Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Two Stances in Building Relationships

Sometimes I consider myself a golfer, and regardless of how well I play, I really enjoy the sport. I’ll play 10-15 times a year, and there are occasional holes where I think that I am a decent player. One of my main complaints about this as a hobby is the amount of time that it takes away from my wife and kids. I’m typically limited to vacation golf, 9-holes after work, or the rare tee time early Saturday morning with a friend.

A few weeks ago I asked Stephanie, my wife, to go play golf with me for our weekly date. She is not a golfer, but she got really excited about getting to drive a golf cart, and doing something different on our date night. We had a blast together. I felt loved that she’d want to spend time with me doing something I really enjoy, she felt loved that we’d been adventurous on our date night. It was a win-win.

It later occurred to me how important it is for us to have something we can do together that is beyond our day-to-day lifestyle. We had kids within the first 2 years of marriage, and our normal interactions quickly swayed to become kid-centric. Part of what was so nice about playing golf that evening was that we were able to spend time together in a very different setting. We usually relate and date face-to-face, but playing golf was a shoulder-to-shoulder experience.

Men typically build relationships through doing things alongside another person. In a shoulder-to-shoulder setting, both parties are next to each other facing a common goal, problem, or activity. We usually need a sport, event, or job to make a connection with someone. Not that it always happens this way, but need shared experiences to deepen relationships. One of the reasons for this is our capacity for intimacy. While we have the same need and capacity as women, it usually takes a longer time to develop.

Patricia Love and Steven Stosny in their book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It explain research that proves male babies have a harder time holding the gaze of their mother than do female babies. There’s an intensity to intimacy that men have a difficulty with in large doses. Women, however, typically build relationships face-to-face. This face-to-face setting means that sitting across from one another in a living room is the only context needed for relationships to happen. Experiences bring women together as well, but they don’t need an event or sport in order to connect.

It’s pretty typical, perhaps even a bit cliche’, for a couples’ date night to be dinner and a movie. The reason this works so well is that it addresses both types of relational experiences: Dinner is face-to-face, and the movie is shoulder-to-shoulder. It is really important for couples to tend to the relational needs of both the husband and the wife. This may seem like a fairly simple idea, but the practice can become challenging over time.

This is an important concept for couples to understand. Men and women process relationships and intimacy differently. The quality of time spent together needs to be rationed to both his and her relational needs. I’m a huge advocate of consistent date nights for couples. Creating experiences that allow for both the fact to face and should to shoulder will go a long way in keeping both relational needs addressed.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Withholding Judgment

Early on in my career as a couples therapist, I saw countless couples who would come into my office, sit on my couch, and launch in to attacks against one another. These early days highlighted that I did not know what to do with a couple who was instantly and constantly judging each other. I read some books and found some resources that were quite helpful. These efforts culminated when I found another professional offering a class on an approach to help couples to practice relating to each other based on a non-judgmental stance. It was helpful for me as a professional, but also in my own marriage.

There’s rarely a worse experience in a relationship than to feel judged by someone we deeply care about. Judgements are those beliefs about another person that suggest they are only out for themselves. Our judgements show up in our need to label things or people as good/bad, right/wrong, and worthless/worthwhile.

However, there are some benefits of judgements in life. They allow us to make quick decisions by creating manageable categories for people or objects. Our preferences can often be explained by our judgements. When dealing with inanimate objects, judgements are a well developed tool. The problem with judgements is when they are directed towards people, especially those closest to us.

Relationships cannot thrive when one or both parties are fluent in judging. When we judge, we are building our case against the other person and cease observing objectively. This posture often comes from our need to be safe. Because of this need, we will seek out threats and dangerous situations that are not safe. In close relationships, the other person can easily be seen as a threat because they are not as concerned with my safety as they are with their own.

Approaching someone with a posture of compassion takes practice, intentionality, and a great degree of selflessness. This approach will also provide the greatest hope of providing intimacy, connection, and relational safety. It is also the scariest. Compassion first requires that we are aware of our own judgements.

Once aware of a judgmental stance, ask yourself these questions:

  • “What is the desired outcome of this situation?”
  • “Is my judgmental posture helping or hurting me?”
  • “If I were in his/her shoes, how would I feel about these judgements?”

The reality is that none of us know exactly what is happening in the others head. We can assume what their implications, motivations, and insinuations are in the statements they make, but ultimately we have to trust that they will tell us the truth. If we don’t trust that the other person is being forthright, we are going to be prone to judge.

Here are some steps to practice approaching your partner with a nonjudgmental posture. Instead of saying aloud or internally, “you just want…,” or, “you’re really saying this…,” exchange these judgmental statements with statements of preference such as, “I like,” or, “I hope,” or, “I wish.” Speak about yourself, not the other person. Ask clarifying questions that help you to see reality from the others’ perspective.

Practice letting what is, be what it is. Let the facts be the facts, don’t add emotions on top of the facts to create something bigger. For example, if a husband hears his wife say “you’re a failure!” when she reminded him for the 3rd time to take out the trash, the husband needs to tend to the reality of the situation. Take the trash out and then ask questions about her statements towards him to confirm what he heard. It might sound something like this: “When you said, ‘John, for the last time, take out the trash!’ I heard you say that I am a failure of a husband. Is that what you meant?” The wife can then clarify. Assuming that he is a failure will not do either of them any good.

Approaching others with a spirit of openness is a risky, but rewarding stance. Conversely, if we approach others with a spirit of judgment, it’s likely that we will be creating plenty of reasons for why the relationship will ultimately fail. It’s impossible to build connections when there is a fear of unnecessary judgments.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Jesse Take the Wheel

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: Wives are terrified of their husbands driving behaviors. Just a few months ago a couple sat in my office and the wife was almost in tears about the trip from their home to my office. They were running a few minutes late, the husband was upset with his wife for not being ready on time, and thus drove in a very careless manner. He, of course, did not see it this way.

The most common rebuttal I hear men use to defend their driving ability: How many times have I gotten in a wreck? This was the exact response the husband said to his wife during their drive to my office after she asked him to slow down. He was not going to change his ways. The message was clear: I will continue driving this way regardless of how you feel about it.

I’ve been guilty of this behavior, and of using this excuse. My rationale is that Stephanie, my wife, should have no reason to be afraid of me driving because I’ve got an incredibly glowing record on the road. During our 12 years together, I’ve gotten 1 ticket and only been in one minor fender bender (I’ll refrain from defending either occurrence).

The problem is, despite my great driving record, I’m paying more attention to my perceived abilities than I am her fears. This is the definition of arrogance. Sure, some of her fears are bigger than what I’m causing, but the moment that I began to slow down a bit and not drive so close to other cars is about the same time that she began to relax on our trips together. It’s no coincidence that her fears are near zero now that I’ve chilled out driving.

Our call as husbands is to love and care for the places in our wives that are insecure. I’m not sure why it is this way, but driving fast excites men and terrifies women. This is a perfect setup for there to be conflict.

We men are driving precious cargo: Our kids, wife, and ourselves. The way we drive is a direct connection to how well we care for that cargo. If we are driving carelessly, we are placing a judgment of little value on those we claim to love the most.

The majority of the time we are driving alone. No one is there to tell us to slow down, stop texting, checking ESPN, or reading twitter. But these are the moments that we need to be the most aware of the impact our lives have on those around us. If you end up in a coma or six feet under, her fears will be confirmed. All it takes is one accident to nullify your illustrious driving career.

I’m constantly on the lookout for the ideas around relationships that make logical sense and have a high rate of return. Sometimes in my search for the ever elusive “easy button” (I blame Staples) I miss out on the true easy opportunities to love my wife. Surprising, I know. When I realized that the way I drive is like me writing a love letter to my wife, I began paying very close attention.

There are hundreds of practical ways that we men can love our wives. Some of these efforts take hours, some only take a few moments. Changing your driving habits might cost you 4-5 minutes per day. Spending these 4-5 minutes as an extra investment of love will yield great results.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Marriage as the First Child

There is no doubt; having a child is one of the greatest and most terrifying moments in life. It is one of the most electrifying times that produces crazy amounts of anxiety, adrenaline, and joy. And that’s just from the guy’s perspective. Despite this reality with a baby, when the first child arrives it is a couples’ second offspring. Let me explain.

In college, two of my best friends, who were also my roommates, got married within a week of each other. I had the honor of being the best man for both of them, which might help to explain some of my surprise (and hurt) that they essentially disappeared from life after the wedding. It was as if they’d moved to a different state altogether. I’d expected them to be less social after they got married, but nothing to the extent that I experienced.

Fast forward a little over a year later, I’d been married for a few months, and I realized why my good friends disappeared after they got married: They had created something new, fragile, and precious. They weren’t parents, but in tying the knot, together as husband and wife they created a new relationship that was bigger than their individual lives could hold alone. I saw this in my marriage as well. Here was a union that Stephanie, my wife, and I had created that now required our attention and care.

When a marriage is born, much like a baby, it takes a similar level of attention, commitment, and care. If we treat our young marriage as though it is one that’s been around for 20 years, we’re likely going to fail in many ways.

Love is a choice, as is commitment, and both are a process. This process happens over time as we hold tightly to someone or something that we care deeply about. The infancy stage of love is motivated primarily by underdeveloped fear. If I don’t hold on tight enough, something terrible might happen. Now as a dad of four, I can safely say that I have some ideas about what it takes to care for an infant child. It took me struggling through the first two to get to this stage, and only through this struggle did I gain confidence about how to be a dad.

Similarly, I am confident as a husband because I have struggled mightily through the early stages of our marriage relationship. Just as parents understand the frailty of their children, I understand the frailty of a relationship. One look at an infant and it’s easy to see that they would not fare well on their own.

Marriages are no different. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but many marriages do. The trap is to believe that once a commitment is made, the relationship will coast into glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a baby needs an adult mother and father, so too do marriages need an adult husband and wife. This adulthood, maturity, can take shape in a couple of different ways.

For one, couples are wise to search out mentors to walk through life together. These mentors need to be a couple that has been through a couple of rounds of hardships together and can be far enough down the road so as to provide wisdom and perspective. These are couples who will be available to meet with you late at night when that time comes. These are not friends, they are guides, sherpas. An older couple might be the difference between a successful and failed marriage.

Another way this concept plays out is that the husband and wife take care of the marriage together. Viewing the relationship as it’s own entity creates unity and togetherness that can offer a unique experience. When the relationship is faltering, viewing it as a co-created entity allows for the responsibility of care to be had by both parties. The opposite way of doing this creates a fertile ground for the blame-game: Finding the “bad guy” who is responsible for the screw up.

Marriages are in danger for a variety of reasons. Viewing your marriage as your first child will create opportunities for your relationship to thrive. Furthermore, it will also provide a context for parenting together if and when that day comes.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Just One Point

I did good. It was my wife’s 30th birthday, and I had the ultimate celebration for her.

We were in our first year of grad school in Seattle, thousands of miles away from friends and family. She was a bit homesick, and just beginning to understand that any season other than Summer means lots of grey skies and rain.

I arranged for some of her closest friends to send her a teacup that was unique to her, and write a note explaining the selection. On her birthday morning, the kids and I setup a tea party and she unwrapped a dozen teacups to complete the setup. It was glorious, and I was feeling quite proud of myself. She felt celebrated and all was well for that day.

I felt like I’d earned the mother lode of “points.” You know, “points” being the relational banking system (which I’m sure was created by men, for men) that illustrate how much one cares for another person. I was convinced that I’d proven my dad’s theory wrong that men can only earn one point per day with their wife.

If you’re not familiar with the point system, it’s pretty simple. Regardless of how great the act of service, expensive the gift, or sacrificial the behavior: Men earn one single point that says they loved their wife well. This point is non-transferable, expires at midnight, and cannot be redeemed on any other day than the day it was earned. It’s somewhat of a joke in our family that even if a husband buys his wife a diamond ring, he only earns a single point. It’s only funny because it is true.

This illustrates one of the great challenges men face in relationships. We want to fix, which is rooted in our nature that we are made for work. Fixing is a part of the drive that men use to make their mark on this world. Intuitively, men know that there is an infinite amount of work that is required in relationships. Searching for that elusive multiple-point gift or act is an ever present goal.

If there were such a gift or act that could solve the relational demands of a marriage, it would reduce marriage into an objective. This objective is what we men say we want, but it’s not what we are made for. The reality is that men don’t want to spend all day working in their jobs to then come home and do more work in their relationship. As a man, I don’t find fault in this desire but I do understand the challenges it presents in relationships. The mystery of a relationship is what creates the context for marriage.

Marriage is a divine mystery, and is something that we unknowingly admit when we get married. We join in this ceremony of matrimony that is far greater and bigger than the two people gathered at the alter. If the goal is to solve this mystery, it requires a view of marriage that is centered around a need we all, men and women, have for ultimate security. There is little security in a mystery, conversely there is little security in marriage. The security we hope to have is worked for and earned, which gives credence to the truth of the “point system.”

Many studies have shown that lottery winners end up worse off because of the wealth they luckily won. They no longer need to work, thus they no longer have purpose. Similarly, earning a lifetime of points in marriage would create an absence of work, an absence of purpose. Instead of hoping to earn multiple points in marriage, we men need to view the process of “earning points” with our wives as a process of getting to know them better. Not for the sake of arriving, but for the process of the journey.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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The Power of Words

We all remember those times in middle school, around the age of 13, when friends could become enemies in an instant. There was one such time for me in eighth grade. As a shy, do-gooder, and socially conservative kid, I was rarely seen by my friends as a threat or a bother. However, one of my supposed good friends accused me of back-stabbing him by ratting him out to another friend. I had done no such thing, and was quite taken aback when this friend shoved me into a trash can and called me a rat.

I was devastated. It was the first fight I’d gotten in (and it wasn’t much of a fight), and the first time and I’d been accused of being someone I wasn’t. Eighth grade is a cruel time of life, and this was my wakeup call. To this day, I can still remember the feeling of being shoved, called a name, and laughed at by those surrounding me. It’s not painful today, but it is still etched in my memory.

Kids are especially susceptible to taking on the influence of name-calling as they are still in the formative years of their development, both physically and emotionally. The reality is that even though adults are out of their formational years, name-calling is still just as painful.

I’ve never understood the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” When I said it as a kid, it always felt hollow despite the promise of immunity from an older friend. The truth is that sticks and stones AND words will hurt me.

Words can be as sharp as a two-edged sword, as pointed as a dagger; they are as deadly to the soul as any weapon. The great news is that just as words can be used to cause harm, so too can they be used to heal.

For instance, name-calling is one way that we can inflict harm upon someone else. Saying that someone is stupid, an idiot, or other names that I won’t mention here, is in effect an act of violence. Sometimes being hurt by someone is so painful that we resort to name-calling. In effect, we use derogative names to get the other person to feel as hurt as we do.

Harmful words from someone who professes love to us is like a friend offering poisoned water to a thirsty person. It’s a violation of trust, love, and respect. It’s also immature. Children call each other names; not adults.

In the same way that names can be harmful, they can also be healing. We have all been called names by those from our past. Some of us even refer to those names as the gold-standard in our lives. We’re a living library catalogue of words and names people have given us. Some of these names deeply affect our present lives.Trusted friends or a partner can help us to rename ourselves.

Some questions to ask yourself, and a loved one, as you consider this topic.

  • In what ways have I been named, helpfully and/or harmfully?
  • In what ways have I named others, helpfully and/or harmfully? Do I need to make amends for this?
  • What needs do I have from those closest to me in this area?
  • What needs do those closest to me have for me?

One final thought. When the fall happened to Adam and Eve many years ago, nothing was left unaffected. Words are some of the most precious gifts we have in life because it is how we explain and tell others who we are and what we need. One day the brokenness of words, and specifically of names, will also be redeemed. This is the day that we look forward to as a beacon for how to be present today. Be mindful of this and the impact on your choice of words.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Four Conversations to Visit Regularly

My wife, Stephanie, and I just celebrated our 12th anniversary. Some days it feels as though we’ve been married for decades, and there are still times that I look at her and wonder who she is and what she’s doing in my life. I often think that I hardly know her. During our first few years of marriage, we spent regular time asking each other important questions about life. It was part of the rhythm that we adopted to learn more about each other.

Just this past holiday season on a family trip out West, Stephanie and I spent a few hours asking and answering questions about each other during our drive (we got a “road trip” kit that provided activities for the kids and the adults alike). It was a refreshing exercise to get us back into discussing some parts about each other that have not be regular conversations we have.

Like that infamous “new car smell”, the newness and excitement in marriage can easily wear off. Without an intentional approach to pursuing the other person, couples will grow distant. As I look back on our 12 years together, there are four conversations and questions that regularly surface for us: Sex; Money; Dreams/Desires; and Love language. These are excellent and challenging topics to keep couples connected and engaged in each others lives.

Sex
Outside of the bedroom, and not always in a romantically inclined situation, ask and talk to your spouse about your sex life together. Too often we express sexual needs only in the moment, and not proactively. This is a challenging topic because there is often so much shame associated with sex. Where there is shame, there is hiding. The goal here is to first and foremost be an proactive participant in your sexual relationship. Secondly, conversing will slowly and methodically bring sex to the table as a comfortable and unashamed topic. Doing this requires that sex not be a topic that is only expressed, it also must be discussed. Talk about needs, wants, and desires. Talk about what is comfortable for you, and what isn’t. Set boundaries, and respect each others’ needs in this area.

Money
Not only is money one of the most divisive topics in marriage, but it’s also the most difficult aspects of life to handle. Money puts a spotlight on our drive and passion, desires, habits, and what we find most important. Money is tangible evidence of where our values are aimed. Spending regular time to discuss money will help to weed out the potential traps that come when money gets scarce. These conversations can take place in the form of a monthly or bi-weekly budget meeting (which I highly recommend), or they can be conversations about what to do with a windfall, if you win the lottery, or what you want to save your money for. Regardless of how you talk about it, talk about money at least once a month.

Dreams, hopes, desires
In a similar light to money, discuss the passions you have for life. Explore old childhood memories of wanting to be a pilot, astronaut, or dancer. It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane aspects of life and forget to spend time dreaming about the future. If we do not talk about what our goals and dreams are, we will become bored and numb-out to life. Everyone has a dream, the questions is will you risk going for it. These conversations are both exploratory and accountability with your spouse. Name your dreams to each other, set goals, and help each other.

Here’s a way to do this: Take a couple of hours together one night and do the following: Get 2 poster boards from the school supply section at the store, get some magazines (as a side note, play the game “what are they getting ready to say” as you flip through the magazine and see people’s picture). Go home and spend an hour putting together a “dream board.” Cut and paste pictures, words, and ideas from the magazines onto the poster board that represent things that you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years. After each of you are done with this, talk about your board with the other person.

How do you feel loved
Occasionally, 2-3 times per year, on our weekly date I will ask Stephanie how she has felt loved by me lately. It’s a simple question that invites her to share with me aspects of her life that feel meaningful to me. One of my goals as a husband is for my wife to know through experience that I love and care for her. I don’t want to rely on my words as the evidence of this, rather I want her to have tangible experiences she can remember.

This question also serves as an opportunity for Stephanie to share some areas where she wants me to improve. Rarely have we gotten into a fight after these conversations because I’m ready for the feedback and critique when I ask this question. I don’t ask this when I’m not able to hear her responses.

These four conversations topics can be setup in such a way that every month you follow a similar routine. Perhaps take one of these topics per week, and make it a regular part of your lives together. Don’t let the routine of Facebook, TV, sporting events, or other ways of checking out stand in the way of growing closer together with your spouse.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Show Me the Money

Sex get’s most of the hype as the big conversation topic prior to getting married. This is probably because, in general, sex is a lot more enjoyable to practice than any of the other issues a couple might face. With that said, the issue of money will usually be a more divisive topic than sex throughout a couples’ marriage.

Money will usually come up more than sex because we deal with it every day. The limitations placed on us in life are generally most evident when we look at our checking register.

So, what needs to be discussed about money prior to getting married? I’m glad you asked, because there’s plenty to cover. Before this conversation is had with your significant other, agree to be curious and graceful with one another. This is not a light-hearted topic. The below list is not an exhaustive list of questions and topics, but is meant to set the table for which to have an ongoing conversation about money.

Family history of money

What were the financial aspects of growing up? Everyone comes from someone, and everyone is shaped by the way that their family of origin handled their money. Some questions to consider here: What was important for your family? What or Where did they spend their money? What was their philosophy on saving, giving, and debt? Did you ever feel pressured to spend or not spend mom/dad’s money? Did money get talked about, and was this appropriate?

Purpose of money

Believe it or not, we all have very different ideas about what money is to be used for. Some view money as a security blanket, shielding them from the harsh realities of life. Some might view it as a fleeting object, to be spent when you have it. Can money buy happiness? What is the purpose and meaning of money?

Personal stories with money

What are the three to five most influential acts you’ve done that have had to do with money.? This could be a poor decision that resulted in a hardship (like the time I bought a pager when I was 16 so that my work, a shoe store, could get a hold of me — I spent hundreds of dollars on that pager and maybe received a total of 10 pages). On the other side, this could be a gift made to someone in need. Regardless, we all have stories about how and what we have done with money that reflect some of who we are.

Financial truths today

What are the financial details of your current situation? What is your salary, bonuses, commissions, etc? How much money do you have in savings, retirement, checking accounts, etc? What about debts, student loans, car notes, etc? What’s your credit story (if I pulled your credit report, what story would it tell)? Is there anything that you would change about the way you deal with money today?

Financial hopes tomorrow

One of the great aspects of getting married is that we get a chance to start fresh with some areas that we might not have handled well in the past. Money is one of those opportunities.

Do you anticipate both husband and wife working outside of the home indefinitely? How do the prospect of kids influence this decision? How do you want to handle saving, spending, retirement, college, etc?

If both husband and wife are working at the beginning of marriage, how do you want to harness the power of two incomes? A lot of times couples increase their standard of living once two incomes are put into the pot. I always suggest keeping the same standard of lifestyle for the first year, and then adjust as you see fit. Having more money in the bank will generally provide a safer place from which to have discussions about money together.

Beyond these topics that help you to address the past, present, and future, I suggest putting some boundaries in place that help couples succeed in their financial marriage. Firstly, once married do not have separate checking accounts. Open a joint account as soon as possible, and begin paying everything together from that account. Secondly, have bi-weekly and monthly budget meetings. Lastly, dream big. Talk about vacations, cars, trips, and home decor. Do some fun things together with money, and make your money work for you.

Money can be an incredible force in marriage. If you begin having these conversations today, you can set the table for your marriage to have healthy views and interactions about money. Be intentional with each other in talking about money, it will pay off.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Three Ways to Grow Trust and Deepen Intimacy

There’s a simple formula that I use with clients in my counseling practice: Get you, be you, give you. This is the life process of maturing, and is a helpful mantra to live by. The problems occur when we try and do this formula in reverse, because one can’t give what one doesn’t have. We first must learn who we are before we can give.

This truth applies to marriages as well: We must first understand us (get me), then we can be us (be me), finally we can give (give us). The marriage is a combination of two uniquely individual people, and it is hard work to develop trust and intimacy. Relationships will not survive without trust and intimacy. Couples may stay together for the rest of their lives because of the commitment, but may never experience the redemption of trust and intimacy. With this in mind, here are three avenues that will grow trust and deepen intimacy in your relationship.

Date Night (Get Us)

Dates are one of the best ways that couples can engage to learn about themselves and each other. Anecdotally, one of the great regrets that I have about our newlywed years (first 3-4 years of marriage) is that we got sidetracked from dating one another. Our rationale (which was probably more of mine than hers) was that we were now spending so much more time together than we did when we were dating and engaged. This was both true and false.

It is true that the newlywed couple spends more time together, but often the quality of time spent is not as it was dating. It’s why I often hear spouses lament about the wish to return to the dating years. Having a regular and consistent date night can alleviate this dilemma. Date your wife. Ask her questions on the date to help you get to know her better. Questions like:

  • What can I do to make you feel more loved; valued; joyful; secure; and/or confident in the future? What character trait would you like for me to develop?
  • What attribute would you like for me to help you develop?
  • What goal would you like us to work towards together?
  • What would indicate to you that I really desire to grow?
  • How have you felt the most/least loved by me?

Find A New Community (Be Us)

Before getting married, most couples have already been living in a town/city and will return there after the wedding. It presents some unique challenges to transition from a single to married lifestyle. New habits and routines will change the way some old relationships function. This can be a frustration for newlyweds. Pressure to maintain old relationships out of loyalty can stress the building of the marriage relationship.

Finding a new community brings several benefits. For one, it offers both husband and wife the ability to be apart of the community building experience. Both spouses get a voice that will help to shape who and where the couple will spend their time.

Secondly, new relationships will usually result in new personal information. Longstanding relationships have built-in assumptions. Because familiarity is so normal, new data about a person doesn’t happen as frequently. By initiating new relationships, couples will have chances to hear and learn more about each other.

Lastly, new communities bring new opportunities. Charlie Jones said “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” Growth doesn’t happen by staying still. Read new books, and meet new people, together.

Find Service Opportunities (Give Us)

Finding and new community along with consistent date nights will give you and your husband a great groundwork from which to give. Giving will bring new levels of joy and intimacy to your relationship. You’ll rarely get to see the side of your spouse as you will when you serve together. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it is. There is something about giving that brings out both our darkness and brightness. Ultimately, we cannot truly love someone until we have seen both.

This can take many different directions. You could serve at your church in the nursery, at the local soup kitchen, or in your neighbors yard. It also looks like parenting. Serving now before you have kids will be a great exercise in training. Having kids is the ultimate act of service, and is not natural in us.

In year four of our marriage, my wife and I began relationships with other pre-married couples who were close to getting married. We built relationships with them so that they’d have someone a few steps down the road from them giving guidance.

These are just a few examples of what can lead to growth and intimacy in marriage. If you will commit to accomplishing each of these in the next year, you and your marriage will grow. It might not take the path of growth you thought it would, but it will grow.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Two Words That Don’t Belong in Marriage

On average, women speak around 25,000 words per day. Men clock in at around 10,000 words per day on average. This is pretty fascinating in and of itself, and is great knowledge to have as you and yours navigate communication. Regardless if this is true of you and yours or not, of the thousands of words used on a daily basis, there are two that do not belong in marriage: Happy and Divorce.

These two words will erode the faith and trust that you will work so hard to establish in each other. I have worked with couples who use the word divorce like it was a trusted friend. It permeates their conversations and serves as a road block for them to ever get to the core of their marital problems.

The reason, among others, this word does not belong in relationships is that divorce is an act of destruction. There is no way to candy-coat the reality that is presented with a divorce. If you’ve ever built something and then torn it down or apart, you know that it takes a fraction of the time to tear down than it does to build. The same is true of marriage. It takes years and years of effort and energy to build a foundation of trust, love, and service but only a few moments of ill-timed action to destroy that which was built.

Don’t use “divorce.“ Too often I hear the word divorce used to manipulate and coerce. One of the couples I referenced above was so immune to the effects of this word that even the manipulation had worn off. My first advice to them: Eliminate the word divorce from their vocabulary. You cannot build something when the foundation or end result is in question.

Divorce may seem like an impossibility, but one look at the divorce rate will be sobering. As part of your marriage covenant and commitment, commit to never use the word divorce unless you are willing to follow through with what that means. By follow through, I mean to say that if you do use it you will act accordingly, and be accountable to your use. Do not use it as a threat. If you are hurt, lonely, angry, or sad, then speak to these emotions. Don’t hide behind a culturally acceptable way to escape from the pain and difficulty of life.

The other word that doesn’t belong in marriage is happy. Unlike the word divorce, happy is a word to describe a feeling and is usually not destructive in it’s use. The problem with the feeling of happy is that it’s unsustainable. There are moments and seasons of feeling happy, but it is not an attainable state of being. From a Christian standpoint, nowhere in the Bible are followers of God and Christ told that happiness is a result of faith. We are promised persecution, suffering, and sanctification, but not happiness.

Happiness is a symbol of mainstream culture and is often an idol. It’s an impaired state of joy. Happy is like being entertained and comes from consuming someone or something, whereas joy comes from the acceptance of our humanity and limitedness. Marriage is so heavily influenced by our culture that many get married with the belief, sometimes unconscious, that marriage will bring happiness.

“I’m not happy anymore” is the most common phrase I hear when couples separate and split up. It’s an epidemic. When people get married for happiness, they usually end up miserable or divorced. Disappointment on our own terms is much easier to deal with alone than with another person who was supposed to bring happiness.

Like setting a boundary for the word divorce, I encourage the same with the word happy. Instead of happy, use words like content, glad, joy, alive, desire, aroused, and passion. These all describe emotions that reflect a sense of being alive and awake to what’s stirring inside of us. The fulfilled life is not found through or in any man or woman today.

If it’s happiness you seek, do not get married. You will be disappointed. If it’s real joy, redemption, healing, and sanctification you seek, then marriage might be God’s place for you.

(This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)