4 Simple Questions for Marriage Health

My husband and I are about to celebrate 12 years of marriage. We are not typical “romance” people. Our anniversary generally doesn’t involve me getting flowers, jewelery or chocolate. I don’t buy him… well, men are hard to shop for so that’s my excuse.

For us, an ideal anniversary involves the two of us being alone, away from the kids, overnight and with… wait for it… UNINTERRUPTED CONVERSATION. It is a rare thing but it does exist!

Since our first anniversary, we have a tradition of spending some time to just ask questions of each other. Questions that don’t normally get asked in the day to day of life.

If you don’t do this in your marriage, you should. Asking questions and then truly listening is one of the most powerful communication tools to keep a whole and healthy marriage.

Here are 4 simple questions on 5 important areas. Pick a topic, ask and listen.

4 Questions on Your Friendship:

Do you feel that we are having enough fun and light hearted moments together?
What events or dates could we plan that build our friendship?
Do we have any hobbies together? If not, what hobby could we do together?
Do we have mutual friends that we both like to hang out with? If not, who could we pursue?

4 Questions on Communication:

Do you feel I truly listen to you?
Do you feel that my words and tone show that I respect and value you?
Are there times that our communication struggles? What are those times?
Are there topics or areas you wish we would communicate about more?

4 Questions on Sex:

How is the frequency for you?
Are you feeling loved and cared for in this area?
In what ways could we make more time for it?
What could we do to make this area better?

4 Questions on Parenting:

How do you feel we are doing in being loving parents?
How are we doing in being consistent and following through?
What “season” do you think each child is in?
How are our family times, are they bringing us together or apart?

4 Questions on Spiritual Health:

What is God teaching and growing you in, right now?
What areas do you feel spiritually weak in?
What things do you do that feed your walk with Jesus?
What ways could I support you in your walk with Jesus?

More resources on question asking and date night ideas:
4 Types of Date Nights
Date Night on the Cheap
20 Ways to Take Initiative in Your Marriage
Questions to Take You Deeper in Friendship or Marriage

3 Easy Ways to Damage Your Marriage

I’m an eager yet amateur gardener. Moving to South Africa was a challenge because all the plants I grew up with aren’t here. I suddenly had to learn a whole new way of gardening that was specific to a coastal South African town. Needless to say, I’ve killed a few plants along the way. All of this death because of simple things like sun and water… how hard can it be!?

The same is true in marriage. The little things are the big things. The silent things are the deadly things. Here are three areas I have seen which bring damage instead of life to a marriage.

Tunnel Vision

It is so easy to forget that our experience and our expectations are only one side of the story. We can only be ourselves and don’t often step into someone else’s body (ok, never).

When we get frustrated or go through a difficult time it is our default to forget that the way we saw that situation or the way we experienced something is only 1 slice of the pie. We need to constantly be “crucifying our flesh”… that temptation to only consider your own wants and desires. Remind yourself that there is another important perspective in the marriage: the perspective of your spouse.

Even when we rationally and calmly think thru a situation, we most often still end with a list of how we want the other person to change, do more of this, less of that.

Score Keeping

Keeping score is great for soccer, not so much for marriage. It is a dangerous and silent game since it happens in our minds and usually our spouse is losing badly. In fact, they aren’t even aware the game is happening let alone what the score is!

There are normally two modes of score keeping:

  1. Keeping score of what you do vs. your spouse. For example, “I’ve washed the dishes 47 nights vs. his 1.5 times in the past two months”.
  2. Seeing every action you do as an investment into getting a return payment back. For example, every time I put my kids to bed and do the night time routine, I assume that this act wins me back a sleep in the next morning. It’s only fair right?

Both of these forms of keeping score are toxic. They can come out of the modern concept of marriage being a 50/50 endeavor. Men and women are equal and marriage is a partnership. Right?

The reality is never 50/50. In fact, if you want a happy marriage you should probably just remove the word “fair” from your vocabulary. Marriage is going to require a lot more than 50% from you!

A 50/50 view of marriage sets us up to keep score. If it is 50/50 then how are we going to know we are accomplishing this? The only way is to keep score and constantly see who’s on the loosing end of that equation. In each persons mind it’s normally the other one.

The reality of marriage is that one of us is always lagging behind and needs the other to pick up the slack. Marriage needs to be 100/100 with a dump truck full of grace.

Mind Reading

Loves means serving and helping the other person without having to be asked.

Wait. Is that right?

Well, yes, if you are a mind reader.

So often we diminish our relationship from being mature adults to trying to be clairvoyant prophets. This is the Hollywood ideal: a person who truly loves you will just know what you need and want. They will anticipate your every thought and want.

The reality is that being married takes the Garden of Gethsemane approach. No matter how obvious it was that Jesus needed a friend (he was loudly weeping right next to them, obvious clue #1) he still did the mature thing and said, “will you pray with me, I’m really having a hard night”.

Somehow, we assume we should be better than Jesus. The truth is we need to be committed to sharing what we need and want just like he did. Over and over again until we die. We do this no matter how obvious we think it should be to our spouse.

It took me a while to learn this simple act. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to simply walk upstairs to my husband and say, “I need you to come to the kitchen while I cook dinner so you can listen to me talk about my day.” That sentence saved us a night of sighing and brooding. (Sometimes we are just toddlers at heart aren’t we?!)

Next time, instead of keeping score, being caught in selfish thinking or assuming that the your spouse is a mind reader, just say, “Hey babe, I’m really tired, would you mind letting me sleep in tomorrow morning and you get the kids breakfast.” It really is that easy and that hard.

Are any of these 3 present in your marriage? What adjustments could you make?

In Praise of Brokenness

The past felt hard but the worst was yet to come. Thank God I was oblivious to this fact. In the exact middle, between hurt and more hurt, I ventured off to a 9-month, intensive, Biblical Studies program.

I wanted the learning for my future career in ministry but needed it for my own personal survival. In the wilderness of Montana I worked hard, day-in and day-out. Most days were between 8-9 hours with my nose in the Bible. Many days it was more.

The learning was mentally exhilarating. Emotionally, though, something new was digging in to me.

praise-of-brokennessI remember the day clearly. In an effort to break up the monotony, a group of students decided to go to a local coffee shop to study. We all spread out to our own tables, ordered our bottomless coffee and began to pound away at the work to be done. The book of Romans was our current task. This is no small feat to grasp if you are familiar with the Bible. I remember the exact table and the uncomfortable wooden chair I was sitting in. While classmates around me were doing a theological CrossFit routine in their minds… I was reading the same phrase over and over and over.

“so death spread to all”
“so death spread to all”
“so death spread to all”

Then, the tears just came. They welled up and cascaded down, one after another. I wept… and wept and wept. My head dropped, I didn’t want anyone to see my face. My closest friend could hear me.

With confusion, “Lindsey, what is wrong?”

There was no reason for me to suddenly burst in to tears, especially for a committed non-cryer like me.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ll be ok” I replied.

The tears were now morphing with the snot. I was a mess and clearly not ok. That was my exact thought.

“I am not ok… not on any level.”

I wasn’t just talking about the past. I was not just fearing the future. After 16 years of following Jesus… at that moment, at that coffee shop, for the first time in my life I came to terms with my own brokenness and the brokenness of this world.

The Bible gave me permission to admit the stark reality. I had tasted, lived and dwelled with death more intimately than I wanted to admit.

I was not a good person who messed up a little bit. I was not someone who made mere mistakes. I was not a girl in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was deeply, deeply broken. Loved, valued… broken.

Jesus didn’t come to rescue mistakers. He died to give life to dead people. And I was one of those dead people… I knew it deeper than I ever had.

But the tears were not tears of condemnation. They were tears of collapse. Tears of a deep, deep sorrow. Sorrow at my hurt, sorrow at my own ineptitude to fix this mess. Sorrow at the pain around me. Tears of surrender and thus tears of pure joy.

I’ve never know such joy and gratitude mixed with such sorrow. I now new the meaning of the phrase, “such sweet sorrow.”

In the past I was looking for a Jesus who fixed mistakes. That day I realised I had a Jesus who made dead people come alive.

So I leaned in. I was tired and I pressed in to it. I was broken and I leaned in. I was hopeless and I pushed right in to the middle of it. I longed for a land I didn’t know or couldn’t name and I dwelled right there, looking for the unknown shore.

Not because I’m a masochist. I leaned in because God doesn’t pat mistakers on the back. God makes dead people come alive. As long as I minimise my brokenness; I minimise my hope, rescue and life.

For the past 14 years, I’ve been leaning in. It’s there I find Jesus. Jesus doesn’t look for self-help experts. He looks for inept, broken, dead people. American business experts suggest women “lean in” to success and greater achievements. The Gospel dares us to lean in to our failures and pain. It is there that we find something completely unexpected.

When I’m tempted to run away or minimise. I lean in.
When I fear for my children’s future. I lean in.
When I hurt others. I lean in.
When others wound me. I lean in.
When I face other’s brokenness. I lean in.
When I’m ashamed of my failures. I lean in.

The harder I lean, the more quickly I feel the embrace of the Father.

And so death spread to all. The lie is that the story ends there.

Where death increased, grace abounded all the more. This is where the story ends.

This is in praise of brokenness. In that land, God makes dead people come alive.

The Road Less Traveled

Last week I left my house for a late afternoon run. I’m a hoofer who plods along slowly. Seeing me run would probably evoke less images of a light-footed deer and more images of a stray elephant looking for it’s herd. But, I digress.

road-less-traveledThat evening was beautiful; still, cool air and beautiful clouds. I love running at that time of day, the streets are full of people walking home after a long day at work. There are large groups of gossiping Mama’s noisily giving the updates of the day. Weary fathers, pushing their young daughter home from pre-school. Dusty men returning home after a hard day of manual labour.

That evening I took my normal route along the busiest roads, past the buzzing taxi ranks and weaving along semi-crowded sidewalks. The next morning I woke up to learn that 30 minutes after I had run, there was a shooting along my route, killing several. It was part of week of rising violence in our neighborhood.

I told several people how close I had come to witnessing the violence. Several replied, “Why do you run there? It is not a safe area!” I could choose another route that takes me through quiet and calm neighborhoods. But, here’s the deal. Those quiet and calm neighborhoods feel dangerous to me because I’m alone. There is safety and security for me as long as I’m surround by the noisy Mama’s, weary fathers and dusty laborers.

I have changed my running route for now, until the violence calms down. But I’m looking for other busy paths that take me along roads where others travel.

There is an old saying, “God will not give you more than you can bear.” It’s not in scripture but we like to think it is. It’s not even true. There’s five words missing. Those five words make it more close to what scripture says all the time. Those five words are: “with the help of others”.

“God will not give you more than you can bear with the help of others”

This idea that we are radical individuals who should do everything on our own is a lie. So many of us desperately cling to this lie as if it is a life vest or a badge of pride. The reality? It’s like trying to swim down a white water river while holding on to a boulder. This go alone strategy can become our undoing.

We need people. And with the help of others… together we can bear so much. With others holding us up, we exchange our individual weakness for the the strength of community.

Jesus did this. Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, facing his darkest hour, he asked the disciples for help. Think about that. The Savior of the world wanted friends to help him carry his burden.

Today we glorify the famous words of Robert Frost and seek after “the road less traveled.” While loneliness and difficult decisions are certainly part of our journey at times, going it alone should never be the ideal we praise.

Traveling on a road less traveled sounds so heroic. But I’m taking my strategy from Jesus. I’m choosing a road well traveled with people within shouting distance. When something feels too heavy to carry, I can bear it with the help of others.

In what areas do you need to reach out and ask for help? What’s stopping you from doing that today?

The Sex-Starved Marriage

If you are married, do you have enough sex?
How much is “enough” in marriage?

These are big questions that many women wonder about and most are afraid to ask. I have been in many, many discussions with married women on sex. Informal, just amongst friends type of discussions. This topic often dances on the edges of our conversation and generally never get’s brought in to the center. It can feel too personal and daunting to openly discuss. But it seems to be the conversation many of us want to have.

This is especially relevant for “sex-starved couples”. These are couples where one is wanting significantly less sex compared to the other. The other spouse feels unloved, shut-down or frustrated with the lack of sex in their marriage. They go weeks and weeks with no sex. Perhaps the couple started marriage with a commitment to talk openly about sex and have it often! But, reality, is a different story.

I recently came across Michelle Weiner-Davis and her TedTalk on The Sex Starved Marriage and this article she wrote. I would highly recommend you look at both!

Here are my thoughts on this important topic with a few stolen ideas from Michelle Weiner-Davis.

Who wants sex?

It is generally assumed that women have a lower sex drive than men. But this is not always the case. Many times it is men. Often, women want lots of sex, equal to or exceeding their husband. For this discussion, I’m going to talk to the women. Whether you are going through a season of wanting much less sex or it has always been that way, here are some thoughts to consider.

4 Reasons Women Don’t Want Sex

Season of Life

Young children, those precious little angels. Eating us out of house and home and consuming our desire for sex along with it. Let’s be honest, young children can be a huge killer of sexual desire, especially for women.

I remember when our boys were younger. They were energetic, loud and 18 months apart in age. They were up in my grill ALL the time. The only thing I wanted at the end of the day was no one to look at me, talk to me, touch me, or ask me for anything… basically I wanted to be on a planet where no other person existed. Just me, an episode of Good Wife and popcorn. That’s it. I hated to break the news to my husband that he was not wanted on my planet called “Just-me-and-no-one-else-including-you”. Sound familiar?

Children, specifically young children can suck every bit of sexual desire out of you. Other things can do it too. Perhaps job stress, financial hardship or personal crisis. It is good to recognise and communicate this in order to make a plan for your season of life.

Your Stages are Reversed

Sex has four stages: 1. Desire (mental desire for it), 2. Arousal (physical excitement and desire for it), 3. Orgasm (no explanation needed!) and 4. Resolution (back to normal). Previously, it was believed that these stages also went in this order. More and more research is happening that for many women, Stage 1 and 2 are reversed. Desire only comes after physical arousal.

Practically, this means that many women don’t feel like having sex until they have actually started having sex. When it comes to women and sex Weiner-Davis says, “Just Do It”.

If women wait until they “feel” like it then they will never have sex because “feeling like it” only comes after they have started doing it. This is why so many women say, “Well, I didn’t feel in the mood when we started but by the end I really enjoyed it! We should do this more often!”

I have recently been sharing this with women friends to see their opinion. I found that almost every single woman said they completly identified with this the majority of the time.

Intimacy Avoidance

Having very infrequent sex can be a sign of something deeper. It can be a way of avoiding intimacy because of hurt, pain or some other dysfunction. Some reasons:

  • Undealt with hurt or pain in the marriage.
  • Undealt with hurt or pain in your personal life. From a past relationship, abuse or other situation.
  • Immature intimacy skills. Some of us simply never learned how to be intimate with others. Perhaps our family of origin was extremely unhealthy or we had emotionally immature examples all our lives.
  • Current dysfunction in the marriage. If we are keeping secrets, harbouring unknown addictions or being emotionally unavailable then these will all affect the sex life.

The only way to deal with this is to get outside help! Find a trusted mentor, counsellor or married couple that can explore these issues with you.

You See Sex and Love as Two Different Things

What if you you replaced the word “sex” with “love”? How would that change the conversation for you?

Saying, “I don’t feel like loving you tonight” might be an honest admission but what if you said it every day? Suddenly you would feel selfish or a little unsure about your words. This is what our spouse often hears with repeated avoidance of sex. We can’t make sex and love two totally unrelated issues.

No one should be forced in to having sex, that’s not what we are talking about. Consistently denying sex to your husband might feel like a holiday to you but it feels like a rejection to him. It feels like you don’t love him… no matter what you say otherwise.

Scientific studies show that rejection is felt the exact same way as physical pain. That is how men’s brains process sexual rejection. It is like a physical wound.

Sex, mutually given in marriage, is an act of love. It is not optional extra benefit some people get. The love, when given, is received deep in to our souls. When withheld it is a rejection of something deep in our souls… in our husbands souls. Sex and love are not two different things.

I’m not saying this to cause guilt. It is just reality and we do well to take the care to say, “Let’s look at this because I love you too much to just pretend it’s a trivial issue.”

4 Things to Do:

  • Talk about it. Simply ask your spouse, “Do you think we have enough sex?”. That little question should get the conversation going fairly well!

  • Change the language: Stop asking “Am I in the mood?” or “Do I feel like sex?”. Start asking, “Have I loved my spouse recently?” or “Can I give love to him tonight?”

  • “Just Do It” Women, you will be surprised how the initial “I don’t feel like it” turns in to “That felt great” more often than you realise. Make a pact to “Just Do It” more often for your own enjoyment and his.

  • Make it mutual. If one is wanting sex and the other doesn’t, what do you do that night? Make it a practice to mutually serve one another. Some nights you “just do it” and other nights you just don’t. Just make sure the the “no’s” aren’t winning all the time. If you have said “no” too often in the past you might need to ask the above question to get things started again.

Date Night on the Cheap

Date NightI always get a huge reality check/heart attack combo when I visit the States and hear how much babysitting costs. It’s a lot. I’ve considered babysitting as a back-up career if this ministry gig doesn’t work out. My recent post on 4 types of date nights got me thinking about how to make dates cheaper and more accessible. Spending quality time with our spouse is healthy but also just plain fun. If expense is an obstacle then figure out a way around that.

Here are 10 date night ideas to get your creativity flowing.

1. Babysitting Exchange: Why not conspire with another family to regularly take care of each other’s kids? This works especially well if the kids are friends… then they love the evening too! Every other week, take turns being the ones to watch all the kids at your place. This works for weekend trips too. My husband and I have felt very sorry for ourselves for years because we live so far from family… thus making overnight trips seem nearly impossible. Just last week I went to a friend and said, “Enough! Every year we need to do a kid exchange and each get away for two nights.”. She said “yes” before I had even finished my sentence!

2. Call in a Favor: Why not just ask favors of people? Ask a relative or friend to watch the kids as a gift. Simply say, “We want to go out more but are struggling to come up with the cash, would you be willing to watch the kids once or twice a month?” I think you would be surprised at how many people would want to help.

3. Skip the Meal: One of the biggest expenses on a date is the restaurant tab. Skip this. Eat something before you go out and make the date about doing something else. If you want food, keep it simple by sharing a dessert or having coffee at a nice cafe.

4. Get Some Culture: Often art shows, museums, author readings, unique festivals and other cultural events are cheap or free. Keep your eyes open for what is happening in your community and try something different.

5. Outdoors: This works especially well in the long and warm summer days. Being outdoors is free and so relaxing. Go for a hike, borrow a kayak and get on the water, ride your bikes somewhere. One of my favourite things to do with Chris is picnics. Pack up something simple, get outdoors and enjoy being together.

6. Dreaming Date: My husband and I love, love, love to dream. We talk about trips we want to take, goals we’d like to achieve, family vacations we could plan, new cities we want to visit… it’s so fun! This is a refreshing way to connect that is free. A great environment for this is your local bookstore, looking at magazines, talking about the future and possibilities.

7. Combine Business with Pleasure:U.S. Travel Association survey found that couples who travel together have a better relationship and better sex than those who don’t. Two-thirds of those surveyed said a weekend away will spark more romance in their relationship than any gift. To bring down the expenses of a getaway trip, attach it to a business trip. If one spouse is traveling for business, why not have the other join and you both stay for 2 extra nights. This brings down costs for travel and can make it do-able.

8. Drop-Off: Drop off kids at Sunday School while you skip off for breakfast… avoiding church altogether. The Sunday School teachers will be none-the-wiser! Ok, I’m joking. Mostly. Haven’t all parents considered this option at least once?!

9. Stay at Home: A stay at home date can be just as nice as going out with a little planning. Plan an evening together with intention. If you have kids, the night only starts once the kids are fed and in bed. Have a later dinner with candles, spend time connecting. Being home gives all sorts of nice options such as taking a bath together, dancing on your own personal dance floor, watching the stars in your back yard with something warm to drink.

10. Utilise your Church: So many local churches are finding ways to support married couples… take advantage of it! Many churches offer date night babysitting where you drop of your kids. Some have yearly marriage seminars which are free and really fun… I know of many that provide the food and all!

What other ideas do you have where money is not a hinderance to date night?