Month: January 2018

Do Relationships Really Die?

I have often heard it said by pastors, pastoral counselors, therapists, and everyday people that a couple is “in a dead marriage.”

couple sitting back to back on a white couch looking displeased

Affection in Marriage

Marriage is a covenant or an agreement, a contract between a man and a woman originally established by God. The Bible says of marriage: Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:3)

Many in my care over the years have read this verse and seen only the physical aspect of the word “affection”. But in my understanding it’s more than just about sex: It’s also about true love and devotion to one another, under God!

Philippians 2:1-5 focuses on relationships in general (not just marriage), but can still be applied to marriages: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.

This passage teaches us the “unconditional love” concept that counters the selfish, self-centered, “what’s in it for me?” approach to marriage that can kill the physical as well as the spiritual devotion necessary for oneness. This unconditional love also wrecks the mindset that withholds loving the other person until they know what they will get back from the other partner. Instead, the cross of Christ is given as the example of how we love each other.

A Dead Marriage

Unfortunately, this Biblical plan doesn’t always play itself out in marriages.

Most surveys, including one in 2012 by the CDC, puts the divorce rate in America for first marriages between 40-50%. This tends to be true for Christians and non-Christians alike.

I wonder how many folks really didn’t fully understand the concept of Christ-like sacrifice and selflessness was what they were signing on for in marriage, the huge reality of the life-long commitment they were agreeing to. Maybe after finding out how much commitment was needed, they were not truly willing to do as they promised. I want to be clear I’m not just talking in the physical sense, e.g., sexuality, but also the responsibility to love and care and nurture one another in every way. In our marriages, do we care for each other, about each other, love each other?

Breathing Life into Marriages

The Apostle Paul clearly recognized that living souls are in need of true love and care. I believe he was alluding to various Old Testament statues (such as Exodus 21:7-11) when he wrote 1 Corinthians 7:5: Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Paul was answering questions about sexual relations in a godly marriage between husband and wife in the above passage. And while sexual relations are important to a healthy marriage, the bigger problem I find today is the condition of the heart of one living soul and their ability or reluctance to truly love their spouse. The Bible addresses this in 1 Peter 3:7-9:

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

In marriage, you cannot have a vibrant physical relationship described in 1 Cor 7 and “be of one mind, having compassion for one another…as brothers [and sisters]” without having person-to-person oneness. The unconditional love taught in Philippians 2:1-5 kills the selfish, self-centered approach to marriage so that oneness can occur. So it comes down to truth, God’s love through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and with “one mind, having compassion one for another” we do the work which at times seems difficult and we do it out of love and for the life of our marriages.

Dr. Tom Miller, C.Ph.D.
Counselor, Day Seven Ministries

Three Daily Rituals That Stop Spouses from Taking Each Other for Granted

Don’t let your wedding day be the last day you truly appreciate your spouse.

couple walking outside on a cool day

When my wife and I got married, more than twelve years ago now, we were convinced that we would have a happy life together. Our courtship was exciting, and our wedding day was a dream. Little did we know that a switch flipped in both of our heads on the day we said “I do.” Indeed, the very next day—the first full day of our married life—my wife and I would begin taking each other for granted.

It’s only in looking back that I can understand what happened early in our marriage. At the time, the change was so gradual that we didn’t even notice it.

Before our wedding day, our focus was each other, having fun, and building our love. After our wedding day, our focus began to shift. Without realizing it, I viewed our wedding day as the finish line in the courtship race, and I had won the prize: my wife’s love.

It was about six months into our marriage when I discovered that we had actually lost something when we said our vows. As each month of marriage passed, the slow decline in our relationship continued. I still couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong, and though we weren’t yet at a terrible place, I looked to the future, and I did not like what I saw.

I called three friends of mine, all of whom had been married for more than twelve years. I thought they all had good marriages and would be good people to get advice from.

My first friend urged me to get over it. No one is happily married, he said. My second friend explained to me that this is what happens in marriage: The initial passion fades away, and you end up bickering for the rest of your lives. My third friend told me the key to surviving marriage was to have low expectations—very low expectations.

Devastated by my friends’ advice, I feared that I had ruined my life by getting married. But my marriage took a turn for the better when I was asked to teach Pre-Cana, a course of marriage consultation that couples must undergo before they can be married in a Catholic church. My initial reaction was: Are you crazy? Im not suited to teach this. But in the end I accepted the challenge.

This was a game changer for our marriage. As we did our homework to prepare to teach the class, my wife and I felt the trend of our marriage shift in mere days.

Research by marriage specialists such as Dr. John Gottman, author of the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and Bill Doherty, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, provided practical suggestions for how to strengthen marriage, which were simple enough that we were able to easily apply them to our marriage.

In a life-changing talk, Doherty makes an important point about marriage. He explains that the natural trend of marriage is for romance, affection, appreciation, and communication to decline over time, not because couples start to dislike each other but because they become too comfortable together.

Doherty explained that it is important to choose the right person, but it is also important to have a strategy to stay happy. His big phrase is “the intentional couple,” by which he means you need to be aware of what you’re doing, and you need to have a plan to nurture the positive in your relationship.

Couples with marriages rich in habits, rituals, and traditions will be better suited to avoid the trap of taking each other for granted and will keep the positive side of the relationship nurtured over time.

Here are three important rituals that saved my wife and I from taking each other for granted and drifting apart.

01. Create a habit of reunion every day.

According to Doherty, the most important moment in your marriage is the moment of reunion—it’s how you greet each other. If you consistently greet each other well, you will look forward to seeing each other. If you are inconsistent about how you greet each other, you can lose that sense of excitement. If you criticize each other at the moment of reunion, you can become fearful of seeing each other.

In need of a daily ritual in my own marriage, I remembered something my parents did that had made a strong impression on me when I was a little boy. My parents did it very rarely, but occasionally after dinner my father would ask my mother to dance.

I made a commitment right then and there to dance with my wife whenever I greet her. Now the first thing I do when I get home is to find her, and tell her, “I have to dance with you.” On days when I work too late, or am traveling without her, I make up for the missed opportunity by sending my wife a video kiss from my iPhone. Once we even danced via Facetime.

The consistency of greeting each other well has completely transformed our marriage. Every day of our marriage has romance and affection in it, and my wife and I are always excited to see each other.

02. Set aside two minutes of undistracted communication every day.

Gottman has found that two minutes of undistracted communication can be more important than spending a whole unfocused week together as a couple. Even though I am not a morning person, I resolved to wake up a little earlier each day and have breakfast with my wife.

Having breakfast is not our morning ritual, as Gottman has found that even the food you’re eating is a distraction. It’s when we are finished eating that I slap my knee and invite my wife to sit on my lap. We then ask each other what our days will be like.

Right from the beginning of the day, we have a ritual to nurture the romance, affection, and connection in our marriage, and we have found that this feeling persists throughout the day. Two minutes of non-distracted communication, while dancing at the moment of reunion, serves to refresh this daily connection.

03. Practice an appreciation ritual every day.

Sadly, couples tend to take the good in each other for granted very quickly—and can even stop noticing the good that the other is doing—while focusing more and more on the petty failings of the other.

Inspired by the research of Gottman, we began to incorporate an appreciation ritual into our daily lives. We’ve learned to say thank you throughout the day. And we end each day before going to bed by sitting together, with the computers off, and thanking each other once again for all the big and small things we’ve done for each other that day.

When we first started this ritual, we were stunned to realize how much each of us was doing for the other during the day. I had become so focused on my petty complaints about my wife that I had forgotten what a good wife she was. Our thank you ritual to end the day has helped us become much more tolerant of each other’s failings.

Most couples allow their marriages to decay slowly over time, often without realizing it. But this wasn’t my marriage’s fate, and it doesn’t have to be yours. Daily rituals keep the sense of connection strong in marriage and assure that romance, affection, and appreciation are a part of your married life every day.

By Peter McFadden, Verily Magizine
https://verilymag.com/2015/07/relationship-advice-keeping-marriage-strong-appreciating-your-spouse

Matt Lauer…Teachable Moments…and Theologizing About Sexuality and Sin

man looking at a reflection of himself with a stern look

[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at the end of November at  www.cpyu.org. While Matt Lauer is no longer at the top of our news feeds, hardly a day goes by without another well-known individual being called out for sexual misconduct. These are points worth reflecting on regardless of the specific name in the headlines.]

Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.

How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?

At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.

Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.

What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.

I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .

First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.

Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake.The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.

Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.

And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”

One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.

Article by Walt Mueller, founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Learn more at www.cpyu.org.

They’re Right. Abstinence-Only Education Doesn’t Work.

a wedding ring resting on a white cloth

The New York Times and other prominent news sources recently reported that there is now proof that abstinence-only programs don’t work. A meta-analysis of data (this means analyzing data from a number of different studies) “found no good evidence that such programs delayed the age of first sexual intercourse or reduced the number of partners an adolescent might have.”

Let me first state that such research and reporting is always approached with a bias. It’s impossible to conduct research and write articles like these without the desire to prove what you already believe to be true (just as I write with a bias towards a biblical view of sexuality). In fact, the New York Times article concedes that some research suggests that four abstinence-only programs have had a positive impact (Healthy FuturesPositive PotentialHeritage Keepers, and Promoting Health Among Teens (PHAT)).

While I believe we must be teaching abstinence, I agree with the New York Times that teaching abstinence alone is not enough. In fact, no form of “sex education” is going to ultimately keep teenagers from engaging in sexual activity. We live in a world where sexual experimentation, viewing sexually explicit shows like “Game of Thrones,” and engaging with pornography have become accepted norms even among Christian teens. We have a sexually permissive and explicit culture targeting teens and young adults who have sexual desire and a sin nature. Add to that the impact of smart phones, streaming technology, and the delay of marriage and you have a toxic recipe that seems practically impossible to stand against.

I truly wish there were some course or magic pill we could give teens (including my own) that would instill in them the danger of sexual immorality and the beauty of God’s plan. Unfortunately, there is no such fool-proof plan.

Even Christian-based abstinence programs that have positively impacted thousands of teens and young adults have also created confusion and disillusionment for others who felt God promised them a happy marriage with great sex if only they abstained. Some reacted to such programs with deep shame that they could no longer be among the elite sexually pure because of past choices.

Whatever your opinion of abstinence-only education, please don’t think that what the world is offering is effective in advocating a healthy understanding of sex. Modern sex education encourages experimentation, sexual/gender fluidity, and self-exploration as natural and healthy. This will inevitably end up in more confusion and a view of sexuality is that is completely divorced from God’s created purpose of this gift in our lives.

The bottom line is we need a new model for how we approach sexuality, not just with teens, but even among adults.

We have to have a greater goal than sexual purity.  

While abstinence is very important to teach children and youth, it is not the most important message we have to give. More valuable than a teen’s sexual choices is the choice of trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Sometimes I fear that we get the cart before the horse. Being sexually pure does not lead to eternal salvation for our children. By contrast, it’s only through a relationship with Jesus Christ that a person has a compelling reason and the spiritual power to say no to peer pressure, strong sexual desire and temptations.

Sexual purity is not just about saying “no” to having sex with your boyfriend. It has to be rooted in a broader understanding of our God’s love for us, the harmful impact of rejecting His design, and the hope of His redemption in our lives. The reality is that most teenagers are looking at porn, experimenting sexually and are not convinced that there is anything morally wrong with any of these behaviors. In fact, the culture is working hard to erase any sexual ethic other than do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Showing up with a “just say no to sex” message is like bringing a Dixie cup to confront a Super Soaker.

We need more than education.

While I wholeheartedly support the efforts of those who are teaching abstinence in schools, churches and in their own homes, it’s a mistake to think that information alone will be enough to stand against the internal and external pressures teens are facing. Similarly, a promise ceremony or signing a purity pledge may be external symbols of a commitment to abstinence, but teens and young adults must be equipped with a more complete picture of the spiritual landscape of sexuality. Why does sexuality matter to God? Why do I matter to God? Why is sex so often associated with shame? Most importantly, how do I understand the gospel in light of my sexuality and my sexual choices?

If you’ve been engaging with Authentic Intimacy as a ministry, you know that we are passionate about sexual discipleship™. The sexual discipleship™ model means that we teach about sexuality within the lifestyle of following Jesus, not just a class addressing purity or cultural questions. Discipleship requires relationship, modeling and honest dialogue throughout daily life.

Whatever models we might use in academic settings to teach about sexual health will ultimately be insufficient in keeping them “safe” if teens do not have parents and mentors who have a greater goal for them abstinence.

By Dr. Juli Slattery

This blog has been re-posted from Authentic Intimacy. Used with permission. 

Hope in the New Year

a weed growing through a crack in asphalt

With the new year often comes reflection on the past, and resolutions for moving forward. But when the past is full of pain and brokenness, it can be difficult to hope for any change in the future:

“For many of us, pervasive, day in and day out brokenness has turned our youthful boast that “nothing is impossible with God” into a weary “nothing is ever going to change.” You might not voice it out loud, but you’ve come to expect that God will not answer prayer, much less “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1), and that brokenness will dominate your life’s headlines until your obituary takes its place.

It might be a broken country, where terrorists’ bombs explode every attempt at systemic development. Or a broken marriage, where mistrust has evicted tenderness from the home. Or a broken ministry, where the word seems to land only on the path with the birds. Or perhaps just a broken soul, where darkness has extinguished the last shreds of light.

In the wreckage of that kind of brokenness, we feel entirely justified as we adopt a hopeless view of our life. We might even call our hopelessness realism….”

Read the full article by Scott Hubbard at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/begin-to-hope-again