Making it Home: When Sex Isn’t Easy and Playful

Welcome guest author Emily Wierenga, as she shares an excerpt about how sex sometimes hurts from her new memoir, Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity and Purpose.

Making it Home

Some nights, we can’t.

We have one set of bed sheets, and they’re tattered for the washing. In the winter it’s a feather tick we sleep under, feathers plucked by the Hutterites who live down the road from us.

I cry because I can’t let Trent in again.

It hurts too much, and it’s our wedding night all over again—two sons later.

“Shhh—it’s okay, Em, we’ll try again,” he says. But I know it’s not just my body that won’t let him in.

We sleep beneath the feathers, and some nights, Trent kicks it off because he’s too hot. He’s always naked, me, wrapped in flannels and “You should really try sleeping without clothes,” Trent says, holding me. “You’d be so much warmer.”

“I doubt that,” I say with a laugh. “I know why you want me to sleep naked… ”

He kisses my neck. “You know, sometimes, Em, I just want to hold you.”

I nod. I know. Because he is the man who waited six months just to kiss me.

Who waited twenty three years to have sex with someone—and that someone was me, on our wedding night.

But I was sewn tight that night, and the champagne didn’t loose anything. Trent waiting in the bed in the cottage, his black suit and white shirt flung on the floor and him leaning on one arm, waiting for me. The July heat whispering through a window, and the beach just steps from the cottage. The stars like the diamonds on my dress, clustered together and I thought about running.

“Are you coming, Em?” Trent said, and I let that dress fall, clutching the sheets to my flat chest and he pulled me close but I was an aged envelope that had glued shut. And I cried. Him saying, “Shhh, it’s okay, we have our whole lives to figure this out.”

We were the couple who, when we were dating, hadn’t been able to stop kissing until three in the morning, his hands under my shirt but now, after the vows beneath the trellis and my dad’s tender prayer and the rose petals falling, now that we were married, I was like a caged bird. Him trying to open the lock but I wanted that cage. I knew every corner, every rung, and I’d put myself in there when I was sixteen.

Trent’s fallen asleep against my shoulder, his quiet snores in my ear, his long arms around my waist.

I’m reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, my bedside table littered with ear plugs and sleeping pills. And some nights, still, even after two babies and ten years of becoming one beneath the sheets, my body still runs to that cage.

I’m that bird, learning how to fly.

Sheila says: I so appreciate Emily being so honest in her book about her struggles. If you’ve struggling with vaginismus (when sex hurts because you’re too tight), I do have some information in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. You can also find some information on vaginismus here.

When Sex Hurts

This excerpt is taken from Emily Wierenga’s new memoir (the sequel to ATLAS GIRL), Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity and Purpose. Order HERE.

What does it mean to be a woman and to make a home? Does it mean homeschooling children or going to the office every day? Cooking gourmet meals and making Pinterest-worthy home décor? In Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose, author and blogger Emily Wierenga takes readers on an unconventional journey through marriage, miscarriage, foster parenting and the daily struggle of longing to be known, inviting them into a quest for identity in the midst of life’s daily interruptions. Get your copy HERE. Proceeds benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree.

Get FREE downloadable chapters from Making It Home HERE.

Emily T. WierengaMaking It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose_medium_image_attachmentEmily Wierenga is a blogger and the author of several books, including her touching memoirs Atlas Girl about her struggle with anorexia and figuring out where she fits in this world, and Making It Home. She’s an artist, a writer, a mother, and a lover with a passion for Africa. You can find her at http://emilywierenga.com.

Reader Question: I’m Scared of Sex Because I Don’t Want to Get Pregnant

How can we have a healthy sex life if I'm scared of getting pregnant? Some thoughts on finding the win-win!

What do you do when you’re scared of getting pregnant, hate hormonal birth control, but then you avoid sex?

Reader Question: We can't agree on birth control, so I'm scared of sex!Every Monday I like to try to answer a reader question. Today I have the same question from two readers who are both scared of pregnancy. One woman writes:

I read many Christian blogs encouraging frequent sex between man and wife. I believe it to be helpful to a marriage. But what do other couples do when they don’t want to use contraceptives but are feeling insecure about having more children? My husband and I were not on the same page for a long time about having more children. That definitely affected our sex life. It is Biblical to have frequent sex so then should we just expect to have 20 children?

Another woman writes:

I follow and love your blog, but this is a topic I have either missed you addressing, or perhaps you haven’t addressed it. I am happily married for 16.5 years. We have 8 beautiful children, whom I stay at home with and homeschool. I feel complete in our family size, for many reasons. My husband says he does, also. However, we cannot find a birth control we agree on. We have failed at NFP/FAM both times we tried to use it. We hate how condoms interfere with intimacy, and we don’t want to do anything hormonal. I am leaning towards something permanent, but my husband is not on board there, either. Because of us not being able to agree/decide on a reliable form of birth control, I am fearful of pregnancy, and my attitude toward sex with my husband is suffering.

I’d love any advice on how to overcome this speed bump in our marriage. The simple answer would obviously be “get on the same page”. But what do we do when that’s not happening? Maybe I’m just looking for reassurance that I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

You’re definitely not the only one who has felt this way!

So how does a couple come to an agreement in this tricky situation?

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentIn 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I shared the concept that quite often in marriage we think of conflict as a win-lose thing. I told of three different stories–including one of my own–where we get into these endless arguments trying to come out on top.

For instance, quite a few years ago, when my girls were little, I was homeschooling them and Keith had a busy pediatric practice. He wanted one night a week to himself, to get together with some local guys and play battle scenarios with miniature soldiers (think that sounds geeky? You have no idea!). But I was starting to get writing assignments, and I needed time to write.

Keith was genuinely burned out. He had life and death decisions constantly. He needed time to decompress.

I genuinely needed time to use my own giftings.

How were we going to solve that one? It didn’t seem like both of us could win; there were only so many hours in a week.

But eventually Keith (it’s usually Keith who is the smart one when we’re in conflict) realized we were being ridiculous. We were fighting over time, but there were other ways to get more time. And Keith ended up cutting back his practice half a day a week to give me an afternoon to myself, when he took the girls. It was great.

We found a win-win.

In most conflicts,  you can find a win-win–or at least find a solution that you’re both happy with.

But this birth control one is a tricky one, because it really seems as if there are only two options: either he gets sex and she gets pregnant; or he gets no sex and she doesn’t get pregnant. In both scenarios, one wins and one loses.

Find the win-win instead

So how do we get out of this win-lose dichotomy?

Instead of focusing on who can make the better argument, ask: what do I need here?

What is your underlying need? Both of you speak it out loud. It’s best if you even write it down! And you may have several.

She might write:

  • I want to feel confident that I won’t get pregnant
  • I feel uncomfortable with hormonal birth control methods
  • I want to feel close to my husband

And he might write:

  • I want a fulfilling sex life with my wife
  • I feel uncomfortable with condoms

As soon as you write your needs down, you’re now in problem solving mode.

And problem solving mode is much better than fighting mode.

Give each need the God “sniff test”

Here’s another thing I bring up in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: not all needs are legitimate.

I once had a reader write because her husband was a pastor who had been involved in porn ten years prior. He had gotten clean, but over the last year some typical behaviours had started again–he was secretive; he was becoming more selfish; he was becoming more verbally cutting.

She asked him if he was using porn, and he said, “I need trust in a marriage. You’re violating the marriage covenant by not giving me something I need.” And he refused to let her see his computer.

Some needs are illegitimate, and are actually covers for sin.

Let’s take a look at these needs. The one that stands out to me is “I want to feel confident I won’t get pregnant.”

I completely understand that feeling. I really do. But no matter what birth control method you use (short of sterilization), there is always a risk. And our futures are in God’s hands, not ours. Whatever we do for birth control, we have to realize that “I may have another baby in my future.” That’s God’s prerogative. And if you do get pregnant, God will be there to give you strength and help you love that baby and mother that baby.

To not have sex because you don’t want to get pregnant is really saying, “I don’t trust God.” It’s a spiritual issue far more than it is a marriage issue. And that’s dangerous.

I’m not saying she’s wrong for not wanting more children; I’m just saying that we should never presume upon God. And ultimately this question is much easier to work out if we’re able to trust God and say, “I’ll do my best, but I know that  you hold my future, and whatever happens, I’ll be okay because you will carry me.

Let’s Problem Solve Together!

Now let’s problem solve together. She doesn’t want to use hormonal birth control, and likely for good reason. The women in my direct line react badly to it. We gain 10 pounds in the first month–and keep ballooning up to about 40 pounds heavier, even if it’s a low progesterone dose (trust me; I’ve had several family members, including myself, go on low doses not for birth control but to regulate periods. It’s been a disaster). We get totally grumpy. We lose our libido. I even get blood clots!

And some people have similar reactions to the IUD. For most, though, the IUD has far fewer side effects that the Pill. However, there is controversy over whether it prevents conception or just prevents implantation.

So let’s take the hormonal out of the way. That leaves:

  • Condoms
  • Diaphragms
  • Natural Family Planning

J from Hot, Holy and Humorous swears by her diaphragm! You can put it in early in the day; nobody feels it at all during intercourse; and it’s super effective. Not to share TMI, but I can’t use one. I’m just really queasy about that sort of stuff (which is ironic considering what I do for a living). But if you’re NOT queasy, it sounds awesome.

Let’s Talk Condoms and Natural Family Planning

If a diaphragm isn’t in the cards for you, what about a combination of other methods? With natural family planning you chart your cycles so that  you know when you ovulate. Then, about 4 days before ovulation and 3 days afterwards (that’s actually a REALLY long window, but I’m trying to be super careful here) you avoid intercourse or you use a barrier method.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 20th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive HealthRemember: You cannot get pregnant when you’re not around ovulation! Seriously, that little sperm needs an egg. No egg, no pregnancy. And eggs are only viable for a few days, as are sperm. So in the week right after your period (or at least in the first five days), you’re usually good to go! And then after ovulation until your period–green light, too!

I really understand being nervous about this. I have a 20-year-old daughter who just got married who is still in school. Believe me–we all get it! We really do. But one of your needs is feeling close to your husband, and one of his needs is feeling close to you through a fulfilling sex life. You owe it to yourself to educate yourself about fertility. The more we understand, the less scared we will be. Learn the science behind it! The best book for that that is recommended everytime I talk about this is Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

How Do I Get Over Being Scared to get Pregnant?

Knowledge + Trust in God = A fun sex life!

You need both elements. If you’re ultimately scared that a pregnancy would be a disaster, and think that “disaster factor” makes it more likely, since God always gives you what you’re most scared of, it won’t matter how much you educate yourself. Your problem is a spiritual one.

But if you really aren’t educated, then you’ll think that you can get pregnant ALL THE TIME–which honestly is not true.

When you have both elements, it’s easier to sit down with your husband and say something like,

Look, we each want a great sex life. But during these days we’re just going to have to use condoms. It won’t be so bad, though, because it means that on other days we don’t have to! So it’s only a sacrifice for part of the month. And this way we’ll be able to feel close and have fun again. And with me understanding my body, it will help me understand my libido and pay attention more, too!

So often we ignore our bodies, and miss out on our libido surges. When you’re tracking, you pay attention. I’ve got a series on understanding how our hormones affect libido, too.

You can find a win-win, even in this seemingly impossible situation.

But you’ve got to let God into the equation. And as you do more research, you just may find that you’re more excited about sex because you understand your own body better.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentDo you and your husband go around and around with the same issue, never resolving it? Maybe it’s whether to homeschool. Whether to move. Whether to buy a house. It seems like only one person can win. But what if you just need to look at the situation differently? In 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, Thought #7 gives a detailed plan to find a win-win. I hope it helps you resolve that longstanding conflict, too!

Now let me know in the comments: How have you dealt with the fear of pregnancy?

 

 

When Your Job As a Momma is Done (Almost!)

When your "momma" role is over

Next Monday we load up the last of Katie’s things, help the piano movers steady the piano in the truck, and head out on the highway to drop her off at university.

My job as a mom is done.

My youngest child is leaving home.

I know I am always a mom; my older daughter has needed lots of advice over the last few years as she’s been gone, especially around her wedding.

But I’m not a mom anymore. I’m an advisor. It is different. It’s lovely, but different.

I’m proud of my girls. They have both pursued Jesus wholeheartedly, and have a real relationship with Him that many times puts me to shame. They grew up in a healthier family than I did, and I can see the effects of it on them. They are more mature. More grounded. More willing to try new things.

This, again, is all lovely.

And I have a wonderful husband, and we’ve been working on our marriage for the last year, and figuring out new hobbies, and changing around work schedules, so that as empty nesters we won’t just be twiddling our thumbs and staring at each other, wondering, “who are you and why did I marry you?”

And that, again, is lovely.

It is lovely to have two children that you are so proud of pursue their dreams. It is lovely to see them make good decisions. It is lovely to know that my husband and I will stay close in this next phase of our life–and that this next phase will be an adventure.

But here’s the thing: I am going to miss Katie terribly.

Yes, I would miss her more if my husband and I were not solid. Yes, it would be much harder if she weren’t tracking with God.

But even so, I will miss her.

KatieSheila New York

And I will miss being a mom.

My role as mom was all-encompassing. We took Rebecca, our oldest, out of school after kindergarten and decided to homeschool them (Katie’s never set foot in a school; she’s going to get a picture of herself on the first day of university classes holding her backpack and her lunchbox and a sign that says, “First Day of School”.)

Girls Homeschooling Trailer

We didn’t do it because we were afraid the public school would corrupt them. We homeschooled because we felt that academically it would be better for them. And we pushed those girls. School was intense at our house–even if it was punctuated by marathon sessions of reading Anne of Green Gables out loud, or finishing Those Happy Golden Years (the last of the Little House books) in a day and a half “because we just have to get through it”.

We taught them Latin and Greek. They read the classics. We made them write essays and we pushed them in math. They are very well-educated.

We made them earn their lifeguarding credentials and at 16 they started working intensely at the Y. They made great friends, especially with the seniors who would come to swim during the day. One couple in their 80s even took Katie to a strawberry social last June and prayed over and blessed her as she goes on with her life. Their boss made the trip to Ottawa this summer and came to Rebecca’s wedding.

And we homeschooled because we wanted more family time. With Keith’s weird call schedule and my weird speaking schedule we needed time during the week together.

But the biggest thing was this: everyday, we’d go for a walk.

Sometimes even two! Whenever we started feeling restless we’d head outside and do our “loop”. So everyday, for the last ten years, I have taken a walk with one of my daughters. That’s when we talk, and when they open up, and when I learn about what’s happening in their hearts.

With Katie the walks have been intense lately, often lasting more than an hour. We’ve discovered new “loops”, and almost gotten lost several times.

When I visit Rebecca in Ottawa, the first thing we do is put on our shoes and go out for a walk by the river. It’s outside that we open up.

But now Katie is leaving.

Two weeks ago I decided to start taking walks by myself, to get used to the solitude. And I’ve turned them into quite intense prayer walks, replacing the time I used to spend talking with her to talking about her and for her with God. It’s a little nervewracking; I have a hard time praying without talking out loud, so my neighbours may think I’m nuts. But it’s real.

Because Katie is leaving.

Have I mentioned that yet?

It is not that I don’t want her to grow up. It is not that I don’t have a life outside of her. It is not that I don’t have a good marriage.

It is just that so much of my emotional energy has been caught up in my daughters for the last two decades, and now that phase is coming to an end.

I know I will still talk to her; Rebecca calls me twice a day. But it will be different.

And so I take my prayer walks.

I want the girls to still feel my support while they are at school, away from me. Part of that will be through prayer. Part of it will be through phone calls and texts.

But I want to share a fun thing that I was asked to review and tell you about. Kites & Ivy creates care packages for girls going away to college. It’s just little things to pamper college students: some beauty products, a healthy but fun snack, things to relax you.

Kites & Ivy Care Packages for College Students

They come four times a year: to welcome them in September; before they go home for Christmas; before Spring Break; and before Finals. And when you sign up, you tell them what school the recipient is going to, and they make sure the package gets there at just the right time for that particular school’s academic calendar!

Kites & Ivy initially hired Katie to talk about them in her videos. I told her about it, she shrugged, and said, “okay”.

And then the package came.

And she was so excited!

It had: some dry shampoo (because who has time to wash your hair during finals!?!), a yummy sea salt caramel chocolate bar, some essential oils to help you focus, some water flavouring powder, some natural facial wipes, a headband, and a neat water sipper cup. Katie loved it! Here she is talking about it: (the video is set to start playing where she starts talking about it, but if you want to see the WHOLE video of what she learned when she was 17, just rewind it to the beginning!)

And when she says that she’s just going to ask her mom to get it for her, she’s quite serious. She says, “as a university student I’m going to have no money to spend on myself! And opening the box was so fun!”

Here’s the box they sent out last year before spring break:

KitesIvy

You can buy just one box and send it immediately as a gift, or you can subscribe so that a college student that you know (a daughter, a niece, a sister) can get a treat when they really need it. I think it would be great for churches to do this for their students leaving, too–to let those students know, “we’re still thinking of you and praying for you!”

(Shipping is free within the continental United States–other than that you have to pay for it. I know that’s tough on Canadians like me, but I do understand as someone who has to ship a lot across the border, too. It is much cheaper to ship within the U.S.!)

Katie enjoyed hers so much–she’s sipping from the cup from the 5 minute point in her new video on Christian romance novels! So I guess I’m getting her a subscription!

It is a cute way of bringing a smile to a college young woman’s face, and I was excited to partner with them. The preorders are going out now for the school year, and you can use the coupon code Sheila10 to get 10% off your order! If you’re a mom, this saves you the work and trouble of putting your own care package together–and the items really are unique and awfully fun.

Kites and Ivy Button

So that is what I’ll be up to this year–I’ll be missing my daughters. I’ll be taking daily prayer walks and remembering them before God. I’ll be talking to them whenever they call when they’re lonely (or when they’re on the bus and they’re bored, which is more typical). And I will be sending Katie Kites & Ivy care packages, too!

It’s hard when your job as a momma is over. I’m feeling it acutely. I know I did a good job–not a perfect job, but a good job, which is perhaps better. But now I need to take a step back, and perhaps that is what will drive me to prayer even more.

Let me know in the comments: how did you stay close to your kids (or your parents) when college time came (or moving out time came)? What did you appreciate from your mom?

I was compensated for this post, but the thoughts are entirely mine (and my daughter’s!)

Wifey Wednesday: The Happiness Reality Check

The Happiness Reality Check--because your husband can't make you happy!

Does the pursuit of happiness work in marriage?

Can you find a husband who can complete you, who can be your best friend, who can make you happy for the rest of your life?

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentThat’s one of the questions I ask in my new book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. It launched last week, and I’ve been blown away by all the kind comments I’ve received and the great reviews!

And I want to give a shout out to Gaye Christmus from Calm.Healthy.Sexy, who has been part of my blog tour. She’s giving away two Kindle copies of the book, so head on over to enter! She’s written a wonderfully practically post on 5 Ways You Can Strengthen Your Marriage Today, too. Check it out!

Today, though, I want to talk a little bit more about happiness in marriage. The theme of my book is that we can’t just be passive participants in life, waiting for things to happen. We have to go out and make it happen! And too many of us are sitting back and waiting for happiness to come, because we believe that our husbands are supposed to make us happy.

I’ve been speaking on happiness at women’s retreats and marriage retreats for over a decade now, and I always say something similar:

If you can complete this sentence: “I‘ll be happy when my husband….” (learns to change a toilet paper roll; gives me some time to myself; finally says thank you), then you’ll never be happy. You’re putting your happiness in someone else’s hands. And the more you ask yourself, “am I happy? Is he making me happy?”, the more you’ll find all the reasons why he isn’t.

You can’t aim for happiness. It’s a by-product of something else–of finding joy and contentment in God, and then fulfillment as we live out our purpose.

In church this Sunday our pastor showed this video clip from the movie Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness. And I loved it, because so much of it was word-for-word what I’ve been saying (I love confirmation like that!)

Take a look–it’s really good (and short):

 

Love it.

And so let’s get back to our question: Can your husband make you happy? I’ve asked Beth Steffaniak, a marriage blogger who has been such a faithful reader and guest contributor, to answer a couple of questions about happiness because this is her rallying cry, too! She writes the blog Messy Marriage, about what to do when things aren’t all rosy.

Beth, where do we get this idea that our husbands should make us happy?

On one level this seems like a “no-brainer!” We should all want our spouses to make us happy. Only a masochist or crazy person would NOT want his/her spouse to “make” him/her happy, right?

But at one point I began to question if I had married the wrong person, mostly because of that toxic belief. My reasoning seemed sound. “If he truly was my soul-mate, wouldn’t he make me happy?!” After all, that’s what I’d been told all my life by the people I trusted to form my view of marriage and romantic relationships … the Disney Corporation!

I can laugh at that reality now, but years ago I used to gobble up that sappy logic and magical thinking every time I hit the box office or clicked my TV remote. My “hungry for heaven” human heart was lulled into thinking that personal pleasure and happiness—no matter what it might cost me—should be the aim of my life and marriage. After all, if you’re an American, it’s right there in the Declaration of Independence…

What’s better than happiness?

I discovered that happiness in its truest sense isn’t something that can be expected or manufactured by any human being—“soul-mate” or not—because it is based upon good or favorable circumstances. However, only God can determine or change our circumstances! So happiness is a lot like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, “You never know what you’re going to get.”

On the other hand, “joy” is something that’s not based upon my circumstances, but rather upon the greatness of my God working in me in the midst of the good, the bad and especially the terrible circumstances I face in life and marriage.

“Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” James 1:2-4 (NIV).

Some of my most completely joyful moments in marriage have been the ones where my husband and I have grown closer because we weathered some storm in life together—not because we were delivered from it. Add to that the times when we worked through a messy moment that we brought on ourselves, and you have God’s catalyst for spiritual maturity because we learned to rely on Him more.

Would I ever go back to those days when I chased the ever-elusive happiness butterfly? Not a chance! That’s why I’m comfortable with being in a flawed and messy more-times-than-not marriage, because it is there that God’s glory in my weaknesses shines the brightest.

I love that, Beth! And if you feel like you’re in a “messy marriage”, too, check out her blog!

Here’s the thing, though: I think that many of us don’t realize when we’re chasing after happiness.

Whenever I write about happiness, I know most of my readers are nodding along with me, not realizing that this may, perhaps, apply to them, too!

So here’s your “happiness reality check”:

  • If you allow the things that your husband does that annoy you to wreck your mood, you may be looking for your husband to make you happy.
  • If you start the day happy, but end the day disappointed (with the disappointment growing as the day goes on), you may be looking outside yourself and outside God for your contentment.
  • If you find yourself praying for God to change your husband, you may be looking for your husband to complete you.
  • If you can easily give a list of the ways that your husband disappoints you, or easily list off ten of his faults, you may be looking for him to make you happy.

Or, let me sum it up this way:

People who are looking for their happiness outside of themselves have a very easy time identifying all the disappointments in their lives and all the ways others don’t measure up.

People who are looking to God for their joy and contentment have an easy time identifying things they are grateful for, and a harder time listing the things that bug them about specific people.

Look, we all have bad days. We all have days when we’re exhausted and we want to cry. We all have certain people that drive us completely around the bend. We all have certain circumstances that drive us nuts. And quite often there’s a very good reason these drive us nuts!

But people who focus on joy and contentment usually focus on how to make a plan to deal with those things that drive them nuts. People who are focused on happiness do not, because their modus operandi is more passive: things should go well for me, and if they don’t, someone is doing something wrong.

People who are focused on happiness see all the impediments to happiness; people who are focused on joy and on our Lord see exciting solutions.

What do you do if you’re focused on happiness?

It’s okay. This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. I share in the book how I was focused on happiness in my marriage. So was Beth! But let’s stop focusing on the way that others disappoint us, and start searching for the way God blesses us. Let’s stop looking at other people’s failures and start looking inside ourselves to see what God has done. Let’s stop feeling helpless, and start seeing how God is equipping us to bring greater joy to everyone around us.

It really is just a simple mindset shift. It’s a new way of thinking. And it honestly can make all the difference in the world.

It’s not about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about the happiness of pursuit–the pursuit of God, the pursuit of purpose, the pursuit of joy, the pursuit of gratitude.

And especially the pursuit of Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2)! When we start pursuing joy, you’ll find that your need for others to make you happy diminishes considerably. And, ironically, you’ll find that your happiness actually increases.

Wifey Wednesday: Christian marriage postsNow it’s your turn! Do you have a marriage post to share with us today? Link up the URL in the linky below! And PLEASE link back here so other people can read these great marriage posts, too.



Top 10 Thoughts About the Ashley Madison Scandal

Top 10 Thoughts About the Ashley Madison Scandal

On Friday Johnny from Shine FM in Edmonton sent me a tweet: “You wanna call in to the morning show to talk about Ashley Madison?” I couldn’t call on Friday but I did yesterday, and hosts Johnny and Hollie and I chatted about this huge, honking mess.

Because it is a huge mess, isn’t it? Tens of millions of Ashley Madison users’ data is now online. You can even search email addresses yourself (though I won’t link to where). Thousands of U.S. government emails are listed. Josh Duggar got found out (I blogged about that last week). And he won’t be the last high profile user, either.

So I’ve been thinking about this whole mess for a few days, and I thought I’d throw out ten random thoughts, in no particular order.

2 Thoughts About the Online World

1. Stuff online isn’t secret

If you buy erotica on your Kindle, it can be discovered. If you use porn, your history is never really gone. If you sign up for something like this, don’t expect you won’t get found out. If you text or email nude pictures of yourself–don’t be surprised if they surface somewhere.

Maybe if we realized this we’d all be smarter–and we’d feel less temptation.

2. Giving into temptation is so much easier in the internet age.

Because isn’t that the main problem? In the internet age, it’s much harder to withstand temptation because options are available instantaneously and seemingly anonymously. A guy (or a woman) who may never, ever stray may just be having a bad weekend alone, and may be surfing the internet when they shouldn’t be. Twenty years ago this kind of sin didn’t exist. I’m sure the vast majority of the guys who signed up for Ashley Madison would never try to pick up a woman in a bar in person. They’d never buy porn in person, if they had to look someone in the eye and ask for the magazine. But today it’s so easy!

Covenant EyesAnd that’s why we need to take some of that temptation away. I know sin is ultimately a heart issue, but I also do believe in putting up roadblocks to temptation. It’s just plain smart. And so I completely support having Covenant Eyes on you computer, even just as an accountability tool (and not as a filtering tool). That way you know that if you wander onto a bad site, someone’s going to know about it. Boom! Temptation’s gone, because it’s no longer anonymous.

3 Thoughts About Guys & Ashley Madison

3. A mistake made in a moment should not define a relationship.

All of us mess up. And some of us are going to mess up sexually. But one mistake should not define a relationship.

There were 30,000,000 or so users signed up to Ashley Madison. That’s a lot. But most of them did not actually cheat. They flirted with the idea, but they didn’t follow through.

I do believe that there is a big difference between someone who is tempted and who occasionally falls and someone who is actively seeking out ways to fall. A guy who binges on porn for a weekend after being clean for four years is in a totally different category than a guy who uses it most nights and says, “It’s harmless and it’s my right.”

Similarly, a guy who signs up for Ashley Madison is quite different from a guy who has several one night stands and who is texting several women. One is likely a sex addict; one is simply struggling.

If your husband has fallen, figure out which category he belongs in. If he’s made a mistake and has fallen, then work through that hurt. Allow yourself to feel the weight of it before you try to forgive, or else the forgiveness may not be real. But then fight on the same side as your husband against the porn and the sexualized culture. Don’t fight your husband. Be his ally.

If your husband instead refuses to confess, refuses to admit it, or refuses to deal with it, then you have an issue and you need some help. But, please, don’t wreck a marriage over one mess up. Don’t let darkness win.

4. Avoid the temptation to think, “all men are pigs”

With this in the media, it’s so easy for women to think, “all men are pigs.”

But most guys didn’t go anywhere near it. Most guys won’t have affairs. Don’t let the news cloud your view of all men, and especially your own husband who may have struggles in the past. Don’t blame him for the sins of others.

I know many will say, “women cheat too!” And preliminary reports were that 15-20% of accounts were female. But news is out today that many of those female accounts were actually fake accounts set up by Ashley Madison to make it seem like there were more women on the site than there were in reality.

This doesn’t mean that women are saints; it only means we have different weaknesses. I think men are more likely to struggle with weaknesses in an online, visual world. Shaunti Feldhahn explained that well here.

5. Most of these guys did not have sex with anyone else.

Remember: many of these accounts were set up by guys on the spur of the moment as they explored the possibility of an affair. Most of these men, though, did not follow through (especially since there were so few women actually on the site!) So just because a guy was listed there does not mean that he cheated. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t do anything wrong; just that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

5 Thoughts About What The Ashley Madison Scandal Tells Us About Sex

6. Do we give the impression that “marriage is where sex goes to die?”

Look at the motto for Ashley Madison to begin with: “Life is short. Have an affair.” In other words, the affair makes life more fun. Does that mean that our culture tends to think that married sex is really boring?

Yeah, I think it does. Which is awfully odd because the people with the best sex life are routinely found to be people who are married! The hooking up culture really doesn’t result in great sex–especially for women.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of couples for whom sex has pretty much died. And if we don’t stress this part of our relationship, our marriage is going to get really boring. So if sex is boring–do something about it! Don’t settle! And if we give our kids the impression that we have no sex life because we’re married, how in the world are we going to convince them to wait until they’re married?

7. Do we have the idea that there’s “sacred sex” and then there’s “fun sex”?

I don’t mean to insinuate, though, that if your husband used Ashley Madison it’s your fault, just like I didn’t mean to blame Anna Duggar in Friday’s post. I actually wonder something about Josh (and about other men that use Ashley Madison): have we given the impression that there is such a thing as “sacred sex”, which is missionary position and entirely clinical and passion-less, and then there’s fun sex, which can’t possibly be done in marriage?

I think there’s a stream of Christianity that inadvertently does this. If we stress purity in the wrong way, we can give the impression that sex itself is the enemy–that sexual feelings or sexual exploration are to be fought against at all costs. And this can easily make us into prudes. I don’t mean just women are prudes–I mean men, too, may think in terms of “I could NEVER do this with my wife! She’s too pure!” So they turn elsewhere for an outlet.

8. Exploring is good!

We’ve got to reclaim the idea that adventure and passion ARE pure. That losing oneself in passion is actually far closer to godliness than staying perfectly in control.

Spicing up your marriage and having more fun is a good thing.

9. If you feel distance, talk about it.

Nobody wakes up one day and decides to have an affair. Distance builds over time. And even if there’s no open hostility, you tend to feel it. You know there are certain subjects that you can’t talk about with your husband.

That’s a bad sign. If you sense distance–even if you don’t think your husband is doing anything wrong–work to fix it. Work to reclaim that feeling of oneness, of being on the same team.

If you sense a problem, just do not ignore it.

10. Life is short. Have an affair–with your husband!

Life is short. Have an affair--with your husband! On Ashley Madison and having fun in marriage.

Let’s have all that excitement and exploration and adventure–with our husbands! Let’s pursue him. Let’s be a little bit “naughty”. Not because we’re scared he’ll stray, but because why on earth would you want to miss out on something so great that marriage has to offer?

Get frisky tonight! If there’s nothing else that the Ashley Madison scandal taught me, it’s that too many people are wasting their lives in pointless pursuits when the best is right in front of them. I don’t want to miss out on that, and I hope you won’t either.

Reader Question: How Can I Love if My Spouse is Hurting Me?

Reader Question: how can I love my husband when he ticks me off?How can I love my husband if he’s hurting me? How can I love my spouse if my spouse completely ticks me off?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s is quite a common one that most of you could have written:

I know that sex is important in a marriage, but after spending the whole day picking up my husband’s messes, dealing with all the chaos with my kids, and watching my husband totally oblivious to what’s going on around him, I just want to scream! How can I not notice that two kids are fighting in front of him? Why is that always my problem? And how hard is it to put a coffee mug in the dishwasher? Why do I always have to do it? I feel like he walks through our house and notices nothing–not the mess, not the kids, not the bills. I take care of everything, and he likes it that way. And I’m just fed up.

Whether we’re ticked off about our husband never putting his coffee mug in the dishwasher or whether we’re ticked off about our husband watching porn; whether it’s a small thing or a little thing, we all battle with this essential question: how am I supposed to be nice to him when he makes me so mad?

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to feel ticked off. Sure, your spouse can do something wrong. Sure, your spouse can say something hurtful. But ultimately you decide how you will respond. Your husband can’t make you mad; that is a choice that you make.

When your spouse hurts you: You don't have to feel ticked off! You can choose how to respond.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentI’m not saying that you should let everything go, or that you shouldn’t deal with problems; not at all! In fact, in my new book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage I’ve got 3 of the 9 thoughts that all have to do with handling these issues in marriage, whether they’re big or small. You definitely have to resolve problems.

But those problems are easier to resolve if we’re going at them with our hearts right. And when we focus on anger and we focus on hurt, we won’t be able to solve anything.

Know Your Goal in Marriage: Oneness

I can think of so many times that I’ve been angry at Keith–and I actually shared a few instances in the book where I let those hurts and that anger drive a wedge between us. He’d be at work and I’d be at home, crying into my tea, so sad that I didn’t have a husband who understood me.

And usually at some point in the afternoon, a thought will enter my head: “do you actually want to make the marriage better, or do you just want to be proven to be the ‘good guy’ here?” In other words, am I trying to mend something, or am I just trying to justify myself and make him feel like slime?

But I usually dismiss those thoughts, because I HURT AND HE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND IT. So I work myself up and see how much worse I can feel. By the time he comes home, I’m ready for battle.

And often, within five minutes or hashing out all the ways he’s hurting me, all the things that I’ve rehearsed saying all day, I realize that I sound ridiculous. Sure, Keith may have done something hurtful. But me dwelling on it all day and lambasting him for it is worse.

How can we avoid all those crying messes in the meantime?

Here are three steps that I talk about in my book.

Know Your Triggers

Here’s how I explain it in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage:

One night your husband arrives home later than he was supposed to, and it doesn’t bother you one bit. Yet a week later he walks in the door equally late, and you’ve already been seething for half an hour, rehearsing the speech you’ll launch into once he steps inside. You think, He doesn’t care about our family! You decide that he has the problem—or even, that he is the problem.

Or maybe some mornings you’re ready to tear your husband’s hair out for leaving his socks on the floor instead of pitching them in the hamper, while other mornings you happily fetch the offending garments while humming to yourself.

We dwell on the particular infraction—being late or leaving socks lying around—but we often fail to realize that it isn’t necessarily what our husbands do that makes us mad; it’s other things that are going on in the background that cause us to see our husbands in a bad light. We let these other things—these triggers—influence how we think about our husbands. By scanning for these triggers, though, we can minimize their ability to send our thoughts reeling.

We all have times when we’re more likely to get ticked off, and if we can recognize them, we can minimize the chance that they’ll tackle us. Being hormonal; being too busy; being tired; feeling defensive; feeling like you haven’t connected in a while–all of these things make us more likely to react badly when our husbands do something insensitive.

I elaborate on that here–but remember: when you’re angry, ask yourself if the problem really is entirely with him, because quite often it’s not!

Don’t Dwell on the Bad Stuff

Did you know that you can control your thoughts? 2 Corinthians 10:5 says this:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

We take every thought captive! That means that we can take a thought, examine it, and throw it out if it’s not valid.

If we’re always looking for our husbands to mess up, we’ll notice each and every time they do. Taking every thought captive means breaking this cycle.

When writing the book I asked on my Facebook Page for people to share stories of how they managed to “let things go”–those little things that can bug us and make us think we have a bad marriage. I want to share the story of a woman I named Ruby:

A couple years ago I realized that I couldn’t look at my husband without seeing everything wrong with him. I was constantly annoyed, irritated, and disappointed.

I must have prayed about becoming more loving because God dropped an idea into my brain. I would stop criticizing Dave for one whole month. In order to keep from falling off the wagon, I decided to write about it. Every day. On Facebook, for all my friends to see. They would be my accountability group, whether they wanted to or not.

When I told Dave my plan, I was so nervous. I thought he’d roll his eyes or be suspicious. Instead, he beamed. And another little piece of my heart broke. I hadn’t realized how hurt he’d been by my bad attitude, sarcastic remarks, and snide comments—my passive-aggressive attempts to fix him.

I found that, because I wasn’t allowed to say anything snide to him, I stopped thinking critical things too. It happened gradually. I’d start a rant in my head about his leaving his side of the bed unmade or his floor all messy, and then I’d stop. All the nasty comments I was saving in my head for him were useless, since I wasn’t allowed to say them. So I stopped searching for them.

Since I was required to say nice things, I had to look for them: reasons I was thankful, things he was doing right. And slowly, I saw him differently. I realized that all those negative things were really coming from my own baggage, my own selfishness, and my own needs and desperation. They weren’t the whole truth.

Once my mouth, and more especially my thoughts, got out of the way, I realized I had a great husband. By the end of the month, I had formed a new habit. And as an added bonus, I’d had great conversations with my friends on Facebook, and I think we all grew a little.

After shutting up about my own needs and stopping thinking me, me, ME! all the time, I realized I had some issues of my own I needed to work through. I had no concept of boundaries and saying no. I had no idea that a “good Christian wife” could ask her husband in a nice, non-ragey way to please put his lunch bag away instead of stewing over feeling like his maid for months and then exploding in a vague storm of emotions and frustration.

I had a lot to learn, but the month of no criticizing was a great first step for me.

Catch Him Doing Good

Ruby tried to not criticize, and it meant that she wasn’t watching for him to mess up. Now let’s take it one step further and catch him doing good.

If you make it your goal to notice one thing that he does today well, and then praise him for it–that can change the whole dynamic of your relationship!

If you’re in a tough marriage, I know this sounds difficult.

But when you get your heart right, you can start tackling the big problems in marriage with a better attitude. And you’ve built some goodwill so that your spouse is more receptive, too.

I know when you’re sad you just want your spouse to acknowledge it and feel badly about it, too. And a little grovelling wouldn’t hurt.

But wanting your spouse to feel like a worm rarely does much for the marriage. Instead, realize: I can control my feelings. I can decide what to think about. I can decide what to dwell on.

That’s really empowering. And then we can stop feeling so much like a victim in the marriage, and more like a strong person who can start to address problems and turn this  marriage around! When everything just happens TO you, you can’t do anything. But when you decide how to feel and how to act, suddenly you have the ability to make changes. And that’s what God intended for you.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentMy husband can’t make me mad, and I don’t have to feel ticked off.

That’s freeing! And it’s thought #2 in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. If you want to read some marriage thoughts that empower you to make changes, then this book is for you! God doesn’t want us to be passive in our marriages. He wants us to learn to do the right thing. And I try to show you how you can turn a mediocre marriage into a great marriage!

 

Just Be Kind: Why is That So Hard?

Just Be Kind! Because your husband is your neighbor, too.

Just be kind.

Why is that so hard?

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage. I introduce a topic, and then marriage bloggers can link up their own marriage posts in the linky below.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentAnd it’s launch week for my new book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage! I’m going to do some chat sessions on Facebook (if I can figure out how)!, some flash giveaways, and more. So stay tuned! And thanks for all who bought my book on launch day. It made such a difference ( more on that below).

But today I want to talk about something basic: just be kind.

Let’s start by looking at a real life example. Excuse me for verging on the political, but I want to use an example everyone’s talking about.

Everyone loves to beat up on Hillary Clinton these days. Whether it’s Democrats hoping that someone else will get into the race or Republicans hoping that someone won’t, she’s everybody’s punching bag.

Regardless of how you feel about Ms. Clinton, I think we can all agree on one thing: setting up a personal email server was a really stupid thing to do. I’m not talking about whether she was deliberately hiding classified material or not or whether she lied or not. That’s not the relevant issue today. The point is she knew you weren’t supposed to use a personal server; she sent out memos to her department warning them not to use personal emails. She knew about the requirement to preserve emails. But she did it anyway–likely because she didn’t want to give political foes ammunition in future campaigns. And she figured she could get away with it.

She figured the rules didn’t apply to her.

It’s easy to laugh at her, and to criticize her, and even to take glee in these proceedings (if you’re of a certain political persuasion). But how often do we do the same thing?

We figure the rules don’t apply to us when it comes to marriage.

Ms. Clinton knew what she was supposed to do, but she was focused on a goal: getting elected. And that took precedence. But others in her department didn’t have her justification–and so they had to abide by the rules.

Now, let’s think about marriage for a moment. We have a goal–having a happy marriage. We think we deserve it. We think we were promised it. We think we’re due.

And so when our husbands do things that prevent us from having that great marriage, we feel justified in being heartbroken, and angry, and sullen. We pray that God will change his heart. We pray that our husband will love us.

And those are all good things.

But do we remember a simple truth:

My husband is my neighbor. And that means I’m supposed to be kind to him.

That’s Thought #1 in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage because it sets us up for everything else.

I believe that it is much easier to be kind to strangers than it is to be kind to those closest to us.

Do this thought experiment: which is it easier to give money to? A campaign to feed desperate people in Africa, or a campaign to feed the homeless in your city? Likely the one in Africa, because you see them as Hungry People in the abstract. With the homeless in your city, on the other hand, you think of all the reasons that they may have to be homeless, and you start to wonder if feeding them is the right thing to do (I’m not ignoring the fact that there may be some truth to that; I’m just making a point).

Similarly, how often do we step into church or step into the workplace and bring someone a coffee, or give someone some encouragement or a compliment, just to be nice? We do it because they are Nice People We Sometimes See.

But with our husbands, it can be hard to utter that compliment, because we start thinking, “I got my hair cut last week and he didn’t even notice,” or “I do so much for him and he rarely does anything for me.”

We start asking ourselves if he deserves it.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, I believe one of the points that he was making is that it is often easier for a stranger to show kindness (the Samaritan) than those who are closer to the person (the Levite and the priest). When we’re close to someone, we can think of all the reasons they don’t deserve it. “What did that guy do to get himself beaten up, anyway?” And then we can justify saying, “that commandment to be kind doesn’t apply to me.” It’s easy to be nice to people in the abstract. It’s much harder to be nice to people up close and personal, when we know all their faults, and we can see all the reasons why they deserve to suffer through this mess.

How could our marriages be transformed if we all remembered to just be kind?

Just be his neighbor! Don’t ask whether he deserves it. Don’t ask whether he’s doing the same thing to you. Just show kindness!

But what about the fact that he never wants to spend any time with me? What about the fact that he still uses porn? What about the fact that he doesn’t show me he loves me? Doesn’t that matter?

Yep. It really does.

But those things are so much easier to deal with if we get our own attitudes in check first–and if we start laying a groundwork of kindness.

That’s why Thought #1 that can change your marriage in my book is that simple one:

My husband is my neighbor.

Treat him like it. Just be kind. And then there are other thoughts that come later in the book to help you deal with the porn, and the fact that you’re feeling distant. We’ll talk about how to be a peacemaker and not a peacekeeper. We’ll talk about how to fight against the drift in marriage. We’ll talk about how to be good.

But for now, show him kindness. It really can make all the difference in the world!

9Thoughts_QuoteGraphics_Thought1_Sides_rev

And now I just have to say a few things to you, my readers.

Thank you so much for yesterday. I was blown away.

Check this out from Amazon.ca:

Amazon ranking for 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your MarriageI broke the top 100 in Canada! And I was #1 in all kinds of categories!

And in the U.S. I broke the top 1000! And I’m #1 in Christian Marriage New Releases. So Yay!

So many of you sent kind words my way, too. It was a busy day, but I’m so grateful.

And now, can I ask another favor?

(Let me spell that the Canadian way since Canadians really went above and beyond yesterday). Can I ask another favour?

If you’ve got the book already, and you’ve at least skimmed it, and you like it, can you write a review up on Amazon? The more great reviews I have the better, because it is a controversial book and it does go against a lot of the pat answers we see in church, and it’s going to get some lousy ratings. So if I could have a TON of good ones to preemptively counter those ones, that would be awesome!

You can rate it here.

So seriously, if you could go rate the book ASAP, I’d appreciate it a TON!

And if you sent me in your receipt, be sure to check your inbox for the link to enter the contest! I’m going to give everyone until the end of the day today to actually enter, and then I’ll be doing the draw tonight. So get those entries in.

Wifey Wednesday: Christian marriage postsNow, what advice do you have for us today about marriage? Link up the URL of your own marriage post in the linky below. And then be sure to link back here so other people can read these great posts!



Women Need Authenticity! The Phenomenal Effect Campaign

Don’t we all thirst for something REAL–for authenticity?

We scroll through our social media feeds feeling inadequate because everyone else either seems so much more artsy with their photos or have gone on awesome vacations. We walk into church all prettied up, but we’re scared to tell any of the women in this community how lonely we are. We go to a family reunion and show off our kids, but we’re secretly praying that they won’t start fighting over the same things they were fighting over in the car.

We’re scared to let anyone see what we’re really like.

Women's Thirst for Authenticity: Part of Lean Cuisine's Phenomenal Effects campaign!

This summer I’ve been chosen as one of Lean Cuisine’s Phenomenal Ambassadors and sharing great stories of accomplishments. Earlier last month I helped share that the most important thing we should weigh is our effort–not just our success or our appearance.

Lean Cuisine wants to help you Feed Your PhenomenalTM by helping each other recognize the unseen things women do every day that go unnoticed, so I’m sharing the story of a woman who I think is phenomenal.

In my last post I told you about Natalie from Visionary Womanhood, who worked so hard to make her marriage work, and is now leaning more on God as she is learning that she can’t be responsible for someone else’s poor choices. And she’s come to such a greater understanding of grace in the process! She’s writing phenomenal stuff.

Today I want to share another blogger with you: Sarah Ball from Virtuous Woman Exposed. She’s a mom of 5. She struggles with her past. She struggles with keeping romance alive. She’s just plain honest. And that’s refreshing.

I first met Sarah at a writer’s conference two years ago. She was asking my advice on blogging and getting books published, and I invited her to guest post for me. Now, at that particular conference I invited dozens of women to send me guest posts. Sarah is one of the few who followed through.

What really stood out to me was her message. Sarah’s a busy mom of 5. But the whole point of her blog is that she isn’t just “The Virtuous Woman” from Proverbs 31 or anything. She’s “The Virtuous Woman EXPOSED“–the one who tells it like it is and opens up on her own foibles and where life is just plain messy.

As you all know, I’m on a crusade to end the “pat Christian answers” to marriage problems.

Sarah doesn’t give pat answers. She’s the mom of 5 kids, and she’s trying to juggle a blossoming freelance writing career while still being a great mom. And a great wife. And not losing it with everyone in sight.

I love her take on mommy porn–she’s upfront and honest about her own struggles in marriage, and she’s upfront and honest with her 16-year-old daughter. We need more of that!

I love her conclusion that bringing her muffin top on vacation to Mexico was absolutely okay. And I adore her advice to husbands on how to encourage their wives to lose weight. If every man followed her 7 day plan–wow, we’d have great marriages!

And one of the bravest things she did was to create her Fearless in 21 Days series–detailing her own battle with panic attacks and stress, and then showing how we can work through it.

VWE

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by Accident

In 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, thought #3 is all about happiness and how our husbands were not put on earth to make us happy. In fact, we weren’t put on earth to be happy. But when we find joy in God and contentment in our circumstances, then happiness usually follows. It’s a by-product of the things that we choose to think about.

And as I told the stories of several women who had discovered happiness in marriage, one said this:

“I realized that my contentment was a gift that I could give my husband.”

Instead of waiting for him to make you happy, finding your own contentment is such a gift. He won’t feel like he has to fix things for you. He won’t feel like he’s inadequate. He’ll feel like he’s 10 feet tall and he can take on the world. And that really is fun to be around!

I’ve read so many “pat Christian answers” about how to find happiness in marriage. You know the kind–learn his love language and be absolutely amazing to him, and then he will do the same for you! Or just pray a lot and you’ll find that God will give you the desires of your heart.

That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about manipulating him. It’s not about trying to convince God to make you happy. It’s about realizing what is in your control, and then chasing after doing the right thing! It’s about honesty. It’s about authenticity before God and before your husband. And it’s about being real.

I love that Sarah has understood that. I love that she’s wrestling in the day to day with real problems, and she’s giving other people a window into that. I love that she’s not projecting this idea that if we have these perfect homes and we do these perfect devotions and we’re all perfectly organized that we’ll be happy. No, that’s not what we’re supposed to be chasing after. It’s not about having a perfect life. It’s about treating yourself well, treating others well, and chasing after God, even in the mess.

So check out Sarah!

Sarah’s all about getting healthy: getting healthy emotionally, getting healthy spiritually, figuring out how to get healthy physically even with 5 kids.

And now I want to know: which woman do you know who is phenomenal?

Visit the Phenomenal Effect website to enter Lean Cuisine’s promotion and help spread the Phenomenal Effect by recognizing the phenomenal women in your life and encouraging them to do the same. You could win prizes for yourself and everyone that you recognize. Also be sure to visit them on Facebook and Twitter

Who are some of the phenomenal women in your life? Tell us about it in the comments. Each comment will automatically be entered to win a $100 Visa gift card, thanks to SheKnows!

Entry Instructions: 

No duplicate comments. 

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry. 

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older (or nineteen (19) years of age or older in Alabama and Nebraska). Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 2 business days to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here

This sweepstakes runs from 8/13/15 – 9/30/15. 

Be sure to visit the Lean Cuisine brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

Top 10 Ways I Bring Happiness into My Life

How to Be Happy: 10 Idea

How to be happy–in the middle of your mess–is the main question we’re all desperately trying to find an answer for.

How can we find happiness even if we’re busy, stressed out, tired, or a little lonely?

Yesterday I was talking about how your husband can’t make you happy–because he can’t fix everything, and he can’t feel all your angst to the same extent you do. Ultimately our own happiness comes not from other people, but from joy and contentment first (finding peace with God and with ourselves), and then we’ll find peace with our circumstances.

But how, practically, do you do that?

I had some pushback yesterday saying, “but my husband is supposed to be there when I’m hurt! He’s supposed to be helping with the kids and relieving my burdens!” To which I’d say, “absolutely!”

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentAnd in my book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I talk about both sides. I start with four thoughts that will help us get our own hearts in the right place; three ideas that will change the way you look at resolving conflict and bringing up issues when your husband ISN’T supporting you; and two thoughts for keeping close.

But I find that often when we’re unhappy we’re so quick to point the finger.

And I think it’s better to really look at our own hearts first. I’m not saying your husband is perfect; on the contrary, I spent all last week talking about what to do if he isn’t! But I am saying that too often we think he’s the sole source of the problem when we play a role too.

And so today I’d like to share the ways that I’ve found to take responsibility for my own happiness.

Too often I think we over-spiritualize this, making it sound as if happiness is there if we’d all just spend four hours a day in prayer and ignore everything else.

That’s not real life–and quite frankly Jesus enjoyed a lot of things other than prayer. Prayer is wonderful, but overspiritualizing problems doesn’t really help most of us. So I want to get practical today!

Top 10 Ways to Stop Being Too Tired for SexUsually on Top 10 Tuesday I give you ten ideas, and I tell you to pick 1-3 to actually put into practice (since no one can do all 10!) Today’s a little different. I’m not telling you to pick any of them; I want to use myself as an example, and then encourage you to brainstorm about what ideas will do the same thing for you. I’ll tell you what brings me peace and joy, but since we’re different, the same things may not work for you. But the concepts will.

How To Be Happy Tips: Big Picture

1. Pick Just ONE Bible Verse

I got this concept from Courtney Joseph, who is doing a wonderful job at Women Living Well with her Good Morning Girls series!

I know that we’re constantly told to read our Bibles, and to pray, but for many of us that’s a hard slog. And we can’t do it in the morning. And the more people say, “read your Bible!”, the more inadequate we feel.

Here’s what I do: my husband and I spend 7-9 p.m. together, walking, talking, watching a Netflix show, playing a game. But at 9 I get out my Bible, a nonfiction book I’m reading, and my journal, and I read and write for an hour. I use a devotional to tell me what to read in the Bible everyday.

Then I look for just ONE verse–just one–that really speaks to me from the reading. I write that on a piece of paper, and all the next day I look at it and memorize it and think about it. It helps me focus my thoughts.

Here’s one God gave me on Sunday, when I was struggling with what prayer means:

How to Be Happy: Choose just one verse for each day

When we pick a verse, we know that God is speaking to us. That our devotions are interactive. It’s not just you reading; God is speaking too!

You want peace and joy, but don’t compare your spiritual life with other people’s spiritual lives. I’ve tried for years to read my Bible in the morning. I’ve tried the “reading the Bible in 90 days”. It doesn’t work for me. I’d read but not take it in.

Do what works for you. And if all you can take away is one verse–that’s enough! I find if I pray and think about one verse each day, I have an ongoing conversation with God. And it really brings joy!

2. Know My ONE Big Thing for the Year

I know my one big thing that I’m working towards for my business this year, and for my personal life this year. Personally, it’s getting my house cleaned out so my mom can move in. Businesswise, it’s getting some more ebooks written and creating a plan for them.

I know those are my ONE things (well, technically it’s two, but I have two parts of my life).

I take a yearly retreat and pray over these ONE things. And it really does help!

So everyday I do 10 minutes towards my ONE thing. That’s it. Just 10 minutes. And then I can track my progress. When I know that I’m working towards a goal and I’m being purposeful, I tend to feel more positively, like I’m moving towards something God has called me to.

3. Know My ONE Big Thing for the Day

Here’s something else: I know my one thing that I need to get done in the day. The one thing that must be checked off my list. Everything else can fall away, but I need that one thing done.

Today it’s getting a video edited that I hope will go up tomorrow.

But that way, at the end of the day, I’ll have something to point to.

If we start the day knowing our one thing for the day, and our big picture goal we’re working towards, we’re going to end the day feeling like we’ve accomplished something.

And for me personally, I usually feel the least happy when I feel as if I’ve gotten nothing done. When we get frazzled, it’s usually because our day has gotten away from us. We had some things planned, but we didn’t do them. We relaxed in front of Facebook instead, or we responded to every kid’s cry instead of trying to plan something proactive to stop those cries. And then by the afternoon we’ve had nothing done, everyone’s grumpy, and we feel like failures.

If you want to be happy, don’t let life get away from you! Know your ONE thing, and do it!

4. Pick ONE Friend

Here’s a new one I’m starting as an empty nester: every week I’m getting together with one friend for lunch. It won’t always be the same friend (in fact, I hope it’s not!) But I need more women in my life. I spend so much time in front of my computer and talking to my girls and my husband that I can get a little lonely and narrow focused. Friendships help us to step outside of ourselves.

This Saturday I’m having lunch with a friend I’ve known since university and we’re going to commiserate about our girls together. It will be great!

Every week, I know who I’m going to get together with and when. It helps me to know I’m not in this alone.

If you have little kids and you can’t do lunch, can you get together with someone for coffee? Or can you plan a one hour phone conversation with a different friend each week?

5. Get Dressed

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not. I don’t mean yoga pants and a baggy T-shirt. I mean get dressed in something that flatters you. Put on earrings (unless you have toddlers that yank!), and put on some lipstick.

I always feel so much better if I look better. It makes me feel more confident, less like a slouch, more like “I am made for a purpose and I’m going to do battle in the world today!” Yay!

How to Be Happy Tips: Stop and Enjoy

Now we’ve got the big picture things. The next five steps are just small things–tiny things that I add to my life that make me joyful. They’re not big. They’re not elaborate. But they make me happy, because they celebrate the beauty God gave us.

6. Sip Some Herbal Tea

I gave up Diet Pepsi a year ago, and that was tough, because I loved it. So I had to replace it with something. And that something has been tea. I do hot tea and iced tea. White tea and green tea. Black tea and herbal tea. I have so many teas to choose from! I take my tea supply with me when I travel.

It helps me to feel as if I’m enjoying all different tastes, without chemicals. And it’s lovely.

How to Be Happy: Find some teas you love!

7. Infuse the House with Essential Oils

God gave us five senses, but how often do we indulge them? I love filling my aromatherapy infuser with essential oils both for the scent and for the healing properties. Right now I have a headache blend going–I was feeling a little bit achy today–but it’s so lovely with peppermint and rosemary and juniper.

Ever notice how much of the Song of Solomon has to do with different senses? Let’s use them!

How to Be Happy: Add essential oils to your day

8. Reserve Time to Cook

I used to go through my day not knowing what I was going to make for dinner. Life was too hectic, and I didn’t deal with things until I had to.

Then one day, about eight years ago, I made a startling discovery. I actually LIKE cooking. It smells luscious. It’s amazing that you can take vegetables and meat and broth and turn it into something that looks so lovely and tastes so lovely. It’s using God’s raw ingredients to create–so cool!

So now dinner prep is MY time. When the girls were little they had that time off to play or do whatever they wanted–as long as they left me alone. And it’s still my favourite part of the day. I plan what I’ll make the night before and get all things out of the freezer, but then I cook. And I relax. And I’m happy.

9. Go For a Walk

When my girls were little and driving me crazy, I had one go-to method that calmed us all down: I’d stick them in a stroller and head outside, even if it was freezing and snowing.

Getting out of the house always worked its magic.

I love fresh air. I love seeing my neighbours. I love time to breathe.

These days, whenever I’m frustrated with some writing, or I can’t think of what to say next, or I’m stuck with emails, I knock on Katie’s door (she’ll be gone in two weeks! Yikes!) and I say, “let’s go for a walk.” She hardly ever says no.

If my husband’s home, I take him, too.

And if no one’s home, I go by myself.

I pray. I think. I breathe.

And then I come home.

10. Just Feel

I take time everyday just to FEEL–in the physical sense. Whether it’s some stretching, or asking my husband to give me a massage (or treating myself to a professional one occasionally), or going for a jog, I try to feel.

We live our lives almost entirely in our heads, and I think that’s what often gets the dissatisfaction going. If we can take time everyday to STOP and ENJOY, it makes a difference.

So feel–stretch, exercise, massage. Breathe. Smell. Drink. Revel in the wonderful things that God has made. Give yourself a minute to enjoy something beautiful. And then continue to work on your big picture things that give you purpose.

Those are my ten things. Yours may be different. You may include listening to music (I find I’m loving silence more and more), or digging something in the garden, or sketching something.

But notice what isn’t on the list: Netflix. Computer games. Facebook. Do I do these things? Yes, I do. But I know they don’t make me happy. If I fill my life with those I will feel chronically dissatisfied. That’s not to say we CAN’T do them. But if you want to be happy, you’ve got to find ways to seek out God’s purpose, fulfill that purpose, and revel and enjoy what He has made.

Creativity is one of the ways we’re made in the image of God–and too often we squeeze creativity out of our lives.

As I said yesterday,  your happiness is a gift you can give your husband.

When we are happy and at peace, he doesn’t have to solve anything. He can take a deep breath, relax, and revel in being at home. So if there are things that you can do to find that joy and contentment, you’ll also find your happiness. And that will boost your marriage tremendously!

Let me know in the comments: What makes you happy? What small things can you do to bring joy into your life?

 

 

My Husband Can’t Make Me Happy

Are you waiting for your husband to make you happy?

My husband can't make me happy--that's not his job. Let's take responsibility for our stuff!

Our marriage was never fabulous,” my friend Julie told me. “And it went down substantially when we had kids.” Her first child was extremely colicky. Her second baby was born prematurely and was on a heart monitor for six months. She’d not anticipated how difficult motherhood would be, and it threw her for a loop.

“I was completely out of my element, and I kept expecting my husband to fix it,” Julie said. But her husband was out of his element too. Although he had the job world under control, he didn’t know how to step in and control the home front. Julie explained:

I felt like he wasn’t helping me, but he didn’t know what to do any more than I did. I was trying to make him into my savior, and he wasn’t my savior. He was supposed to be my partner. Mean-while, he was feeling overwhelmed in a different way. His wife had become a complete mess. “Where’s the beautiful wife I married?” he’d say. And I was blaming him for making her disappear.

When I was a personal mess, my husband tried to fix it. When it wasn’t fixable, he wanted to step away. It just made him feel badly. He didn’t know how to react to me.

The more Julie’s husband stepped away, the more Julie started to notice all the ways that he wasn’t meeting her needs. Add to that her own insecurity as a mom, and her personal mess grew worse and worse.

Can you relate to Julie?

I can.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentJulie’s story ended up in my upcoming book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. I was telling you all about the book last week, and we were looking at some of the more controversial elements–how sometimes you have to confront sin in your husband’s life, and we weren’t always called to keep silent.

But if you were to ask me which of the 9 “thoughts” was the hardest for me personally, it would be this one: realizing that my husband was not put on earth to make me happy.

I’ve been through a tough year and a half. It started with a lot of health problems, and ended with a personal struggle I’ve been praying through and agonizing about. And what’s bugged me the most is that I can’t share that personal struggle with Keith in the way that I want to, because it’s not his struggle. He doesn’t feel the same way about the issue as I do (it’s not a marriage issue, by the way. It’s something totally different.)

Here’s what I think we women often do–what both Julie and I have done: when we are having a personal problem, we expect our husbands to enter into that problem, to walk through it with us, to comfort us, and even to fix it. To do something about it. To be our big champion!

But isn’t being our champion God’s role?

If your husband doesn’t get as riled up or as upset about something as you do, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. It just means that he has a different perspective.

The problem women make is that we expect our husbands to slog through all our problems alongside us; the problem many men make is that they try to handle their problems alone.

Neither approach is right.

Who do we expect to fix our problems?

I don’t know what’s bothering you today–if you’re worried about a relationship, or worried about your kids, or worried about money. It’s okay to have things that are burdening you. But let’s make sure that we put the onus for fixing those problems where it belongs: with ourselves and with God, not with our husbands. Sure, they can help. Sure, they can sympathize (my husband’s been very good at that). But they don’t have to enter into the problem the way that we do.

Here’s what Julie learned:

One day, when her children were still preschoolers, Julie looked in the mirror and felt as if she didn’t recognize herself anymore. She used to be a confident woman with drive and dreams who could take on the world; now she was a mess who was always angry. “I finally realized I couldn’t force having the relationship I wanted. I wanted me back. I honestly think my prayers even changed, from less of a ‘God, just fix everything, and everyone, around me’ to ‘Lord, just help me be better.’”

And how did she get better?

She figured out God’s formula for happiness.

I share it in detail in the book, but I want to give you a glimpse into it.

Let’s start with first principles: happiness is about being happy with your circumstances. Happiness is really based on this earth–with liking what’s going on around  you. That’s why happiness is so fickle, because we can’t control our circumstances.

I’ve found the best explanation of happiness to be this one:

Happiness is having what you want, which is only possible when God helps you to want what you have.

If we stop at that first half–having what you want–we’ll always be unhappy, because our wants are unlimited. We can always figure out something else that we need. We are, at heart, envious people.

What we really need, then, is for God to change our hearts so that we want what He has given us. I think that’s what Psalm 37:4 means:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

It’s not that God gives you what you desire; it’s that He actually gives you your desires.

As you grow closer to Him, you start to desire the things of God. And when you possess those, you become happy.

So, in other words, happiness is a by-product of something else. Happiness isn’t the first step at all; it’s something that only comes after we wrestle with God. Happiness, I believe, can only come after joy and contentment, because they’re not the same thing.

Here’s how I explain it:

Joy is an emotion that looks upward; contentment is an emotion that looks inward; and happiness is an emotion that looks outward. Joy says, “How great is our God!” Contentment says, “It is well with my soul.” And happiness says, “What a wonderful husband I have!”

Happiness is important. We all want to enjoy our marriages. But the ability to enjoy marriage depends first and foremost on our perspective. And what determines that? Our attitude toward God (looking upward) and our heart attitude (looking inward). When we have joy and contentment, happiness in marriage will become much more attainable.

Happiness flows from joy and contentment first--not from our husbands. From 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage

I know we hear that all the time–that we can’t be happy until we first have Jesus. It sounds so cliche. But the thing is–it’s true. It’s not a pat answer because it always applies.

Ladies, we’re all going to go through periods, like Julie, when we are exhausted and stretched beyond our limits. I did when I had health problems; Julie did when she had little kids. Our husbands can be sympathetic. Our husbands can walk alongside and pray with us. But they can’t feel it in the same way that we do, and they can’t always fix it.

But men like to fix things. That’s one of their motivating forces. So when we have a problem and he can’t fix it, he will withdraw. He’ll feel useless. And that will make our situation worse.

The biggest lesson that I have learned in the last year is this one:

My happiness is a gift that I can give my husband.

When I am happy (which only flows from joy and contentment), my husband is free. He doesn’t have to fix anything. He can just love me, and have fun with me, and dote on me without feeling like he’s somehow doing something wrong. What a blessing!

It’s been tough. It was tough for Julie–she had to learn how to bring God into her daily life and how to set up systems so that she could cope with two difficult preschoolers. I have had to learn to spend much more time in prayer to wrestle through my own issues. I’ve had to learn to fill my life with little bits of joy. I’ve had to find more discipline.

But it’s been worth it, because now I can say to Keith, “let’s go on a hike this weekend!”, and we can, and there’s no lingering feeling like he’s disappointing me.

Here we are, on Saturday, during a 10 km trek (seriously, it felt a lot longer with all the hills):

Keith Sheila Hike

Tomorrow I want to share with you my Top 10 ways for creating happiness–and thus giving your husband the gift of a happy wife! It’s just a snippet of what’s in the book–seriously, there’s so much more–but I hope it will help you.

But today I wanted to let you know that I learned a lot while writing this book. I have struggled with many of these issues, too, and this one in particular has been a journey for me.  I hope you can take this journey with me.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentNine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage will start shipping August 18–but you can pre-order it now! And everyone who preorders, or who orders it on August 18, will be able to get a whole bunch of free downloadable goodies during all my parties I’m planning for August 18! Just keep watching this blog, or stay in touch through my newsletter so you don’t miss your chance to get your goodies, and come to a bunch of fun parties on the day!

And if you’re in North America, Amazon has the pre-order price at 52% off! It’s only $7.42. So get it today!

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