Reader Question: How Do You Leave and Cleave If He Won’t Leave?

Reader Question: My husband is lazy and won't get a job!When we get married we’re supposed to leave and cleave–but what if your husband won’t leave his mother and father?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. Today we’re talking mother-in-law issues:

What do you do when your mother-in-law interferes? She will call the house and if I don’t answer she will call my husband at work and bug him about me not answering…She calls every evening around 7 when my husband is getting home. Most times I don’t even get a hello from him before she calls. Some nights she will keep him on the phone for up to an hour…Almost every Sunday she bugs us about going to church with them and she gets mad if we don’t go to their church. Every time we plan on going out something comes up (usually because of his mom) and we don’t. We have only been out once in the last year for our anniversary. I feel like I never see my husband and when I do his mom is involved. It is very stressful and it is causing a wedge between us. Please help!

Here’s another woman who is frustrated that her husband is still primarily concerned with his mother:

My husband and I have been married for 14 years and have several children. We married quite young and went straight from our parents’ homes to married with a baby on the way. We’ve been through a lot in our marriage, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his tendency to choose his mom over me. If she wants us to do something and I do not want to, we do it. We have talked and argued and battled over this our entire marriage. When he does go along with something, he acts as if it couldn’t be helped. In the past I have tried to get him to go to counseling, but he “doesn’t like the idea”. I realize that this is a power struggle that I am in, but my life and marriage are being controlled by his mother. I am 33 years old, a mother myself, and do not want her dictating our lives. What do I do that is both pleasing to God and putting my foot down?

Leave and Cleave: Handling it when your husband lets your mother-in-law interfere

The Basics: What Does “Leave and Cleave” Mean?

Genesis 2:24 says,

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

When we get married, we leave behind our parents and we join with our spouse, becoming one flesh with them. We are a new unit.

That doesn’t mean that we aren’t to honor our parents; they deserve our love and respect and our help, especially as they age. But our primary allegiance is no longer to them; we’re supposed to identify first and foremost with our spouse.

On a Daughter Getting Engaged: Getting ready for them to leave and cleaveThis summer, after my husband walks our oldest, Rebecca, down the aisle, the minister will ask Keith and me and Connor’s parents if we are prepared to let our children go. I never thought much about that, but as the date draws near the enormity of it is hitting. I have to let Rebecca make her own choices. I can’t interfere. I can’t demand that she update me on what’s going on with school. I can ask, but it really needs to be her choice, and I need to be okay with that.

I hope that she still wants to spend lots of time with us, but ultimately that is her decision, not mine. She and Connor will be the unit, and we won’t be a nuclear family in the same way again.

How Do You Talk About Leave and Cleave?

Usually when leave and cleave in-law issues come up, the conversation with our husbands focuses on the mother.

Let’s imagine the first scenario for a minute:

“Your mom called right as you came in the door again! I feel like I never get to talk to you. Instead of eating dinner with the family you speak all night with her. She is always interfering in our lives and taking you away from us!”

Now, what’s your husband going to think? He now is put in the position of either defending his mother or attacking his mother–neither of which is really comfortable for him.

What’s a better strategy for having this conversation? Offer him two things:

  1. A specific chance to help you
  2. A chance to plan with you

Let’s say the conversation instead looked like this:

“Honey, I feel like we’ve had so little time together lately because your mom has been calling so much. I love your mom and love the fact that you love your mom, but I’m feeling lonely. Can we talk about how to find time to feel more connected?”

Now the issue is no longer his mom–it’s the fact that you have a need that he can fill–and many guys like feeling like Captain America swooping in to save the damsel in distress.

You could also frame a conversation like this:

“I love your mom and so appreciate her role as grandma. I also really love our own nuclear family. Can we talk about what a great relationship with a grandma would look like, and what a great nuclear family would look like?”

Again, no blame is being placed. You’re not attacking his mom and asking him to choose sides. You’re just asking for some ideas. And as you have these conversations, you can say something like this:

“I’d like to write down what we’re saying so that we can refer to it later. What do you think is a reasonable amount of time to spend together with your family in the evenings? How often should an adult check in with their parents if they want to honor their parents? How many weekends a year should a family give their parents, and how many weekends should they take, just them? Can you think of a family that we know with a great relationship with their parents–but also as a nuclear family? How often do they spend with their parents? What makes that relationship great?”

Once you get these parameters written down, you can now refer to them when things get out of hand.

“Honey, I notice that you said you thought it was reasonable to check in with parents every other day for about twenty minutes, but in the last few days you’ve talked to your mom for an hour each day. How do you think we can move our family closer to what we want?”

These are the kinds of conversations that are often more productive. You’re not blaming, you define parameters, you set up goals which you you can easily see whether you’ve met or not, and you have something tangible to come back to if things don’t work.

Who is Responsible for Leaving?

It’s important that parents let their children go, but ultimately the child must decide to leave. And you can’t make that decision for your spouse. If your mother-in-law is taking a lot of your husband’s time, you can certainly talk to her. But your husband must be the one to set the parameters.

How Can You Build a Life with Your In-Laws?

It’s easier for him to set those parameters if you make an effort to love your mother-in-law and make your own relationship with her. If your husband feels as if he always must choose between two women who don’t like each other, you put him in a difficult position.

Romans 12:18 says,

 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Do what you can to have a great relationship with your mother-in-law. Sometimes that won’t be possible, but try. Ask for recipes. Ask for her to teach you something. Ask if you can join a hobby with her, or take her shopping. Go get your nails done together on a regular basis.

If you can find a way to relate to your mother-in-law that does not involve your husband, you go so far in making it easier for your husband to leave.

I’m about to be a mother-in-law, and I’m starting to have some sympathy for the mother-in-law in these relationships. Here’s the thing: I believe that mothers-in-law often become interfering because they are desperately afraid of losing their child. And so you try to make sure that your son still loves you as his mom. You want to still feel special.

I know that I won’t worry about losing my daughter if Connor takes some time to get to know us individually. And that’s why we were so happy when he agreed to go on a father-son canoe trip coming up with my husband! If we feel as if our son-in-law loves us as individuals, and not just because he’s married to our daughter, then we won’t be nearly as concerned with our daughter proving her loyalty. And I’ve been so proud to watch how Rebecca is trying to reach out to her future mother-in-law, and put her at ease that she won’t take her son away from her. She gets it.

So reach to your mother-in-law. It may not take much–but if she knows you’re an ally, not a rival, then she may have an easier time letting go of her son.

Dayspring Serenity Prayer

What if Your Husband Never Chooses to Leave and Cleave?

What if you’ve done all of this and your husband is still at her beck and call?

Can you move away? I’ve known several marriages that have broken up that I’ve always felt would have survived if they had just moved away from her parents (in those cases it was SHE who wasn’t leaving, not HE).

If that’s not possible, you have two choices:

  1. Grow bitter about it and make his life miserable
  2. Decide to let it go and love your husband

I know that everyone would be better off if your husband learned to leave and cleave. But you can’t make him. You can seek out a mentor couple; you can ask for all of you to sit down with a counselor; you can even go to your pastor. But if things don’t change, what are you going to do?

I wrote a post a while ago about changing our attitudes when there’s one big area where your husband disappoints you–and you have to learn to accept it, and find ways to make your own life happy and peaceful anyway.

If you know that your husband is going to talk to his mom every night at 7 for an hour, then can you find something you do at 7 that you enjoy, so you’re not disappointed and stewing every evening? If you know that your mother-in-law is going to want your husband to help her with errands this Saturday, can you plan something fun for you and the kids so that you don’t end up making him feel guilty?

BoundariesAnd if your mother-in-law wants you all to come do something with her, it’s quite okay on occasion to say, “I really need a weekend just with the kids. I’d love for you to join us, but if you feel you must go with your mother, feel free. But I think I’ll keep the kids here with me this weekend.” You don’t need to go along with everything; you can set boundaries yourself.

Keep expressing your feelings, as we talked about above, but ultimately you’re letting go and you’re letting your husband make his own decisions. Sometimes in that letting go he feels freed to look at the situation more objectively, because it’s not so emotional. He may decide that you look like you’re having a lot more fun without him–and he wants to join you! But even if he doesn’t, at least you’re not as miserable anymore.

Now it’s your turn: Let me know in the comments, have you ever had to set boundaries around in-laws? Or are you an in-law yourself and you’ve had to watch how you treat your adult children? Tell us any tips you have!

Reader Question: I’m Always Left Hanging in Bed

Reader Question: What do I do if my husband never tries to fulfill me sexually?What do you do if your husband always leaves you hanging in bed? He’s satisfied, but you’re left frustrated?

Every Monday I like to answer a Reader Question, and today’s is about what happens when the husband always reaches orgasm but makes no effort to see that his wife does, too. A reader writes:

My husband and I have been married for 25 years. The first four years or so were pretty great sexually. We were even having simultaneous orgasms with intercourse without even really trying.

After the kids were born, I went into a period of refusing my husband. That lasted for pretty much 20 years. And to make things even worse I was self gratifying myself, even as I was refusing him.

I came to my senses 1.5 years ago. I wanted to save our marriage. So I decided to do everything I could to do that. And now we’ve discovered that I’m the high drive spouse!

I did a lot of reading of blogs and books and websites to do my best to learn how to please my husband. He’s a happy camper. But even as much as I really enjoy the time together, I still haven’t been able to have an orgasm. When we do have sex, it seems to end up being all about him. He doesn’t seem interested in making much of an effort to please me. He pretty much falls asleep right away a very happy camper. Meanwhile I lie awake just buzzing and unfulfilled physically. When I read on blog posts and online about how husband’s really love to see there wives get totally involved in love making, and how husbands really love to see there wives turned on and husband really love to please their wives and bring them to orgasm, it just breaks my heart. Because my husband doesn’t seem interested. Almost all of our sexual encounters end up with me frustrated and him happy.

I’ve had other variations on this same question, too. Sex is over with after five minutes, and he goes right to sleep and doesn’t seem to care that she is left unsatisfied.

So what do you do?

My husband leaves me unsatisfied in bed! 4 Strategies if you're left hanging.

Understanding the Difference Between Men’s Orgasms and Women’s Orgasms

We often hear that men can climax so much faster than women, but that’s not entirely true. Studies show that when masturbating, for instance, both men and women can reach climax in about 2-3 minutes. Here’s my theory on that: it’s actually more difficult to figure out exactly WHERE and HOW to touch a woman to make her feel great than it is to touch a man. And for women, sex is primarily in our heads. During masturbation (which I am not recommending, by the way), women are already aroused and we know what feels good.

Good Girls Guide My SiteAnother reason: for women, most orgasms are clitoral in nature–even orgasms during intercourse. It’s his pelvic area rubbing against the clitoris during intercourse that helps push us over the edge (if you’re wondering about how to make this happen better, I’ve got lots of tips in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex). Researchers now believe that even G-spot orgasms are connected to the clitoris because the nerve endings connect between the two (and some people think the G-spot is just an extension of the clitoris).

So all that being said, it’s simply harder during intercourse for a woman to reach climax without exactly the right pressure in exactly the right place.

According to a Brown University fact page on female orgasm, on average, men take 2-3 minutes once intercourse starts, and women 10-20. That’s a big difference (now, men can last longer if they learn how and try; but those are averages).

Why Does Your Husband Not Care About Bringing You to Orgasm?

So what do you do to ensure you get the time (and stimulation) you need? Sometimes it depends on why he doesn’t seem interesting in pleasuring her. In this case, for instance, is he resentful because of the years of her refusing sex, so he won’t try? Or is he getting older so lasting longer is harder–and he doesn’t want to talk about that? Does he just not care? Or is he oblivious to her needs, assuming she’s fine because she refused for so long?

(If the reason is really due to premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction, then I’ve got a series that would be more useful here.)

I think in most cases it’s the last–he’s oblivious. As Shaunti Feldhahn showed in her book Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, in about 90% of marriages the spouse honestly wants the best for the other spouse–even during times of conflict. Most spouses really do want the other spouse to be happy. So for most couples in this situation, the problem is likely that he just doesn’t know. If it’s something more sinister you really have that to deal with before you look at the orgasm issue. So let’s assume, just for now, that it is ignorance. Then what?

I have four suggestions that may work, but not all will be applicable in every marriage. Pick the one that works best for you!

1. Talk To Him About It

Often we’re looking for a magic answer that solves the problem without us having to have an awkward conversation or open up a can of worms. But very rarely is there such an answer.

Usually you just have to talk. Pick a time that you’re not stressed, that you have a day stretching out before you, and most of all–when you’re not in the middle of having sex!

Phrase the problem as one you both have, not something that he is to blame for. For instance, “I’ve been feeling unsatisfied lately with sex. Can we talk about how to make sure that it’s good for both of us?” is better than, “You always get to feel great while I’m left really frustrated, and it’s not fair!”

And ask for feedback from him, too. Chances are there are things you can do differently, too, and if he feels free to share things and you take them seriously, he’s more likely to listen to your thoughts.

31 Days to Great SexMany couples have found the easiest way to talk about sex is to work through my book, 31 Days to Great Sex. You just read 2-4 pages together at night and then do the challenge–which is always fun! And each challenge builds on the one before. You’ll find challenges on how to make her feel great as well, and if you just can’t seem to make him understand during a conversation, try reading the book together!

2. Be More Dominant in Bed

No, I’m not talking about domination and submission here. I just mean that if you want to feel good, you may have to start taking a more active role in bed. If sex is something he primarily does while you lie there, that’s probably the hardest way to reach orgasm for a woman.

So you be the one to start the encounter with foreplay. Rub your body against his in a way that you like. Take his hand and put it where it needs to be. When intercourse starts, you be the one to choose the position. If you sense that he’s getting close before you are, stop for a minute and do something that feels good to you (like rubbing again) while he gets a chance to calm down. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but he’s more likely to see what it is you need, and you’re more likely to get it!

3. Play Teacher

I really recommend this game to couples more often! Decide that you will play teacher and student (either on the same night or different nights). One night he gets to teach you how to make him feel great, and one night you teach him. And be as strict as you can! If it’s not exactly right, tell him. Order him around. But then let him do it to you on your night.

How this game works best: If you’re entirely out of character. If you act like yourself, but you’re just making suggestions, you’ll likely be too timid and he won’t take it as seriously. If, on the other hand, you both start acting more stern, it will be far funnier and more intense and you’ll feel less awkward.

I really do believe that most reasons that men don’t satisfy their wives is simply ignorance. Many men believe their own sexual response is the norm–fast, easy to achieve. So a woman should figure out how to become a man in bed, essentially. Men may not have articulated that, but that’s the thought. It doesn’t work! Let him see what it is like to make you feel good, and what it does take, and he may become more generous.

4. Have His and Her Nights

Finally, if he just won’t get it, then suggest that you have “his” and “her” nights over the course of the month. Some nights can be just normal, but let’s say two Saturdays a month are her nights and two are his nights. And on her nights, you get to decide exactly what you want him to do. As long as it’s reciprocated on his nights, he may be more eager. And once he understands what you like and see the response it gets, he may be more likely to do some of these things on “normal” nights, too.

What if none of these things works? Then you really do have an issue with selfishness in your marriage, and that is what needs to be dealt with–not the sex. But I really think for most couples it’s usually ignorance–ignorance of how a woman’s body works, and ignorance that it’s actually bothering you. Men hear so much that women don’t enjoy sex, after all, that they may honestly think you don’t care and you’d rather have it over with quickly.

So talk to him, try some of these things, and give it some time. And hopefully pretty soon you’ll be satisfied in bed, too.

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Learning to Ask My Husband for Help

How asking for help from my husband made our marriage so much better!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can comment, or, better still, link up your own post in the Linky below. Today we’re going to talk about asking for help from our hubbies.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do in marriage is to ask for help. We think either that he should already know what we need, or that if we have to ask, that means there’s something wrong with our relationship.

Today Kate Tunstall from Refined Prose joins us to tell the story of how a baby changed everything in her marriage–including her perspective on asking her husband for help. We’ve been talking about this theme a lot on this blog recently–how sometimes we can avoid problems just by voicing our needs. I thought sharing a real life story could drive this home. So here’s Kate:

When my husband and I decided to start a family, we were one of those sickeningly ‘perfect’ couples who had been together a long time and done everything in the right order.

Not only were we very established, I was also in the enviable position of having a husband who was attentive, thoughtful and selfless. I was totally confident that difficult though a baby may be, my incredible husband would make the tough times endurable and the special times magical. We were relatively young, fit and healthy.

And thus came the life-changing decision that would alter the dynamic of our relationship forever.

Preparing for a Baby

My poor husband was slightly behind me in terms of readiness, though he could see the logic in the timing and was fully supportive. However, he underestimated what can happen when two health-conscious people actively begin to try for a family: within six weeks I was pregnant and his catching up became a sprint, not a marathon.

I still had no concerns: after all, I married the best man I know and was convinced that a baby would only strengthen our bond.

When I delivered our beautiful daughter following early induction due to complications, we were both in awe. One moment the wait for her arrival seemed interminable, the next everything was being medically forced with some urgency. After a difficult labour, she was born mewling and perfect and was placed immediately on my chest, at which point she looked up into my eyes as though to reassure me that she was okay. She was sixteen days early and at 5lb 4oz, she was tiny and delicate and fragile. We were besotted.

Finally, after nearly a week of scans, monitoring and procedures, we were back home with our baby daughter and our new reality set in.

Everybody has heard about The Tiredness, but until it has been experienced, the torment is incomprehensible. Lest we forget, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture…

Being the good wife that I am, and given that I am breastfeeding our daughter, I said from the very beginning that I did not expect my husband to get up in the night. I have always maintained that since he is working while I am at home during the day, his need for sleep during the night is greater than mine. (That said, I question the practicality of ‘sleeping when the baby does’. It has never happened for me – my baby needs clean clothes even if I don’t.)

The First Weeks with Baby Were a Blur–and Exahaustion Took Over

I was totally consumed by love and tiredness and worry and exhaustion and delight and tiredness. It was overwhelming and I wondered constantly if my life would ever be normal again, whether I was caring for our daughter well enough, when I would ever get some proper sleep–and how I was going to cope the following day.

Despite the absolute fatigue, I consoled myself that at least I was the consummate wife: I still didn’t ask my husband to get up in the night. Not only that, I actively encouraged him to continue to work out regularly after work (and I still do). Even though I also used to frequent the gym myself, and am half-crazy with pent up energy which I am unable to expel. Even though I could use some adult company and a little help in the evenings. The way I saw it, why should we both miss out, right? He works hard; he needs to have an outlet.

I knew of other dads who were expected to help with night feeds and who would have their babies thrust upon them the moment they walked through the door in the evening. And I thought to myself how harsh their wives were, how inconsiderate! Not for us, that needy thoughtlessness – oh no. I allowed my husband to get in, have a leisurely shower, make himself a brew and spend half an hour relaxing, only then relinquishing his daughter to him for playtime and cuddles.

An hour later, I would take over again to deal with the bath and bedtime routine. But it was fine, because during this time my husband would potter downstairs and hang the washing, empty the dishwasher and make the dinner. As I may have mentioned once or twice, he was pretty close to perfect.

Resentment Started to Creep In

However, it slowly dawned on me infinitesimally that actually, my husband could be doing things differently to help me more, things that would enable me to have a small break. Things that would forge a bond between him and his baby girl. Speaking to friends brought to my attention that there were issues I had been ignoring which displayed my good wifely intentions in a different perspective.

When my husband told me early on that he was not able to bathe our daughter because it hurt his knees, I accepted it without hesitation. When he (regularly) said it was easier for him to make dinner while I saw to our daughter, I didn’t consider his motives. I trust my husband, I believe in our marriage – why should I question him?

One evening after work my husband expressed a desire to spend a Saturday with a colleague at a comic convention. I was disappointed (he had never before shown any interest in such an activity), but said that if he would prefer to do that than spend time with his family then I didn’t mind. A few days later, after a particularly taxing day, he told me of his intention to learn a new language which would, of course, take away more of his time from us. And this was the moment that the creeping resentment thwacked me over the head and I started to view our solid marriage in a different light.

Realisation That There was a Problem in our Marriage

Listening very carefully to some close friends discussing their relationships is what ultimately helped me to fix things with my husband. While I had been secretly putting our relationship on a pedestal, they had been at the other end of the spectrum, asking for the support they required and having their needs met. I felt a little bit ashamed of my superior attitude (luckily it was a private view that had not been shared). I was humbled as it began to register that I had been so fixated on my husband’s wishes and the desire to maintain the image of a perfect marriage that I had actually been neglecting my own needs. Surely there had to be a happy medium?

Epiphany: My Husband was Insecure as a Dad!

That night I went home and had a frank discussion with my husband. What I discovered broke my heart a little bit: my very competent, capable husband lacked confidence with his tiny, fragile daughter. She was like a delicate little bird and he was terrified of breaking her. While I had had no choice but to learn how to safely handle her, my baby’s daddy was frightened of injuring her little body with his big, clumsy bear hands. This changed everything. A brutal shake-up was required in our house.

One of the most important factors in a successful marriage is communication with your spouse. It is all too easy to make assumptions based on historical truths about your partner and your relationship. However, when you are thrown into completely new territory, you can’t know how a person will react, and sometimes they may need support to adjust. My husband’s failing in this scenario was his inability to discuss his lack of confidence, and mine was to blindly believe in the perfection of our marriage–and then to do him the disservice of presuming he was disinterested or lazy or both.

How exhausting for my husband that I am such a perfectionist that I projected my impossibly high expectations onto him too, and was unable to see him as anything other than infallible! I was so determined to attain The Perfect Marriage that I inadvertently undermined and sabotaged the relationship we do have.

Ultimately my husband’s ego prevented him from owning up to his fears, and mine prevented me from seeing that our habits were getting unhealthy. But my marriage does not belong to me, it belongs to us. And it is not something I can singlehandedly protect or perfect. That responsibility is equally my husband’s.

Change Comes by Asking for Help

So now I have simply learned to ask for help–and once he admitted that he was insecure, and put his own feelings out there, my husband was glad to see where he could be of service. He now gets home earlier after work, helps out with bathtime with the aid of a cushion, and settles our daughter back to sleep if she stirs during the evening. Life has improved exponentially as our daughter has now surpassed a healthy newborn weight. My husband now relishes every moment he has with the baby he dotes on, and in return she adores her daddy. Having those hard conversations was totally worth it.

I learned a valuable lesson here. While I am still proud of our marriage and I still look up to my husband, I also believe that in the future I will be better equipped to handle any similar issues; because I now express my needs to him–without feeling that this is a failing in me or in our marriage.

Gottman quotation on the transition to parenthood: Don't leave your husband behind!

With thanks to Hot, Holy and Humorous for reminding me of this quotation! Now, can you all see what would have happened to Katie’s marriage if she had said nothing–and kept trying to do it all? What would that relationship have been like five years down the road? Don’t forget–sometimes we need to ask for help!

KatieTunstallKate Tunstall is the founder of Refined Prose, the home of her wedding and lifestyle blog. You can also find details about the blogging and writing services Kate offers, and how to hire her here.

 

WifeyWednesday175Now let me know: have you ever seethed with resentment, when simply asking for help would have fixed many of your issues? Leave a comment! And if you have your own blog, feel free to link up a marriage post by putting the URL in the linky below. Thanks for joining me for Wifey Wednesday!

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Top 10 Ways to Prepare for the Empty Nest

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Empty NestToday Gay Christmus, from Calm, Healthy, Sexy, joins us to talk about preparing for the empty nest! Considering my youngest is leaving this summer, I’m eager to hear what she has to say.

Is your daily schedule packed with homework, soccer games, dance recitals, and Scout meetings, not to mention work, church, and community commitments?  Do you feel like a juggler most days, just trying to keep all of your balls in the air?  If so, planning for the “empty nest,” the time when your children will be out on their own, is probably the farthest thing from your mind.  And no wonder – it’s hard to think about the future when you’re just trying to get through each day.

I want to encourage you, though, that now is the time to think about and prepare for empty nest.  Because time flies, and that day “down the road” is going to arrive sooner than you think.  I know a bit about this, because my husband and I have been moving toward the empty nest for a couple of years.  Our older son has graduated from college and is living with a friend, and our younger son is living at home while attending college.  They’re both doing their own thing – even though one still sleeps (and sometimes eats!) at our house – and my husband and I are essentially doing our own thing too.

We’ve been anticipating this for a number of years.  I can’t say we’re fully prepared, but we’ve been aware of it and wanted to know that we could enjoy life together when soccer and basketball and school activities came to an end.  So I want to share with you 10 things we’ve attempted to do (some well, some not so well) to get ready for this new phase of our lives.  If your children are in elementary school or older, I encourage you begin incorporating these things into your marriage and family life too.  On the day when your youngest child heads off to college or moves into an apartment, you’ll be glad you did!

1.  Pray together.

Establish your faith as the foundation of your marriage and family by praying together regularly.  This doesn’t have to be complicated or burdensome; just spend a few minutes together each day thanking God for your blessings and asking for His help with your concerns and problems.

2.  Orient your family around your marriage.

Your children are important, and their needs and activities require time and attention.  But those needs and activities shouldn’t become the “sun” around which your family revolves.  Placing your marriage at the center of your family’s life helps keep things in perspective when your children are young and eases the transition into the time when it’s just the two of you.  It also reminds your children from an early age that the universe doesn’t revolve around them!

3.  Talk about the future.

The elementary school years are not too early to begin talking about life and marriage after the child-intensive years.  Because by the time your children get to high school, they’ll begin focusing more on their friends and outside interests and less on the family.  So enjoy the elementary and middle school years and all the activities they entail, but spend time talking with your husband about the future too.  It’s never too soon to dream about the life you’ll enjoy together when it’s just the two of you.

4.  Take care of your health.

When you reach the empty nest years, you want to be able to enjoy them.  Which means that you want to be strong, healthy and fit, and don’t want to be slowed down by health problems.  Most of the health problems that begin to affect people in their 40s and 50s – diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart problems – are preventable.  And it’s never too early to begin working to prevent them.  So start now by eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and generally taking care of yourself.  And encourage your husband to do the same.  Those simple activities can help ensure that your empty nest years are healthy and active.

5.  Begin developing interests you can enjoy together.

You don’t want to deliver your youngest child to college, only to discover that you and your husband no longer have any interests in common.  So even though it’s difficult to find time for adult activities during the child-raising years, make the time to develop at least one activity that isn’t focused on your children.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive; Sheila has mentioned that she and her husband enjoy bird watching, and my husband and I have taken up bike riding.

6.  Develop friendships and a social life beyond your children’s sports and activities.

When our younger son finished his final season of high school basketball, I (somewhat) jokingly asked my husband, “What are we going to do for a social life in the winter?” Because for many years, our social life from November through February revolved around basketball.  It’s natural for that to happen, because basketball (or soccer or dance or Scouts) takes up a lot of time.  But if you aren’t intentional about developing friendships or a social life beyond those activities, you may experience quite a “social shock” when they end.  So spend some time and energy developing friendships in your church, neighborhood, or other social circles too.

7.  Prioritize sex and intimacy in your marriage.

During the child-intensive years, it’s tempting to let sex and intimacy fall by the wayside.  It’s so easy to think, “I’m tired, I’m busy, the kids are sucking up all of my energy, I just don’t feel in the mood.”  Some or all of those things are probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you or your marriage.  Sex holds the two of you together in the hard times and creates joy in the good times.  So don’t let it slide.  Instead, nurture it and pursue it.  Deep intimacy and an enjoyable sex life will pay you back in spades, both now and in the empty nest years.

8.  Find ways to serve together.

It’s easy to be so focused on our family’s schedule, activities, and commitments that we forget about real needs that exist right in our own communities and around the world.  But it’s important to recognize those needs, both to keep our own problems in perspective and to find ways to serve others.  After all, crazy soccer and ballet schedules don’t seem so overwhelming when we remember that people are hungry or lonely or homeless.  So look for ways to serve others, as a couple or a family.  It will help keep things in perspective now and create an interest you and your husband can continue to develop as your children get older.

9.  Manage your finances.

The earlier in your marriage you begin to control your finances, the better.  Debt, lack of savings, and living beyond your means take a toll at every stage of life, but the older you get the harder it is to recover from financial mismanagement.  Plus, when you finally have extended time to have fun with your husband, you want to have a little bit of money on hand to do it!  So start now to eliminate debt, control spending, and/or bring in some additional income.  My husband and I didn’t start working on this early enough in our marriage, so we’re having to work harder on it now.

10.  Develop the fun side of your marriage.

Sometimes marriage becomes just a little bit tedious, doesn’t it?  It’s all work and no play, and suddenly no one is having very much fun!  So don’t let your long list of “have to” items suck all the fun out of your marriage.  Set a goal of doing something fun together at least once a week.  More often is better, but once a week is a good place to start.  It doesn’t have to be a “date,” just something both of you consider fun and relaxing – a walk after dinner, a bike ride, an outing to get a cup of coffee, or time to watch a funny movie.  You don’t want to arrive at the empty nest years and find that you don’t know how to have fun together anymore.

Whatever the age of your children or stage of your marriage, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the empty nest years.  And it’s never too late either.  If your children are in high school and you haven’t given it much thought, start now!  Talk with your husband, begin making plans, develop a couple of shared interests, and work on enjoying life together!

 

Gaye Groover ChristmusGaye Groover Christmus is a wife and mom to two almost-grown sons.  In her “day job” she works as a writer and editor in a health field.  Her passion, though, is encouraging married women to slow down, live with vitality and energy, and create joy and intimacy in their marriages.  She believes that small steps can lead to big changes, and that women armed with knowledge and a plan can transform their hurried, hectic lives.  Gaye blogs at CalmHealthySexy.  She’d love to send you her ebook, 17 Ways to Live Calmer, Healthier and Sexier – Starting Today – as a gift when you subscribe to the blog.

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Wifey Wednesday: Rebuilding Your Sex Life After Years of Refusing Sex

Husband saying no to sex: when you finally want to say YES, and now he's saying NOMost of you who read this blog regularly are here because you want to make your marriage better.

Some of you may be in a great stage of marriage and just want to make sure it stays that way, but if you look at the search terms by which people end up on this blog, it’s often because you readers are lonely and frustrated.

You’ve been struggling to feel connected, or perhaps sex isn’t going well. You feel distant, and you don’t want to be like that anymore.

And so you try to change things–which means, of course, changing yourself and how you react to your spouse (since you can’t change anyone except yourself).

But what do you do if you were the one who was holding back in the marriage, and now you ARE changing, but your husband doesn’t trust you?

I had a letter from a low libido wife recently which said this:

My husband finds our lack of sex particularly hurtful. When this comes up, I often rush to read a book or post about sex, to try and fix the issue, but this would only ever work “for next time”. A sincere “sorry, (insert attempt at explanation), I’ll try harder from now on” just doesn’t cut it – my husband is hurt and I can’t fix it. What do I do to show him I’m serious?

This scenario applies to many different marriage scenarios–you’ve been distant and you’ve been hurting each other, and now you want to change the dynamic. But your husband isn’t buying it quite yet. What do you do?

Please note: I’m not talking in this blog post to women whose husbands have ALWAYS had low libidos. If that’s the case, this series on why your husband doesn’t want to make love is likely more applicable. But if your husband used to have a high libido, and now he’s turning you down–read on.

Live out the change–Initiate sex

Keep living out the change. If the problem is that you’ve had a low libido and you’ve been refusing sex, then initiate sex. Buy some lingerie. Talk to him about it.

Here’s a scenario I see quite frequently: she is a low libido spouse and so she refuses him. He spends several months, or years, asking, or even begging for sex until he gets so discouraged that he just turns his libido off. He decides that he really doesn’t want anything to do with her sexually.

So he stops asking.

Eventually she realizes that he’s no longer pursuing her, and she starts to panic. She does a 180 and realizes she doesn’t actually want a sexless marriage. So her libido comes back and she starts pursuing him–but by now he’s turned himself off. He doesn’t want to be hurt, and he almost likes the fact that he can hurt her back.

And he doesn’t want to go through all the hassle again of being vulnerable to someone when that just hurt him. So he’d rather stay that way.

So what do you do? You keep at it. You have an open conversation with him where you admit all of your faults–without blaming him. Even if his behaviour was part of what gave you a low libido, you own what you did. In the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, you take the log out of your own eye (you deal with your own issues first) (Matthew 7:3-5).

How to Initiate Sex with Your Husband--witout feeling awkwardYou tell him that you realize what you did to him, and you’re sincerely sorry. And now you’d like to rebuild your sex life. And keep initiating. If you’re not sure how to initiate sex, I’ve got a great post with 10 tips right here!

You can even ask if he’d be willing to schedule sex, so that you can show that you’re serious. You can pick 2 or 3 nights a week where you’d like to make love, and pencil it in. And you can tell him that you promise you’ll only cancel on him once a month at the most–unless you’re genuinely ill with a fever or something.

He still may not be appreciative. He still may withdraw. Or, when you do make love, you may find it supremely unsatisfying because he’s only interested in pleasing himself (he may seem almost angry), and so you don’t get much pleasure from it.

Give him time to be angry and to see that you’re serious. It takes a lot for a guy to break down a wall that he’s built, especially if he’s built it out of self-preservation.

Don’t withdraw or sulk if he now refuses sex

What if you’re hurt? What if you feel lonelier than you’ve ever felt in your life because he’s rejecting you (or being selfish in bed)? How can you deal with these feelings?

My suggestion: don’t withdraw from him and don’t sulk. Say to him, “I’m feeling really lonely and discouraged right now, but I want you to know that whatever you do, I’m not going to give up on this. I want our marriage strong and I want to have a great sex life, and I’m going to hang in there even if you don’t feel loving towards me right now.”

Acknowledge how you feel, but don’t withdraw. And remember: this process may take months–or even years. Changing the dynamic in marriage doesn’t always happen immediately.

Go to God for your emotional needs if you feel rejected sexually and emotionally

And in those lonely days, draw as close to God as you can. Pray blessing over your husband, very specifically, in every area of his life. The more you pray about these specific things, the more your mind gets turned to what God is doing in his life, instead of what your husband is doing to hurt you.

Go to battle for your marriage, and your husband, by praying blessing over him, and by praying for your marriage. And spend some time everyday just in prayer and in reading Scripture, listening to worship CDs, or anything that gets your eyes on God. Keep your eyes there and you’ll find that you’re better able to withstand rejection from your husband.

Push through the tension and LOVE him–with or without sex

It will feel tense when he’s testing you. You will be tempted to lash out. Don’t. Learn to love him despite his actions. And don’t just initiate sex–initiate other things that make him feel loved. Study his love language and live it out. Make your husband your special project where you can think and pray about how to make his life better. Maybe it’s helping him organize a work project, or organize the garage, or complete an application for a job or internship he’s been wanting. Maybe it’s encouraging him to pursue a dream. I don’t know–but become a student of your husband and find practical ways to support him even outside the bedroom.

If you haven’t been connecting sexually for a long time, chances are he has not felt connected to you hardly at all for that whole length of time. It will take some serious effort for him to allow himself to trust you and become vulnerable with you again–and that vulnerability is necessary for real intimacy.

Don’t rush the process of reconciling sexually

Let him go through the needed emotional steps. And you need to go through it too–to understand what he felt, to figure out how to love him, to figure out how to go to God with your issues.

So pray for strength and grace for yourself, and remember: When your heart’s desire is to act like Christ and love someone unconditionally, God gives you that strength when you seek it. That is a wonderful desire and a wonderful prayer. But it can’t be a manipulative one–see what I’m doing? Now I’m being amazing to him, so he really should change!

No, you’re amazing to him because it’s the right thing to do.

And usually, the more we do that, the more we change the dynamic and the relationship does change. But even if it doesn’t right away, and even if change takes time, you are still doing the right thing. And as you do that, you’ll feel closer to God and Jesus will become more real to you. Cling to that in this time. Marvel at it. And you may just find that you aren’t as lonely as  you thought you’d be.

WifeyWednesday175Now, what advice do you have for us today? Leave a comment, or link up the URL of your own Wifey Wednesday blog post in the linky below!

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10 Things To Consider When Working with Your Spouse

Today, please welcome author Jill Lynn, who shares 10 key ingredients to working with your spouse, finding the balance to a thriving marriage and a successful business partnership. Yesterday we looked at the business aspect of working with your spouse; today here’s a look at the marriage aspect of working with your spouse.

Working with Your SpouseAbout eight years ago, my husband and I bought a small business. Our plan? That I would do the accounting and he would manage the rest. We were young and naïve. Many things have worked out over that time, but we’ve learned some lessons along the way. Whether you are already working together or just thinking about it, here’s ten things to consider when working with your spouse.

1.  The first thing to ask yourself if you and your spouse are considering working together in any capacity, is should we work together?

Is it right for you and your family? Some people barrel into working together, assuming that since it’s the easiest solution, or makes the most monetary sense, it’s an obvious choice. It’s not. Have open discussions about what each of your strengths are and if your marriage can weather this change in your relationship.

2.  Ask yourself if you really have the time the position would require.

Do you need to give up some other things to make it happen? For instance, if you have small children, where will you have an office? How will you carve out time for work? Are you going to hire a sitter a few days a week? Or perhaps someone to clean your home? Logistics matter. Being on the same page matters.

3.  Communicate.

Eight years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom, who loved my time at our family business. As it’s grown over the years, there’s been many times my husband and I have felt stretched beyond our skin. We can’t accomplish it all. We’re thankful for the work, but it feels unmanageable at times. In these moments, we always come back to one truth: there’s a choice in everything. Is this growth just for a season? Or do we need to hire more help? My role has changed from what we thought it would be to something different. We only came to that conclusion through open lines of communication. My husband doesn’t push me into what he wants. We consider each step—how it affects our marriage and also our family. We have to being willing to change and grow in our roles as the business changes. It would be very stressful if both of us weren’t open to talking about these unexpected twists.

4.  Put your marriage first.

You can rebuild a business. You can come back from it failing. You can come back from financial ruin (many have). But a marriage? That’s something my husband and I don’t want to put at risk. Our marriage existed before the business and we pray it exists long after. Pray for wisdom over the small things. And make sure your home life, family, and marriage are functioning well before attempting to add working together into the mix. Whatever you do, do not enter a time of working together when you are not at peace in your home and marriage. It’s only going to exasperate those troubled areas. When I see couples who are struggling in their business relationship, they are also often struggling in their marriage. Deal with these issues first. Don’t throw one stressful situation on top of another one.

5.  Discuss when it’s okay to talk about work and when it’s not.

When my husband and I go on a date, we do talk about work. But we don’t only talk about work. We talk about kids, dreams, whatever comes to mind. For us, this has been an organic experience. We haven’t had to put the business in a box that doesn’t enter personal conversation. But for some of you, this is going to be an issue. Again, be open. If a husband or wife wants to have an evening without any talk of the business, determine that ahead of time instead of silently seething that your partner doesn’t know you don’t want to talk about the business. If you’re working together, that means it’s a major part of your lives. Talk about where and when you feel it’s okay to have conversations about the business and when you’d prefer not to.

6.  Respect each other.

I can’t stress this one enough. I mentioned my husband respecting me by often checking on where I’m at, how I’m feeling about the role I’m in. I can’t tell you how much this helps in my desire to support our business. It also makes me want to be the same for him. I do my best to protect the time my husband needs to accomplish his work and make the business run smoothly.

7.  Complement each other.

Often, in business, as in life, we only talk about the things that need to be fixed or change. Remember to compliment your spouse on what they do well. Talk about each other’s strengths.

8.  Carve out a schedule.

I have always carved out a schedule for working and I’ve respected it. Yes, I could skip work and take my young kiddos to the zoo, but I put that schedule in place for a reason. My husband knows when I’m working and when I’m not. We both depend on that schedule. I’m not saying it never fluctuates, just that we both treat it as if I were working for another employer. Otherwise, it’s too easy to say you’ll just get the work done when you can… and when would that be? Between the laundry, the school volunteering, my writing? Without a schedule, I would never get the work done, therefore creating more stress for my husband. He has enough stress running a business. I want to be a help, not a hindrance.

9.  Have fun.

Don’t forget to laugh with each other and enjoy the path God has for you.

10.  Forgive.

Have grace for one another. When mistakes are made, remember we’re all human. We make mistakes. Yes, money matters. But relationships matter more.

Jill Lynn HeadshotFalling for Texas (Love Inspired)Jill Lynn lives in Colorado with her husband and two children. When she’s not working at the family business or playing laundry fairy, she writes Christian romance with themes of humor and grace. Her first novel, Falling for Texas, is available from Harlequin Love Inspired.
Connect with her at Jill-Lynn.com, or on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

 

Reader Question: How Do Spouses Run a Business Together?

Reader Question of the WeekEvery Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. This week’s has to do with a husband and wife working together: can you run a business with your husband without getting into conflict?

A reader writes:

I am a stay at home mom and my husband works from home as well. We run a small business, I handle the admin and he is the artist. We had a big adjustment when our baby arrived and my husband did not do well on lack of sleep. It resulted in us being very late on all of our client orders. This stresses me out to no end, while my husband doesn’t seem all that bothered by it. I can’t stand it when he takes naps or sleeps in during the day when he should be working. I am up all night with the baby so he can sleep, and he still does this. We are far behind and our clients are starting to complain. As the manager in our business, it is extremely hard not to become a nag to him, or see him as one big long to-do list. How do I separate my husband as ‘husband’ from an ‘employee’ who is, quite frankly, slacking off. He has also become quite addicted to a game on his phone (he admits this, but hasn’t stopped it). I try and keep busy out of the house during the day, but when things keep not getting done, it’s causing some serious problems in our relationship. Even if we try and do something as a family, I still can’t seem to quiet the feeling that he really should be spending the time getting caught up on our clients so that we can breathe. What do I do?

I can’t tell this particular woman what to do because I don’t know her financial situation, their education or skill levels, how easy it will be to get other jobs, etc. But I would like to just mention a few big things about a husband and wife working together, and give us a way to think about the BUSINESS side of how to work with your spouse–or whether we should be running a business together in the first place. (Tomorrow we’ll look at the marriage side!)

The hardest part of marriage is communication. And the hardest part of getting along well at work is communication. Put the two together–and it’s really tough! So it’s just essential to put things in place so that these conversations are automatic, natural, and expected. Then business problems are far less likely to derail your marriage. Here’s how:

Running a Business with Your Husband: When husband and wife working together doesn't work for the marriage--and putting steps in place so that it might again!

When Husbands and Wives Have a Business: Sorting out the Business Side

1. Create a Business Plan

Often we end up “falling” into a business together because one person has an idea or a skill, and we run with it. But unless your roles are clearly spelled out, and unless you know what you’re aiming for, you’ll have no way of judging whether the enterprise is working well or not.

For instance, let’s say that you figure out that if one of you worked full time and one of you worked part time you could make $60,000 a year. You may decide that if you both were able to work from home that would be worth about $10,000 to you. So if you could generate $50,000 from a home-based business, that would be a win-win.

But unless you’ve sat down and talked about it and come up with that number, how do you know whether continuing in the business is worth it?

So you need to write a business plan. That sounds really scary, because it involves numbers and goals and honestly taking a realistic look at what your business can accomplish. But you need something on paper. Here are two books that can help you do this:

The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan: A Pro Shares a Step-By-Step Guide to Creating a Plan That Gets ResultsThe Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan

Here’s a simple book outlining how to create a business plan that’s measurable–and that works!

Everything you need for a step-by-step traditional plan with revenue goals, competition, and more.

Seriously, I wish they taught this stuff in school.

The Right-Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for SuccessThe Right-Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for Success

Our letter writer is married to an artist–and many businesses are more creative in nature. If you’re a creative type, and the thought of sitting down with checklists and a calculator paralyzes you, here’s another way to go about creating a business plan that’s more intuitive.

It’s colorful, it’s bright, and it’s all about brainstorming, and you and your husband may find this a more palatable way of getting your thoughts and goals down on paper.

2. Treat Yourselves as Employees with “Measurables”

Once you’ve figured out your business plan it’s time to figure out what each person needs to do. Write up job descriptions for both of you. What are you each responsible for? That’s the big picture.

Now for the day-to-day. Within your job responsibilities, create to-do lists with definite deadlines. Post these somewhere where both of you can see them–or use an online system so that you can look at the to-do lists. Know what needs to be done when, so that you can also know when you’re late.

What happens if you work for someone else and something doesn’t get done? You stay late or you have to come in on the weekend or you have to take work home. It’s expected.

If you’re running a business from home, you have to do the same thing. If deadlines aren’t met, it should be easy to verify that and see it, and then you can talk about how we’re going to meet those deadlines and what that may mean.

I work from home and I know the pull to sometimes have a Netflix marathon instead of getting my work done. I know how easy it is to let yourself get sucked in with all the other things you’d rather be doing–or all the other things around the house that need to be done. But that’s why you need these deadlines and to-do lists so that you can be sure you’re pulling your weight.

Even if you’re not a list type of person, it avoids a lot of potential conflict if the deadlines are there for everyone to see. It keeps people accountable without one person having to nag.

Husband and wife running a business together: how to evaluate if it's working

3. Have Regular Evaluations for Your Business

In the workplace people have performance evaluations, usually on an annual or semi-annual basis. Do the same thing with your business–plan that once every six months, or at least once a year, you will take off for a day, without the kids, take out your business plan, and see if you’re sticking to it. Where are our finances? Are we doing well? Should we be putting more resources into advertising? Into new product creation? Are we each pulling our weight?

Again, if this is a regularly scheduled thing than there won’t be tension around it. Often what happens when spouses work together is that we find it difficult to critique one another or to bring up the hard questions. It seems as if we’re criticizing or we’re mad, when really we just may have legitimate business concerns. And because the marriage is involved, it seems as if bringing up a business issue actually could undermine the relationship. So sometimes we say nothing and choose to stew instead.

If, on the other hand, you have regularly-scheduled times to check in and to plan and evaluate, then you have a natural time to have these conversations without them having to reflect on the marriage.

My husband and I set aside twice a year to look at our schedules, figure out when I’m going to speak, what conferences he’ll take, and pray and plan together about where we each should be putting our energy and effort in the upcoming year. We don’t work together (well, not yet anyway), but each of our businesses affects the other, so we have to plan together. And I find that having those planning meetings helps me stay on track, and forces me to take a long, hard look at what’s working, and what’s not.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Look for Alternatives if the Husband and Wife Business Isn’t Working

Part of the evaluation and the business plan always needs to be the two questions: “is this business worth continuing?” And “are we both the best choice of people to work in it?” Sometimes a business may be worth it, but one spouse may be getting so busy with a different job, or with caring for kids, that hiring outside help may be wiser. Sometimes the business may be expanding so much that having a spouse do the bookkeeping really isn’t working anymore–you need an honest-to-goodness accountant.

And sometimes, like in the case of this letter writer, one spouse may just be refusing to work, which makes the business itself not viable.

Trying to keep a business going at home when one spouse isn’t working on it is likely to kill both the business and the marriage–or at least do serious damage. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a marriage is to say, “I love you, but I don’t think working together in a business is good for us or our family. I’d like to look at alternatives to bringing in some income.”

Now, there may be periods where you spouse needs some grace. If your spouse has an idea for a business that is going to take several years to really see fruit, you may very well owe it to your spouse to stick in there–just like you might support a spouse while they went to law school or med school. You know those three or four (or more!) years are going to be awful, but you put the time in because of the reward at the end, and because you know it’s important to your husband.

And sometimes, like with this couple, huge changes come like the birth of a baby and you both need some time for adjustment.

But when it’s a chronic thing and the business just isn’t going well, there should be clearly defined measures when you know, “it’s time to part.” Nagging someone or being upset at someone isn’t viable in the long term. Personally, I think if you can financially handle it, it’s better for one of you to stop working in the business than for that business to always be a source of tension.

Tomorrow, on our Top 10 Tuesday post, we’ll look at how to make marriage and business work together from the MARRIAGE standpoint. But today, for those of you husbands and wives who have run businesses together, let me know: how did you figure out who did what? How did you keep each other accountable?

Gary Thomas Answers Your Marriage Questions

Gary Thomas shares some marriage advice based on his book A Lifelong Love

One of the absolute FUNNEST things (I know that’s not a word but it should be) about doing the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge in 2015 has been to get to reach out to amazing Christian authors and have them actually answer your questions–and interact with them!

A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together?In January we looked at Gary Thomas’ book A Lifelong Love, and I invited you all to submit questions for Gary. I sent him four, and he’s sent me his replies! (We had a great chat with John and Staci Eldredge last month, too.)

1. What is the most important thing a wife can do to bless her husband?

Part of me truly wants to shout, “it depends on the husband!” Love needs to be particular to be truly felt, so to answer this question in a general way could mislead some wives about what truly is the best way to bless their individual, particular husbands.

But, having said that, my answer would be to build a devotional platform from which you are overflowing with God’s love, and to guard that platform like you’d guard a toddler walking through a crowded mall. 1 John 4:19 says we love because He first loved us. If you’re not experiencing God’s acceptance, affirmation, and encouragement at least daily, you’ll start demanding instead of serving. You’ll ask your husband to be more and more to you as God becomes less and less, which will increase your husband’s frustration and decrease your contentment.

There will be days when your husband doesn’t notice you as he should, or notices the wrong thing about you, and breaks your heart. How do I know? James 3:2 tells me your husband stumbles in many ways. On those days in particular, you need to receive from God. If you receive from him beforehand, it’s even better. In that case, you’re already prepped.

I know this sounds religious, but it’s so true. I am simply a much, much better spouse when the day starts by getting my mind right (through reading/study) and my heart right (through prayer and worship). Yes, you’re busy, but few things truly are more important. If we skip time with God, we’re saying we can love without God, and I, for one, have proven a thousand times that’s just not true.

2. How do you stay motivated to bless your spouse even in difficult times?

Some of you may be in a relationship that your spouse values about as much as I value our backyard (which is to say, not much—at least, not enough to do anything about it). If your marriage would just “happen,” they’d enjoy it. But they lack the will and the work ethic to make the relationship grow. There are other priorities that drive them.

Philippians 2:13 is an encouraging word for these marriages: “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (NRSV).

We often go to God for the “work” but forget to go to Him for the “will.” When things get difficult, before you can ask God what you should do, you may have to spend time asking God to help you care. “God, on my own, I’m so done with this! But please give me the will to make this marriage work, for Your good pleasure. Make me care again.”

Do you think God will hesitate before answering that prayer? Do you think He might pause and say, “Hmm, not sure I’m ready to offer that”?

If you feel one-sided in your marriage, it’s easy to lose the will. If you’ve been unsuccessful in bringing about change, it’s natural to lose the will. If you’ve tried every trick you can think of and your bookshelf is filled with every book on marriage published in the last ten years and yet your marriage is still subpar, it’s natural just to give up.

Have you prayed for God to give you the will? Christianity isn’t based solely on a bunch of beliefs; its heart and soul is based on a powerful and active God who can lift us above our apathy and limitations. God becomes the third partner, the uniting presence.

So let’s tap into this divine resource. We’re not alone in our marriages, even in our so-called solitary marriages. There may not be two engaged humans, but there can be—with your initiation alone—two engaged parties: you and God.

3. How can you figure out a common purpose, or common mission, with a spouse who is an agnostic?

Even if your spouse isn’t a believer, find something that pleases God that your spouse also believes in—raising “good” children (though he will define good differently than you, perhaps). There may be certain ministries—helping the poor—that he will share with you. Samaritan’s Purse is a great organization that is often a “first responder” to natural disasters. Maybe your spouse will help fill a children’s Christmas shoebox (given to underprivileged children) with you. In other words, find something that gets him excited, and let that become a joint ministry—even though you may not share a joint motivation (it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a non-believing husband to go on a mission trip to Haiti to help build a school for poor children, particularly if he’s into building things).

Secondly, the wives I’ve talked to who are married to non-believers and who did best figured out that they had to work to find common “non-spiritual” interests with their husbands. Relational intimacy is key to keeping your husband interested in future spiritual intimacy. For one wife, it was riding bikes with her husband (like, 100 mile rides!). For another wife, it was going hunting. You’ll never get anywhere by “punishing” your husband for not going to church with you by withdrawing from his favorite activities. Be the Christian—love on him, be a good, kind friend, and keep praying that God will use that friendship to open up his heart.

4. What are the first few steps in putting this into practice in a marriage where you’ve done the exact OPPOSITE for 20 years. How do you switch gears practically?

You serve no one by beating yourself up for what you haven’t done; take all that energy and instead pour it into loving your husband excellently now. All Christians live in grace, out of grace, and because of grace.

When it comes to treating your husband as God’s son, tape a copy of 1 John 3:1 to a mirror or inside your car—something to remind you of that precious biblical truth. And then start praying for your husband referring to him as God’s son. “Lord, help me love your son. Help me understand your son. You were there when he was little; help me figure out why he acts this way.” Just remind yourself as you’re praying that you’re talking to a very interested third partner. You then slowly pray your way into treating your husband like God’s son.

When it comes to living intentionally through the seasons of marriage, get together with a friend and describe what is most likely creating distance in your marriage right now, and then discuss how you can turn that around to build renewed intimacy. “Being so busy makes it so difficult for us to connect, so instead I’m going to think of ways I can help him be less busy.”

On the third part, that’s best met with a morning prayer. Simply wake up and ask yourself, “How can I bless my husband this morning?” Before he comes home from work, ask yourself, “How can I bless my husband this evening.” For me, I’ve had to mentally remind myself of this question over and over until it becomes second nature. It’s a choice to think this way.


I am so honored that Gary Thomas spent this long mulling over these answers and gave us something that is so practical but also uplifts Jesus. Love it! I was blessed, and I trust it blessed you, too.

And if you liked what Gary had to say, don’t forget to pick up A Lifelong Love! And visit him at GaryThomas.com.

 

How to Ask for What You Want–Just Say It!

How to ask for what you want--especially in marriage

Most of the questions I get on this blog are something like this: “My husband is doing X wrong, and I don’t know what to do about it. How can I get him to act differently?” Maybe it’s that she caught him using porn, and she has taken screenshots and saved them and done everything except talk to him about it.

Or he doesn’t understand that foreplay is important and she finds sex unsatisfying.

Or when he comes to bed he’s stinky and that makes her not want to make love.

Or he needs to lose weight but she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, so how does she show him?

There Is No Magic Bullet When You Need to Ask for Help

They want to know–what can I do to make my husband see this issue from my perspective?

And they want to know specific actions they can take that can win him over to their point of view. There must be something they’re just doing wrong if he doesn’t understand something so obvious, right? So how can she change what she’s doing, or hint, or let him understand what’s wrong?

How to Ask For What You Want

And when you probe, you often find that the real issue is that she’s never talked to him about it. She’s stewed about it and she’s beaten around the bush and she’s tried everything in her mind but it hasn’t worked. But what she’s never done is just asked for what she wants openly and honestly.

In my upcoming book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I share some wisdom that you my readers gave me on my Facebook Page. I asked a while back, “did you ever get annoyed at your husband for something, but then realized that you’d never actually asked him to help?”

Some of my readers shared their stories. Lynn said,

Early in our marriage, I hinted several times that it would be nice if the clean dishes got put away. Finally I got mad at my husband and we argued about it. He told me, “Just tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.” I thought it was too rude to order him around, but that’s the way he wanted. Then we were visiting his mom, and she was hinting at something he should do. When she left the room, I told him, “Your mom wants you to do this.” He balked and said, “No way. I lived with my mom much longer than you, and I’d know.” When she came back, he asked her straight out and she said, “Yes, of course. What took you so long?”

I thought it was too rude to order him around. We often don’t ask because we fear it’s demeaning, and yet most men would far rather be asked than hinted at. In asking directly we treat our husbands like grown-ups. They can choose to refuse, but at least they know what we want. Hinting is like asking them to read minds, which is disrespectful.

That idea of having to ask for help, though, grated on my reader Lindsey. “I shouldn’t have to ask!” she told herself. “He can see the mess!” Then one day during an argument, her husband grew quiet and said, “Baby, I just don’t see the mess the way you do. I’m just not as good as you are at juggling the house, chores, and bills. I don’t multitask like you do. I’m sorry.” Ever since then, Lindsey has learned to ask—and not to ask for a thousand things at once either!

So try asking–up front. Even if it’s hard. Even if it has to do with sex. Even if it’s something we’re uncomfortable talking about.

We Need to Be Honest

A committee I’ve been on recently can be roughly divided into three factions: The Group A Faction, the Group B faction, and the faction that doesn’t really get what’s going on and doesn’t really care. The Group B faction has always done things a certain way, but the Group A faction now has more power and wants to change things. So here’s the question: Can we change things in a way that doesn’t actually require confrontation with Group B? Is there a way that we can just enact new rules without Group B realizing what we’re doing or realizing why we’re doing it? Because we just don’t want all the messiness.

Sometimes you need messiness. By trying to avoid saying something outright you often cause more problems. In politics, the issue is not the sin but the coverup. In real life it’s true too–the issue is not the sin, but how far we go trying to avoid talking about something and dealing with it. If we had just said something in the beginning, even though it’s awkward, we would have been better off.

Interestingly, I think secular circles are better at this than Christian circles. In the work world people often confront openly and immediately because you have to. In Christian circles we’re too interested in being nice–and in so doing we often sacrifice honesty and forthrightness. We end up looking manipulative or secretive, even if that wasn’t our intention.

Manipulation To Get What You Want Doesn’t Work

Doing something with the express purpose of getting someone to change is manipulative. It is better just to ask.

But wait–aren’t we supposed to be nice to people? And if we’re nice to people, aren’t they more likely to be nice to us?

Absolutely. But your motives matter here. If you are being nice simply because you want them to be nice back, then you’re being manipulative and you’re likely going to be very disappointed. But if you’re acting in a loving way because it’s the right thing to do, then your heart is now in the right place. You’re more emotionally ready to deal with problems. You’re building a friendship so that you have a foundation of goodwill in your relationship, and that does make it easier to tackle problems. But that’s not the reason you’re doing it.

Not Everything is a Nail–It Can’t Be Solved by Being Nice

But there’s a caveat to all of this. You’ve heard the expression, “when everything looks like a nail, the hammer is only the tool you use?” Well, I think often in Christian circles we think that the answer to everything is just to be nicer.

I received an email this morning, for instance, by a woman whose brother-in-law is verbally abusive to his wife in public. They are living under the same roof but they are separated, and he is threatening a divorce. He is mean, he is angry, he insults the whole family, and everybody in their church knows it. But the woman says,

I love on and encourage my SIL as best as I can. When I am around my BIL I try to be loving and kind to him too. But it’s getting to the point that I feel he is emotionally (maybe even verbally) abusing her and it needs to stop.

So he is being verbally abusive, and they are trying to deal with it by loving on him and being kind to him. If we’re loving and kind, he will change, right?

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your HopeNope. Being nicer to someone who is mean and manipulative just enables them and encourages them to do it more. They feed off of that. Many marriage problems need you to be nicer and more giving, but many do not. In this case, what this woman needs to do is stand  up to her husband and say, “I see that you are angry, and I’d be happy to talk to you when you’re calmed down. But I will not stay in a room with you while you say horrible things to me–” and then get up and leave. And the sister-in-law and rest of the family need to say to him, “You are being completely inappropriate and it will not be tolerated.” Treat him like an adult bully and call him on it.

What I have seen lately is that the vast majority of interpersonal problems, whether they’re in marriage, in the family, or at work, really need an open, honest, and hard conversation. But that’s often the last thing we want to do, because dealing with conflict openly seems so scary. Instead, we search for ways to get around it and beat around the bush and manipulate, and that usually makes things worse.

So take a deep breath, pray, and then open up your mouth. That’s often the only real solution anyway.

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 Game of Thrones–or something like that?

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 nudity 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 maybe YOU are the vehicle God wants to use to convict your husband. That’s part of what being his help meet is–you’re to help him!

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 Around Nudity on TV

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 conundrum of a husband watching nudity 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 that the husband is watching 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?