Challenge, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

Affairproofing Your Marriage (Part One)

Couples in the U.S. are waiting longer to marry and living together in an attempt to try it out.  These reactions are simply due to anxiety brought on by the number of marriages that are failing.  One in four marriages is ending in divorce, which is better than one in two, but not where we desire it to be.  Let me put it in a different framework:  what if one in four planes that took off crashed; how quick would you be to board one?

For some of us, many years ago we spoke something called vows that went like this: For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health…till death (not murder) do us part.  Never did we ever imagine having to face such issues.  But, truth be told, we will face these things as some of us already have.  

We all marry into brokenness.  There is no perfect marriage because there is no perfect person in marriage.  If you found the right person in marriage, you found an imperfect person.  And not only are they imperfect; you’re imperfect as well.  

Do you know why we take pictures at weddings?  Because it’s the last time you’ll see anything close to perfection.  Even some of the clothes are rented at a wedding.  Erma Bombeck said, “Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”

Here’s the good news for those of us who are married and those of us who are not: marriage has a 100% chance of being absolutely fantastic, whole and awesome if we will commit to following Jesus and following biblical principles for marriage relationships.

Exodus 34:14 – Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

I love that.  God is jealous over you; it’s a positive thing; it’s a righteous love.  We too can become jealous as we bond with a life mate.  To be jealous is to be intolerant of rivalry, like God we become jealous because we love.  In God’s jealousy He protects, He guards His children from the foreign god, from idolatry.  As husband and wife, we guard, we protect against a foreign intruder into our marriage.  One of those foreign intruders is an affair.

An affair happens when one takes the most sacred expressions in marriage and gives them to another.  So you can have an affair without sex by giving what belongs only to your spouse to someone else.  Before this happens, however, there are numerous other issues going on.  It is like the warning lights on the dash of your car.  You can ignore them for only so long.  And while ignoring them, the problem usually grows worse.

Today, affairs are starting anywhere there is close proximity and working relationships.  Facebook is a huge source of marital failures as people find “first loves” in a desire to feel a feeling they once felt.  You can be involved in an affair simply through your computer and never meet face-to-face.

We are all potential vow breakers.  If we think it can’t happen to us we can become sloppy and less guarded, not alert to the enemy’s schemes. To those of you who have been tempted and who gave in to that temptation, this message is not spoken to condemn you in any way.  We serve a redemptive God and He forgives.

Dr Gail Saltz psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital said this concerning affairs, “Many people convince themselves so long as there is not sex it is not an affair, but it is.  It has to do with secrecy, deception and betrayal and the emotional energy you are putting into the other person vs. your partner.  The most difficult thing to recover from is not sex, but the breaking of trust.  Those involved in an emotional affair are often in denial.  They do not think they’re having an affair at all.  The denial keeps them guilt-free and they tell themselves, ‘It’s just a friendship.’”

But one in two emotional affairs becomes a full-blown sexual affair states Dr. Saltz.

How do you know you’re in an emotional affair?  Dr Saltz shares ten warning signs:

  1. When your meetings are kept secret from your spouse.
  2. When you say and do things with someone you would never do in front of your spouse or you would feel guilty if your spouse happened to show up.
  3. When you make it a point to arrange private talk time with this person.
  4. When you share things with them that you do not share with your partner.
  5. When you avoid telling your partner how much time you may be spending with this person.
  6. When you are stating things about your marriage that you should not be telling another, opening a window to your heart and unmet emotional needs.
  7. When you begin discussing your marital dissatisfactions.
  8. When you tell this person more about your day than you do your partner.
  9. When you “ready your appearance” in anticipation of seeing this person.
  10. When there is sexual attraction spoken or unspoken between you.

Even if there is no actual touching, these are signs of an emotional affair.  The emotional high that the sexual attraction, the secrecy, the feelings provide actually becomes addictive and will perpetuate the relationship.  

To guard against ever having an emotional affair or to act in a preventative manner, live your life the opposite of the above ten warning signs. Secondly, set boundaries for your marriage relationship just like a dating couple sets sexual boundaries.  As a couple, what are you comfortable with and what are you not comfortable with (e.g., phone calls, meeting for lunch, driving in a car alone with someone of the opposite sex)?

Next week I will share part two of Affairproofing Your Marriage.

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Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Premarital, Women

Is There Hope for Marriage and What Is the Actual Divorce Rate?

We have been lied to. We have been told that marriage is archaic and a dying tradition. We are told that one half of all marriages end in divorce repeatedly and maybe even you have spoken those words yourself. It makes for a very pessimistic outlook to marriage doesn’t it?

Enter Shaunti Feldhahn and her book, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce. She says, “Divorce is not the biggest threat to marriage. Discouragement is.” 

In Feldhahn’s eight-year research she found that the divorce rate in America is nowhere near 50% and NEVER has been. And truthfully, she adds that the divorce rate has been on a steady decline since 1980. She writes, “In reality, 71% of women are still married to their first spouse…widowhood reduces the remaining 29%, bringing us to an approximate 25% divorce rate for first time marriages.”

*Further good news is that Feldhahn states that the rate of divorce is even less among Christians. From Barna’s comprehensive research in 2008 there was a “…27% decrease in the number of divorces among those who had been to church in the last seven days.” In a “…National Survey of Families and Households between the years 1987 and 1994 there was a 50% lesser occasion of divorce among those who share the same faith and attend church.” A Family Life Family Needs Survey taken among 50 churches found that only 22% of those ever married had been divorced. (*AFA Journal, January 2015)

What has increased? Cohabitation. There is a significant rise to the incidents of cohabitation in the last 20 years. This provokes and promotes a noncommittal attitude and an open back door to the relationship and when these persons do marry, their incidents of divorce are higher.

There is great hope for marriage. Most married couples are happy. If they are unhappy, but remain committed within five years most couples (eight in ten) find themselves to be very happy in their marriages. It turns out that when a couple is making the effort to remain married and work through their issues, it pays off. Discouragement comes when one spouse is unwilling to work or doesn’t realize the needs of the marriage.

Remarriage statistics, we have been told, have had even more dire divorce results. Once again, Feldhahn found that “…according to the Census Bureau, 65% of women in second marriages are still married to their second spouse. And because second and third marriages tend to occur later in life, the percentage of those marriages ended by death is expected to be higher than first marriages, resulting in a second marriage divorce rate of 30% or less.”

Put the once touted divorce statistics behind you and know there is great hope for marriage and its future. Marriage is a creation act of God and He stands by His word for men and women who either desire marriage or desire to remain faithful until “death do they part.”

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Women

Is It Right to Withhold Sex in Marriage?

Throughout my years of marriage counseling, I often heard the confession that one spouse was unwilling to engage in sexual relations or, for reasons unknown, was withholding sex. With some couples it had been months and for others years had passed since they were intimate. Unfortunately, distraction or dissatisfaction in the sexual realm within marriage is not uncommon.

 

Most couples have seasons of infrequency or loss of the joy of sex or boredom, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way or that a new precedent is being set. For many married folks it is the most difficult subject to bring to the table. It seems that no matter how you approach the subject, one person can be easily offended or hurt.

 

When sex is withheld, most couples can connect it to a temporary issue like a recent fight or a strong disagreement on frequency or stress and sometimes illness. But there is a difference between decreased desire and intentionally using sex as a form of punishment or control.

 

I discovered a long time ago that abuse is always connected to power and control. Anger out of control is a form of control. Financial withholding for basic needs is a form of control and a spouse who feels unsafe, unloved or unappreciated can use sex as a form of control. Sex as a weapon in any form is unacceptable.

 

Most persons do not misuse their sexual side in a relationship but there are those who do.

 

When a woman withholds sex from her husband, it is usually a sign of something deeper going on and not about sexuality. Many women have figured out that their need for sexual release is different than their husband’s and they can use this as a form of control. Perhaps it’s not intentional, but it does happen. The problem, however, is that most women will not receive the results they are desiring. The desire to punish him for his rudeness, for forgetting your anniversary or for exhaustion will not provide for you the positive outcome that you tell yourself it will.

 

When men withhold sex, they are often denying themselves because of a fear of performance. Frequently they are carrying too much stress or are focusing their attentions elsewhere, like on a career. If a man fears rejection from his spouse, he will protect his emotions and his esteem by not asking. Also, men involved in pornography can lose interest in marital sex because their partner is not measuring up to the pictures or videos they’re viewing.

 

Here’s the thing though: if couples do not seek help outside themselves, how will they know what is normal or what is abnormal? We do not customarily enter into these conversations with others very readily so we are not aware of what are common problem issues in the bedroom. As well, we tend to assume the worst about ourselves or our marriage without clear communication.

 

Some places to start to initiate change:

  • Begin by praying about your sexual lives together.
  • Share your heart, listen and work to understand rather than to just air your grievances.
  • Listen for deeper issues that begin outside the bedroom, e.g., pain, stress, memories that surface, anxieties, depression, illness. There are reasons for no or little sexual desire.
  • Give permission to your spouse to say some difficult things without the fear of retribution or taking offense.
  • If there is a record of anger, wrongly spoken words and threats about where your sex lives have gone, then back up, repent and ask one another’s forgiveness.
  • Ask God for a means of re-set, i.e., how do we start over following prayer and communication?
  • Support one another in any way possible. You’re in this together and you’re best friends.
  • Affirm one another and reinitiate affection. Affection, like kissing, enhances sexual desire.
  • Find ways to reduce stress and time commitments outside the bedroom.
  • Maintain sexual purity and do not turn to pornography or lust.

 

Continual rejection hurts our spouse and our marriage. Sex is not a power to be wielded in order to achieve a certain outcome; it is a gift from God. Sex is something we give; it is not something we take. To be sexual within marriage means to be vulnerable. Tolerating the ongoing withholding of sex does not benefit anyone. (See I Corinthians 7:3-5.)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Prayer, Women

The Intimacy of Couple Prayer

While fighting and arguing can be powerful in its disagreement, seeking God together in prayer is far more powerful in its spiritual agreement. You find yourself side-by-side, holding hands and letting your requests be known to your Creator. If you’re being honest, you know God sees your heart and expects vulnerability from both of you. In that openness and vulnerability, you become unveiled before Him. 

 

Before you were married, did anyone advise you that your marriage would need room for failure, forgiveness, loss, brokenness, disagreement, or even sin?  If not, a full and honest disclosure was missed, and you may have entered into marriage a bit naïve or ill-advised.  Marriages fail because we fail God, each other, and ourselves.  We fail to love, we fail to honor, we fail to forgive, and we fail in keeping at bay our own personal struggles with selfishness.

 

Before the Genesis three account of failure, the Bible states that God created us for a world where mankind was first introduced to God’s idea called marriage, and within that world, we would personally walk with God on a daily basis.  Can you imagine as a couple that at the end of each workday, after dinner, you would take a stroll in God’s perfect garden and speak with Him as you would any other person?  How that must have refreshed Adam and Eve, reenergized them, and built them for life together, for family, and for their next day.

 

But can’t God walk with us on a daily basis today?  Can we not have a conversation with Him together about our marriage, family, business, or life questions?  Would we be amiss to entertain for one moment that God has stopped longing to hear from us as His creation, especially the concerns we hold within our marriage and family?

 

You can be sexually intimate with almost anyone, but you cannot pray with just anyone.  In order to really open up our hearts and pray together, we must know we are in a safe place.  We must know we are not being judged for our heartfelt prayer.  And we must know that the one with whom we divulge our heart will maintain confidentiality and that we can trust them with our deepest, most secret sins and needs.  Praying together within marriage is so intimate that if these factors are not present, we will almost always divert ourselves to a same-sex prayer partner for that level of prayer.  At the same time, we will be forfeiting something so intimate, so close and so heartfelt, that a certain dimension will be missing within our marriage relationship.

 

Start small; find five or ten minutes in your day to connect in prayer.  Begin your prayer time by giving God thanks for all of His blessings in your life, including each other.  Move on to praying for one another and then your family, along with any other needs.  Close again with prayers of thanksgiving, because a thankful heart is an encouraged and an encouraging heart.  As this time of prayer becomes a habit, allow it to grow and increase.  The Bible says that when we find a place of prayer, we find a place of power and agreement (Matthew 18:19-20).

 

Some couples do not pray together because of vulnerability (it’s risking too much); others avoid prayer because of feeling inadequate; some use the excuse that they do not have enough time; others simply do not trust their spouse enough. Whatever the reason, all of these reasons keep us from obedience to God, from growing together spiritually, from becoming passionately intimate and from agreement that brings the deepest unity any marriage can encounter.

 

Perhaps you’ve already begun praying together. If not, we encourage you to begin today. If you establish this life-giving habit now, it will continue to flow within your marriage relationship quite naturally. It will build over time and as you experience, in deeper measure, the hand of God and answered prayer, you will find yourselves rejoicing together far more often.

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

When Our Spouse Pushes Our Buttons

We all love to be proven right when there is a conflict. In so many ways we connect with winning. When our buttons are pushed and a disagreement is the result, we want to win. The problem with winning, especially in marriage, means someone loses and I am not sure that’s our ultimate goal.

 

There are times when we simply must allow ourselves not to take the bait and overlook the need to be right. Most times, peace is more important than pursuing the need to prove ourselves or to win. Backing down can be the most loving and powerful thing we can do for our marriage. After all, who wants to be miserable after being proven right, by going to bed angry? The need to be right, if pursued religiously, can bring destruction to our relationship.

 

Consider Proverbs 17:14, “Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.”

 

“So, stop before…” You’re beginning to raise your voice and your heart is beating faster all the while Proverbs says to just stop. How do we do that? Begin by recognizing the inward conversation you’re having with yourself. Conversations like, “You can’t let her get away with that or, go ahead and interrupt him and let him have the facts.”

 

Secondly, do we want to be right or do we want to be in relationship? That is a choice we have to make at times. Recently, I had a false accusation leveled at me. Believe me, I thought of ten ways to respond and to make a defense as to why it wasn’t true. But I also knew that if I responded, the accusations would continue because most likely this person would not back down.

 

Laying down one’s ego is not easy and if it means keeping your mouth closed, it becomes even more difficult. We need not answer every critic and we need not to prove ourselves to anyone. When we do, we’ll find ourselves in an endless trap of words that leads to even more buttons being pushed.

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Challenge, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Pornography, Postmarital, Women

The Pain of an Affairing Spouse

My wife, Mary, and I were on a plane traveling to the Northwest and it was the dead of winter.  We were conducting our first weekend marriage seminar in this frozen, sub-zero state.  We jumped off the plane and onto the small airport tarmac to be greeted by the coldest wind we’ve ever felt.  Our eyes began to water and our noses started to run.

 

As we became acquainted with the pastor of the church who met us at the airport, he informed us that we were going straight to the church building to meet with his two eldership couples that were awaiting our arrival.  I thought, “Wow, he’s not wasting any time putting us to work.”  He then said, “Am I glad you guys are here.  We have a problem that we would like the two of you to address.”  “What’s the issue? “I asked.  He proceeded to say something we had never, ever heard before and haven’t heard since.  “It seems that the husband of our one eldership couple is having an affair with the wife of the other eldership couple,” the pastor cautiously revealed.  “We want you to meet with them.”  I then asked if the “non-affairing” spouses are aware of what had happened and was about to happen.  He told us they were totally unaware of both.

 

I’m not sure who was more nervous and frightened about the meeting, the two of us or the couples we were about to meet.  There we sat with the first couple; a bit stunned as the husband nervously confessed to his wife his ongoing affair.  His eyes were constantly shifting to his spouse, then his pastor and then to us, but more often toward the ground.  We watched as her face began multiple and visibly painful contortions.  Her skin began to flush a bright red color starting from below her neckline and working its way to her forehead.  And then the tears began to flow, nonstop.  Her body slumped lower and lower in her chair.  It was like she was literally shriveling up right there in front of us.

 

Humans seem to have the capacity to endure a lot of pain, both physical and emotional.  We have all experienced traumatic, painful situations in our lives.  How we choose to handle those hurts is important.  We don’t know why one person can maintain composure while another completely falls apart, but we are convinced it has something to do with how we interpret the event and then what we tell ourselves about the past, present, and most importantly, the future.

 

It was in this meeting that we watched someone physically experience human pain: shortness of breath, heart palpitations, hands shaking in uncontrollable fear, and deep sighs that seemed to say, “What now?”  Mary placed her hand on the wife’s arm, but it was of little solace to her in a world that was literally crumbling around her.

 

Having seen the pain that an affair has on a spouse that day, I once again pledged myself to maintaining my marriage vows to my wife and to God – a good thing for you to consider as well.

 

(The above was adapted from our book, Staying Together, Marriage: A Lifelong Affair, Prokopchak, Destiny Image Publishers)

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Challenge, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

When We Should Just “Shut up” in Marriage

Are there times in marriage when we simply should not be communicating or using more words?  I want to propose that there are those times and we should use them wisely.  The book of Ecclesiastes reveals, “…A time to be quiet and a time to speak.”

 

Consider these five times that silence just might be described as golden.

 

  1. When your partner desires some quiet time or some alone time.

 

  1. When a disagreement is getting out of hand, it most likely is a good time for a communication time out.

 

  1. When one partner is feeling a bit snarky, it’s best not to respond.

 

  1. When an ongoing issue keeps surfacing we may need to back off and give it some time, or agree to disagree.

 

  1. When it’s time to close our day and go to sleep.

 

Use your quiet times wisely because sometimes, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Proverbs 17:28

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Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Women

Seven Ways to Stop a Drifting Marriage

Drifting is natural, it happens sometimes without giving it much thought.  Add to that our human propensity to get bored with the familiar rather quickly.  Once the romance wanes in our relationships, we can be tempted to drift.  We attempt to convince ourselves and our life mates that we’re not drifting, but we both know we are.

 

My daughter and I were out in a bay once when our boat lost its anchor. She went swimming after it.  We barely noticed how far and how quickly that boat drifted away from us with the outgoing tide.  It was just right there beside us a few minutes earlier.

 

What are the ingredients to a marriage that drifts?  All too often we experience unmet expectations. Our disagreements become more intense and we seem to have conflict more often. Perhaps even old, destructive life patterns reemerge.  Or, maybe we get behind financially and can’t seem to catch up.  We’re working more hours, away from home more hours and unhappy for more hours.  Now we’re feeling unfulfilled and it is so easy for marriage boredom to increase.

 

We didn’t mean for it to happen but life is full with our schedules, our children, yes, even our ministry.  We’re missing one another, we’re not communicating as we should and we left certain disciplines that help to maintain a healthy marriage.  Now we’re both feeling the sting of unmet needs and mumbling under our breath the negative things that bug us about our partner.

 

It can change; there is hope.  We can reverse the effects of drifting.  Here are seven steps we can take.

 

  1. Confess it to God and one other. Confession brings it into the light.  It puts the subject on the table so to speak.

 

  1. Get back to dedicated times of communication about the personal and the nonpersonal. Get back to sharing everything in conversation with feelings and real-life intimacy.

 

  1. Pray while you communicate.  Speak to God about your drifting from each other.  Share your heart with your heavenly Father and ask Him for solutions to the drifting issue.  Expect to hear those answers and then implement them.

 

  1. Get back to spending quality time together. There is no compromise; we need time together to relate, to have fun and to be friends again.

 

  1. Stop waiting on feelings. If you wait on feelings to return, you’ll never act.  Act first because right actions bring about right feelings.

 

  1. Write out your mission statement. If you have one, find it and read over it once again.  If you do not have a couple mission statement then you are missing out on writing down your reasons for marriage, your why.  Get busy and put into writing your marriage mission statement.

 

  1. Dream again about where you desire your marriage to go and to grow.  Vision is a focus for the future for the two of you. That focus runs adrift when we lose sight of us.

 

Rest assured, drifting can occur with each of us.  But it is not our game plan to stay there.  We must take steps to counteract the drifting that has taken place.

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Challenge, Marriage, Postmarital

Are You Running from Your Marriage Weaknesses?

So often marriage is like a mirror and we get to see our real self through the reflections of our life mate.  After all, who knows you better than your spouse?  Who better to reflect back to you the image you are projecting?

 

All too often we become defensive, insecure or are in denial about these areas in our lives.  We can hide them for some time, but eventually they will surface.  When we lose our focus, lose our cool or lose our patience, it can become too much of a temptation to allow the real us to surface. We each have our weaknesses and when they are revealed, we have options.

 

Those options include: to run, hide, make excuses, blame others or face the weaknesses squarely in the eye.  Many marriages separate and spouses run from their exposed weaknesses, but for those who are willing to maturely confess them, remain humble, remain teachable and accountable, there is great hope.

 

What we can do is to use the revelation of our shortcomings to allow God to change that area of our life.  Confession and humility are powerful when it comes to change.  Pride, on the other hand, will take us toward a greater fall.

 

A number of years ago we worked with a couple who struggled with financial agreement.  It seems the wife had created excessive consumer debt.  They asked for our help, humbled themselves, confessed wrongdoing and started on the path of healing their trust issues and then their budget changes.  It could have been far worse if they would have not sought help, not confessed and not humbled themselves toward change.

 

Are you running from your marriage weaknesses?  There is a better way.

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