Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

I get a lot of reader’s questions like this one:

I found out about my husband of 5 years had been addicted to porn and caught him by innocently searching through his photos on his phone while nursing my son in bed one morning.  I regularly asked to use his phone, so my looking through it was nothing unusual at all. The difference this time is he forgot to hide his stuff apparently this time. We have had MANY hard conversations since then. He’s been getting help, hasn’t looked at it since July (when I caught him) and has been genuinely turning his life around and back to the Lord.  Here’s my issue.  I still don’t trust him yet. I’ve forgiven him but trusting him again is something that takes a lot of work and time. We aren’t at that point yet. Is it possible to respect him without trust?  I do try but he doesn’t feel it anymore. I know it’s incredibly important to show respect and even biblical. I guess maybe I don’t know what respect truly is? I’m being the best I know how to be while feeling so broken but it doesn’t seem enough. Please help, I’m so confused.

And here is one woman’s answer to rebuilding trust after a porn addiction…welcome Jen Ferguson from Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood

I was in my bed sobbing uncontrollably.  The revelation hit me in the gut and never have I felt so alone as I did in that moment. The reality of my life hit me: I cannot trust anyone not to let me down.

Thankfully, with the new morning came new light into my darkness: No one is infallible. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. People will fail me, but this does not make all relationships destined for failure.

That wisdom right there seemed to right my sinking ship. Suddenly, I had gone from shipwrecked to being fortified with a grace I hadn’t known I was withholding from people in my life, primarily from my husband. For years we had battled together against his porn addictionNever did I consider divorce, but looking back at it, never did I consider living into the fullness of marriage again, either. For years I could not bear to think about trusting Craig again.

Could I ever stop my suspicions he would one day return to porn?  Would I ever be able to talk to him about his addiction without accusation and fear?  The truth was, I could give him my body in the bedroom, but could I ever truly again give him my heart?

Realizing my own fallibilities was the first step in helping me to rebuild trust in my husband. How many times had I hurt him over and over in the same manner?  I was not a white lamb in this relationship. My blemishes, though different than his, were still sins for which I needed forgiveness and grace. It was me that was placing his sin on a grander scale than my own. This was certainly not how God saw it.  Sin is sin.

Rebuilding trust was a dual effort for us. Yes, he had betrayed me by using pornography and needed to show me that he was actively pursing a life without it. But, truthfully, I had lost some of his trust, too. When I first discovered his porn addiction, I went into “control” mode. I watched over his every move. I accused him before listening to him. I became a parent instead of a spouse. I let my anger rule my words.  We both had to come to a place of acknowledging our own needs for forgiveness and recognize our marriage wouldn’t thrive without a foundation of trust.

Four Steps to Go from Ruin to Reunion

1. He communicates with me and I listen.

One of Craig’s major triggers that would propel him into his porn addiction cycle was stress.  When things felt too hard or too much, when he felt as though he was at risk for failing or rejection, he would shut me out and get lost in the world of porn for release and escape.  Before he really became invested in freedom, I would ask him questions, knowing something was wrong, and he would simply give me a pat answer like “things are busy at work.”  Now, he knows I know when something is bothering him and he is willing to sit down with me and be real and honest with what is happening and how he is responding to those situations.

2.  I respond with wisdom and he listens. 

One day, Craig’s friend invited him over to watch the TV show, Game of Thrones. I happened to see part of one episode the previous season and I knew there was nudity in it.  When I saw the invitation on Craig’s computer, my first reaction (that thankfully, I kept in my head) was “No! You can’t do that! It’s not good for you!”  If I had said that, I would have regressed back into my fear-based, parenting-like behavior, where he felt disrespected.  Instead, I simply told him how I thought the show might trigger him back into porn and asked him to pray about whether or not he should view the show. He ended up not going, not because I demanded him to stay home, but because God led him to the conclusion that it would not be conducive to his walk toward freedom. He felt respected by the fact that I asked him to fully consider the ramifications and seek God instead of shouting at him about what he should or shouldn’t do.

3.  He accepts accountability.

I know the password to all of Craig’s electronic devices and have permission at any time to view anything on them. There is a password on our cable account that restricts adult entertainment access and MA-rated television shows and movies that only I have (which he asked me to put on). He has a regular group of friends he can count on to pray for him and from whom he seeks counsel. All of these things give me tangible ways to see that he is trying to keep himself safe from things that could easily ensnare him.

4. We forgive each other continually.

We must make it a practice to forgive and extend grace. We will both mess up in a variety of ways, but instead of using these mistakes as ammunition against each other to try to prove that we are not trustworthy, we choose to use them so to practice the character of Jesus, who always extends forgiveness.

Rebuilding trust does not happen overnight and it can feel like an impossible goal, but with God, anything is possible. Trust is a crucial piece to your marriage and it will not thrive without it. God knows this and He will actively help you rebuild it. You’re not in it alone.

 

Jen FergusonJen Ferguson is passionate about Jesus, her husband, and her two girls. She is the facilitator of The Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood and loves to encourage women to bring their true selves out into the light.  She is the co-author of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.  

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have some marriage advice? Leave a comment, or link up a URL of your own Wifey Wednesday marriage post in the linky below!

This Wifey Wednesday we talk about how to rebuild when he’s the one who has sinned sexually. Next Wednesday we’ll look at how to rebuild trust when it’s been you–especially if you’ve been withholding sex, and now you want to change but your husband doesn’t trust you yet.



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Wifey Wednesday: My Husband Watches Nudity on TV

My husband watches nudity on TV--like Game of Thrones--what do I do? Some thoughts.

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today I thought I’d tackle a subject I get asked about a lot: what about nudity on TV? What do you do if your husband watches shows like Game of Thrones?

About a decade ago now my husband and I decided to start watching the HBO series Rome. Keith’s really into ancient history, and we heard that the series did a great job recreating what life would have been like. We watched the first episode and there was a LOT of sex and nudity. We fast forwarded through all those scenes.

By the second episode we realized we were fast forwarding a good half of the show. And the plotlines were really gross–a mom trying to “sell” her daughter to a man to be his wife; a 13-year-old being sold into sex slavery (and the actress looked 13, too). We just thought it was too gross and we never made it to episode 3.

What do you do, though, if your husband doesn’t share your views on this? One reader recently wrote me saying:

My husband is an avid TV watcher. He loves catching up on his shows and looks at his TV time as his “me” time. The TV itself, however, isn’t the problem. He doesn’t spend too much time watching TV and he doesn’t neglect his responsibilities or our family to do it. The problem that I am having with the TV shows right now is the content – specifically the graphic nudity that is in a good portion of the shows he is watching.

The thought of my husband seeing another woman naked makes me feel sick. He claims that when a naked woman comes on screen, he immediately looks away. While I am inclined to believe him, I’m still not comfortable with him seeing anyone other than me naked at all! This fight has become bitter and has permeated into our whole marriage, because he feels like I am trying to control him, and I feel like he is completely disregarding my feelings when he engages in these TV shows.

I guess my question is, what is the line when it comes to the things that we view on TV or in movies? Am I overreacting about the nudity, as long as he is not “lusting” after the naked woman? Should he respect my feelings and stop watching the shows, or should I stop being angry every time he watches them?

So let’s look at how to handle disagreements about what is okay to watch.

1. Pray that God will convict him that watching other naked women is wrong

I asked on my Facebook Page yesterday what people thought that she should do, and the number one answer was “pray”. Pray that God will convict him and show him it is wrong, and I do totally agree. When God convicts, it’s so much easier to quit. I read books and watched shows when I was younger that I never would now because my conscience wasn’t as sensitive. Pray that God will show him.

And give this some time–perhaps a few weeks–while you pray about how to react and how to prepare your own heart so you’re acting for his good and for the good of the marriage, not just out of anger.

I’ve been going through an odyssey with prayer lately in my own life, and let me tell you–when you decide to pray wholeheartedly for something, it is amazing how often things happen! What if your husband is in a spiritual battle, and he needs you to fight on his behalf for a time? Really take some time and pray hard! You may find that the problem goes away, and you’ll learn a lot more about prayer in the process.

2. Don’t tolerate your husband watching graphic nudity

At the same time, though, we aren’t to tolerate sin. And tolerating sin when it is damaging to the person isn’t helping them; it’s hurting them. If you see someone about to walk off a cliff, and you do nothing, you’re hurting them. Give prayer a chance to change his heart and yours, but at some point we need to stand up and DO something.

One woman wrote this on Facebook:

Game of Thrones, Spartacus, and shows similar aren’t just sinful for their blantant sex and nudity, but for rape, incest, prostitution, possible pedophilia, disregard and disrespect towards women, completely ungodly themes, extreme unnecessary violence, etc. If he was haunting a porn site we wouldn’t be telling her not to nag and asking her to examine how she feels. This stuff IS porn and more.  It is from the pits of hell and she has every right to extract it from her home or pray that God does. She can’t stop him from watching it, but she can insist it does NOT belong in their home. Tell him to find another way to decompress.

I completely agree. Some things are borderline, but there are some sins that are extremely blatant. Many of these shows are pornographic–and even the parts that don’t show nudity show things that are sinful and awful. There is no reason to watch it, and it is wrong, and it should not be in your home, period.

3. But I Don’t Want to Nag!

And here’s the crux of the issue. This woman has already made it an issue with her husband. She has told him she doesn’t want him watching it, he says that he does, and they go round and round and never resolve anything.

So let’s look first at other ways to talk about it.

Focus the conversation on your reaction to the show, not on whether he should be watching it

If you focus the conversation around “it’s pornography and you shouldn’t be watching it”, then you’ll get into an argument about whether or not it really qualifies, and you can’t win that.

Instead, talk about the real issue, which is this: “I feel disrespected and humiliated when you watch that, and I don’t know why you want to do something which makes me feel disrespected and humiliated. When you watch that, I feel sad. I feel ugly. I feel like you don’t care about me and don’t really love me. I understand that you enjoy it, but if I enjoyed something that hurt you this much I would never do it. The fact that you don’t care about how it makes me feel hurts me in the extreme. Do you think that it is appropriate for you to do something which hurts me like this?”

He needs to understand what he is doing to you. Often refocusing the conversation around feelings rather than sin is more productive. He can’t debate how you feel; that is a fact. And you don’t need to be angry when you share it, either. You’re sad, you’re sharing your feelings because you want him to understand how serious it is.

4. Set Clear Boundaries

As another Facebook commenter said (who also happens to be a real life friend), “break the TV!”

I think she has a point.

Jesus says that if an eye causes us to sin we should pluck it out. If a hand causes us to sin we should cut it off. If a TV is causing you to sin, then, it makes sense to get rid of the TV.

But you don’t HAVE to do that. There are other things that one can do as well. But I think too often we, as wives, think that because we’re women and we’re married for life if we disagree on something there is really nothing we can do but live with it. Not true at all. Whatever you tolerate will continue.

Whatever you tolerate will continue. #marriagetip

We can choose not to tolerate many things without divorcing our husbands or even disrespecting our husbands.

You can say something like, “I understand that you want to watch these shows, and should you choose to watch them, I will be extremely hurt, but I will understand. I will ask, however, that you do not do so inside our home. If you are going to be disrespectful towards me, I would ask that you do it somewhere else.”

That is not being disrespectful towards him. You are honoring his right to make his choices, but you are also acknowledging that you have the right to make choices.

You can talk about getting rid of the TV, or you can talk about removing yourself (and perhaps the children) from the premises when he chooses to watch these shows.

Alternatively, you can say, “On the nights that you watch those shows, I would ask that you also sleep separately from me. It hurts me to be near to you when you have treated me this way, and when you are close to me afterwards, I have no way of knowing if you are thinking about me or thinking about the person on the screen. I love sleeping next to you and I want to sleep next to you always, but I can’t sleep when you are doing something like this.”

Then you stop talking about it and you just start doing. You’re not nagging. He’s made his choice, and you’ve made yours. On the nights that he doesn’t watch TV, be nice to him! Be giving to him! Have a great time together and don’t punish him for it.

You’re not controlling him–he can choose to do what he wants to do. But you also can choose to do what you want to do, and his actions will have consequences for your actions.

Which approach should you take? I have no idea. It really depends on you, your marriage, and your personalities. But this idea that all we can do is tell him, “I really don’t like it when you do that”, and then we should keep our mouths shut, is not scriptural.

In Matthew 18, we’re told what to do if someone sins against us. We go to them first. If that doesn’t work, we go to one or two others and ask them to help intervene for us. And if that doesn’t work, we go to the whole church. What we don’t do is just tolerate it.

I’ve written before that this applies to marriage as well–we’re to be wives, not enablers. When you do nothing, you enable sin.

What General Principles can we take from this about resolving conflict?

Here are a few quick things:

1. Focus on your feelings, rather than the infraction.

2. Leave some time for God to convict.

3. If the problem persists, change your own behaviour.

4. If the problem still persists, bring in a mentor couple or a pastor.

The problem I have with a lot of marriage advice is that it stops at #2. And then people are stuck just feeling like they’re nagging and not getting anywhere.

I wonder how many divorces could have been avoided if people used good conflict resolution early and stopped tolerating things that are wrong?

We start tolerating little things, these little things escalate, and soon we have a huge problem.

Boundaries in MarriageYou don’t have to make things into World War III, but some things just need to be done for the good of the marriage, and for the good of your husband’s soul. Not everything is that big a deal, of course, but some things are. And the principle here isn’t just the nudity; it’s the fact that he’s choosing to hurt her terribly. That can’t be tolerated, either.

I know what I’m saying is controversial, but I’m also trying to be helpful. If you want more information on how to deal with problems like this calmly and properly, I’d really recommend the book Boundaries in Marriage or The Emotionally Healthy Woman.

Now, let me know (and let me have it, since I know many will disagree with me), what do you do if your husband is doing something that is endangering his spiritual life and the marriage?

Top 10 Truths About Clutter

Top 10 Truths About Clutter

My house is filled with a lot of stuff.

I try to stay on top of it, but sometimes it really gets away from me. And then, before you know it, there are certain closets I’m afraid to open or certain rooms I’m afraid to go in. I just don’t want to think about what’s on the other side of that door.

It’s exhausting.

Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your SpaceSo when my good friend Kathi Lipp sent me her book Clutter Free, I was excited about reading it. It isn’t just a to-do manual on how to get rid of clutter; it’s more a way to change your mindset on how you think about your stuff, and I found it so useful. Kathi is sharing a post with us today, but before she does, I have to tell you about one funny thing in my life that came about because of reading her book.

At one point she was talking about “bathroom product clutter”. You know what she means–all the different hair products you’ve bought over the years that you’ve never used, or all the different creams, etc. And she challenges us to take 6 months and either use it or chuck it. Here’s the deal: you’re not allowed to buy a bathroom product until you have gone through your bathroom and found something like it, and either used it or admitted you never will and throw it out.

So for the last two months I’ve been on a rampage to use my bathroom stuff.

It now takes me 15 minutes after each shower, because I have to use the cellulite cream, the body spray, the varicose veins ointment, the eczema cream, the foot cream, and the foot spray. But I smell great! And I’ve finally taken all the essential oils I own and actually started to use them again.

I love it! It’s a great book.

And now, here’s Kathi:

Has clutter stopped being a cute problem in your life?

Clutter is something we laugh about over coffee (like watching too much TV or, come to think of it, ordering that venti double frap “coffee”,) but for many of us, clutter is much more serious than a couple of piles left on the kitchen counter.

If you feel like clutter is stressing you out, you’re right. There are real, psychological and emotional issues with clutter. It’s not all in your head.

But clutter lies to you. Clutter tells you “It’s not that big a deal,” and “You’ll get to it later.” Only to cause you more stress as the piles grow.

So here is the truth about clutter- or more accurately – the Top 10 Truths About Clutter:

1. Clutter Makes You Live Poor

When you are buried in clutter, you don’t know what you already have, so you tend to hang onto everything out of fear. (I don’t know how many pairs of shoes I have, so I can’t give any away.) I’ve had some times in my life when I haven’t balanced my checking account for longer than I’d like to admit. So when I saw a need, it was hard to respond because I didn’t know how close I was riding to the financial edge.

2. But Dealing with Clutter Can Make You Generous

Information is power. When you know that you have two pairs of flat black shoes you wear all the time, you’ll have no problem giving away that third pair to someone in need. When you know that you have enough groceries to get your through the week, you can open your pantry to your neighbor who is going through some tough times.

3. Clutter Steals Your Joy

UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) studied 32 California families and the stuff in their homes, cataloging thousands of items in each residence. The resulting book, Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century, shares about the link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. In other words, the more clutter, the more stress.

4. But Dealing with Clutter Can Bring Your Joy Back!

Simply by reducing the number of items in your home, you can reduce your stress levels and bring back peace. Stop right now and get clear off one surface around you – a desk, a counter, a table. Now enter the room and look at that blank space. There. Don’t you feel better already? Every time you clear out a drawer, clear off a surface, or gut a cabinet, you are reclaiming some happy in your life.

5. Clutter Costs You Money (Lots of it)

How many times have you re-purchased an item because you didn’t know where the first one was? How many late fees have you paid over your lifetime because your bills were all over the house? How many rebates have you found stacked in a pile that are past their mail-in date? How many fines have you had to pay because you couldn’t find all of the library books your kids checked out? Clutter is costing you money – and lots of it.

6. But Dealing with Clutter Can Actually Earn You Money

By selling those gently used clothes, donating those outgrown toys, mailing in those rebates on time, making an accurate grocery list (because you know what’s in your pantry,) not only will you save money, but you will add to the family coffers.

7. Clutter Can’t Be Organized

Stop buying more boxes, systems, totes and tools to organize your clutter. Clutter can’t be organized. But by digging through your clutter trash and recovering the treasures that lay in there (in every stack of twenty papers, there is one you actually need,) you can see what actually does need to be dealt with and organized.

8. But Dealing with Clutter Can Make You More Organized

Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.” Says Sherrie Bourg Carter the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. By dealing with our clutter, we can let our brain know that we are done with that project, and we can move on to another item, giving it the full attention that is deserves.

9. Clutter Hurts Your Marriage

As I’ve helped women deal with their clutter, I’ve heard time and time again how it hasn’t just affected the space in their homes, it’s also hurt their relationships. Fights over stuff. Laundry piled on beds and couches, making them unusable. Cluttered kitchens that are impossible to cook in – the list goes on and on. Clutter adds an extra layer of stress to a marriage that may already be stressed to begin with.

10. But Dealing with Clutter Can Improve Your Marriage – Quickly

Many of the ways to make your marriage better require both of you putting in an effort – not so with clutter. By eliminating clutter in areas where you and your husband connect (the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom,) you are immediately lowering your stress level, which can do nothing but make your marriage a better place to be.

Clutter is a liar. It makes you feel distracted, stupid and out of control. But once you know the truth about clutter you can fight back and regain your life.

Want to win the battle against clutter in every area of your life? Join Kathi’s 21 Day Clutter Challenge and regain your home – and your sanity. (just click through and sign up on her sidebar!)

Kathi LippKathi Lipp inspires thousands of women each year to take beneficial steps in their personal, marital and spiritual lives through purposeful living. With humor and wisdom, Kathi offers hope paired with practical steps to live each facet of our lives with meaning.  She is the author of 13 books including The Husband Project, The Get Yourself Organized Project, and I Need Some Help Here – Hope for When Your Kids Don’t Go According to Plan. She is the host of You’ve Got This! with Kathi Lipp and speaks at conferences across the US.  She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not doing laundry, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.

Wifey Wednesday: Putting Your Husband First

Today, welcome guest author Kate from Making Space, a mom, wife and reader from the UK, who like many of us asks an important question, what comes first, children or marriage? Here’s what she says about putting your husband first.

Children or Marriage: Putting Your Husband First

This is what a normal day in our household looks like.

Jonas wakes up, if I’m organised enough I will have woken up before him to shower and get myself ready. I put him on the potty (and continue to do so regularly for the rest of the day), get him dressed, we go downstairs, I make him breakfast. I wash up all the dummies and beakers he used last night. I empty the dishwasher, and then load it, whilst talking to Jonas as he has breakfast. I get him down from the table, he plays whilst I have breakfast. I quickly load the washing machine and prepare his changing bag. A neighbour might knock on the door and come in for a quick chat. We quickly rush out the door trying to get to a toddler group on time, but often running 30 minutes late. We stay there until lunch and then walk home super quickly to get back in time for Jonas to have a quick lunch and then nap. He wakes about 2 or 3pm, leaving me a couple of hours to spend some 1-1 time with him, do cleaning, hang the washing, prepare dinner and do any other chores around the house for which there always seem to be many.

Engagement

Before Children

Around 5 or 6pm I am so happy to see Alan’s car pull up in the driveway. Honestly, not because I am excited to chat to my husband or give him a kiss for all his hard work in the office enabling me to be a stay at home mum, but because seeing him walk through the door means he can assist me in looking after Jonas, or sorting bits in the kitchen, or putting Jonas on the potty for the 20th time that day, or just lending a helping hand. Just doing anything which enables me a couple of minutes to breathe and have some time off from being a ‘mummy on duty’. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mummy, but I think most mummies will understand, some days it is relentless and there is such freedom in being ‘off duty’ for even 5 minutes.

As I started writing this post, I was going to write about juggling things in motherhood, something I’m sure I will write about soon, but as I started typing I realised something. Sometimes, and probably often, my focus in my day is so much on my son, and my long list of chores or jobs to achieve, that I forget something equally as important. I forget something that was here before any of these ‘to do’s’ or ‘priorities’, I forget my marriage. I forget to give myself to my husband.

I spend so much of my day giving my best to my son, that when Alan walks in the door and we go through the strict paces of the dinner/bedtime routine for Jonas, there is very little of my best left to give.

By the time 7pm on a good day, or 8pm on a not so good day comes, and Jonas is asleep in his cot, this mummy is knackered. Desperate for some me time, just to do something other than give of myself, longing to chill or zone out. I don’t really want to hear about his day, because surely it can’t compare to the importance of him needing to hear about the events of our day, the laughs, the new developments, the tears or tantrums, the accidents or successes of potty training, surely my husband’s tale of the day can’t compare to this, right?

As I type this I am reminded of something one of my close friends once said:

Our husbands were there before we had kids and they will still be there after.

I guess the state of our marriage will be dependant upon the attention we give it during these years when it’s hard to give again when we have done so all day.

I think this will probably be a challenge for a lot of mums, especially in those early years when our little ones are so dependant on us. We can feel like we have literally given so much that we have emptied ourself of all energy, that there is none left to find.

If this resonates with you, I challenge you, like I challenge myself, to remember the one that was there first. To remember our husbands who have given us these precious children. And on those days when we literally feel like we have given above and beyond for our babies, to somehow muster up something else, to give to our husbands. To remember that when they walk in the door, although you may feel desperate for them to help, to take time to give them a kiss. Or when you feel like you have to tell them the events of the day because you haven’t had any other adult conversation within the last 4 hours, to remember, maybe they want to share their days events with you first. And when you hand them a list of ‘to do’s’, perhaps stop to think what this type of welcome might feel like to them as they step in the front door. Perhaps think that they may have had their own challenges or stress that day, and they may need a breather too.

And then remember this: we give to our children firstly because we love them, but also because we are investing in their lives. Don’t allow yourself to lose your love for your husband, but on the days that maybe you don’t feel it because you are so exhausted, remember you are investing in them too. Investing in your marriage, and when your babies have grown up, and flown the nest, your husband will still be there. And the success of our relationship will depend on what we put in now and how much we give to them now.

If this seems impossible, because you can’t possibly think of anyone else other than your little bundle of joy that is also a bundle of a lot of hard work, ask God for help. Ask Him for strength. Ask Him to show you little ways you can bless your husband, or help you to organise things so you have more time. Because the same is true of our children and our husbands; what we put in in the early years, most definitely affects what we get out in the later years.

Decide that what you get out of your marriage in years to come will be good!

Me-and-My-Boy-150x150My name’s Kate. Two and a half years ago I became a mummy. My life massively changed! I left my career, fell madly in love and started the biggest learning curve of my life. I have learnt many things since then but the biggest by far is that by the grace of God all things are possible. God has given me wisdom when I’ve needed answers, given me strength when I’ve been overwhelmed and given me capacity beyond my natural ability. I write a blog because honestly some days we all need something to read where we can find hope, encouragement or just a space to hear, it’s normal! You can find it here: Making Space.

How I Win Every Argument with My Spouse

Today we welcome Daniel Robertson from God’s Help for Marriage, as he shares about how to win every argument with your spouse–the answer is so good, you BOTH actually win!

How I Win Every Argument with my SpouseThis past summer I was working a temp job at the local county fair. One day, before my shift started, I took my wife and kids (and mother-in-law) to the fair for some family fun. But this trip ended in an epic argument between me and my wife. One of the worst we’ve ever had in 7 years of marriage.

I’ll also share how we overcame this argument, and the secret to winning every argument with your spouse. This secret is so powerful that not only will you win, but so will your spouse.

We were having a great time at the fair. The kids loved the Ferris Wheel. I think I took each of them on it twice, even though I don’t like heights. But what they loved even more was the dance floor, where they were playing country music and a bunch of kids were goofing off and dancing in a way that only little kids can do. They spent quite a bit of time there dancing around.

In fact, I was starting to get antsy because I wanted to show them more of the fair, and it was getting closer to the start of my work shift. I also wanted to help my wife get the kids in the car before my shift started. I hinted at my wife a few times that I wanted to go do something else, but she didn’t take these hints.

Sidenote: Hinting is not a great form of communication. I’m learning to be more direct with my requests.

After a few of these hints, I was really starting to get frustrated. I also knew that my 3 year old son was likely to throw a temper tantrum if and when I did try to get him to leave. I figured it would be better to get him away from the crowd to throw his tantrum, so I swooshed in and grabbed him. I pulled him away, with him kicking and screaming the whole time.

All of this happened without communicating with my wife about what I was planning. Huge mistake.

She was furious, and embarrassed to be seen with me after that. I looked like the mean daddy, who dragged his kid away from his fun. I thought I was the hero, who was taking charge and preventing a very public 3-year-old tantrum.

Sensing my wife’s fury, I knew it was time to end the fair date. I helped her get the kids into the car, and then tried to make amends with my wife. I explained why I did that, and she explained why I was wrong in what I did. I reached out to hug her and told her I loved her. She pushed me away and said something like “I hate you” or “I don’t love you”–with more vehemence than I could ever have imagined coming from her.

I was infuriated by her rejection. I don’t think I’ve ever been more hurt in my life. So I went to my car to get my badge and uniform shirt, and I still had maybe half an hour before my shift started, so I sat in my car, fuming. How could she say what she did? How could she let me start off a work day with this hanging between us?

So, how did we recover from this argument? How did we both end up winning?

I’ll tell you in a bit. But first, I’d like to talk about some common questions couples have about arguing.

How Often do Happy Couples Argue?

Despite this epically bad argument, my wife and I are a very happy couple. And happy couples argue just as much as any other couple.

In other words, it doesn’t really matter how much you argue. Argue a lot. Argue a little bit. It doesn’t make a huge difference on your overall happiness in the long term.

In some ways, arguing is actually a sign of a healthy relationship. Each person brings different beliefs, ideas, and values to marriage. You probably even have different ways of doing the same task.

Sometimes, these conflicting attitudes cause arguments. And that’s OK. It shows that each of you is willing to stand up for your values and positions. And that’s a good thing. If a couple told me they never argue, I would suspect one of them of being a wallflower or having given up.

What’s the Right Way to Argue?

Again, HOW you argue isn’t actually all that important in your long term happiness as a couple. It probably matters more than how often you argue, but not by much.

Some happy couples break all the “rules” of how to fight fair. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Use “Active Listening” techniques
  • Don’t get defensive
  • Don’t use blame-shifting
  • Don’t say “always” or “never”
  • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements
  • Don’t attack your spouse’s character
  • Stay on topic

All of this is good advice. Follow it, if you can. But let’s be honest. In the heat of the moment, all of this good advice goes out the window. Even for the happiest couples.

The one rule you need to stick to every time is to not use violence when you argue. Spousal abuse is never OK. Other than that, all of the “arguing rules” are guidelines.

The Real Secret to Winning Every Argument is What you do After the Fight

OK, let me finish the rest of my story. A few minutes into my work shift at the fair, my wife called me and apologized for how she reacted. It was probably less than an hour after our fight. Definitely less than two. She also offered to bring me lunch at my break, which I had been planning to ask her to do until our argument broke out.

In other words, she made a peace offering.

In her book “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages” Shaunti Feldhahn reveals this as the secret:
“When highly happy couples inevitably experience hurt feelings and conflict, they will at some point mutually reconnect by sharing a private signal that says ‘We’re okay.'”

After an argument, happy couples reach out and reestablish their friendship and commitment to each other. I initially reached out to my wife by trying to hug her and tell her I loved her. Although she rejected my initial peace offering, it wasn’t long before she made her own attempt to reestablish connection with me.

Maybe you stay angry for days after an argument with your spouse. You might stonewall, push your husband or wife away, or just shut down. All while stewing in anger and bitterness and thinking negative thoughts about him or her. These thoughts are particularly damaging because they shift your perceptions of your spouse. The longer these thoughts continue, the more these negative perceptions become a part of your subconscious thinking patterns.

For instance, after our fight all I could think about was how badly my wife overreacted, and how could she let me start work like that, and all kinds of uncharitable thoughts about her.

These negative thoughts stopped instantly once she called and apologized. They were immediately replaced by feelings of gratitude and friendship.

It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with resolving the conflict. My wife and I never reached an agreement of who was “right” and who was “wrong”. We did come to an understanding of WHY we each did what we did, but we never agreed that those reasons were right.

There are some conflicts you will probably never resolve in your marriage. You’ll keep arguing about the same things over and over again. In some cases you might be able to reach a good compromise. In others, you might just have to agree to disagree.

But if you quickly reconnect with your spouse after an argument, you both win. Every time.

So how do you do this? The best way is to apologize and make some kind of “peace offering” after the argument. It might be as simple as a hug. Or maybe you make a goofy face or tell a joke to try to get your spouse to laugh. Or you touch pinkies as a secret sign that says “We’re okay”.

Or there’s my personal favorite: make up sex.

And if your spouse offers a peace offering, do your best to accept it. Maybe you aren’t ready right away. If not, it’s important that you make the next move. As soon as you are ready, make your own attempt to reconcile and reconnect.

Whoever makes the initial move, it’s best if this happens within a few hours of the argument. Or within a day at most. The sooner this happens, the better.

DanielDaniel Robertson is a Christian husband and father and writes about how to improve your marriage with Biblical principles. Download his free report to discover 3 simple keys to create more passion and intimacy in your marriage, or read his recent post on 15 tips to rock your marriage in 2015.

 

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


Sex is supposed to be stupendous--physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it's not, get The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex--and find out what you've been missing.

The Appeal of 50 Shades of Grey–and Why We Should Fight

Why 50 Shades of Grey Appeals--and what our response should be

Fifty Shades of Grey is coming to theaters everywhere next Valentine’s Day. It’s become the highest advanced ticket sales for any R-rated movie ever. Groups of women are going to see it together.

What should our response be?

It’s sold as a series that can reignite women’s sex drives, boost their libidos, and even enhance their marriages. But is that true?

Today all over the online world bloggers are uniting to talk about this movie and why it’s a bad idea. I’ve written several posts on the book before, including:

I want to take a bit of a different approach in today’s post and talk about why the movie appeals–and then what we should do about that.

Why Are Women Drawn to 50 Shades of Grey?

Honestly, I’ve read a lot of Christian commentary on 50 Shades of Grey, and the response is often something like: “it’s wrong, period!” People see the whips and the chains and the awful language and we’re horrified.

I agree that reading erotica is wrong and that it will harm your marriage. And this particular series glamourizes what is essentially a violent, abusive relationship (with shades of pedophilia in there, too).

Nevertheless, many women are drawn into the sexual fantasy about it.

But here’s the complicating factor: a lot of sin in our lives isn’t caused by sinful hearts as much as it is caused by brokenness–by deep places of hurt within ourselves. Remember when Jesus warned people not to be a stumbling block to one of his little ones and cause them to sin? He wasn’t denying that the little ones were sinning; but he was saying that the cause of that sin was not some evil on the part of the little ones, but some way that they had been hurt or harmed by someone else.

Brokenness is as much a cause of sin as our own sinful nature. Brokenness is dangerous.

And just like many men (and women) are tempted towards porn because they feel lonely and it gives them a sense of control, so there is something inside of many women which draws them towards this kind of erotica.

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's HeartDannah Gresh and Juli Slattery do a great job in the book Pulling Back the Shades to explain why 50 Shades of Grey is so alluring to so many. But I want to take it even farther today. They talk about how women are looking for more excitement in their sex life; how they’re sick of being bored (among other things), and that’s all true. But that would apply to any kind of erotica or any kind of sex toys, etc. The simple fact is that there is something unique about this particular brand of erotica–this particular story of bondage and sado-masochism that has captivated millions. What is it? That’s what I want to figure out today, because I think when we understand the root we’ll understand the response.

Root #1: Feeling Alone

The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual ThoughtsIn her book The Fantasy Fallacy, Shannon Ethridge looks at how we all have sexual fantasies, and those fantasies are not all bad. Some, however, cross a line. But where do those fantasies come from? Our sexual self is very rooted in our identities, our fears, and our deepest longings. And those are shaped especially by our brokenness. So it’s hardly surprising that our sexual fantasies often say much about the state of our hearts.

When you look at the root of the fantasy appeal of 50 Shades of Grey, you can see a lot of brokenness.

Let’s start with this: The book centers on a naive 21-year-old who is alone in the world and just beginning her adult life.

Do you remember those years?

I do, and they weren’t pretty. They were the loneliest and scariest of my life. I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I didn’t know who I’d marry (or if I’d marry). I didn’t know if I’d be alone my whole life.

I have two daughters aged 17 and 20, and so I’m surrounded by them and by their friends. And this is a hard, horrible time for many of them. It’s just really unsettling. I wouldn’t want to go back at all.

And so, in the midst of feeling naive and unprepared for life, she meets this strong, confident billionaire (yes, billionaire. Good, realistic plotting isn’t exactly what this series is known for). She gets someone who will take care of her (even in a warped way). And that can be really intoxicating.

 Root #2: Feeling Like You Don’t Have To Be In Control

A lot of women are control freaks. It’s not necessarily because we want to be in control, though. It’s because there are so many things we’re desperately worried about, and because we’re multitaskers, we think about them all the time. We can’t get away from them. And because we worry so much, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. If we don’t do all the right things, everything will fall apart.

That’s a heavy responsibility.

We feel responsible for making the right decisions about our kids. We feel responsible for our marriages, for our parents, for our friends. We feel responsible for keeping ministries going at church. We have so much on our shoulders.

Doesn’t being free of the burden of control sound intoxicating?

A while back I had some health scares and I had to go through a number of tests. I posted a Facebook update that I had had an MRI–and despite all the banging (MRIs are really loud) I almost fell asleep. It was one of the most relaxing times I’d had in ages! I got to lie there, and there was absolutely nothing I was allowed to do except be still. It was heaven. And all kinds of women echoed similar things.

So perhaps it’s no wonder that the whole idea of bondage and someone else being in control and making all the decisions appeals in a deep way to women. Many of us are wounded because we are carrying around burdens and cares that cannot and should not be our own.

Root #3: Dealing with Shame

Many of us are just plain ashamed of our sexuality. We equate being aggressive in bed or even enjoying ourselves with being slutty or being “bad”. It’s hard for us to initiate sex, or to tell our husbands what we want in bed.

Having a man that takes the choice out of it, then, is freeing. If he’s doing something TO you, and you can’t resist, then you’re free to enjoy yourself without having to admit that you’re somehow bad.

So those are many of the roots. They aren’t the only ones, but they’re the obvious ones. Do you see yourself in any of them? If you can understand why you may be drawn to these things, then it’s easier to fight against it. You don’t need to beat yourself up; you need to deal with the underlying brokenness.

Dealing with the Ugly Fruit

Remember, the root just shows us what our heart issues are. But when we let that root take hold and we let that grow, we can bear some awfully ugly fruit.

And that’s what happens with erotica like this. We may have reasons to be drawn to it, but when we read a lot of erotica, or watch it in movies, it clouds our fantasies. It starts to pair our sexual response with a fantasy rather than a person (our husbands), and just like porn does, it makes it harder to stay present with our husbands. We’re not making love with them; we’re using them while fantasies are going through our heads.

And those fantasies are hard to remove. Soon you need them even to get aroused. Not a good thing. And that’s when we cross the line from brokenness into sin.

Then there are those who will eventually start to act this stuff out. There’s a reason demand for bondage gear is growing. But when you start living this out in real life, you cement a relationship which is the farthest thing from truly intimate you can find. You create a violent, degrading relationship instead of a healthy meeting of two equals.

What Should Our Response to 50 Shades of Grey Be?

If you’re drawn to 50 Shades of Grey:

Recognize the reasons. Try to identify the roots of the appeal of the fantasy. Is it that you don’t want to be alone? Don’t want to feel in control all the time? Want to enjoy sex without feeling shame? If you can identify the root, then you can help heal any brokenness that’s there. You can run to God to work out your insecurities. You can work with your husband on how to feel more comfortable with your sexuality. You can start wrestling with God about how to trust Him in faith and not having to be so in control.

That’s a tall order, I know, because for many of us these roots run deep. Many porn addicts suffer from a similar thing. Their roots are often things like never being properly affirmed (in porn the women are always there and ready and eager), or never feeling like  you’re powerful enough. Sometimes a big part of defeating the temptation of these things is seeing the root.

If you’re talking with someone who is thinking of seeing the 50 Shades movie:

Explain the chemical process of how we start to pair sexual arousal with fantasy, and then we can’t get aroused in a relationship anymore. Tell her it’s a very similar physiological response as men with porn. And here’s what else happens: once we start using erotica, we tend to want more–and different. So we read weirder and weirder stuff that we would never have been drawn to before. It changes you in ways you don’t want.

Emphasize this rather than just “it’s sinful”. The “it’s sinful” doesn’t always help. Yes, it is, but sin has repercussions. If you explain the repercussions, it’s easier for people to see the danger.

The Pull for Porn & Erotica for Women Is Going to Escalate

Porn is a problem for men today in a way it never was before the internet. It was always a temptation, but it was never this widespread.

This is going to escalate for women now, too. We’re the next target. And it’s an easy progression from erotica to full blown porn.

So let’s start realizing that not all porn users are male, and that females struggle too. And let’s protect ourselves (and our daughters). Talk openly with your friends so that we make talking about this mainstream. Get filters on your computer. And fight against it!

Sex Can Be Fun–and Healthy!

So let’s spread the word that we don’t need bondage, whips and chains to have fun in bed! What we need is greater openness, less shame, and more intimacy.

31 Days to Great SexAnd that’s why on this Fight Back Against 50 Shades of Grey weekend I’m going to put 31 Days to Great Sex on for just $2.99 from my store (in .pdf) and on Kindle at Amazon.

I want to give you EVERY REASON to pick up this book. Seriously, it’s only 3 dollars! And it’s got 31 challenges you and your husband can do together to help you talk about sex again, explore more, flirt more, be more affectionate, and spice things up. And I have several days where we deal with all the junk that’s holding us back, too.

Already have it? Pick up a copy for a friend, or a sister, or a relative that is thinking of going to see the movie. Show them there’s another way!

31 Days 50 Shades Sale

Top 10 Mistakes I Made as a New Bride

Top 10 New Bride MistakesToday frequent reader and contributor Ngina Otiende from Intentional Today joins us with her top 10 mistakes–in the hopes that we won’t follow in her footsteps! Her first book released  yesterday on Amazon, and I think Ngina’s stuff is awesome. So I asked her to guest post for me, so I could spread the word about Blues to Bliss.

As a new bride I didn’t know much about marriage, the man I married, or myself.

But I thought I knew a lot. 

After almost seven years of marriage, now I can smile at some of my naive expectations and thoughts. But back then it was no smiling matter. I was steeped in new bride blues, I had no grace to give myself or my husband. And I did not understand that good wives are made over time, not over night.

Here are Top 10 things I did as a new bride that set our marriage on edge (and how not to follow in my steps!)

1. Scrubbing our house down the day he went back to work

And proudly proclaiming “I scrubbed the house down..and my back is killing me!” when he walked through the doors in the evening.

What he heard?

“Your (former) bachelor pad is filthy and it’s your fault I am in so much pain”
No man wants to feel like they hurt their wife, especially not from the wife herself! Or that they are dirty.

Over the years I have learned that it’s not so much what I have to say but how I say it and when I say it.

2. Thinking our first fight was the end of our marriage

Before marriage I heard “In marriage, God will either see both of you or none of you” I interpreted that to mean that Tommy and I had to be in perfect agreement all the time – no conflict or issues, certainly not sulking and being mad at each other for days at a time. When we stumbled into blues-ville, God would leave, to return once we sorted out our issues.

I battled hopelessness and despair. I thought our little love would limp for the rest of its life (because divorce was never an option). And I was mad with Tommy for messing up our spiritual life!

Over time, God would show me that every couple has issues, even the brand new ones! In fact it’s our issues that make us need Him. He would never leave us or forsake us, but we had to make a conscious intentional decision to invite Him into our messes. We (let me say, I) also had to learn how to put our messes in His hands. And leave them there.

3. Fearing to seek help

You know how you get married and everyone thinks you are swinging from the chandelier in excitement, all day, every day? And if you happened to have received excellent premarital counseling from mentors, you feel awful about going back to them with issues because you reckon that’s like saying “Your advice and effort not work”.

Yup. I did not yet understand pre-wedding mentoring is advance preparation; it does not wipe out possibilities of marital challenges, it equips you to handle them.

Our mentors understood that challenges would come and they wanted us to consult them and not feel ashamed. Me, I needed to get over my pride and say “Er, I am having a hard time following this guy because I think he doesn’t like me anymore”

4. Forcing him to stay up late in the night to resolve conflict.

I was the in-your-face-we-can’t-sleep-till-we-talk-about-this new bride. My husband was the melancholic, conflict averse we-don’t-have-to-talk-about-this-now-or-ever new groom.To say that we had hot debates would be incorrect because many times I would be having hot debates all by myself, while he sat and brooded.

Especially when I elbowed him at 2 am in the morning with “I can’t sleep, we must talk!”

You can’t always iron out conflicts the first time you try. And since God is always interested in real peace, not fake peace that comes from sweeping things under the carpet or rushing through resolution to get back to your “nice Christian lives”, He doesn’t mind us working through challenges slowly, so we can get  to the bottom of things. He’s not worried or intimidated when it takes a couple of sittings – or days – to iron out the creases and crooks.

5. Ironing his clothes

On the week my husband returned to work, I ironed all his work shirts, polished his shoes and proudly pointed it out when he came home in the evening. I was so proud of myself.

My husband plucked everything from my hands, walked away and told me not do that again.

Husbands are different. I thought all good wives take care of their men in that way. But mine likes to pick his clothes, iron them, polish his shoes and generally take care of himself.

Now that I am slightly older in marriage, I am beyond grateful that my man likes to take care of himself like that! ‘Cause there are many who prefer to be helped in that area (and nothing wrong with that by the way). My lesson? Don’t import everything you hear, just because it works in someone else’s marriage doesn’t mean it will work in yours.

6. Thinking I had nothing to give

Because of our not-so-few-squabbles, I felt disqualified from helping others. I also felt the pressure to be perfect in order to mentor and walk with other courting couples, brides-to-be and newly-weds.

I would learn that  it’s my messy marriage that gave me a message, my hurts and lessons enabled me to empathize. Without experiential lessons, I would be an empty gong; trying to take others where I had never been.

Now I know that early marriage adjustments and challenges are good because they keep you on your knees and make of you an effective messenger of God’s love.

7. Worrying about disappointing others

Not too long in marriage someone came to me and told me she’d heard my husband and I were very unhappy. And this person was so disappointed because “If she (Ngina) had waited so well and yet ended up in an unhappy marriage, then marriage is no good at all”.

I was shocked that someone imagined I was miserable. Why? Was it that time I cried during worship? Is it the way I am wearing my hair, do I look unhappy? If others think we are unhappy, are we unhappy? We don’t agree on everything, does that mean we should always agree? She’s a single person, what other singles have I disappointed, how will this affect them for the rest of their life? 

I was an irrational mess.

Marriage is not perfect. Ours was not, still isn’t, perfect. Though we get better, you never really eliminate challenges.Fortunately the only person we need to be doing marriage for is God. He’s the Author–our happiness and joy and impacting others is a result of living for Him and doing marriage His way.

My lesson? Don’t take responsibility for other peoples’ opinions and disappointments, even their joy!

8. Making my husband the source of my happiness

I don’t know how we stumble into this idea as new brides. But somewhere between the glories of a courtship filled with chivalry and sweetness and the crescendo of the engagement and a wedding, we start imagining that our husbands are responsible for our happiness and joy. We are crushed when they disappoint (because they do at about Week 1 of marriage).

We start wondering if we made a mistake and how to correct it. I learned quickly  that I married a fellow human being. If I wanted happiness and joy, I had to go get it myself!–from God, not from a human being. Tommy was, still is, the most amazing man, but He cannot supply what I need to get from God. I have to remove that impossible expectation on him and look to God to meet all my needs.

9. Having no life outside “us”

I had just resigned my job of 7 years, I had nothing going on in terms of a career. I  “lost” 99.9% of my friends when I got married. I was broke. And I was a newlywed! (isn’t that why we get married anyway, to have a forever best friend?!). But while Tommy was the greatest guy and the best gift that ever happened to me since Jesus, he made for a terrible girlfriend. And the sad thing was, he was not even trying to improve. I had high expectations, but over time I would learn that I need other women in my life–I need activities. I need to cultivate  passions and goals outside my marriage–not to compete with my marriage, but so I could be balanced and purpose-filled.

10. Expecting great sex without intentional involvement 

I expected my husband to know how to make the bedroom exciting without my involvement. “He’s the guy; he knows how to make things work.” I was a passive new bride. And it made for disappointments before I started making serious mental adjustments.

Guys like to know what is working and not working in the bedroom–not in harsh critical ways, mind you, but through loving practical feedback. When they operate in the blind, they tend to give their wives what they think they need. And that’s not always a good thing.

The wise bride learns (and the emphasis here is learns) to speak and communicate and respond to her husband, not lie back and expect fireworks without effort.

Ngina OtiendeNgina Otiende is the author of the newly released book, “Blues to Bliss: Creating Your Happily-ever-after in the Early Years“. In the book she talks about her early marriage challenges and how God transformed their relationship through intentional effort and grace.  Ngina blogs at IntentionalToday.com where she equips the early-wed wife with tools and resources to create intentional happily-ever afters. Connect with Ngina on Facebook, and Pinterest 

A LifeLong Love with Giveaway

The Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge for January: Setting the Right Foundation. Click through to see the books and choose one!

This year on the blog I challenged everybody to read one book a month–that’s 12 books over the year–to boost your marriage. Every month we have a different topic (next month is sex! :) ), and hopefully it will help you all to get a new perspective on how to grow your relationship. (Check out all of the subjects for each month here!)

For January I gave you all a choice of three books–A Lifelong Love by Gary Thomas, The Story of Marriage by John and Lisa Bevere, and Love & War by John and Stasi Eldredge. I’m so thrilled so many of you took me up on the challenge, and today I want to share some of the gems I learned from A Lifelong Love–and then leave you with a giveaway!

And bonus–I just realized that Gary’s publisher put the ereader version of A Lifelong Love on sale this week! That wasn’t even planned. So you can pick it up on Kindle or Nook, etc., for only $3.82!

A Lifelong Love--January's book choice

Gary Thomas always takes you to the feet of Jesus. When I read his book The Sacred Search, about finding a mate, the thing that stuck with me the most is that in looking for a spouse, as in everything else in life, Matthew 6:33 must be our guiding verse:

But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and then all these things shall be added to you.

In A Lifelong Love Gary shows how to live this out once we’re married.

I write about marriage all the time, but sometimes I reread what I’ve said and I worry that it’s missing something. It’s not that I don’t agree with what I’ve written; it’s just that it’s all so practical. I’m usually talking to people about how to solve specific problems; and so I give them specific steps. But Gary reminds me, and us, that in everything, it’s all about what we’re doing for God. It’s all about our attitude about Jesus. And our marriages are about far more than our feelings.

Ironically, when we realize that, we can find true marital bliss.

Gary’s book takes you to the feet of Jesus. It’s divided into three parts: The Magnificent Obsession (remembering that the mission of our marriage, just like everything else, is pleasing God; Growing Together, or how to overcome significant hardships in your marriage; and The Journey Toward Love, or how to live out a real oneness with your husband.

I felt this book would be perfect for our January entry of Setting the Foundation, because if we get this “magnificent obsession” right from the beginning of the year–that God needs to be the centre of our focus, our aim, and our worship–then the rest of marriage will fall much more easily into place.

If I could sum up what Gary says, it would be this:

A good marriage is something you make, not something you just find!

“A good marriage isn’t something you find; it’s something you make.” (click to tweet)

I can’t sum up the entire book, but what I would like to do is give you three snapshots, one from every section, that meant a lot to me. And I’ll be adding other thoughts on my Facebook Page to give you fodder to think throughout the weekend, so do stay tuned there!

God desperately cares about how you treat his son

The night before Gary married his wife Lisa, Lisa’s dad broke down in tears and said to him, “I don’t have to worry about Lisa. She’s found a guy who will take care of her. She’s going to be okay.”

And he was so relieved.

Now that I have a daughter getting married I totally get it. You pray so hard for your kids to find someone who will cherish them, and treat them well, and serve God with them. And when they find that person, you relax so much!

And one day Gary realized that just as Lisa’s earthly dad was so concerned about her happiness and well-being in marriage, so her heavenly father was, too. God wasn’t just Gary’s father; God was also Gary’s Father-in-Law. And how he treated God’s daughter desperately mattered to God.

So Gary turns that question back on us: what if one of the singular best services that you can give to God in this life is to love your husband? Even if he isn’t always loving back. Even if he’s difficult. Even if he doesn’t understand your love language, doesn’t get your personality, doesn’t love sharing his heart.

Gary tells the story of one mom of five who is exhausted and complaining about her husband–and feeling so distant that they rarely make love. She has reason to feel ticked off. But he asks her, “how would you feel if one day your son grew up and married a woman who treated him just like you are treating your husband?” The question floored her.

So let me ask you who are moms that same question: how would you feel if your son grew up and married a woman who treated him the same way you treat your husband right now?

That question has made me refocus my evenings with my husband. I want to make sure that when he gets home from work and we have some time to spend together that he knows I’m glad he’s home. That he knows I waited for him all day. That he knows there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Gary talks about how loving like this IS hard–but it’s what draws us into God’s arms and what grows our own spiritual dependence. And God does notice your acts of love, even if your husband doesn’t. And there will be a reward for those acts, even if you don’t see them on this side of heaven.

Be careful of power imbalances in marriage

In the second section of the book Gary gets practical about the really difficult seasons in marriage–what it’s like to be in a lonely marriage, and how to overcome that.

I appreciated his emphasis on the idea that marriage IS a battle–but it shouldn’t be a battle we fight against each other. It should be a battle we fight WITH each other. Together we form a team that God uses to transform the world. When we see that–that we are part of this epic struggle and epic story that God is waging and writing, then marriage has a deeper purpose. Indeed, that idea that there is a bigger story behind our marriage than just whether we feel loved is the key theme in all three of the books I chose for this month. Think of you and your husband on the same team, fighting for God to transform this world, rather than on opposing teams bashing each other.

In fact, this idea–that we should be on the same side engaged in the fight together, can truly transform marriages because it gives you a sense of purpose.

lack of purpose

Nevertheless, sometimes we do feel on opposing teams, and Gary outlines how this often manifests in power imbalances. These occur when one spouse appears to care more for and is fighting more for the marriage than the other.

Here’s an example: when dating, the guy woos you and dates you and is romantic, but once you’re married all he wants is sex. The romance seems to end. And she feels lonely.

Or when the baby comes, she becomes all tied up in being a mom, and the husband feels left out.

Here’s the danger of power struggles that women need to understand. Gary writes: “One thing I’ve learned about men: if we don’t think we can win, we usually won’t even compete; we just start focusing elsewhere.”

And so you drift. And the biggest sign that power imbalances are causing one or both of you to check out of the marriage? your social circles become distinct and separate. You start confiding in and hanging out with people your spouse doesn’t even really know.

Fight against the drift. Remember that marriage must be something intentional, so that when we feel ourselves drifting, or when we notice our spouse starting to check out, we don’t just get mad. We do something to rebuild intimacy.

Gary says, “When couples say “I do” on their wedding days, I wish they’d add, “and I will, every day of our lives.” “

Love isn’t a feeling. It’s something that you are intentional about. It’s not about being “in love”–it’s about practising love.

How can I bless you?–not How can I get my needs met?

Here’s where the rubber hits the road, where the real heart attitude shows itself. In your interactions with your husband, what is your motivation? Is it to get your needs met? Or is to bless him? Gary urges us to keep our eyes on how we can love. What if the greatest lesson you can have on this earth is not how to find love but how to love? When we learn to love, we become more Christlike. We’re transformed into the likeness of God’s son (Romans 8:29). We grow.

And so when you are at a standstill in your marriage, ask yourself, “what can I do to bless my husband?” And start doing! When we act love we feel love. I know you’ve heard this all the time, but it is real. Why is it that you feel so attached to your kids (those of you who are moms). Have you ever read a story about a horribly neglectful mother and said to yourself, “How could anyone do that to their child?” But it isn’t that hard if you haven’t acted love. When you get out of bed in the middle of the night repeatedly to soothe a child; when you give up your own time to spend with a child; when you spend hours on homework and wiping dirty noses, you are so invested that you feel those loving feelings.

When you don’t invest time and energy, the feelings aren’t there.

So how do you bless your husband?

I really appreciated one example Gary gave that is something I say repeatedly here, too. Blessing your husband means you care about his ultimate good–not just about his feelings. So he gives the example of a woman who throws away her husband’s stash of porn against his wishes. A woman who wants to bless her husband will not allow him to do something that will harm their intimacy and his relationship with God. He won’t enable sin.

But it’s our attitude her that matters. When you confront your husband, are you doing so because you want your own needs met? Or are you honestly looking after his own interests? The result may be the same, but the heart attitude dictates how the whole interaction feels. And the heart attitude is what brings God into the picture.

A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together?I appreciate Gary Thomas so much, and I know this book will help you see your husband and your marriage in a whole new way, pointing you to Jesus. A Lifelong Love is only $3.82 on Kindle right now–a huge sale! So pick it up today.

I’ll be announcing February’s books next week, but just a heads up: they’re about sex! And we’re going to have fun! :)

But today I want to leave you with a giveaway, featuring many of the books that I’ve talked about this month on the blog. You can win one of 9 prizes of:

One prize of: A Lifelong Love, The Story of Marriage, Love and War, and Choosing Him All Over Again
Two prizes of: A Lifelong Love
Two prizes of: The Story of Marriage
Two prizes of: Love and War
Two prizes of: Choosing Him All Over Again

January Prizes in the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge of 2015!

Just enter the Rafflecopter below to win! Remember: you get 5 entries if you leave a blog post comment with a question you’d like Gary to answer! I’ll send the top 5 questions his way and ask him to respond on Facebook!

I’ll draw the winners next Wednesday night at midnight EST, and then announce them on Thursday when we do our next marriage challenge post.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Some other bloggers have taken up the challenge to read and review some of my picks as well!

Check out Mom’s Morning Coffee with her look at Setting the Right Foundation, too.

(If you’re a blogger who has also reviewed some of these books, leave a link in the comments. If I get enough of you, I’ll start a Linky next month!)

Are We Expecting the Impossible in Marriage?

Are We Expecting the Impossible -- Expectations in Marriage

Are your expectations in marriage impossible to achieve?

Recently I was going through some older posts that most of you will not have seen, and I came across this one about having sky-high marriage expectations. I thought it was worth re-running today.

You may have heard it said before that “the enemy of the best is the good”. The French philosopher Voltaire made it famous (though he said it in French!), and it caught on because it’s so true. Often we get so caught up doing good things that we miss the best. We miss our priorities.

But that being said, I think the reverse can also be true.

Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good.

When the best is more a fairy-tale ideal than a reality, then it can become the enemy of making any kind of real progress. The best can actually be a hindrance to your marriage.

Allow me to use an analogy that doesn’t have to do with marriage first to show you what I mean. A while back I caused a ruckus in the comments section of this blog because I insinuated that there were things that women could do to reduce the chance of sexual assault, and we should teach these to our daughters. I never said that we could eliminate rape (because we can’t)–but I said that we could reduce it.

People kept taking issue with me, so I kept writing follow-up posts, and the comments grew worse and worse. One commenter really summed up the other side perfectly. She said (and I paraphrase):

Women should be able to wear whatever they want and go wherever they want. You should be talking to the men, not to the women!

She was a little ruder than that, but I’ll leave out the colorful language.

What a strange comment, though. OF COURSE women should be able to wear what they want and do what they want without getting raped. We should live in a world where there is no abuse, no rape, no children in poverty, no wars, and no violence. But we don’t live in that world. And since we don’t, what steps can we take to protect ourselves?

They were focusing so much on what SHOULD be that they refused to acknowledge that there were any steps you could take to make our present life, the one we are living in right now, even the least bit better.

It was all or nothing.

Have you ever felt that way about your marriage? I once knew a woman who eventually left her husband, who explained it to me this way:

God created marriage to be a joining of two human beings–an institution where we’re able to communicate, and love, and respect, and share ideas and share vision and purpose. He created marriage to build us up, not to tear us down. He created marriage to be part of our fulfillment, not part of our destruction. My husband didn’t know how to communicate. He never listened to me. He never talked to me; he only ever talked past me. He used sex just to satisfy himself. In other words, it wasn’t actually a marriage. And so I ended it.

I have no doubt that her marriage was extremely difficult, but do you see the problem with her position? She was saying that because her marriage was not one in which two individuals were completely joined, it was thus not a marriage. God intended marriage to be fulfilling; it was not, therefore the argument about whether one had biblical grounds to divorce was moot because this wasn’t even marriage!

Her argument is flawed, because while God said marriage should be like this, He never invalidated marriages that were not like that. Indeed, in Corinthians Paul even tells women married to men who aren’t Christians to stay if they can–and these marriages are obviously not a complete joining of minds and ideals.

This woman was looking for the best in her marriage; she didn’t find it, so therefore she invalidated everything else.

Many of us enter marriage with similar thoughts. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we can completely bear our souls. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we are unconditionally cherished. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we find our best friend. Then, when the should doesn’t happen, we give up. We have expectations in marriage about how things SHOULD be, and we can’t settle for second best. We don’t look at little changes that we could make to grow the marriage, or to grow our communication, because we figure that he is just hopeless. He’s so out of touch with what a husband should be, that growth is well nigh impossible.

None of us is perfect, though, and I think we need a different strategy. If your husband isn’t a good communicator, or sulks constantly, or watches too much TV (or plays too many video games), or never spends any time with the kids, that doesn’t invalidate your marriage, and it doesn’t mean that things can’t get better. After all, by staying away from drunken parties, girls can drastically reduce their risk of date rape. Similarly, by learning new communication techniques, you can drastically reduce your risk of growing apart and ending the relationship. You can do things to move in the right direction, even if those things won’t give you 100% change. They can still make your life significantly better.

Now, in some cases no matter what you do you can’t rescue a marriage. You can’t stop an abusive man from hitting you just by learning to be nicer or not pushing his buttons. You can’t stop a porn addict from using porn, and these things do need to be confronted. But in most marriages it’s not these huge issues that bring us down. It’s disappointments in the day-to-day.

What I would suggest, then, is that we stop focusing on our ideal expectations for marriage, and we start looking at what we can do to make things better.

In other words, quit focusing so much on the destination, and focus instead on the direction. Move forward, even if it’s slowly, and you will eventually get there. Focus so much on the finish line, and how far it is away from your current position, and you can quickly lose heart.

This applies to aspects of marriage, too. I was at a place in our marriage once where everything was going really well–except sex. It’s not that it was horrible; it just wasn’t what it was supposed to be, according to the media and all the sermons I heard about how God created sex to be wonderful. For a few years, I gave up. It’s not that we didn’t make love; it’s just that my attitude was one of: “this just isn’t for me. It’s all for him, and I’ll just get through it.” I believed that if sex wasn’t the ideal, then I had been cheated, and there was no point in even trying.

It was only when I had an attitude shift where I started to ask whether I could believe that it could get better–even if it was slowly. When I made the mental shift, then the way I acted also changed.

Whether it’s in your marriage as a whole or in individual parts of your marriage, don’t give up because you haven’t reached the ideal.

The Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge for January: Setting the Right Foundation. Click through to see the books and choose one!Ask God to help you make baby steps, because those steps can add up! Ask Him to give you a new heart to grow, even if it’s slowly, because moving in the right direction gives you a new attitude or outlook on your marriage which is so much more energizing.

Whatever you do, don’t let the best become an enemy of that real, helpful change.

Tomorrow I’m going to be reviewing Gary Thomas’ book A Lifelong Love, our January entry in the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge. It has a wonderful perspective on how to handle a marriage that isn’t the best, and I’m so looking forward to sharing it with you!

Top 10 Questions Teens Ask About Sex

Questions Teens Ask About Sex. Are you prepared?

Teens will invariably ask questions about sex. Are you prepared?

Today on Top 10 Tuesday guest poster Rajdeep Paulus joins us to share the questions she’s had from her teens about sex! Personally, the worst question I had was from my daughter Katie, who wanted to know, “How long does he have to leave it in for?” Let’s just say conversations are often awkward–but it’s so important to leave the lines of communication open! Here’s Raj:

I’m a big advocate of communication when it comes to parenting, and when you come from a culture that didn’t talk about certain things, and you look back and wonder if things had been different if you had talked about the tougher topics with your parents, there’s one thing you can do about it. Change things when it comes to talking to your own children. And I think most parents would agree that they’d rather have their teens ask them then go to their peers or some on line website that might not tell the whole story or tell our kids how to put the delicate information in context of God’s plan for their sexuality. It’s a much more complicated topic than just abstinence vs. experimenting, and our teens need to hear the truth from us, well before they enter serious dating relationships and move forward to wedding days. I’m blessed to have a great relationship with my girls at this point, and they seem comfortable enough to talk to me about things. I tease them every once in awhile about who they have a crush on, and they all know that mom chased down a boy in fourth grade and kissed him, so they know mom’s not someone who doesn’t “get it,” sort-a-speak.

Here are the questions that have come up in the last few years with my firstborn who is now fourteen. Usually after we’ve had some heart to heart about something else. Often when we’re driving somewhere. And always when it’s just the two of us.

The First Ten Questions Your Teen Might Ask About Sex

1. What does it mean “to try?”

When my teen was a tween, she overheard hubby and I chatting with newlywed friends of ours that were trying to start a family. When the kids streamed into the living room, we began to talk in code and assumed the kids weren’t paying attention. Until later when my then eleven-year old asked me, “What did Uncle J. and Aunty M. mean when they said, ‘They were trying to have a baby?’”

I took a deep breath, knowing that my response could end the conversation or open up the door to many more questions. “What are you really asking? What do you want to know?”

And then she said, “Well, what does it mean to try?”

And then we had our first conversation that involved a lot of pauses and, “Does that make sense?” and “What else do you want to know?”

2. Do you have to take off all your clothes?

I thought this was a cute question. I still recall this walk hubby and I took on Devon Street in Chicago a week before our wedding. We were buying garlands and found some nice ones that looked like they were made of real flowers, and Sun turned to me while holding the garland in the air and said, “Can’t wait for our wedding night when this is all you’ll be wearing,” and I nearly fainted with shock. He was thinking about it. Me. Without clothes on. And I went home and cried, because I didn’t love my body, and it just hit me that he would see it. So as a mom who understands that self-image and self-love are important, I try my best to encourage my girls and help them to love their bodies the way God created them so when it’s their time, they won’t be ashamed or afraid like I was.

3. His what goes where? Is there any other way? I mean, it seems so weird. Complicated. Did I mention weird?

I think it’s good to acknowledge that the puzzle piece aspect is both weird and wonderful. And it’s normal to think the whole thing is cu-razy weird when you first hear about it. I recounted my own personal reaction when I first learned about sex in Health class. We had some laughs. And then I reminded her that acceptance and celebration comes with age and maturity and security in a strong marriage.

4. Why do they call it “safe” sex?

I think that’s a good question too. There’s nothing safe about an act that will forever change your mental, emotional, and physical world. I think it’s the furthest thing from safe, and that’s why it’s so special and not to be dealt with or decided lightly. I think that’s all the more affirmation that God created this act for married people. That’s the safest place to learn and enjoy intimacy.

5. Should I close my eyes?

Funny how we often close our eyes when we kiss. But it’s up to each person to know how they want to experience things. And I encouraged her to try things both ways, with her eyes closed and open. With the lights on and lights off. With music and without. There’s something to variety that spices things up and when it’s her turn, I want her to know there’s room for creativity. God made us creative for a reason.

6. Will it hurt?

That’s something I think more teens and young newlyweds need to understand. That it could very well hurt, but there are also ways to keep it from hurting or hurt less. And it’s okay if your kids want to talk about things with a physician. And the knowledge of real truth can also keep teens from rushing into things knowing that it’s not all easy under the sheets like Hollywood often portrays it. Conversations are important to have, closer to the wedding date, in my opinion.

7. Why do all the kids at school giggle when someone says the number 69?

Yep. This came up. And we talked about it. Position and all that fun stuff. But we also touched on how sex-obsessed our culture is and how the exploration and experiencing of things out of place of God’s timing leads to a lot more than heartache. I know of couples who were actually “bored” on their honeymoon. And I always refer back to the picture my best friend gave me close to my own wedding day: sex is like a beautiful garden surrounded by the fence of marriage. You can steal touches and moments by reaching past the fence, but shameless pleasure and wonder comes after you say your vows, unlock the fence and roam the garden freely.

8. What if I just want to stick to just kissing? Is that an option?

That’s the beauty of marriage and communicating and as days and weeks, months and years go by, you learn that not every night is a night to “sleep” together. Some nights are a time to just snuggle and fall asleep in each other’s arms. ☺

9. What if I don’t like sex?

I was very honest with her when she asked this. I said, “At first you might not, but some day, when you figure out how your body works, I promise you, you will!” Hopefully. But there are no guarantees. But if things go as they should, it could go amazingly, but it’s like every great relationship, you learn together, grow together, and grow in your love for each other as God gives you time and patience with each other.

10. Does this mean you and Dad…?

Don’t answer that.

What did I miss? And you and your kids? What kind of questions have come up?

UPDATE: After Raj wrote this, she and her husband learned that he’s been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition. She’s just asking people to pray for her husband, and for peace for her and her family. Thank you! I know she’d appreciate some kind words in the comments, too, to say that you did pray for her.

swimmingthroughcloudsRajdeep Paulus studied English Literature at Northwestern University, and spent over a decade as an English Teacher and SAT Tutor, during which she married her best friend from Chicago whom she then followed to the island of Dominica where he began medical school. Fourteen years, four daughters, and a little house on a hill in the quaint town of Locust Valley, New York later, she now blogs weekly and writes masala-marinated, Y.A. fiction.When Raj is not tapping on her Mac, you can find her dancing with her princesses, kayaking with her hubs, coaching basketball or eating dark chocolate while sipping a frothy, sugar-free latte. She blogs at www.insearchofwaterfalls.com and secretly hopes someday she’ll own a laptop that f51njxNzwd3L._SL160_unctions under water.

And check out her first YA Novel: Swimming Through Clouds! Sheila reviewed it here.  The sequel is and Seeing Through Stones.