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?

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?

4 Types of Date Nights

These days, date night is considered an essential component of a healthy marriage. I personally love any excuse to spend time with my husband. We’ve practiced it in various forms over the years but not always consistently. Marriage author, Ted Cunningham, suggests practicing a “daily delay, a weekly withdrawal, and an annual abandon”. These are three connecting points that build friendship and intimacy into a marriage.

The “daily delay” is simply finding a point in each day to connect, catch up and share how the day is going. The “weekly withdrawal” is what most of us call, date night. The “annual abandon” is scheduling a yearly trip of two or more nights… just the two of you.

types_date_nightsI love this grid and want to look at it with my husband to see how we are doing on each of these connecting points. When thinking about date night, there are many obstacles to having a weekly, deeper, connecting point. Many people have obstacles such as young children (all the more reason it is needed!), lack of finances, or simply not feeling that the date makes a meaningful impact on their marriage.

If you are stuck in a dinner and a movie rut then here are 4 types of date nights that can make dates more meaningful and fun.

Stay At Home:

Having a date doesn’t have to be expensive nor involve going out! Sometimes, for us, the thought of getting all dressed up, going to a noisy restaurant, navigating traffic just doesn’t seem romantic or relaxing. Stay at home dates can be relaxing, cheap and meaningful.

We often would feed our kids early, put on an audio book and put them in bed early. Then, we would cook a nice meal for just the two of us and eat in the quiet (!) house. Set the table nicely, light a candle, play some music in the background, open a nice bottle of something. The bonus of this is the bedroom is right down the hall for a great way to end the evening!

Taking Turns:

Why not take turns planning the date? Each week a different spouse gets a turn to plan something fun or nice. This way, you get the creativity of each person. I highly suggest to put a ban on movies for dates. I personally think movies are great for mindless relaxation but terrible for an evening of connection.

Often, date night gets relegated to last minute planning and doesn’t feel special or well planned. This way, each person know they are on for the week and take a few extra moments to put some thought in it. The other person gets to just relax and show up!

I know couples that do this and it is motivating to add a special twist for the week you plan! This works well, especially, for couples who are a bit competitive and love to out-do each other.

Digging Deeper:

This is one of my favourites. Periodically you can use this time to invest in your marriage. The idea is to get some sort of input which you use as a launching point for deeper discussion, growth and intimacy. Perhaps you sign up for a marriage course at your local church. You could read a marriage book, together. Use what you have read as a point of conversation each week. Most marriage books have guided questions at the end of each chapter.

One year we took an 8-week period where we did weekly stay at home dates. The kids were in bed early, we had a nice dinner together at home and then we watched a video series together. A friend had given us the “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” series. We watched one episode a week and then discussed it for a few minutes afterwards. It was funny and a great little marriage tune-up.

Adventure Dating:

Boredom is weight on a marriage. If you think back to your “falling in love” years, part of the allure is the newness and adventure of your relationship at that time. You are always doing or discovering something new together. That’s one reason I enjoy watching new love… they are constantly out exploring new parts of our city, finding new things to do, new live music venues to enjoy, new bookstores no one knows about. Young love is full of newness and adventure! Be purposeful to add some of this to your marriage.

I know some couples that go to dance classes together. I’ve heard of others that have taken a cooking course on their weekly dates. One couple tries to eat a different type of ethnic food all the time. It’s small but a fun little exploration that they do together through the years. We have a hobby of always finding new speciality coffee shops. We are always on the hunt for a good coffee roaster we have never been to before. Perhaps you go for a walk or hike in a new place. Or is there a part of your city you have never explored? What could you learn, do or discover together this week?

Read More: Cheap Date Night Ideas

Dates don’t have to be expensive or cost at all. The traditional date often brings three expensive items: babysitting, restaurant food, movie tickets. Dump the traditional date. Here are 10 ideas on making a date as cheap as possible.

Question, listen, repeat.

It is interesting to think about and ask others, “what makes a good friend?” All sorts of qualities come out which encourage me to be a better friend to those around me. One thing that often comes up is this, “Good friends ask  great questions and really listen”.

Wouldn’t you agree? We have these people in our lives that ask questions which go beyond the surface. Questions that help us think about God, others and ourselves in deeper ways.  No matter how healthy we are… sometimes we just need someone to ask us some good questions to draw out our thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about some questions that I could ask people in my various relationships: marriage, children and friends. Questions that go beyond the standard, “How are you doing?”  I thought I would share them with you. Take time to sit down with your spouse, child or friend.

Obviously, going through list might feel like an interrogation more than a good conversation. Grab a cup of coffee and find natural ways to dig in and really enquire into the heart of those around you. Choose to go deeper by being “that friend” that asks good questions!

5 Questions to ask on a night out with your spouse or friend:
1. What part of life are you enjoying the most right now? What makes it so enjoyable?
2. What part of life are you enjoying the least? Why?
3. Who would you consider your closest friends right now?
4. Right now, what do you need more of: personal or social time?
5.  If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? What’s preventing that?

5 Questions to ask on your marriage anniversary:
1. What have we done well this year?
2. What have we not done well this year?
3. What are 1-3 things I could do this year to show you love?
4. Is there any area we need outside help with? (in the form of advice, wisdom, prayer, counsel, etc)
5. What could we do to improve our friendship in the year ahead?

6 Questions to ask your spouse/friend on their birthday:
1. In what areas have you felt the most successful this year?
2 In what areas have you felt the most disappointed or discouraged?
3. What have been your highlight events or moments this past year?
4. What are your biggest struggles right now?
5. What are your hopes for the year ahead?
6. What could I do for you to make this next year a great one?

6 Questions to ask your child to learn more about them (ages 3-10):
1. What is your most precious possession right now?
2. When friends are nice, what do they do for you?
3. What makes you the most sad or frustrated?
4. If you could plan a perfect day, what would it look like?
5. What is one thing you wish Mommy and Daddy did differently?
6. What is one thing Mommy and Daddy do well?

My Mountain is My Greatest Ally

The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.

We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.

Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.

But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.

Mountain_allyWhat if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.

This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?

Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!

But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of  success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.

What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.

I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we  desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.

Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.

What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?