of the TV - does it really matter who wins the Big Game, or any game?

Put away Downton Abbey on Sunday night...Sunday's special, who do you really want to spend the last few hours before the work week with - your spouse, or a bunch of nonexistent snarky people?

You've got to study your spouse. Find out what makes him or her want to be with you, and accentuate those things. You married this person for a number of reasons, and those reasons still exist.

Don't let them dry up. Keep them watered. Yes, it's a tired analogy, the garden thing...but it does fit.

You can revive a malnourished plant, but there will come a time when you can';t find restoration.

And nothing is worse than wanting to restore your marriage...and finding out that it's too late, that the closeness you once felt is gone beyond recovery.

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, January 27, 2014

Love, Honor, and Obey

That last word - the O-word - gets left out of a lot of wedding vows.

It shouldn't, because what marriages need today is a lot more obedience.

Whoa! Pitchforks down, people! And those torches...uh, douse them for now?

Obedience in marriage got a lot of bad press. A couple of thousand years' worth. Yes, Paul talked about it in the New Testament, along with the husband's 'headship' in a Christian marriage.

All very well and good, for practicing Christians. Unfortunately, most Christians seem not to have practiced much, because they weren't very good at it.

Headship was turned into subjugation, and gave a psuedo-religious imprimatur to male dominance. That meant that the guy could pretty well do what he wanted - and his wife was a possession. This was enshrined in law, in countries like England, through most of the Christian Era.

And, oh, yes...in the US, as well. 

This wasn't what Paul meant at all. He intended for a husband to have the headship of Christ - headship that was expressed through servitude. The headship of a king...first in the attack, last in the retreat, and, in famine, eating only what his poorest subject ate. It was not a headship that conferred rights.

Only responsibilities. Including the responsibility of sacrifice, up to and including life.

Know any husbands like that? Remotely like that? I don't, even when I look in a mirror.

What I see in the mirror is a guy who has his own agenda, and who hopes to see parts of it through, sliding it under the tent flap in a shadowy corner, so that I can say, well, it was always there. I'm not being humble. I'm being honest.

Self-interest...not naked, but disguised. Sometimes harmless enough, but with the potential of taking on a malevolent life of its own.

And obedience is the cure. I'm not going to take the easy way out and say, patting myself on my pious head, 'obedience to God, of course!'

That goes without saying, and there's no virtue there.

I'm talking about obedience to my wife.

Obedience to her wishes, that if she says No then it's no. If she says Don't then I don't. If she says Now, I jump. No weaseling backchat. 

Weakness on my part? On the way to being henpecked?

Not at all, It's trust.

I married her with the implied trust that she loved me, and that she would not do anything that she thought was against our best interests, and my best interests. I married her believing that she would sacrifice her interests for my own - and she did.

In return, I have to trust that when she says No with a captial N, she has a good reason.

I trust her. I trust her love.

That is my duty, and my desire.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How to Love your Spouse

We fall in love, and we don't know what we're doing.

We get married, and we're clueless.

We embark on one of the hardest jobs imaginable - living in emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy with another person, and we're totally unqualified.

We don't, most of us, know how to love the person we're going to spend our life with.

It's not hard, in theory. But in practice...hoo, boy.

The hard thing is that loving your spouse doesn't take into account how he or she makes you feel. It's about how your spouse feels, and how you affect that.

So, what's the secret?

Listen - When you were courting, you probably hung on every word your beloved said. (though you may have been paying more attention to the lovely voice and sweet lips than to the content). But now...be honest, do you sometimes feel your spouse talks too much?

Do you have a feeling you can't get a word in edgewise?

Do you sometimes just wait for them to finish, so you  can talk?

When people 'talk too much' in a marriage, it's usually a symptom, that they feel they're really not being heard.  They feel that what they say isn't really worth listening to - since the one person who's supposed to want to hear them goes zombie while they're talking.

So,more words. Anything to break through!

Does this sound familiar?

Yes, a flood of words is usually a call to please listen. The content may be a recitation of the day's activities, or a penetrating psychological evaluation of a Tier-1 Taliban, but it is your spouse's content. It's important to him or her, and it should be important to you - because it's theirs.

So, just listen. Don't wait to speak, don't tune out, don't put up the shutters in your eyes that show your lack of interest. (And don't roll your eyes, either.)

Just listen. And when your spouse is finished, ask questions.

What if your mate is on permanent send, and simply won't stop talking?

Listen anyway. Listen for their heart, listen for the sake of the love you share.

Will it make your spouse listen to your pearls of wisdom? Maybe.

Will it make your spouse appreciate what a fine lad or lass they've married? Possibly.

Will it get you more sex, or a new golf club, or help in rearranging the living room this weekend? Doubt it.

Will it make your spouse feel better about him-or-herself?

Yes. And even if it's permanent send for life, and even if you never get a word in...do it anyway.

Do it for love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Date While You're Married!

Dating while you're married is a great idea.

As long as you're dating your spouse.

A lot of couples have "date nights". It's a fine practice, but from what I've seen, there is a lot of potential there that isn't realized.

Date night becomes something like "let's eat out and then go bowling" night, with the plan for the evening decided on the spur of the moment.

"So, what do you want to do tonight?"

"I dunno. What do you want to do?"

"I asked first."

 Nothing wrong with that, but if that's what your courtship was like...it'll never make Hollywood.

Date night is the chance for a special time in your marriage, when you can focus on the most important thing you've got...no, not your golf clubs...the most important thing you've got is each other.

How do you go about it? It's not hard. Kind of like courtship, but you've got a head start.

  • Alternate the responsibility for planning - this makes it an opportunity to try to think of your spouse first, and to find an activity and venue that'll please them. If you think your husband 's dream night is a tractor pull, wear earplugs, and be happy in the knowledge that he's happy - and that next time he'll be more likely to pick a night at the movies featuring a romantic comedy.
  • Plan ahead - did you make plans for a date on the way to the car, when you were courting? Why do it now? The biggest part of romance is anticipation, so why cheat yourself of something to which you can look forward?
  • Build up to the event - in other words, be romantic! Be demonstrative, and let your spouse know that you're looking forward to your evening together. (And this will carry over into your daily lives...which is no small benefit)
  • Accentuate the positive, bypass the negative - the time leading up to date night is not for challenging your spouse's political views, or bemoaning the dryer that stopped working. If you have to mention the dryer, fine, but leave it at that...don't carry on about what a lousy choice it was. As far as politics go, isn't there enough talk in the world already? Instead, be positive, be hopeful. Share good news.
  • Make the whole day special, not just the evening - include love notes in one another's lunches, or slip one into your spouse's pocket in the morning. Call (if appropriate) to say hi. Send flowers (guys love to receive flowers). Wear a special scent or aftershave.
  • Looks count - it's a special day, so take pains to look special. If you need a haircut, get one. Shave carefully, and dress well. A tuxedo isn't appropriate for a tractor pull, but clean jeans and a nice shirt are.
  • Follow traditional roles - guys, open doors for your wife. Ladies, accept it gracefully. You don't need to make a point of independence. Guys, you're handling the finances, even if it was your wife's turn to plan (and no complaining about cost, either of you).
  • Hold hands - there's magic in the touch of hands, and this is a great opportunity. You can hold hands while walking, while driving (sometimes), while waiting for dinner, at the movie or the tractor pull. There are a lot of places and times when you can take this most basic touch. Don't let another one go by.
  • Steal kisses - I don't really have to explain this, do I?
  • Start a scrapbook, including a keepsake from each date - why not make a memorable evening permanent? You can use ticket stubs, or a photograph taken during the date. Be imaginative! And write a few words - each of you - about where you went and how you felt.
  • If sex happens, it's a mutual gift, not expected or an obligation - the focus is togetherness, and physical intimacy can be a wonderful way to end the evening...but be sensitive. There's no greater gift a husband can give his wife than the non-expectation of sex...it says "I love you for you, without agenda." And gals, men don't always have one-track minds. They often feel they have to live up to an image, and being let off the hook can be a distinct relief.
You married to be together, but so often the pressures of married life force couples apart.

Date night is an affirmation - I want to be with you.

Make it the best it can be.

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.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why Do Affairs Happen?

In the last two posts we looked at ways to vaccinate your marriage against infidelity, and how to deal with it if the worst happens - and possibly save the marriage.

But we've been dancing around a big issue - why does infidelity happen?

It looks like a complex issue, full of grave psychological underpinnings. But I don't buy that. I think the reasons are pretty simple.

People look outside their marriage for something they perceive is lacking within it.

Please note the word 'perceive'. It's a purely subjective judgement, and very often totally unfair to the wronged spouse.

Most cheating mates, when they return to their senses - and their marriages, if that option exists - lament that they had what they wanted all along, and they've been fools. Fools who did an immense amount of damage, mind.

So...what's lacking? What could possibly be missing from a marriage that has lasted years?

For men, it boils down to a couple of items:

Admiration - Men have fragile egos; no surprise there. Most of them need to be told - constantly - how wonderful they are (and given the opportunity they will tell you how wonderful they are). In a marriage, when all the stories have been told and a bathroom's been shared for quite a while, that kind of adulation generally passes. Wives think - "I'm here, I love him, I show it every day...how can I do more?"

And they're right. A wife's actions speak louder than words, but many men have been deafened - or have deafened themselves - through popular culture. They want to identify with sports heroes or handsome and cool actors (or the characters they portray), but their pot-belly and minivan reality is far away from that.

So they get all insecure, and are vulnerable to the first woman (who isn't their wife) who calls them handsome, and who oohs and aahs over their exaggerated stories, heard for the first time.

Youth - For most men the passage of decades results in some definite physiological changes - you know what I mean, so I don't have to be specific. This sets some on a road to 'prove' themselves with a younger woman (as if a younger woman could magically make them younger, too).

Obviously, the similarly-aged wife just doesn't have the...whatever...to keep her man young.

It's idiotic. Men who do this - and I've known many - don't have the first clue how absurd they look. It's kind of like calling a comb-over a makeover.

Their adventure causes tears for the one who loves them, and they will end in tears themselves.

You may have the idea that I harbor no respect for men who cheat. You're right, because at heart they're liars. They're lying to their spouses, and they're lying to themselves.

What about women? Why do they turn away from their marriages?

They perceive a lack of closeness.. Women generally marry to be part of a couple (while men marry to 'have' a wife and family). When that joint identity is ignored by one-half of the partnership, it makes a woman lonelier than she ever believed she could feel.

Men are great at courtship. They tend to be lousy at relationship, drifting away into a kind of psuedo-macho aloofness. The flowers that came every week are replaced with a card - purchased at a convenience store - on birthdays and Valentine's Day (if they remember).

It's not that men don't care - they do, but they show love by doing 'stuff'. For a man, changing the oil in the car is an act of devotion, and cleaning a toilet without being asked is the ultimate romantic gesture.

Many women don't understand this, and they're vulnerable to a man who will revive the magic of courtship. They're not looking to prove themselves, using someone else's body. They're looking for another chance to be loved in the way that they knew (and the way society tells them to expect).

The really sad thing is that there's a category of men who prey on this situation - there's no other word for it. They're self-appointed Lotharios, and they're also scum.

If you think I'm more understanding of women who cheat - you;'re right. Their situation is often tragic, in the strict and specific sense of the word (a good person with a fatal flaw).

Marriage is not easy (no, really?). It takes a promise, and a commitment to honor that promise...and the daily effort to make that commitment a reality.

It takes an effort to understand one's mate. To listen, and to learn, both specifically, and about how a different gender sees things in general.

And it takes self-awareness. You've got to know what you're doing wrong, and what you're doing right, without either self-justification or self-praise.

It's worth it.

Infidelity ain't.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Surviving the Affair - the Road from Hell.

Some say that an affair can actually strengthen a marriage.

These people are idiots.

To say that infidelity can be beneficial is only true in the same way that having a metal plate installed in your skull after an accident makes your head harder. Want to go through the process?

Didn't think so.

But the sad fact is that there's a lot of infidelity going on, and what on Earth does one do...after? How can things go back to what they were before...it happened?

You're probably thinking, "They can't." Hold that thought, please.

First, some affairs do signal the end of the marriage. Where there's no regret, where allegiance is switched to the partner in infidelity, there is typically no way forward in the relationship. God may hate divorce, but infidelity is a recognized justification.

In some cases there's regret, but it's not enough to stop what's euphemistically called "a wandering eye."

It's a stupid euphemism. An affair is tawdry, cheating disloyalty. "Wandering" sounds so footloose, carefree...sounds a lot better than the more accurate "sneaking around eye."

These marriages are usually doomed, as well. The wronged spouse may hang in there, for the sake of children or parents or tradition, or just plain principle, but it's the loneliest way to live, an emotional Devil's Island.

And then there are the relationships that can survive, starting with deep regret and full repentance from the unfaithful spouse, and setting out on a path from which there will be no detours.

In the movies the unfaithful spouse is tearfully repentant, there's a 10-minute period of adjustment as the wronged spouse swallows pride that was, after all, not needed. Then there's the dramatically rising music, and as the credits roll you know everything will be all right.

Real life is a bit different. Full regret and repentance are hard for the unfaithful spouse to offer, because they require brutal self-examination in the light of unyielding principles.

But for the wronged spouse, they're the hardest things to face, because they require nothing less than a response of full forgiveness.

Which, under the circumstances, sounds impossible. How can we possibly get there?

To begin with, help is essential in the form of counseling. This is one thing you can't do alone. Both spouses need time individually and separately with a counselor (either lay or clergy) to sort through the wreckage, and to drain off the psychological poison.

For this, you need a professional, someone who can listen with empathy, and neutrality. The wronged spouse doesn't need an ally in anger, nor does the unfaithful spouse need backing in residual feelings of defiance.

The next thing both spouses need is  accountability. To one another, and to themselves.

The unfaithful spouse has to live transparently, with no shadow-corners or secrets. This is easy to say, but how does one do it without awkwardness, or turning it into an exercise in self-justification? We all have email; we all have cell phones, and almost all of us have access to time and transportation that offers privacy.

These form the basis for our lives, and how do we make them accessible to another as proof of fidelity?

Here are some suggestions. They won't work in all cases, but at least one might work in most cases.

  • No private computer, and no private computer time. This means that the unfaithful spouse gives up the iPad and the laptop, and the family computer is in the middle of the living room for all to see. And there's to be no "I'll come to bed in a little while" evenings. The computer gets shut off at bedtime, period, and left to cool in a darkened room.
  • Change email addresses and cell phone numbers. These are the primary ways we stay in touch with people we don't see regularly (and even with people we do!), and changing them is at least a symbolic act. Yes, they can easily be transmitted to the partner in infidelity, but it's at least a gesture - albeit one which does require trust. It's a given that the wronged spouse has to be given access through passwords.
  • Change habits. We all fall into routines. Excising the cancer of infidelity is something like surgery, and you don't return to what you were doing immediately afterward. You develop a new routine during the recovery process, and it becomes part of your life forevermore. Same thing here. Eat in different places, do different things on weekends. Break the pattern that's associated with the offense.
  • Avoidance. The unfaithful spouse has to avoid the partner in infidelity, no matter what. If it's a mutual friend, that friendship is obviously over. It's a someone at church, switch churches. If it's a fellow parent at the soccer league...hard as it is, pull your child from the league. If it's someone at work, ask for a transfer, or quit. This is vital, because proximity is perceived by the wronged spouse as opportunity. This is one of the places where the value of you marriage has to be paid in full. It may be a very heavy price - financially, and emotionally.
But these are mechanical actions, so to speak, They;'re things we can do, but they dance around the main issues. Repentance, and forgiveness.

Repentance is easier. Regret over disloyalty is natural, and as long as it doesn't become the hair shirt of public martyrdom, it's a good thing. A self-inflicted would still has to heal, and healing hurts.

But forgiveness? That's not so bad. At least you don't have to forgive and forget.

Ah, but you do. Otherwise the forgiveness is diluted; every time the offense is recalled, whether in the privacy of the mind or in a carefully-crafted 'offhand' remark, it sets back the clock of redemption.

But how? It sounds good, but this is clearly superhuman, and impossible.

Impossible for us. Not impossible with God, because He decided to forgive our sins - and to forget them.

We're enjoined to be Christ-like, and this is where the rubber meets the road.

OK, we're not Jesus. But we can act like him.
  • No reminders. Once the decision has been made to save the marriage - no verbal reminders of the past. Ever. A verbal reminder becomes an act of disloyalty. You set out on the new road, and you don't look back.
  • No distance. You have to be physically affectionate, and physically intimate. No 'waiting until I get over it'. Disturbing thoughts and images won't become dimmer with time if closeness and sex are avoided. They'll get worse, and make the road back that much harder. The unfaithful spouse is 'damaged goods', and knows it. The wronged spouse has the job to provide healing reassurance. Not fair? Too bad. Life is not fair, and you're dealing with its rawest reality here. The hurt has to be healed.
  • Pray together. If you didn't, start. If you did, keep it up, and increase the time. Cancel Facebook, forget Idol, dump the NFL. You can't get through this without God.
No, you can't forget. But Jesus said that we should pray with the thought that our prayer has already been granted, and we can apply the same principle here, acting as if the past has been forgotten.

As a prayer for our mutual redemption.

If you have anything to add - please do.

You can save a marriage today.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Vaccine for Infidelity

No one steps into marriage intending to be unfaithful.

But about half of all marriages end in divorce, and infidelity - physical or emotional - plays a role in a significant number of these. It's hard to say how many - the numbers are obscured by a perverse combination of shame and boasting, but suffice to say - there's a lot of cheatin' goin' on.

And...please don't be offended...you are not immune.

During the course of your marriage you  will feel a powerful attraction to someone to whom you are not married. It's going to happen (and for churchgoers, ironically...partners in infidelity are most often met at church). Whether it passes, or whether it rises up to wreck your life, is up to you.

How? We'll take a page from Homer's Odyssey. When Odysseus passes the fatal shore inhabited by the sirens, whose beautiful singing lured mariners onto the rocks, he had his crew stop their ears, and lash him to the mast of his ship.

(What we won't do is lecture you on keeping a vow before God. You already know that.)

The first step is control of the past. Sever - completely - friendships with persons of the opposite sex that predate your marriage. These people may be wonderful and godly, but the problem is that they knew you 'first', and it's easy to turn to them when you feel misunderstood within your marriage (and you will). The 'remember when' factor can reignite an emotional intimacy that may have lain dormant, and just as one can't serve two masters, one can't be faithful to multiple emotional ties.

Next, control the present. There are a number of things you can - and should, if possible - do:

  • Don't be open to opposite-sex friendships. You can be courteous, warm, funny...whatever you want - but relationships with a person of the opposite sex should remain superficial. How? Don't allow things to 'develop'. No lunches together, no walks 'since you're both going in the same direction', no exchanging phone numbers or emails.
  • Apply a 'no lone zone' to your life - don't be alone with an acquaintance of the opposite sex. No 'twosome' carpools, no working together (just the two of you) on ministry work. This may sound harsh, and you may be thinking that "I'm not attracted to him (her) at all!" But the willingness to be alone with that person can be the indicator of an underground attraction that's just waiting for the chance to bloom.
  • Be accountable. If you feel attracted to someone, tell a same-sex friend (one whom you can trust with a confidence like that). Shining a light on the danger will remove some of the soft romantic lighing, and make the possibility of an affair the tawdry thing it really is.
  • Be transparent. If you Give your spouse access to your cell phone. Cells are the #1 way to stay in touch - so let your spouse know who you;re talking to, and when. And don't be tempted to edit your call or message history beforehand - a gap in the records is almost an admission of guilt.
There are potential difficulties. Your job may require you to work, and perhaps travel, with a person of the opposite sex. You can't very well quit, and not all employers are understanding if you ask to be paired with someone o the same gender (and employers can get into some degree of trouble if they adjust work assignments by gender).

The same rules apply, really.
  • Don't become closer than required by the job. We're a 'huggy' society, but this is time for a firm handshake. Don't share personal stories during breaks. Don't go out for dinner or coffee if you've had to work late.
  • When traveling, don't share an elevator when going to your rooms. Too many people get off on the same floor for a nightcap, and get back on in the cold light of dawn.
  • Also when traveling, build in accountability through scheduled phone calls to your spouse, especially ones close to bedtime. Nothing will kill a budding romance quicker than a call from a concerned spouse, wondering why you didn't call.
It's not a good idea to be cold and standoffish - that can backfire. In The Once and Future King, the novel on which Camelot was based, Lancelot is described as very skilled, but also surpassingly ugly. Very conscious of his appearance, he's rude to Queen Guinevere when they first meet, thinking that he can avoid the development of any feelings for her in his own heart.

But when he's cold and rude, he chances to look at the Queen, and realizes that she was hurt by his behavior. She was "merely pretty Jenny, who could think and feel."

And so began the affair that brought down the idyllic years of Camelot.

None of us are immune to the song of a new beauty that tells us it has the freshness that can revitalize our lives. But we can make ourselves immune, through habit, attitude, and accountability, to the actions which can destroy our marriages, and wreck our souls.

This post is linked to Beth Steffaniak's "Messy Marriage" blog - just click on the image below!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Don't Get Married!

Catchy title, eh?

A lot of couples marry every year. And a lot of them get divorced. We were in both groups - the married group twice, the divorced group once. Which means we're now married. Right?

Anyway, a lot of people who marry really should have stayed single. There are a number of reasons to remain single, and they are applicable both individually and collectively. But there's only one reason to get married.

Why stay single?

  • Marriage is no cure for loneliness - When you marry, you've committed yourself to enduring a kind of loneliness worse than anything you experienced when you were single. There will come a time when you realize that you're living with a person who isn't understanding you, and who doesn't really want to understand you...and it's someone whom you don't understand...and whom you'd rather not try to understand. Being in the constant company of a person who's suddenly alien to you is far more stressful than coming home to an empty house. These desert times come with every marriage and do pass, but they take work and patience and love...and acceptance.
  • It's never 'about time' you get married - Pressure from family and friends can feel pretty compelling. They can make you feel old, out-of-step, and give the hint that you might be undesirable...so you have to prove yourself by finding a mate. I've talked with many couples who ventured down this road, figuring that they could build a life with anyone reasonably compatible...they pointed to the success of arranged marriages in cultures in which such practices are traditional. Well, maybe, but arranged marriages are strengthened by that weight of tradition. The couple is playing a societal role by making it work, and deriving a visceral satisfaction from that. In the West, there's no such bulwark. "Reasonably compatible" can work with care and diligent, unselfish effort, but the stresses of life together work to reduce compatibility in the best-matched couples.
  • Children are not glue - If you look at procreation as the primary reason to marry, you're taking a chance on dooming your children, your spouse, and yourself to a life or perpetual quarrels and alienation. These days, we don't "need" kids to keep the population up. We don't "need" them as old-age security. A hundred years ago or so, things were different, and raising a family provided a kind of mutual security that could override personal differences. But today...we know that things are different, and that knowledge makes all the difference. It opens a choice that's a door, that says if things get too bad we can just leave. And can they ever get bad! Babies are cute, but they grow into scheming opportunists who won't hesitate to play one spouse against the other to get their way. We're hard-wired to be sympathetic to our children, and it's too easy to fall into the trap of taking a child's side against a spouse whom you may feel is being unreasonable. Start down this road, and you'll fins more and more to dislike about the person to whom you owe your first allegiance...your spouse.
Take a chance, you may be thinking. You can always correct a mistake through divorce.

Wrong. You can end a marriage through divorce, but it corrects nothing. Divorce leaves you with the eternal need for self-justification at the beginning of any new relationship, and with a stigma. Divorced men are viewed askance as a risky proposition, and divorced women are often seen as failures - especially, and worst of all, by themselves. It takes a lot of arm-waving to get through that bottleneck, if indeed you can.

Live together first? Nice try. One of the biggest stresses in marriage is the formal commitment. You're there because you have said you would be, you took a vow, and leaving is not a casual exercise,

But if you live with someone, it's kind of an extended date. You can leave, any time, with no real consequences. That puts a couple on their best behavior, and the personal dislocation that comes with marriage comes as a rude shock.

Why should  you marry?

Simple. One reason.

You should marry the person without whose company life would be unthinkable.

You should marry the person whom, if you turned away, you would spend the rest of your life looking for in crowds.

You should marry the person you'd still love even while you hated them.

You should marry the person who you wouldn't mind seeing you at your weakest, and at your worst.

We all feel braver in the evening, and more cowardly at dawn. If you can look at married life in the cold light of a new day, and still say, "I want that!", you've found the mate God made for you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Jesus' Three Tips for Time Management

There are almost as many books about time management as there are about relationships.

And still we struggle with it. It seems that every new addition to our accumulated wisdom are just more words, and we have a surplus.

How are we supposed to manage time, anyway? What's the secret?

Jesus has some answers, and He can give us guidance...if we'll let Him. He's waiting, so over to Jesus...

  • Take the time you need, and don't be pushed - When the elders were about to stone the woman accused of adultery, they asked Jesus about the issue, hoping to trap Him in an inconsistency. They knew that He knew that they were baiting Him, and they wanted a quick, unguarded answer they could use against Him. They didn't get it. Jesus ignored them at first, just drawing patterns in the sand. When he was ready, He answered.
  • Let things develop - when He was told that Lazarus was dying, everyone expected Jesus to rush to His friend's side. But Jesus delayed, and arrived four days after Lazarus' death. He knew what everyone else did not, that Lazarus had to be in the tomb for at least three days for his raising to be the real deal, since Jewish custom held that the soul stayed in the body for three days after death.Up to three days, raising Lazarus was cool, yes, but not necessarily a miracle - he might only have been in a coma. But four days...that was a miracle, and it needed time to become possible.
  • Know when to leave - when an angry crowd was about to grab Jesus and beat, stone, and otherwise do him harm, He walked through them and left. In the nick of time? Yes, but He knew that it was time to go. How often have you seen people linger over the cold ashes of a dead conversation, or before the blank walls of a concluded negotiation? When it's done, it's done, and you just need to move on.
They say that three bullet points on a Powerpoint slide is the most you should include, and I'll follow that guidance here.

It's in your hands now, and it's time for me to go.,

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Efficient, Effective, and Victorious

Every year, it seems we have more to do, less time to do it, and a goalpost that seems to get further away every time we look.

Sometimes you don't even want to look. It's all just too much, too far, too far away.

I wish there were a magic bullet, some formula that would tighten up and speed up your efforts, so that the goals would fall, one by one, and you'd be able to say, "Was that all there was to it?"

No magic bullet, but there are some things you can do that will help make your efforts more efficient and effective, and will bring victories within your grasp.

  • Break it down - break down tasks into smaller pieces, with defined goals. Take vacuuming the house - think of it as a room-by-room project, and when you finish each room, acknowledge the fulfillment of that goal.
  • Set it up - set things up beforehand, so you can start working on a task when you decide to turn your hand to it. I feed 26 dogs every day; after feeding. the dishes are cleaned and set up for the next day, so when it's feeding time I can just grab them and go. If I'd leave them disorganized in the evening, facing feeding with the need to clean the dishes beforehand would make the job that much harder.
  • Avoid mission creep - once you've defined a task, don't let it become a Christmas Tree...don't let other 'stuff' get added to it. When you vacuum, then just vacuum. Don't add dusting to the immediate job.
  • Mark the finish line - when you finish a sub-task, take a short break as a reward. You may not feel you deserve a reward, but it's not just about a pat on the back. It's about drawing a line through an item on the to-do list, and looking forward - a small 'celebration' has been shown to be the most effective way to do this.
  • Do the dirty work first - almost everything we do has aspects we don;t like, and would prefer not to fave.The natural instinct is to put them off, and that's exactly the wrong thing to do. The shadow of the dirty job will hang over everything you do like a raincloud, slowing you down...because you subconsciously don't want to get there and have to face the nastiness. Instead, do the bad stuff as soon as you can, you you can realize - with relief - that you won;t have to face that job again anytime soon.
  • Visualize victory - plant a mental picture of the work done, and done well. Reinforce that image at every opportunity, because 'seeing it, attracts it'.
  • Celebrate victory - this one's about you. When you finish the major job - vacuuming the whole house, writing the novel, pulling the stumps from the yard - treat yourself to something nice. Give yourself a gift, and a break. It ends things on a high note, and that height will give you more scope and energy for the next job.
These are simple things, and won't add time to your task list. But they can make it a lot more satisfying, and satisfaction is a great climate for success.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Seven Ways to Improve Your Marriage in 2014

Most of us want the New Year to be a fresh start in our lives. The old calendar, with all of its notes and appointments and reminders of things that didn't go well is pitched, and a new one, fresh with possibilities, hangs in its place/

We usually look at change in ourselves, but why not try for a change for the better in your marriage?

It's not hard. You don't need grand gestures,or a dozen roses every night. There's an old song..."Little Things mean a Lot"...and it's nowhere more true than in marriage.

So here we go...
  • Pray for your spouse daily - take a minute (yes, 60 seconds) to pray specifically for your mate's happiness and comfort. Visualize good things coming their way, and ask the Almighty to guide their steps.
  • Start the day with physical affection - take the time for a hug and kiss, first thing. It's become fashionable to say that our lives are so hectic that we "just have time to wave at each other as we pass", but we make the decision to allow this. So...we can make the decision to stop, and say, with our arms and lips, "I love you".
  • Surrender the remote - if you watch TV together, try this...pick up the remote and hand it to your spouse with a smile, and sit down to watch whatever's selected, without any sort of negative comment. It's a sign of trust, and while you may have to sit through a few hours of NASCAR or Downton Abbey, you'll soon find that your mate's having to take the responsibility for the selection will bring up entertainment that you'll both enjoy.
  • Give thanks- how often have you said "thank you" to your spouse for doing what they do every day? When the trash is taken out - give thanks. When they're going out the door to work - thank them for that. Recognize what your mate does. We all want to be special, and this is one way to make them feel just that.
  • Give praise - give compliments freely, and in unexpected places. If you never say much about what your husband wears, saying "you look nice today" can leave him thinking about what you said for hours.(something to which he'll never admit!).If your wife does the cooking, don't just say that it was delicious after the meal. Say it smells nice, or looks appetizing before you eat.
  • Give gifts - put small, thoughtful 'just because' presents where your mate will find them as a surprise. Things like a favorite candy bad, or a magazine that contains an article they'll find interesting. It doesn't have to be huge - just focused on your spouse's happiness.
  • Anticipate needs - change the roll of toilet paper, replace the shampoo when it's getting low, and make sure the refrigerator always has what your spouse likes best. Make your mate feel like there's someone who's watching out for them - you!
These action items take little time, and once you get into the habit, not much thought. But they'll pay dividends in a brighter and happier life together.

And that will last a lifetime.

Friday, January 3, 2014

When Bad Things Happen to the Very Nice You

Some people seem to have a charmed life. Everything they touch goes well, every investment pays off, every relationship brings joy.

Their children are perfect, and their parents are healthy into old age.

And they never get sick, aside from a fashionable case of tennis elbow.

And as for the rest of us...stuff just seems to happen. We totter from absurdity to disaster, and sometimes we balance on the brink of a terrifying abyss, signposted 'bankruptcy' or 'cancer' or 'the house just burned down'.

Bad things happen to nice people. Including us. Is there anything we can do to prepare, to make it easier? Is there a metaphysical surfboard that will allow us to ride over the waves of adversity?

Sure. It's called The Bible.

I'm not going to jawbone on the prosperity gospel (Jesus was RICH!) or tell you God's favor will keep you safe from cancer and get you the best parking places at the mall. Jesus wasn't rich, and God has better things to do than deliver you the most convenient place to put your Yugo.

Bad things happened to people in the Bible.
  • Abel was murdered by his brother
  • Noah was a laughingstock...until the rains didn't stop
  • Hagar and Ishmael were sent out into the desert, to live or die...it didn't really matter to anyone except God
  • Ruth and Naomi were widowed, and left their homes to become gleaners, picking up wheat that the harvesters missed (a step above going through trash cans...I think)
  • Jesus was tortured to death at the age of 33
  • Stephen was killed by people throwing rocks at him
  • Peter was crucified...upside down.
  • Paul was beheaded after a long trip to Rome
I'm not including Job because he was something of a test case - what happened to him was deliberate.

In looking over this list, you should get an idea...Abel, dead; Jesus, dead (but not for long); Stephen, Peter, Paul...dead, dead, dead. After going through a lot of pain.

They did not get Double for their Trouble, at least not on Earth.

Following Jesus, we are promised a Cross of our own, and persecution. You may take this to mean the following:

If you haven't been tortured to death, you're ahead of the game.

Yes, you'll have trials.

But you also have a God who braced the faith of the heroes of Christianity as they faced the unspeakable.

We have a God who died horribly, so that Death would be defeated and that, in the end, we'd have nothing to fear.

If you're going to survive death, can anything else really be all that bad?