Saturday, April 30, 2011


Shared goals, dreams and fantasies can cement a relationship together like little else can; I'm talking about a couple having a collective vision for their future... things hoped for, things planned for, even "wouldn't-it-be-great-if" things that may never happen. When two become one flesh, all aspects of who they are should be shared. Communication, obviously, is key to this, as it is so many things that can strengthen a marriage. Set aside time every now and then when the two of you are alone to talk about dreams; things you want to do, places you want to see. Dream up and down the spectrum, from little projects around the house that would be cool, to restaurants it would be great to try, all the way up to sailboats, lake houses, once-in-a-lifetime vacations - even bedroom "adventures" that one or the other has always wanted to do. Write down your dreams and put them in a jar; once a week or so, each pull one out and discuss it. Together, make plans to accomplish little dreams, or spend time fantasizing about the big ones.

A particular dream may "belong" more to one spouse, and that's OK. When the other chooses to invest themselves in supporting their spouse, encouraging them and even helping to work towards realizing that dream, what an expression of love that is! Especially if it is the one unique dream that everyone has, that some would say is the reason God put each of us here.

All manner of dreams are important. It is when we dream at night that our brains and bodies recharge. Without dreams, over time we lose the ability to function at all. The dreams we have while we're awake allow our spirits to recharge - without them, functioning also diminishes. The big dreams are the "carrots on the stick" that keep us moving forward. The fact that they sometimes seem unobtainable is so we remember that we can't undertake them alone; we need our spouse's support - and of course God! The value of the little dreams lies in their obtainability though. Accomplishing them, checking them off the list can inspire hope and make us remember that

…with God, all things are possible. - Matthew 19:26

Sharing dreams is critically important. They give a glimpse into a person's heart and soul, and letting another person see what's there takes real trust. There is a vulnerability involved in sharing your dreams, and it is strong, healthy relationships that can support and nurture that honesty and openness. Share your dreams with your spouse, big and small... and encourage them to share theirs with you. Anything that helps you know each other better makes you both more able to love each other well.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Marriage vows are a covenant between two people before God, but some people see it more like a contract. The differences seem minor but in reality are enormous – in fact, a contract and a covenant can be seen as diametrically opposed.
> In a contract, each party seeks to protect his or her rights while at the same time limiting their liability. A contract then, is at its root self-serving. I think of celebrity unions with elaborate pre-nuptial agreements to protect assets; not exactly a picture of love expected to last forever.
> In a covenant however, one voluntarily forfeits his or her rights while taking on liability. In the context of marriage, that means each spouse is vowing that the other person will always – unconditionally - come first in their hearts, minds and actions.

Think of God in his covenant with us. Did he demand our love and worship? Did he worry about whether or not he would get his due? Did he wait for us to love him before loving us? No. Romans 5:8 tells us

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Now think of marriages. How many end in divorce because of selfishness? How many break up because one party or the other is worried about their rights, or the treatment they deserve? How many married couples “fall out of love” or “drift apart” or “become different people” from when they first met, and so they go their separate ways? If both spouses are focused on God and on serving one other, there can never be “irreconcilable differences” that cause the union to be broken. When the focus of both partners is right, then as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:8

Love never fails.

Still, some may feel that they have been given up on, and even though they want to work to make their marriage work their spouse does not. Do not be discouraged! Only God can change their heart, but you can still love them. In 1 Peter 3:1-2 the apostle tells us

…that even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over by their spouse’s conduct, when they see the purity and reverence in their lives.

Relationships are never static. They are always in motion, going forward or backward, getting better or worse. If a marriage is in a downward spiral, one act of unconditional love might be all that it takes to reverse that trend and get things moving in a healthier direction. The challenge then is to intentionally, deliberately let go of whatever you think is “owed” you, and just give. If your spouse is having a bad day (week or month) drop whatever you are doing and give your whole-hearted support. Comfort and love them. Let them know you have their back; always, come what may. If your spouse is not loving you in the ways you need to be loved (everyone - read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) instead of harping or nagging, instead of fuming and seething and resenting, just love them in the way they need to be loved; see if that changes things for the better.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Conflict. Let's explore conflict as a positive force - it can be! It’s unavoidable; in any relationship there will be conflict, so it is critical that it be resolved. God has made each of us unique. (fearfully and wonderfully - Psalm 139:14) No two of us are alike, and when a man and a woman choose to spend the rest of their lives together, clashes – though hopefully rare – are inevitable. How we deal with conflict is the key to whether it will be destructive or constructive. Let me offer some “rules of engagement:”

First, do not avoid conflict! Way too often, one or both spouses choose the path of least resistance - to no one’s benefit. Older married guys will often say to newlywed grooms, “Better learn those two magic words: YES DEAR.” Mildly funny sure, but it really is terrible advice. It comes off as patronizing, and signifies that the speaker is abandoning or swallowing his own point of view. This “keeping of the peace” covers potential problems while doing nothing to resolve them. When something comes between a married couple, they owe it to one another to address it honestly, work through it lovingly, and resolve it. Ignoring it will let it fester and grow worse, making the atmosphere in the home tense and uneasy.

Secondly, fight fair! Simple advice, so often ignored in the heat of battle. When conflict occurs, deal with it – and it only! Resist the urge to get “historical,” using past events as ammunition. Don’t get personal either. Discuss events and how they make you feel without attacking the other person’s character. (Hint: avoid any statement that contains the words “always” or “never.” Avoid "You do..." statements too, and focus on "I feel..." instead) Sometimes it will feel like you are being attacked, but do not react to that. As the apostle Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:15

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone,
but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

This leads me to Rule Number Three: empathize. Stay quiet while the other person is speaking. Listen to what they are saying. Do not just think you know what he or she means and start planning your counter attack. Try to see the situation – and yourself – through their eyes. Be warned though: if you can master this skill, you might see that it is you that needs to ask forgiveness. You might see flaws in yourself that you need to be mindful of, or ask God’s help to work on. Of course, sometimes the “problem” might be your spouse, or just in your spouse’s head. In these cases you might have to understand that you can’t change them, any more than they can change you. That’s God’s job, not yours. Your job is to love them anyway.

Winning may be impossible, but even if it isn’t, it will most likely be counter-productive. In the context of marriage, if one spouse “wins” an argument, then both people lose. The two are one flesh, and as it says in Ephesians 5:29:

For no one ever hates his own body,
but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it

In light of that, decide very carefully if “winning” is worth the price it will exact on your relationship.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

'Dating' your spouse

Almost every advice column on “marriage strengthening” or “rekindling romance” or “spicing up your love life” gives the same advice – schedule date night – as if just having it penciled in on the calendar will unlock all the passion of the early stages of a relationship. In light of how hectic life can be, it is important to make time for each other, but without an attitude adjustment in both partners, no lasting change is likely to occur.

In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love, Richard and Kristine Carlson point to “in love” teenagers as role models in two very specific areas. Adults often dismiss the love felt by teens as shallow, immature and somehow not real, but it often has two hallmarks that are invaluable to lasting, committed relationships:

* The first is attentiveness. Young lovers tend to focus all their attention on their significant other, and are always actively seeking ways they can express their affection, through words and actions.
* The second hallmark is enthusiasm. There is an energy about these relationships that makes everything seem exciting, that makes the smallest gesture seem like a gift. In marriage, does the familiarity that comes with being together for an extended length of time have to kill that joy? No… but it certainly can if one or both spouses stop actively investing themselves in the relationship.

Both partners must maintain the mindset that they need to win the other's heart, and continue to date each other holding back no effort in that quest. Pull out all the stops! Act as if nothing is more important than making your spouse feel loved – because nothing is more important!
If you’re wondering whether the effort will be worthwhile, consider Proverbs 11:24-25

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer
Others withhold what is due, and only suffer want
A generous person will be enriched
And one who gives water will get water

Guys, when was the last time you went all out to really sweep your wife off her feet?
Ladies, when did you last let your husband know - in no uncertain terms - that you wanted him?
If you have not been fully present in your marriage, or have been withholding part of yourself, your effort, attentiveness or enthusiasm, read the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:5

Do not deprive one another except by mutual agreement for a time
to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again

We are called to give ourselves fully and completely to our spouses. Marriage is not a “50-50” situation, but “100-100” – each gives all to the other. What does that look like? How can that transform a relationship? Are you willing to try it and see?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Unless you are newlyweds (and possibly even then!) you and your spouse probably harbor memories that do your marriage no good. We are all imperfect human beings, and there are sure to be past arguments that left one or both partners hurt, mistakes made that left indelible scars, conflicts that may have never been resolved. As love is a choice we make intentionally, so too can memory be. In our efforts to be Christ-like, we can live out the words in Hebrews 8:12 where the Lord says:

I will be merciful towards their iniquities
And I will remember their sins no more.

Consciously replace negative memories with positive ones. If you have been married for any length of time, there are bound to have been moments great and small that made you smile sincerely with amazement that God put the two of you together. So start a fond memory log. It could be an email “conversation” or a small notebook. It could be a series of notes stuck on the bathroom mirror or hidden in each others’ lunchboxes, but it should be written – and shared. Take turns jotting down good memories of times you’ve spent together, memorable milestones, great vacations… or make mention of particularly meaningful gifts. Be specific as to what made those things or moments so special. As you answer with your own memories, add responses to your spouse’s entries too; this back and forth dialogue will provide insight into how God has made each of you. How often you write and share will be up to you; daily? Once a week? It should be an effort you make, but it shouldn’t seem like work.

In Ecclesiastes 9:9 we are implored:

Enjoy life with the wife (or husband!) whom you love, all the days of your life.

If you are remembering the good times the two of you have shared, the joy you have brought each other, enjoying your life together will be much easier. As you make focusing on the positive memories a habit, enjoying each other will become second nature. As the number of entries in your log grows, you will gain two important things. First, you will have a reminder of why you two got together ¬- and are still together - one that you can read and re-read when things are less than wonderful, when doubts nag and troubles might be brewing. Second, and maybe more importantly you will gain a precious glimpse into your spouse’s heart and soul. You will begin to see what kinds of things they think are special, are meaningful… you will learn what it is that makes them love being married to you! With memory reclaimed as a force to strengthen your marriage, act on that knowledge and make it so.

Monday, April 25, 2011

SLEEP together

Nope, not what you think...

Love is a verb. It is an action, and as such should be intentional. To that end, married couples should make a habit of “SLEEP ing” together – by that, I mean doing the following on a daily basis:

Sacrifice – This word, and “submission,” get bad press in the ‘me first’ world we live in, but make no mistake: any relationship, especially one that is by covenant for life, will require change and yes, sacrifice. Lifestyle, habits, hobbies, and even who we are as people have to change for a marriage to work. This is not a bad thing! Putting our spouses’ needs before our own puts us more in tune with who and what God wants us to be; selfless, giving, serving. When it is mutual, what we get is so much more than what we give. We are better people when we put others first, when we develop a servant’s heart.

Ephesians 5:21 - Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Listen – Marriages will only work if both spouses commit to listening to one another, without judgment or criticism, without interrupting and without trying to fix every problem. Sometimes, what the speaker needs most is just to be heard. When you listen, listen with your whole being. Stop what you’re doing. Turn off the TV, get away from the computer, put down that magazine. Listen with your face. Look at your spouse, make eye contact. Give them your full attention. Few things say “I love you” as much as this.

James 1:9 - Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

Express – In a marriage, it is our responsibility to communicate our feelings – especially if we expect our spouse to acknowledge them and act on them. If negative things are held inside, they can fester and grow into major problems. Is something bothering you? Your spouse may be blissfully unaware, so tell them! If positive things are not expressed, your spouse may feel that things are wrong or that they are not appreciated. Tell your spouse when you are grateful for things they’ve done, for who they are. Expressions of gratitude positively affect both people. They have a way of minimizing our own grief and anger while reassuring and encouraging the ones we’re thankful for.

Phillipians 4:6 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

God wants us to express our hearts and souls to him; do likewise with your spouse. ( and don’t forget WITH THANKSGIVING )

Empathize – Spend some time putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. Imagine what it’s like to be them, to face their problems, to see the world through their eyes. What do they overcome on a daily basis. What’s it like living with you? Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings as if they were yours. It can radically transform any relationship. Do this regularly and you will develop a greater appreciation of your spouse; who they are, what they do and what they bring to your marriage.

John 1:14 - The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.

Christ came to Earth to experience being human; to be hungry and cold, to hurt, to be tempted. God empathizes with us because he knows what it means to be human; he experienced it first-hand.

Profess – Let your spouse know that you love them. Learn your partner’s love language and affirm them in ways that they will cherish. Profess your love in all situations. Make these statements unconditional and emphatic. Don’t worry about looking weak. Don’t wait for them to love you first so that you can reciprocate; be first. God didn’t wait.

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


So, SLEEP: Sacrifice, Listen, Express, Empathize, and Profess.
And while you're at it...
don’t let sleeping together get neglected, overlooked or forgotten either.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


What is your marriage based on? What is at the center of your relationship, the one thing that holds it all together? Is it the same thing now as it was at the beginning? Regardless of what it is, consider this verse (the one my blog title is based on) :

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Is your marriage, at its heart, focused on God? If it is focused on anything else, there could be problems. The two of you need to constantly try and discern what God's will is for you - as a couple. To do this:

Pray. Pray for each other, and with each other. As a couple voice your concerns and your hopes for your marriage to God. When done together, it is a window into each other's soul. Make it a point to thank God for the gifts he's given to you both each time you pray.

Study. Be continually in God's word. The Bible has so much to say about God's plans for strong healthy marriages. Scripture is our ammunition against all the things that erode at marital happiness over time.

Seek. Make sure you are constantly seeking God's will for yourself as an individual, keeping in mind that you are "one flesh" with your spouse as well. Balance is sometimes difficult - but it is critical. Visualize your marriage as a triangle, with God at the top and you and your spouse at the bottom two points. If you are both moving closer to God, you are moving closer to each other as well. The opposite also holds true.

Reflect. Take stock of your relationship regularly. Look at the activities you are involved in, how your time is being spent, look at the things that drive your decision making. Even good things, like caring for children, like serving the church, like working to provide for your family, can be negative if they claim that central role in your relationship.

Always strive for God alone to be in that position.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Failure is not an option

We live in a disposable society. Almost everything we buy we can throw away once we're done. It's so often cheaper to buy something new than to have something mended or repaired, and indeed, TV blares at us the virtues of all things "new and improved," and how dreadful it is to have things that are obsolete or passé. Sadly, this attitude has infected out view of relationships. Far too often, people go into marriage thinking that if it doesn't work out, we'll just go our different ways and start over. Second marriages dissolve at an even higher rate. To quote Batman in Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns:

"Can't have a back door, Alfred… Might be tempted to use it."

Our society has made it an acceptable option, but it is one that does not fit into God's plan; to wit, Matthew 19:6-8

"So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. "Why then," they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

Our world has also become very selfish. Everything is geared towards a person being out for him or her self, to be responsible for his or her own happiness and to pursue it at all costs. Coupled with the above mindset, it leads to break ups when people feel their needs are not being met. If a relationship is bringing you down, get out and start over! "You deserve happiness," the world screams at you. Is this what God wants though?

"Not so," Jesus says in Mark 10:43. "Whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant."

Think about that in the context of marriage. What if the words "Until death do us part" or "as long as we both shall live" mean exactly what they say? I sure when people say them, they want to believe them, but what if there was a subtle shift in attitude, and those vows were made knowing they could not - not "would not" - be broken? Would less people actually take the plunge? Maybe.

It is unrealistic of course to think any human institution can be perfect, but God sets these standards for us to strive for them. If those vows you made were suddenly taken to be unbreakable, how would that change the way you interact with your spouse. If there was no "out" how would the relationship change?

Would you be more forgiving? You'd have to be if you wanted peace. Would you be more tolerant of flaws? I'd think that would be necessary too. More loving? More willing to speak up when things bother you? Add up all the things you'd have to change, all the things you'd have to BE and it equals one thing. IF you wanted a successful marriage, you'd have to be more graceful; in effect, more like God.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe the reason God commands us to marry for life is this: when two people have to peacefully live under one roof for the rest of their lives, and not just coexist but thrive and grow, they have to treat each other with the utmost of respect and grace. They have to accept their spouse's imperfections if they want their own overlooked as well. An attitude of service is far more likely to make the union healthy than waiting to be served.

Marriage is a crucible; it is meant to foster our growth, to make us better people. The process if not always pleasant, but growth rarely is. It is painful sometimes, and uncomfortable, but also vital. To make a marriage work, we have to model ourselves after God's example of love that is unconditional and absolute, unwavering and endless. Go into marriage with that mindset, and see how it changes you.