Challenge, Marriage, Men, Women

Are You Living in the Past or the Present in Your Marriage?

Often the present is a window into our past, but it doesn’t have to dictate our future. We often develop what many call, “self-directed commands” from our histories. For example, “I need to make sure my family is protected” or, “I need to perform to be approved of.” These are innocent responses to how we interpreted our environment and they’re not always correct, but seem to remain with us until God deals with those areas. Obviously, as they are revealed, it’s good to work on them, discover the truth and find freedom from them.

Here’s the thing though: marriage can tend to bring out those self-directed commands and most times we’re not realizing it. We observe something our spouse is doing or not doing and it is accentuated in our head due to a historical connection. I am not saying our spouse is faultless, but all too often it’s not really our spouse, it’s us, i.e., our reaction connected to our history. That’s why it is often said you cannot change your spouse, only yourself. The reality is marriage teaches us to love and God uses it (as author Gary Thomas states) to not necessarily “make us happy,” but rather to make us more like Him. In short, one of the ways we express our love for God is how well we love our spouse in spite of their imperfections.

Marriage exposes our weaknesses and when our weaknesses are exposed the more difficult it may be to show respect. However, showing respect amidst difficulty is a sign of maturity. To dishonor and disrespect our life mate is a sign of immaturity. That is, immaturity defined as my needs are not being met and I am not happy. Truth is, in marriage we are no longer free to pursue whatever self-centered thing(s) we want. What we must strive for is what is best for our partner so that it builds “us” and not just me. When we run toward our struggles, we are strengthened. When we run away, we remain immature and weak especially when it comes to relationship.

Finally, when we hold back in marriage due to a present or historical incident, we are saying, “I will no longer relate to you on a deep level of intimacy.” When we move away from that deep level of intimacy and we stop sacrificing for one another, we are on the road to narcissism. And that is so well addressed in the verse that follows.


“…Being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others [your spouse] better than yourselves. Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others [your spouse].”  (Philippians 2: 2-4)

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Marriage, Men, Women

If You Have Chosen to Be Sexual…

I had this thought the other day when considering sexual boundaries in our lives. It’s one that I suppose some persons will agree with and perhaps others will strongly disagree with. It’s an observation I have made over the years as I watch how people respond so differently to God’s sexual boundaries lovingly written to us within His word.

Here’s the thought provoking question: If one chooses to be sexual prior to marriage, why not be sexual outside of your marriage?

It’s the same act isn’t it? It’s breaking the same moral guideline, right? It bears similar consequences, doesn’t it?

When we sow sexual seeds before marriage, what makes us think we’ll reason differently or be tempted differently while married?

If you are a young person who desires to obey your heavenly Father, then choose to sow into your future marriage relationship by following God’s moral code today. Do not think that you’ll get away with acting out sexually and then have no consequences after you say “I do,” having spoken vows of commitment for the remainder of your married life.

If you have crossed God’s boundaries, then I urge you to ask for forgiveness and experience deep repentance over disobeying your heavenly Father. Your future is very connected to the seeds you sowed in the past. Break off any soul connections from prior relationships. Declare Galatians 3:13 over your life and disconnect yourself from curses spoken or sowed. Commit once again to purity before marriage and within marriage.

Standard
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.)

Standard
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.

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Women

Yay, It’s Valentine’s Day!

St. Valentine’s Day was declared to be held each year on February 14 by Pope Gelasius in the 5th century. However, it would be many years later that this date would be associated with love. The oldest known valentine to be in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in the year 1415.

 

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in quite a few countries, but it wasn’t until 1900 that printed cards became an option. Prior to this, cards were handmade or simply handwritten letters. Today, 85% of women purchase these cards and 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent in the mail, making it the second largest (next to Christmas) card-sending day of the year.

 

Here’s my reminder for you and your valentine. How does your valentine like to receive love? Do they desire to hear love, see love or feel love? You may share the ways in which you like to receive love from her, but she just might want to “see” love through a dozen roses. Or, you could send a card with a gift, but he simply wants to hear your words of affirmation and love directly from your lips.

 

We tend to give love in the way we appreciate receiving love, but that may not be your spouse’s love language. Be sure to share your love on this Valentine’s Day in the way he or she desires to receive that love message.

 

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Standard
Challenge, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

A Prudent Wife

As many times as I have read Proverbs 19 and verse 14 I have had questions about its meaning. Let me share it with you, “Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.”

 

Honestly, only God in His wisdom could put these two thoughts together (which previously has seemed odd to me) to make an amazing rule for our homes. Here are the two thoughts: fathers leave an inheritance to their children, but our heavenly Father blesses us with the gift of a prudent (judicious, discreet, sober and virtuous) wife.

 

When fathers fail to provide an inheritance, they fail to earn more than their needs or they foolishly waste their money or they invest unwisely. Another Proverb tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, a second generation blessing from living righteously. But families need more than wealth; they need a woman of greatness and Proverbs reveals there is great treasure and favor from this kind of woman. (Proverbs 18:22)

 

The woman who is lazy, uncaring or self-consumed tears her house down. (Proverbs 14:1)

 

By inspiration Solomon is saying that, “A discreet and virtuous wife is more valuable than house and riches.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary) But why?

 

Gill’s Exposition states this verse in this manner: A prudent wife is from the Lord; one that behaves well to her husband, [manages] the affairs of her house with wisdom, and brings up her children in all orderly manner: such a wife no man has from the care and provision of his parents; nor so much from his own good choice and industry as from the kind providence of God, to which he should ascribe it; his parents may give him houses and lands, but it is God that gives him a wise and discreet woman to be an helpmeet to him.

 

Your prudent wife is a gift directly from God. You did not earn her and neither did you inherit her. You do not possess her and you do not deserve her. She came to you by the virtue and grace of your heavenly Father.

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Women

Bringing Your Marriage into Today

How many of us have had recurring marriage issues lasting over a period of years?

 

As soon as you discuss a bill that is overdue payment, you’re right back at the same old argument about finances. Or, your spouse gave you “the look” which to you means something negative and it immediately sends you back to many previous conversations or reactions.

 

If this is the case, you are choosing to live in history. You have not let go of yesterday and moved into today. Living in yesterday will keep us in bondage to yesterday. If we are unable to forgive and start anew, it will be like driving our car forward while constantly looking into the rear-view mirror. Eventually we’ll wreck the car.

 

We cannot move ahead in our marriage if we’re constantly looking back and bringing up the past. There simply is no freedom in living that way. Every one of us has a history, but we are not held captive by that history. We must take the time to discuss the issue thoroughly, find plausible solutions and then implement them. If there is a reoccurrence, grace is needed, while at the same time believing for continued heart change.

 

Make it your goal today to let go of what was, so that you can enter into what is, and then, what will be. When we can let go of the past, we’ll find much more freedom in our marriage for the present.

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Issues of the Day, Men, Parents, Women

Experiencing 2020 Battle Fatigue

Battle Fatigue is a term no longer used. We now have a brand-new label. Psychiatrists began to notice psychological wounds that veterans sustained from the Vietnam War. Their symptoms included cynicism, alienation, depression, mistrust, an inability to concentrate, insomnia, nightmares, restlessness and expectation of betrayal. They called this disorder, “Post–Vietnam Syndrome.”

 

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association adopted the term Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This broadened term also related to non-combat exposure with those who experienced rape, natural disasters, accidents and assaults. For example, post the Oklahoma City bombing, 34% of the survivors developed PTSD.

 

Because we as human beings grieve and experience emotional reactions through pain-filled events in our lives, we can also experience some of the PTSD symptoms. The good news is that, in time, most persons improve.

 

It is said by counselors, doctors and other professionals that many individuals, marriages, youth and children experienced high levels of unending stress in 2020, primarily related to Covid – 19, but not solely. We have had to endure racial strife, riots and burning cities, constant political discord and a barrage of fear-based media. If we maintain high levels of ongoing stress, we may begin to see many of the symptoms mentioned above. A weariness can settle in and a “who cares” attitude can take over as a means of coping.

 

We have an opportunity to talk ourselves into ill health or out of ill health. Battle fatigue will shorten our patience, cause us to lose our joy and destroy our dreams. This level of fatigue repeatedly says, “Give up; what’s the use?”

 

Press through and press on. Find others to serve and to help. Do not allow your focus to become centered on yourself and just your perceived needs. Recognize the voice within yourself that desires to keep your soul downcast versus the truth that desires to bring freedom. Determine to steadily walk forward and to not get stuck at any one place. Put a stop to the negative voices and negative media around you which are constantly complaining or instilling fear. Listen to life-giving worship music and read a daily devotional that uplifts your soul. Occupy your thoughts with prayer and the giving of thanks.

 

There are active steps that you can take to fight battle fatigue. It’s not wrong to recognize our weakness if we, at the same time, recognize God’s strength.

 

Paul the Apostle said it best, “That’s why I take pleasure in in my weaknesses…hardships…and troubles that I suffer…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:10)

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Parents, Training, Women

Erasing Your Debt

If you would have been a member of the Morehouse College graduating class of 2019, you would have graduated debt free. All 396 students had their college loans paid in full. How?

 

The commencement speaker that year was Robert Smith, a private equity executive worth $4.47 billion. During his speech, he shared that he was donating enough money ($40 million dollars) to eliminate every graduating student’s personal debt. Everyone was stunned to say the least.

 

In his speech he asked the class to pay it forward. I don’t know what that will look like, but I do know what it feels like to receive notice from the bank or mortgage company that my debt is paid in full.

 

Unfortunately, too many of us know more about indebtedness rather than a debt marked “Paid.” We deserve that new car or house upgrade, or for others, it was unexpected medical debt or some other emergency.

 

However, if we are faithful to make our monthly payments, even adding to the principle, we will realize our goal. And when we are faithful in our tithing and giving first, we will see God multiply our income so that we can eliminate debt even faster. I do not know how that works, but I can tell you in following those principles for 50 years of my life, they are proven.

 

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  (Eccl. 5:10)

Standard
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.

Standard