Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

 

“Beauty is not only a terrible thing, but it is also a mysterious thing. There God and the Devil strive for mastery, and the battleground is the hearts of men.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Are you being the spiritual leader your wife needs you to be? What is your heart attitude? Spiritual leadership is a difficult task. It involves allowing God to mold our attitude over and over again into that of a servant’s heart. The Biblical model of leadership, Jesus, is a model of serving others. One of the clearest ways a husband can check and see how he is performing as a spiritual leader, with the right heart attitude, is by evaluating his leadership with regard to sexual intimacy with his wife.

As we all know, men are generally stimulated by sight initially, and women are initially touch-stimulated. Because of this, sexual intimacy with our wife is usually on our minds a lot more than our wife’s. This fits nicely with husbands being wired to lead and being initiators and wives desiring to have husbands that they can follow and be responsive to.

The original curse in the Garden of Eden for women was that their “desire” shall be for their husband. This did not refer to sexual desire. Eve had plenty of sexual desire for Adam; they had been having sex before the fall. The actual translation is more closely rendered: “desire to rule over.” A woman naturally knows when they are forced to be the servant leader, and it makes them angry because they are not being allowed to respond to their husband serving them, the way it is meant to be, the way she is wired.

This initiation and response is true in many areas of marriage, but not any less so in physical intimacy. Consider this incredible design with regard to the way He planned for a husband and wife to come together mentally, emotionally, and physically. It represents some very strong evidence of God’s hand in the design of marriage and sex. It helps us to imagine His joy when we come together sexually as husband and wife.

It’s only natural that a husband should be the one to initiate sexual intimacy – EVERY SINGLE TIME.

ATTITUDE CHECK:  Men, are you okay with this, or does your male ego rebel and need worship from your wife? Of course a wife has the ability to initiate sex. Clearly it is wonderful when a wife initiates sexual intimacy; this is just icing on the cake! As you men know, this usually doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but often is in response to strong, loving servant leadership in other areas of your marriage. But initiation of sex is an opportunity for men to show loving servant leadership.

Many men, and I admit I have been guilty of this before, have been guilty of getting a bruised ego sexually – I like to call it getting “butt hurt.” Every time I personally have fallen into this trap of the enemy’s, it was because I wasn’t paying attention to my wife’s needs. Instead, I was having a “self-attack,” completely focused upon what I wanted. Thankfully I have a wife who is beyond gracious and lovingly let’s God change my attitude.

The Bible talks about “dwelling with our wives with understanding.” This does not mean understanding why they are the way they are or why they do certain things. It does include understanding how they are. We should understand, for example, with regard to sex: When is my wife most likely going to want to make love and be able to enjoy it, and when is she going to be distracted and not be able to enjoy making love?

For example, some wives do not like sexual intimacy when they have experienced a lot of stress; but some do enjoy sexual intimacy then. Some might enjoy sex after a stressful day if they are able to process the day with their husband first. How is your wife in this regard? How have you allowed God to mold your heart attitude and empower you to meet your wife’s needs? Believe me, deep in her heart she knows, and it is either wounding her spirit or giving her unspeakable joy.

This distinction can get tricky. The key here is being able to allow God to change your heart attitude “on a dime” if you are wrong in your assessment. The only way you can do this is with a close personal relationship with God fueling your desire to love your wife as Christ loves the church, which will translate into a pure motive of serving and giving pleasure to your wife.

It involves complete surrender and self-sacrifice. Always stay behind God’s leadership. If you  initiate making love, and your wife responds positively, great. If you misread your wife, and she lovingly suggests another time, then what better opportunity to show unconditional love than unselfishly conforming your desires with your wife’s. Showing you love her unconditionally in this circumstance is what she longs for.

The opportunity to show unconditional love is even greater when things haven’t been going well in your relationship. There are times when you may know that your wife wants to make love, but is just too upset with you. Being vulnerable enough to lovingly initiate lovemaking with your wife and being ready to go forward or stop shows her that you care not just for her body, but for her heart. Pure and unconditional vulnerability will show her how much you love her.

This battle to submit to your wife’s needs and desires emotionally and mentally is the crux of the battle for your wife. John Eldredge calls this battle “a rescue” in his book Wild At Heart. You are actually rescuing your wife from having to take over the leadership sexually and by being the more vulnerable, stronger one in the relationship. On the other hand, when a man sulks rejection and from not getting his way and expects his wife to be the one to re-initiate sexual intimacy to heal both of their hearts, it wounds her deeply.

Another entirely different facet of this issue is desirability. Our society places a high priority on physical appearance and beauty. Having a desire to be intimate with your wife reinforces in her mind that she is the beauty you want. It doesn’t matter is she’s a store clerk or a CEO, every little girl grows up wanting to feel beautiful. Eldredge states that every man desires a “beauty to rescue,” and every woman wants to feel worthy enough to be fought for.

Initiating physical intimacy reassures your wife that you are willing to fight your desire to feed your own ego, to sacrifice that part of yourself, and also that you find her so attractive that you want to kiss, hold, and caress her; that you are still captivated by her!

 

Posted by & filed under Spiritual Guidance.

The Bible talks about loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). The four words used in this passage also relate to the secular psychology concept of our being divided into the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical parts.

If you compare this list in the various places it’s found in scripture, it’s in a different order in several places, but the heart or spiritual aspect is always listed first. That’s because our spiritual being is our most important part. If our spirit is closely connected to God, healthy emotions, thoughts, and even physical well-being follows. So to keep the main thing the main thing, let’s talk about our hearts or spiritual nature.

God designed us as relational beings so that we would desire to have a relationship with Him, first and foremost. This is often described as all of us having a God-shaped void within us. Taking care of our hearts begins with our personal relationship with God or feeding/growing our spiritual connection with God.

Let’s say you had a friend that you saw at least once or twice a week and spoke to or texted even more frequently. You would get to know what they liked to do, what was going on in their marriage, their work, their lives. You would know what type of movies they liked. You would know which type of food they liked or what their favorite restaurants were. You could plan to have lunch without even specifying where you would meet. You would know them intimately.

Next, imagine that your friend moved to Dallas for a year. You only talked occasionally and maybe saw them once or twice during the year. Then your friend moved back. Would you know them as intimately as you did before they moved?

It’s the same in our relationship with God. If we throw up an occasional desparate prayer when we need something, and we only go and hang out with Him on Christmas or Easter, or maybe just on Sundays for a couple of hours, will this grow our relationship with Him? Will we know what He likes or what pleases Him? Will we feel His leading and His protection? Will we know Him intimately, and ultimately are we taking care of our own hearts?

The number one thing we can do to take care of our own hearts is to get to know God intimately. He makes it very simple; just like we do with any relationship that is important to us, we need to spend time with God. One of the best ways to hang out with God is to get alone with Him. In my experience, it needn’t be a long period of time. When I started having a regular time or quiet time, often it would only be 15 or 20 minutes. He even gives us some reading material to help us hear from Him.

We have been blessed with incredible teaching on radio and television, in pulpits, from countless extra-Biblical commentaries, and even daily scripture “bites” in email form to teach us God’s Word. Many of these are sound teaching, but these are all about gaining knowledge about scripture or about God. This is a good step toward knowing God, but building relationship takes something else; it takes time spent with God and His word.

Listening to someone else’s teaching on scripture is good. Listening to God speak to your heart while you read scripture and spend time silently waiting upon Him is even better. This somehow actually builds our relationship with God. The former is like something yummy that’s not particularly fresh, maybe a little overcooked; the latter is like a meal of organic, fresh food.

What does this time alone with God and scripture look like? I will be the first to admit that it takes time, but if we diligently seek God in scripture on a daily basis, we will grow in intimacy with Him. He will bless our diligence. Like I said earlier, consistency is more important than spending a lengthy amount of time; although once it becomes a habit, you may find that it becomes harder to stop. When that happens, just take God with you into your day!

It is best to have a plan. Starting in Genesis and reading straight through is often doomed to failure. A previous pastor of mine, Skip Heitzig at Calvary Chapel Albuquerque first turned me on to a different plan. I have used variations of it through the years, but it amounts to reading in a different section each day of the week, six days a week, or on a three-day rotation.

For example:

Mon.           The Law                   Genesis    –    Deuteronomy

Tues.          The History               Joshua     –     Job

Weds.         The Poetic                Psalms     –     Song of Solomon

Thurs.         The Prophetic           Isaiah       –    Malachi

Fri.              The Gospels             Matthew   –     John

Sat.             The Epistles              Acts         –     Revelation

OR:

Mon. & Thurs.      Genesis –  Job

Tues. & Fri.          Psalms   –  Malachi

Weds. & Sat.        Matthew –  Revelation

 

The important thing is to stick with it, and just like time spent with a friend, intimacy with God will increase. At first you may only connect occasionally, but as time goes on, you will feel a stronger and stronger connection of intimate relationship with God. Making this effort in 2015 to take care of your spiritual self is the main thing you can do to help yourself in every way, emotionally, mentally, and physically!

 

Posted by & filed under Healthy Relationships.

Conflict is inevitable. It is part of being in a relationship. Conflict that causes damage to your relationship is not inevitable. Conflict that actually builds unity and intimacy is possible for any couple. There are some things to know about conflict and some tools that will help maximize the latter type of conflict or “healthy conflict.”

God made us in His image as relational creatures. He designed relationships to help us grow, knowing that growth brings joy and contentment. God said in Genesis 2:18 that a relationship with Him alone was not enough. Having healthy conflict is one of the hallmarks of stable, lasting relationships that maximize a person’s growth.

Each time a couple goes through conflict in a healthy way, the sense of commitment is deepened with the knowledge that the relationship is stronger than any differences that exist. It’s kind of like working out. Working a muscle can be hard and a little painful, but if it is done without damage to the muscle, the muscle will grow stronger.

First of all, some basics. Communication is 90 to 95% tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. Research about “mirror neurons” indicates just how much communication we pick up from our partner that is nonverbal. It has been shown that a spouse can merely come into a room without saying a word, with his back turned to his mate, and his partner can accurately pick up on his mood.

This is how connected each of us is to our mate. How much more deeply we will affect each other during conflict. Learning to modulate our tone, facial expression, and body language is essential. This is an important developmental skill. Doing so communicates to your partner: I am upset, we may disagree, but I still love you and care about you. In essence, it assures your partner that the relationship is more important than the conflict. There is nothing wrong or sinful with being angry. It is what we do with our anger. The Bible says “Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)

Next, filter the issues that actually need to be seriously discussed. Do not frivolously throw out negative or contentious remarks. Don’t react; respond. Use this three-pronged test for anything that may have the slightest possibility to cause conflict: 1) Does this need to be said? 2) Am I the person that needs to say it? 3) Is now the best time to say it?

We should know our partners. This takes time and is a process. The Bible says to “dwell with our mate with understanding.” (1 Peter 3:7) This does not mean to absolutely know why our partner thinks, acts, or responds a certain way. We just need to know how, not why. Knowing the tender areas for our partner and touching upon them very carefully is a necessity. Remember that you have these hard to understand items, too!

Knowing the timing of when to discuss things is important also, much like learning the timing for physical intimacy with your mate. Is something going on in their life that we don’t need to add stress onto? Have they had a hard day? Have they been ill recently? Will they be receptive? Will there be sufficient time if one or both of you need to process the topic?

Third, one of the most important things each person can do is to concentrate on helping his partner feel heard, understood, and cared about. You will be surprised how quickly two people begin to see eye to eye on a topic when they are both feeling heard, understood, and cared about. This is a good skill to use if the conflict seems to be headed nowhere.

Step back and focus upon hearing, understanding, and showing care to your partner. A good technique here is simply reflecting back what your partner has just said to make sure you understand it and to show them you are listening. If we let our mate finish their statement, often our response to them changes from what we would have stated in an interruption; usually in a positive way.

The fourth tool I will discuss is taking a timeout. This sounds pretty basic, but it saves a lot of negative, unhealthy conflict. Not everyone has the same threshold of endurance for conflict. Sometimes past traumas in a person’s life makes them more susceptible to the effects of conflict.

Signs that you or your mate need to take a timeout are a rapid pulse, flushed face, raised voices, inability to stay on point, or when one or both of you are merely taking jabs in defense mode. At this point, positive communication has ceased, and it’s probably good to take a timeout. Many times a new perspective of the issue is possible, and often it takes on much less importance.

It is important that the person who calls a timeout indicates when the topic can be picked back up again. This is important to show care for one another. Then it is up to that person to get back to his mate to see if it is okay to begin the discussion again, or one or the other of you can agree to a further timeout. Of course it doesn’t hurt to pray for changed hearts (plural) during timeouts!

Remember that your mate is not the enemy. Tearing them down in unhealthy conflict is literally like shooting yourself in the foot. You do have a common enemy though, an enemy that wants to steal, kill, and destroy your relationship, your marriage, and your family. But He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (the enemy).

Being able to show grace and forgiveness is vital. Help your mate to save face. Remember that you are one flesh. Appreciating the grace that God has shown us is the main indicator of someone’s ability to pass along grace. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus actually indicated that we should pray that God would forgive us in the same way that we forgive others.

And remember: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Proverbs 15:1.

 

Posted by & filed under Healthy Relationships.

It is simple to know how to maximize our relationships by learning some basic concepts about the purpose of relationships and how they work. The Bible says we are “made in God’s image.” Since God is spirit, what does that mean? God made us in his image as Relational Beings. God is a relational being, and we were designed for relationship. God made us relational beings so that we would desire a relationship with him as well as with other people.

This is what separates us from animals. By the way, I wonder what evolutionists say about this aspect of our being? How did our capacity for relationship “evolve”? Your cocker spaniel may seem like she desires to have a relationship with you, but it is based mostly on being fed and having her tummy rubbed!

Because we are relational beings, we have Relational Needs that are universal. Experts indicate that there are actually 50+ ways we can experience our Relational Needs being met. We have all heard of the Five Love Languages, representing five common Relational Needs. In counseling, I discuss the Top 10 Relational Needs: Acceptance, Affection, Appreciation, Approval, Attention, Comfort, Encouragement, Respect, Security, and Support. It is possible to discover the order of priority for these needs in ourselves and others with a simple diagnostic tool.

Along with being relational beings, we also have a capacity for retaining positive as well as negative emotional experiences. When our main Relational Needs are not being met, or we are not meeting them in our spouse, the negative emotional experience is Aloneness. From just going through the experiences of life, other common negative emotional experiences are Condemnation, Guilt, Fear, Anger, and Hurt.

These negative emotional experiences accumulate in a very subtle fashion sometimes. The accumulation can be compared to the experience of feeling gravity. Gravity is being exerted upon us all the time, but it is much more evident when we, say, injure our leg and have to limp around on crutches. Gravity seems to have a much stronger influence. Sometimes we are unaware of the building up of these negative emotional experiences until they overwhelm us.

Each of the negative emotional experiences has an Antidote. For Aloneness, the Antidote is getting our main Relational Needs met. For Condemnation, it is applying Truth; for Guilt, it is Confession; Fear, experiencing Perfect Love; Anger, it is Forgiveness, and for Hurt, it is Comfort. It is only in relationship with God, other people, or a spouse that our Relational Needs can be met. It is also only in these relationships where we can receive the Antidotes for negative emotional experiences.

The secret to maximizing your relationships is twofold: First, we must be proactive and vulnerable about getting our own Relational Needs met and meeting the Relational Needs of others that are close to us, that are in relationship with us. Secondly, we can choose to be in close relationship with God, others, and a spouse that regularly help us “drain” or dissipate our negative emotional experiences with the Antidotes, as well as those that will vulnerably allow us to help them do the same. In other words, we can surround ourselves with people that are capable of speaking the Truth in love, and giving and receiving Confession, Perfect Love, Forgiveness, and Comfort.

Of course, God provides all of these! But God himself acknowledges that he isn’t enough. In the Garden of Eden, Adam had a close relationship with God and lots of cool animals, but God said this wasn’t enough. In Genesis 2:18, God said “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

When we experience toxic relationships that never meet our Relational Needs allow us to meet their Relational Needs, we feel aloneness. When there is no one else in our life that speaks the truth in love to us, helps us experience Confession, Perfect Love, Forgiveness, and Comfort, the negative emotional experiences build up. The overflow that results shows up in many bad things: escape with addictions to work, substances, sex, or other activities; codependency (see previous blog!); obsessions/compulsions; physical illnesses; anxiety/depression; irritability/hostility; sleep/eating disorders; emotional numbness; and others.

So healthy relationships are not only fulfilling, but they are vital to our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Isolation from God and others is deadly in many ways. Now I will repeat something that, if people took it to heart, it might put me and a lot of other counselors out of business! As I have said before, the common denominator with almost all of my clients who come in for counseling is that they are completely isolated, either literally or isolated within their own relationships and marriages. They go through the motions without ever “experiencing” relationships the way God intended them to be.

On the contrary, when we are in healthy relationships that regularly fulfil our Relational Needs and apply the Antidotes to our negative experiences in life, we overflow with the fruit of the spirit to ourselves and others: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

 

 

Posted by & filed under Spiritual Guidance.

What makes you come alive? What are you passionate about? What excites you when you think about the day, the week, the month ahead of you? Is the life you are living an incredible, wild, fascinating adventure?

I had a client who was very dynamic, very personable, and was on fire spiritually. His job involved very little contact with other people, performing work on a computer in an office all day, day after day. He earned very good money, but he hated his job. He wasn’t living his passion. He was being driven by fear and a desire to control his future.

David Henry Thoreau said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Dr. Phil says: “If you do something you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Quoting a line from the movie Braveheart: “All men die; few men ever really live.”

Someone else said “It’s quite possible to lose your soul long before you die.”

Living your passion is how you will truly live and live well.

Most people are caught up in just making it to their next vacation, next raise, or the next lull at work, content to work with their only objective being their retirement, three weeks of vacation, and medical insurance. I am not just talking about most people’s vocations, but their entire lives. Work may be uninspiring, but their time off from work is even worse, with endless hours in front of the television, scanning Facebook, surfing the internet, or planning for or polishing their newest toy.

Let’s face it, most people, even in Christian churches, today are just…bored and tired. They live from a list of what they should and shouldn’t do, what they ought to do, helping them be careful, prudent, conservative, living passionless lives. Is this how God designed us?

“The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

– Frederick Buechner

Jesus healed a number of blind people, but he never used the same method twice. What about that weird battle for Jericho, marching around and beating on pots and pans and then shouting? That was the first of many battles by Israel for their new homeland, and God never instructed them to use that tactic again.

Are you getting a picture of God here? God is anything but predictable. God is dangerous, wild, and fierce. And he wants us to live from the place of following our hearts and our passion, because this is an important part of how we are made in his image. God made us to live on a wild safari of adventure, passion, and freedom.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have known neither victory nor defeat.”

– Teddy Roosevelt

Most of us lead lives based upon controlling as much as we possibly can and attempting to squeeze risk down to a more manageable size. Do we really control anything, or is it just an illusion that we spend all of our days trying to make into a reality? Do we get to the place where we are living only for freedom from responsibility and risk? Are we only concerned with what the world will think? Can someone who is a poser tell us anything other than how to pose? Have we stopped being actors in our own dramas only to become reactors to circumstances?

Think back to some of the greatest risks you have taken in your life and you may see those as the times when you were most alive – perhaps going far away from home where you didn’t know a soul to start school or work, starting that new job you knew would be very challenging for you, asking for someone’s hand in marriage, giving someone your hand in marriage, or turning your life over to Christ. The price of vitality could actually be described as the sum of all of our fears.

How do we live a life embracing risk? It is simple. We do not embrace risk because of fear, and the opposite of fear is faith. The key to living this way – fearlessly experiencing the adventure with its unpredictability and danger is to know God in an informal, intimate, ongoing relationship. Knowing God increases our faith over time, and this will embolden us. C.S. Lewis said: “Never fear an unknown future in the hands of a known God.”

When we follow God and are thus able to follow our own hearts and head out into the wilderness, the frontier, the false self will scream at us: “What are you doing?” Instead of taking the logical career progression, the comfortable choice, the logical choice, instead of following our passion, our personal relationship with God will empower us to live our dream. Where would any of us be if those that came before us had simply lived careful, cautious, predictable lives based upon complete stability?

Jesus spoke in a parable of someone who insisted on simply controlling things. The man in the parable thought he had finally accumulated enough goods and wealth to where he could finally rest, and that night he died. In this story in Mark Chapter 36, Jesus said “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

Living your passion, living what makes you come alive can start today. It is never too late. Ask God what he would have for you to do, and then fearlessly head out into the unknown. The desires deep in your heart are good. God put them there. Our soul longs for power in experience, rather than control over experience.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”                

– Gil Bailie

 

Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

Here is an important thing to understand about your wife: in her mind, foreplay for the next time you are going to make love begins immediately after her last orgasm! With regard to your wife, the bible tells you to “Dwell with her with understanding.” (1 Peter 3:7) Notice this passage does not say to understand why your wife does certain things or why she acts a certain way. It simply says that you are to understand her. You are not responsible for understanding what makes your wife tick, but you are responsible for knowing every detail about how she ticks!

What’s the largest sex organ in the body? No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It is your brain! You can use it in ways that will improve your sexual relationship with your wife. Understanding your wife takes hard work, careful attention, and time. It takes your brain. But when you begin to understand your wife, she will see your effort, and she is wired for response. Your attempts to understand your wife, even when you get it wrong, will draw her closer to you and make her more sexually responsive.

In a Focus on the Family study, the 80 to 90 percent of men out there for whom sex is all-consuming were asked what they would like to change in their marriages. The vast majority of these men stated that they wished their wives would, number one, “be more interested in sex” and, number two, “be more willing to initiate physical intimacy.” (And by the way, if you are part of the 10 to 20 percent, there are likely some issues that we can work on in counseling that would greatly increase the enjoyment of your sexual relationship, if you are interested!)

But let’s break down the findings from Focus on the Family.

Men wished their wives would be “more interested in sex.” She actually is very interested in sex; maybe even more so than you. The difference is that we men compartmentalize everything: Work, play, family, responsibilities, relationships, sex, etc. In your wife’s mind, it is all interdependent and emotionally connected.

For example, if you come home after a hard day at work, you might even want to make love to unwind from your day. You shut the “work” compartment and open the “sex” compartment. Making love might actually help you to shut the work compartment and recover more completely from the work day. As men, that closeness with our wives kind of puts into perspective and makes sense out of why we’re out there working so hard.

If your wife has had a rough day at work, making love is not the first thing on her mind. She may need to process about her day at work. Just listen. Helping her to process her day at work is foreplay to her! After she is finished, she can now devote the emotional energy to lovemaking that was being drained off (they are connected!) by her hard day at work. Remember, it is all hard-wired together in her mind and emotions.

There’s a Catch 22. The processing that your wife needs on a particular day may take up all of the available time for making love that evening. That’s okay! Your effort is not wasted. Remember, connecting with her and helping her process is all foreplay to her. Your attentiveness is recharging her sexual desire. She may not be ready that night, but be patient, understanding, and loving, and it will pay off.

The second item in the Focus on the Family research was that men wanted their wives to “be more willing to initiate physical intimacy.” Here’s a newsflash: what if one of the important ways you showed your wife you loved her is to reinforce that you love her unconditionally? One way you can show your wife that you love her unconditionally is to give her the complete freedom to reject your initiation of sex and show her that you still cherish and value her just as much in that moment. Nothing wounds a woman’s spirit like making her feel that she is loved conditionally, based upon response or performance. And experiencing this unconditional love is a very strong motivator for your wife to initiate sex on her own!

Conversely, never reject your wife for those times when she want to make love just for you. This is sometimes a gift that she wants to give to you, even if she is not completely on board with making love to meet her own needs. It is so strongly wired in to her to be responsive that sometimes she feels very connected emotionally by giving herself to you, just for your sake. In actuality, often she will end up enjoying it just as much as if she had wanted to make love from the beginning. Remember, we turn on like a microwave, and they heat up like an oven.

Men are wired to be initiators. That’s why we are sight-stimulated. Women are wired for responsiveness. That’s why they are touch-stimulated. Understand this about your wife. There is simply a deep mystery as to the “why” she acts or responds in a certain way that we will never understand. Concentrate on the “how” and meeting her needs. Give your wife the space to be a woman and respond the way she wants, and be a man by showing her vulnerability with strength. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your foreplay!

Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

As men, we are wired differently from women. Not a huge revelation, right? But one of the significant ways we are wired differently is with regard to triggering of sexual arousal. Men are triggered sexually by sight, and women by touch. Men are sight-stimulated, and women are touch-stimulated. This is not to say that there is no component of sight or touch for the other gender, but there is a reason for this fact. This is God’s design so that men are initiators and women are responders.

The downside of that is that as men in our culture, we are constantly bombarded with sexual images from media whether on TV, in movies, in print, and online, and in real life at the gym, on the street, in the office, and at the mall. It’s impossible to pull up an article online about a pro football game last Sunday without getting inundated by pop-ups of the latest escapades by scantily-clad starlets and images of supermodels frolicking on the beach. It is also impossible to keep from encountering attractive women who enjoy dressing provocatively.

What’s a man to do? The first thing to remember is that there is a difference between temptation and sin. We are not responsible for the former; only the latter. As my former pastor, Skip Heitzig, used to say: “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from building a nest in your hair.” I will be more specific: We have 3 seconds to look. After that, a different motive is in play.

How many men wish they had been diligent about protecting themselves, their wife, their marriage from the dire consequences of sexual sin and experience broken marriages, broken families, and broken relationships with children? While we don’t bear responsibility for temptation, we do bear responsibility for sin in our lives. There are some common sense ways to take a proactive approach to defeating the constant bombardment of temptation. It starts out with relationships.

First, be on a trajectory of growth in your personal relationship with God. It’s easy. Spend time with Him, and you will become closer to Him. Isn’t this the way it is in any relationship? Having a regular quiet time is essential, even if it’s just 15 minutes per day. Set aside the same time, the same place at least six days a week for some prayer and reading of your Bible. Remember, Christianity is not a religion; it is a personal relationship. Relationships thrive on attention. Your personal relationship with God will strengthen, guard, and instruct you.

Second, after your relationship with God, your wife is your most important relationship. Having open, transparent, honest, and, above all, vulnerable communication with your wife is important. God placed her in your life for accountability, help, comfort, and intimacy. An open, loving relationship with your wife facilitates growth in both of you. Being vulnerable with your wife and helping her to understand your struggles and needs is your best hedge against sexual sin. For instance, it is important to inform your wife if you feel that another woman in your world is trying to get inappropropriately close to you.

Third, have mature, honest, open relationships with a couple of other Christian men. It may take some doing to find them, but always have a couple of safe accountability partners. Find a couple of men that will meet with you one-on-one every two or three weeks and ask the hard questions and be vulnerable with you as well. Hearing about someone else’s struggles, strategies, and victories is important. You don’t have to be a lone ranger Christian.

Fourth, use common sense. The Bible talks about “not having the appearance of sin” in our lives. Why? It is because right after the appearance of sin is usually when the sin actually happens. This bit of wisdom is meant to protect us. When we get married, we give up the right to hang out alone with our female friends. This means “hanging out” online also. This goes for coworkers or professional colleagues as well. There is safety in numbers. Go have lunch with TWO other female coworkers or friends. This will keep the conversation where it should be. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Be alert to any woman who wants to talk about her relationship negatively or about the problems she is having with her boyfriend or husband. My reply is always: “Don’t you have a girlfriend or sister you can talk to about that?” Also be on guard about a woman asking questions about your marriage or any topic that could be used to put a wedge between you and your wife. Keep this boundary firm. These types of discussions are the infancy of an emotional affair, and we all know how quickly those turn south…literally.

With some diligence and a little common sense, you will be able to avoid sexual sin. You do have an enemy that works persistently for your fall, but remember, He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world!

 

Posted by & filed under Anxiety.

Mindfulness is a type of meditation. Often when Christians hear the term “meditation,” they take a step back because of its connection to eastern religions. It is not a substitute for a Christian’s prayer life. In fact, it has nothing to do with prayer. Mindfulness is simply a discipline of relaxation that can be greatly enhanced by prayer. We are not called to check our brains at the door as Christians. If something is Biblical and it works, it is obvious that the power comes from God. Jesus talked often about living “in the present,” the main principle of Mindfulness (See Matthew 6.25-34).

This concentration on experiencing “the present” is the basis for Mindfulness. Mindfulness takes the focus of living in the present and intensifies that concept down to living “in the moment.” It is a specific type of meditation that works incredibly well for many issues, especially those containing a shared component of anxiety. It has been used to treat everything from erectile dysfunction to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mindfulness works by grounding ourselves in the present moment, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically, thus flooding the mind with positive feelings and thoughts in the moment that replace or push out anxious feelings and thoughts. The mind is “filled” with the positive, leaving no room for things such as fear, anger, pain, anxiety, or sadness. An easy way to remember this is to think of it as: “mind” “full” “ness,” or filling your mind with the types of thoughts and feelings that God chooses for you, that bring joy, peace, contentment. With practice, one can become adept at getting back to a state of relaxation very quickly.

An important aspect of Mindfulness is nonjudgment and compassion; yet another Biblical principle. Our normal impulse is to try to drive fear, anxiety, etc. from our minds rather than simply leaning into them with a gentle acceptance of them. These intrusive thoughts can’t be controlled, but they can be overshadowed and temporarily obliterated.

Everyone has experienced these unpleasant thought patterns and feelings. This thinking has variously been called ruminating, catastrophizing, racing thoughts, meta-thinking, and awfulizing. My favorite is the highly clinical term “monkeybraining.” This type of thinking leads to increased anxiety from a phenomenon called “meta-anxiety” or anxiety about anxiety. When we practice Mindfulness regularly, we learn to quickly break this cycle and control anxiety.

We replace anxious thoughts rather than trying to combat them. There are principles of reasoning that we use before the negative anxiogenic (anxiety-causing) feelings hit, so that we are ready to focus on the moment rather than do battle with our minds. The reasoning comes ahead of practicing Mindfulness so that we can completely focus on being “in the moment.” There are some basic tenets that we can review to prepare ourselves for being able to live fully in the moment.

A few of these are:

This moment is the only one in which we are alive.

Our feelings, thoughts, and stories are not who we are; our identity is in Christ.

Mindfulness is always in the present moment, and even our thoughts about the present moment are one step removed from the present moment.

We have the potential to become bigger than any problem, any pain, and God is even much, much bigger than that.

Mindfulness naturally and inevitably leads to compassion.

Change results not from becoming someone different, but from being simply the way God designed you to be.

The stories we tell ourselves, even if they are true, get between us and healing and peace.

Accepting something does not mean we like it, but that we are open to the fullness of its reality.

Seeing the big picture will always reduce fear, anger, pain, anxiety, or sadness.

Our experience cannot be other than what is, and because our experience cannot be other than what is, judgment clouds what is.

Our thoughts about what should be cause much more suffering than what is.

In addition to thinking about these and other statements, praying at the instant that anxiety hits, before we transition into “the moment” greatly enhances our ability to overcome the negative feelings and thoughts. It focuses God’s power upon our decision to be in the moment.

Ten keys to understanding and preparing to be mindful:

ATTITUDE: Your attitude about practicing mindfulness should not be too idealistic or too cynical. Being childlike or the “don’t know it all attitude” is best.

CURIOSITY: Cultivate the interest and desire to discover something more about yourself and your life as it unfolds, even in the unpleasant and difficult moments.

DETERMINATION: To benefit, you have to practice mindfulness faithfully and regularly. You don’t have to like it, but you do need to do it!

BELIEF: This means developing confidence in your ability to allow God to help you in managing fear, anger, pain, anxiety, or sadness in your life; a belief in His healing power.

NONJUDGMENT: Be aware of making judgments about situations, thoughts, feelings.

PATIENCE: Things will unfold in God’s perfect timing.

TRUST: Trust yourself, trust your feelings, because you trust God.

NONSTRIVING: Sometimes you must back off from your personal goals and let God’s plan and movement toward them unfold.

ACCEPTANCE: Accept your uniqueness, your place in God’s universe, your value and worth to God.

LETTING GO: Let go of everything outside of your own boundaries that you cannot direct, manage, or control. Give them over completely to God and do not take them back.

Posted by & filed under Codependence.

Independent” in our culture has a positive connotation, but in relationships, it is a killer. I have had clients that come in for couples counseling who have been married 20 or 30 years. They sleep in separate bedrooms, rarely have sex and then only mechanically, have entirely different sets of friends, share no activities, go on separate vacations, and never, ever have heart-to-heart talks about what is going on in each other’s lives. In essence, they are roommates. They come in saying they “have grown apart.” This is simply not how we are wired for relationships.

But there is an even more sinister status quo that kills relationships. If independence sounds bad to you, a still more painful alternative is being part of a Codependent couple. Codependent relationships are exhausting, unsatisfying, and stressful. Often the parties feel trapped, yet they have no idea why. There is even less emotional intimacy than with Independent couples. More importantly, open, honest, authentic, vulnerable communication is completely missing as both parties try to pretend about their emotions, try to please one another at any cost to themselves, and never have the important, satisfying, supportive conversations all healthy couples have. There cannot be intimacy without truth; there cannot be truth without grace. Codependent couples stifle both truth and grace in their attempts to hold on to control and keep their partner from getting too close.

Codependence is perpetuated in families. It is passed down to children; they seek out partners who will be Codependent, and then they have children who become Codependent with them. Many people are Codependent outside of their immediate families to include extended family, friends, and coworkers. This effectively cuts them off from any satisfying relationships, in every aspect of their lives. They end up being lonely, numbing, and often suffer from anxiety, depression, anger issues, substance abuse, and any number of other Codependent co-occurring addictions.

 

What is Codependence?

Codependence, simply defined, is an addiction to control. The Codependent becomes so addicted to control that they even let others control them in an attempt to keep their control of others. A lack of control and an intensive control develops simultaneously in a relationship that effectively kills the relationship. Codependents cannot be their authentic selves in a relationship. When one party is depressed, the other party is helpless to keep from being depressed. When one anxious, both parties duplicate the feeling. Thus truth and grace are effectively blocked.

Codependent people may think that they have healthy boundaries, but they are often “moving” boundaries. In their minds, they have a limit, but they often justify moving it slightly many times to keep the illusion of control. They still consider it a firm boundary if they can move it whenever they feel uncomfortable about keeping it because of displeasure from others or to impose control upon others.

Codependence is a very frustrating, painful state. This is why it is so deadly to relationships. Codependents struggle to control others and yet easily give away all of their own control to others. They do not take responsibility for their own behavior, but rather take responsibility for others’ behavior. They feel like their needs never get met, and yet they labor endlessly to meet the needs of other people. They often don’t know what they are feeling because their feelings are simply a reflection of the feelings of other people around them, subject to change constantly.

Codependents do not trust their own feelings; only the perceived feelings of others around them. They often don’t have a clue as to what is really going on in another’s life, and yet they try to make decisions for them. They spend their lives reacting to situations depending upon how they believe others want them to react, rather than responding according to their personal boundaries. A Codependent’s thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions, values, motives, desires, wants, needs, decisions, behaviors, limits, and morals are all simply reflections of what they perceive others around them are projecting. They are like a covalent molecule traveling through space constantly attaching to other molecules to become something that they aren’t and something that they don’t want to be.

Codependents at times even have trouble knowing what they are feeling. I have actually had a client in the same session say that she believes that she is far too trusting, that she trusts quickly and completely when she shouldn’t. Later in the session, she said that she has serious trust problems and feels she has trouble ever trusting anyone. When I pointed out her conflicting statements, even though she remembered saying it, she could not believe she had said it.

 

What is the healthy alternative to Codependence?

There is a third relational type that represents how God relates to us and how healthy people can relate to one another: Interdependence. An Interdependent relationship is a balanced, healthy relationship where two people have firm boundaries between where they end and where someone else begins. They feel safe enough to come very close and be intimate, authentic, and vulnerable with the people in their lives who have earned this level of trust.

Interdependent relationships are satisfying. The parties can come close to another in shared intimacy, completely retaining their own identities, and are able to know when to pull back in a positive fashion, not too far away and not for too long of a period of time. They enjoy the relationship because there is the intimacy of two complete individuals coming together closely and safely, giving a dynamic to their relationship together that neither of them has alone. They have relationships based upon safety, respect, unconditional love, acceptance, and most of all, freedom.

God is Interdependent with us. He is sovereign, but it is clear that we have free will. His sovereignty and our free will are held in tension. God is responsible for some things, but we are clearly responsible for others. God resides in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They each have firm boundaries, yet share a deep intimacy. They have different identities, different qualities, and different functions. God models Interdependence for us!

Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

1) Guard your tongue

One of the hardest things to learn is guarding our tongue with our mate. Instead of always speaking in nurturing, loving, encouraging ways, often we zoom right past the boundary of who our spouse is to God and who our spouse is to us. Even small, negative comments can have a cumulative effect. A good three-step test for anything that needs to be said of a critical nature:1) Does this need to be said? 2) Am I the one that needs to say it? 3) Is this the best time to say it? And of course when it gets down to actually having the conversation, it’s all about speaking the truth in love, our body language, and the tone of our voice.

 

2) Don’t let the sun go down on your anger

Love is not a feeling; it is a decision. Like is the feeling, which waxes and wanes. Learn to have a firm boundary between love and like with your mate. It is an important developmental task to learn to continue being loving to your mate when you temporarily do not like them. You can agree to disagree while reinforcing to one another that your relationship is bigger and stronger than any disagreement. Healthy conflict can grow a relationship, and it starts with the knowledge that your mate is not the enemy.

 

3) Take time to connect

There are a lot of small ways that we can connect on a daily basis with our mates. Some of these include acknowledging your mate, maybe with a kiss, when you first see them in the morning (after brushing!), when they are leaving for the day, and when they arrive home. Another good habit is to give a quick call (always leave a message!) or text every day when you are apart, just to let them know you are thinking of them. Most importantly, come into each other’s worlds. Know what is going on with your mate’s work, family, and other relationships. Take a little time each evening to sit down on the loveseat and give each other your undivided attention and catch up!

 

4) Have fun together

A good practice is to designate one night of the week as “Date Night.” Husbands, you should take the lead in planning the activity in consideration and consultation with what your wife would enjoy. Or you may delegate the planning to your wife, but it is important for you to take the lead in bringing it up. You can be flexible in case something else comes up on that night, but by default it is Date Night…every week. This is a time to go do something fun together… alone, with no friends, family, or kids. Put aside any expectations or heavy discussions and just have fun!

 

5) Show grace

It has been said: Before marriage, you should keep your eyes wide open; after marriage, keep them half shut. Show grace to your mate when they have hurt you. Sometimes this is done most powerfully without even saying a word. The Holy Spirit is much better at conviction than we can ever be! It is easiest for someone to show grace that has humbly and thankfully experienced grace themselves. Making it a priority in your life to spend some time alone with God each and every day helps to put into perspective the grace he has shown you. Changing your mind will change your marriage. Always pray briefly for your mate. Besides, it probably won’t be too long before you need your mate to reciprocate in showing you grace!

 

6) Dwell with understanding

We are supposed to dwell with our mate with understanding. This DOES not mean understanding why, but rather means constantly moving along the path of understanding how our mate’s mind, heart, and soul work. Find out their love language. Discover their top three relational needs (there are 10; the subject of a future post!). In short, study them, pray for wisdom, and, above all, listen to them. Celebrate your gender differences! God has something there for you to learn from another perspective when she is speaking pink or he is speaking blue.

 

7) Be vulnerable

There can be no intimacy in a relationship without truth. Since none of us are perfect, being genuine always involves being vulnerable. Being vulnerable with your mate will help your mate to feel safe in being vulnerable with you, in turn building trust and bonding your relationship in a deeper way. An important part of truth and vulnerability is to acknowledge when you have hurt your mate. “I hope you will forgive me” should not be a phrase foreign to your mate. And when you have been hurt, make sure you specify how you feel in that circumstance. “When you (action, word), I feel ______.” Vulnerability is very empowering and equally as attractive.

 

8) Have healthy conflict

Healthy conflict actually deepens the ties between two people, as they realize over time that their disagreement and even anger is not as strong as what binds them. Always carefully and deliberately choose the right time and place to resolve issues; start out positively. Pray first, and together, if possible, before getting started. Listen without interrupting. It is always a WIN-WIN situation when you can concentrate on helping your mate to feel: Heard, understood, and cared about. Reflect back to your mate what they have just said. And remember, a soft answer turns away wrath. Stay on point and don’t bring up the past. Never, ever argue in voicemails, emails, or texts. Those are only for logistics or quick romantic messages (see #3 above). Always resolve conflict with your mate face to face.

 

9) Have firm boundaries

Encourage your mate to spend time alone with your kids, family, and their own friends on a regular basis. Support your mate in hobbies or activities that they enjoy and you don’t share with them. Know your mate’s individual dreams, and always fan the fulfillment of those dreams. Expect them to succeed individually. Believe in and with your mate for the desires of their heart. Take time to acknowledge and celebrate their successes. And freely communicate your own personal desires, hopes, and dreams to your mate.

 

10) Concentrate on your side of the street

Concentrating on the ways our mate needs to change is usually useless and often counterproductive. It is like trying to push a rope. But we can concentrate on what changes need to take place in ourselves. Maybe not as quickly as we would like, but this will have a profound impact upon our mate being empowered to make their own changes. When we show that we are invested in working on ourselves, while at the same time accepting and loving our mate right where they are, amazing things happen.

Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

God designed us as being hard-wired for relationship. The most obvious reason is that he desires a relationship with us. But he also designed us to desire intimate, close relationships with a mate and/or a few safe same-sex friendships. Without any of these connections in our lives, emotional entropy takes place which inevitably causes chaos in a person’s life.

Without exception, the clients that come in to see me have very few connections to other people or are completely isolated. The end result of this chaos is insecurity, having poor boundaries, false esteem, lack of joy and peace, fearfulness, loneliness, anxiety/depression, substance abuse, codependent/controlling behaviors, relationship conflict, infidelity, and usually a combination of these debilitating symptoms.

God designed us for relationship with him and others because this is the crucible where we grow and mature. This growth is a process; there is not an end point to it, but it does set us on a path of ever-increasing love, joy, and peace. Yes, relationships are often messy, but the alternative is even messier!

Aside from our relationship with our creator, our relationship with our mate affects our lives more than anything else. I see couples that come in and have been together 20 or 25 years and have never intimately bonded. They sleep in separate bedrooms, rarely have sex and then only mechanically, take separate vacations, never do anything fun together, have not developed any common interests, don’t really know what is going on in each other’s lives, and have no spiritual connection. They are essentially roommates with occasional shallow benefits.

This type of intimate relationship saddens God. It is not the way he designed us. Additionally, he knows that it affects our adventure with him more than anything else in our lives. But more importantly, he knows that we are living in non-redemptive time in this type of intimate relationship. We are not experiencing the healing, growth, and spiritual maturity that he longs to help us obtain. This type of intimate relationship represents our staying in the sandbox, while God wants to take us to miles and miles of natural, beautiful, pure, white sand ocean beach!

The Bible talks about “dwelling with our mates with understanding.” This does not mean understanding “why.” It means understanding who they are, what they are about, and, more importantly, what they need. It means being mindful, or conscious IN THE MOMENT as to how our mate needs us to interact EMOTIONALLY with them. It means learning to communicate emotionally.

There are all types of advice, theories, and rules about communicating in a relationship. We can define someone’s style as passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive. We can teach people things such as learning the mechanics of communication, including letting the other person finish and not interrupting, knowing when to take a time-out, listening skills, choosing the right time to have a sensitive discussion, etc, etc, but these are all very minor. The most important objective, and in fact a much easier thing to learn is emotional communication.

We communicate with those close to us without saying a word. Just by being in close proximity, we pick up on the quality of the connection with each other. Learning emotional communication causes an ever-increasing dynamic of trust and positive connection with your partner. It means being able to be vulnerable and being able to extend the grace we have each been shown by God to our partner when they are being vulnerable with us. We experience a new kind of closeness and emotional safety.

This is the basis for healing from past hurts, hang-ups, and habits, and it empowers us to grow and mature to higher levels. Love in an intimate relationship is all about tending to, growing, and increasing emotional bonds. These bonds are the basis of loving and being loved.  When we learn to be available, responsive, and engaged during brief, key moments of need for connection, we secure deeper and deeper emotional bonds with our partners.

Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, we all have a need for safe emotional connection. This means you, too, gentlemen. We learn to dwell with understanding with our partner when we learn to recognize our partner’s attachment cues, are responsive to them, and engage them on an emotional level. Read the following anecdote of a couple acutely aware of each other’s emotional attachment cues:

                    *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Peter and Linda were at a Christmas party for Linda’s office. Linda was at the top of her professional life, a corporate trial lawyer earning a six-figure income. She had just been made a partner in her law firm. She was also in the best shape she had ever been in before. In fact, as Peter watched her from across the room, he was amazed at her. She was wearing a low cut, yet very tasteful long dress that brought out the deep blue in her eyes. She was more beautiful than ever to Peter.

Peter, on the other hand, had been laid off and had been job searching for the past six months, to no avail. He had been depressed about not working and had let himself go a little physically. In the mirror just that morning he noticed that he had developed a bald spot, and his hair had seemed grayer than he remembered it.

As Peter watched Linda, he saw her talking to a tall, very fit, older, but ruggedly handsome gentleman. They were both laughing and seemed to be enjoying themselves. He was dressed in a tailored gray suit that clearly revealed his athletic build. Peter even noticed that he had a full head of hair.

At this point, Peter had two choices. He could make a scene, embarrass Linda, and ruin the evening for her, OR he could dip into the reservoir of trust he had built up with his creator and his wife, swallow his pride, and choose the path of being vulnerable to Linda. He chose the latter.

A short while later, Peter was alone in a corner with Linda:

Peter: “You seemed to really be enjoying yourself when you were talking to the guy in the gray suit. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying your company quite a bit as well. When he put his hand on your back, I was feeling pretty jealous.”

At this point, Linda had two choices. She could brush Peter off, roll her eyes, and marginalize his feelings by saying something like: Yes, and he’s got a job, too! OR she could pick up on this key moment of need from her partner and choose to unconditionally love and accept him. She chose the latter.

Linda (in a low voice): “He is a nice-looking man. He’s one of the senior partners. He has a large say in how cases are handed out. I needed to make sure I said hello to him. But, Peter, he’s really a jerk. He’s an egomaniac! He hits on every woman in the office, and he has even hit on me, but he understands that I have a firm boundary and am happily married. Besides I love you, and… (leaning in to whisper in Peter’s ear) when we get home tonight I’m going to show you how much I love you and how much I want you!”

At this point, Peter had two choices. He could react defensively to some of the things Linda had said. He could become more accusatory of Linda, and marginalize her feelings with something like: “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be acting like a tramp at a Christmas party!” or “So you are attracted to him” OR he could pick up on Linda meeting his key moment of need and choose to accept her explanation…and her plan for later!

Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

Marriage is not a man-made institution. The more I learn about it, the more I see God’s fingerprints all over marriage. We can choose to ignore God’s design, roles, and advice, but it usually doesn’t work out very well. I know it hasn’t in my life! He’s the dad and we’re the kids; that’s why. Truth is truth. We can try to change it, argue with it, and maybe not like it, but it is still just as true.

A fire in a fireplace is a beautiful, warm, comforting thing. That is truth. If the same fire gets out of the natural, safe parameters for it, say, on the living room floor, then it gets ugly, out-of-control, and overwhelming very quickly. When we fail to keep God’s design, roles, and advice with respect to marriage, the same thing can happen; it can get ugly, out-of-control, and overwhelming very quickly.

An example of roles that is very misunderstood by our culture is the role of leadership by a husband and submission by a wife. This topic often comes up in Christian counseling for couples. On the surface, I admit that does sound harsh, but it is a very well-designed concept that God gives us for harmony, peace, and growth in a Christian marriage.

The spiritual leader or husband in a is not better, smarter, or above the wife who submits. He simply is the one that makes decisions when hard ones need to be made, but the pattern he follows is from Christ. Our leader, as Christians, Christ died and gave himself for us. Husbands should always make the hard decisions in that manner: dying to self and unselfishly, sacrificially nurturing, encouraging, protecting, promoting, blessing, and loving their wives. It’s pretty easy to submit to a husband who is leading in the way he should lead. This type of submission on the part of a wife, ideally enables a husband to love his wife even more sacrificially. Many times couples can make vast improvement in how to focus solely upon their side of the street in this regard, often a focus of Christian marriage counseling.

In the Garden of Eden is where the first husband wimped out. Eve didn’t need to go find Adam to offer him the apple. He was standing right there the whole time listening to satan tempt Eve. What bold leadership Adam displayed. Eve had to step in and usurp his leadership, because he wasn’t manning up. She had to try to discern on her own whether this was a good thing to do. Adam simply stood there silently and didn’t lift a finger while his wife was tempted, and then volunteered to take the first bite. His answer to God: “The woman you gave me made me do it!”

When a woman feels safely free to submit to her husband because he is always holding her in the highest esteem and sacrificially putting her before himself, it empowers both husband and wife. Biblical counseling includes the premise that a wife can have a tremendous influence on her husband. Remember, most of us are just little boys in a man’s body! I know my poor wife submits many times when she must be thinking: “What is he doing, God?!?”

The story is told of a man and his wife in Chicago. Bob was one of the youngest city commissioners ever hired to serve. City commissioners are non-political executives in city government that are held over in city administrations based upon their performance only, regardless of political affiliation. At the time there were nine of these executives in Chicago; Bob, at age 33 was City Commissioner over Construction & Infrastructure for the entire City of Chicago, hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of buildings, bridges, roads, parks and other assets.

One Saturday, Bob and his wife, Susan, were visiting a new high-rise office building under construction for the city. Bob wanted to show off this magnificent structure. On the first floor, as he showed his wife around proudly, a laborer sweeping some distance away shouted out “Hi, Susan!” Susan looked his way and immediately walked over. After chatting for a few minutes and a parting hug, Susan rejoined her husband for the rest of the tour. A little while later, Bob asked who the man was that Susan had spoken to.

“Oh, that’s Tom, a guy I dated in high school.”

Bob answered, rather arrogantly “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry him? You’d be married to a laborer instead of the City Commissioner.”

“Well,” Susan said confidently, “If I had married Tom, HE would be the City Commissioner.”

Posted by & filed under Marriage/Couples.

When I was single, I heard it said that although I should carefully consider who I marry, I shouldn’t stress over it too much. It was too important to God for him to let me mess up the decision completely! All I needed to do was stick close to God, but even if I chose God’s 10th or 110th choice for me, a shift from his Intentional will or 1st choice for me, to his Circumstantial will, the instant I married, then 10th or 110th would become his 1st choice, within his Circumstantial will.

We are all on a path or process of growth. God has a unique plan for each of our lives, but we have free will. How his will or plan functions in our lives in relation to our free will can be understood in the context of HIS three different types of wills: INTENTIONAL, CIRCUMSTANTIAL, and ULTIMATE. My free will decisions often shift God’s Intentional will for my life into his Circumstantial will.

He constantly uses the circumstances our wills present to give us opportunities to realign our wills back into achieving his Ultimate will. Since he is omniscient, he knows how his will and our wills are going to function together. In his grace, he constantly works within the circumstances to help us achieve his Ultimate will or our maximum spiritual growth and maturity.

What does this mean for the institution of marriage? God’s Ultimate will for each of us is where we stand is either to draw us into relationship with him, or if we are already in relationship with him, to grow us or mature us spiritually. One circumstance that he uses for our spiritual growth is relationship with other people; the first and foremost for many being our relationship with our spouse.

                                MARRIAGE IS DESIGNED TO MAXIMIZE SPIRITUAL GROWTH, TO MAKE US MORE HOLY (SPIRITUALLY MATURE) THAN HAPPY!

It has been said that if you want to serve Jesus, you should become a missionary, but if you want to become more like Jesus, GET MARRIED! Yes, there may be consequences for not choosing God’s perfect or Intentional will, but these consequences are designed by God, out of love, to help us realign our wills and achieve his Ultimate will in our lives. By drawing close to him in spite of our circumstances, He is still able to grow me, change me, and help me to align my will with his Ultimate will, with his goal of spiritual maturity.

So Christian marriage is for spiritual growth? If this seems unromantic to you, don’t lose heart. These very circumstances that draw us closer to God will draw a husband and wife closer as well, especially if they are both believers. Spiritually intimacy is the deepest intimacy there is. It drives emotional and physical intimacy. And God designed emotional and spiritual intimacy from one end to the other…and I like his design!

“Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion, but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate.” – W.H. Auden

Wait a minute, don’t Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the population? If Christians are becoming spiritually mature by means of their marriages, why don’t they stick out the circumstances that God has put before them on a more frequent basis than the non-Christians in the world? On the surface, it seems like Christians are willing to just give up and change to a new circumstance as quickly as non-Christian couples.

But if we delve into that statistic a little deeper, something awesome is hidden within the facts. Although the divorce rate between people who call themselves Christians and people that identify as non-Christians is identical at approximately one in every two couples or 50%, zeroing in on a specific subgroup of Christians reveals an interesting statistic about Christian marriage: The divorce rate for couples that identify as Christians – and that pray together AND individually regularly read their Bibles – is approximately one in every five couples or 20% of Christian married couples.(Quoted from research performed by Focus on the Family, 2011).