Addressing Conflict in Marriage – Dr. Juli Slattery

April 16th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Conflict sometimes seems like a necessary evil in marriage. All couples disagree about something—money, the in-laws, sex, who does the laundry, and so on. Yet one thing I’ve learned over the years in my marriage and counseling with others is that what you fight about is far less important than how you fight.

Some of my arguments with Mike (especially early in our marriage) were about petty things like how much to spend on an extension cord, whether or not to answer the phone (before caller ID), or why Mike always seemed to eat a huge bowl of cereal right after eating a small portion of the meal I had prepared that evening. Although the subject of our disagreements is usually pretty minor, the way we fight about it is crucial to the health of our relationship.

A couple can do incredible damage to the trust and safety in their relationship even as they argue about what kind of toothpaste to buy. Name calling, criticizing each other’s character, bullying with threats, or even a pattern of appeasing in order to avoid conflict will leave a lasting impact on the relationship far after the issue in question has been resolved. Couples can deal with the consequences of just about any decision as long as they build trust rather than chip away at it in the process of coming to a decision. Even with the big issues, the process is far more important than the outcome. For example, what’s more important: buying the “right” house or building a healthy marriage?

Central questions about the safety of your relationship underlie each of the issues you and your husband argue about. While you may be making the case why you should go to your parents’ house for the holidays, you are also asking your husband, “Do you understand me? Are you listening? Can I count on you to consider my needs?” Your husband is silently asking similar questions like, “Do you respect my opinion? Do you care about me as much as you care about getting your way?”

Many marriage casualties lie in the wake of good people so invested in winning the argument that they have lost the big picture of love. Conflict isn’t just a necessary evil, but it’s the refiner’s fire in which we are confronted with our fears, blind spots, and selfishness. Conflict always presents choices: Will I be defensive or receptive? Cowardly or courageous? Humble or self-righteous? Merciful or stubborn? So, go ahead and fight. But remember what you’re really fighting for.

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It’s Not Just a Bunny – Mark Gungor

February 14th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Most people don’t understand the power of sex. Our culture has poisoned their thinking and they’ve bought the lie that sex is just something you do because it’s exciting and feels good. Most people are totally unaware of the consequences of being sexually involved with another person.

In previous blog posts, I wrote about the power of “sexual imprinting” and how “sex can make you stupid”. But as I keep hearing more and more stories of couples who are having troubles when it comes to their sex lives, I’m convinced that we are clueless about the ramifications of sex done the wrong way instead of the right way—God’s way. We have to start connecting the dots, folks. How you behave sexually outside of marriage has an impact on sex inside your marriage. It’s an important message that we must get out to our Christian young people.

Dr. Kenneth Ryan has written a great book titled, Finding Your Prince in a Sea of Toads. I highly recommend it for all single women and for parents of teenage girls. The book explains how to date the right way in order to “find a quality guy without getting your heart shredded”. A large portion of it is dedicated to telling young women how handle themselves when it comes to sex and the importance of doing it right prior to marriage.

Dr. Ryan draws a brilliant analogy that drive home the point of how illicit sex has consequences:

In a classic ridiculous movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is a scene in which a supposedly horrible beast is guarding a cave. The knights have heard horror stories about its ferocity, having been told, “It has long claws and horrible fangs. It is a hideous monster,” so they approach the cave with great fear and caution. But all they see is a little bunny hopping around in front of the cave. “It’s just a bunny,” the first knight says in a British accent filled with derision. He approaches the cave casually and the bunny leaps to his throat biting and killing the knight. More knights follow and are slaughtered by the fake-looking killer bunny. It is a classic moment in movie comedy.

Sex outside of marriage is like the bunny. It looks like a harmless, fuzzy thing that you would want to cuddle. It looks warm, friendly, and desirable. People who warn against the dangers of sex while single are usually considered radical nuts, out of step with modern times. The derision is similar to that of the knights just before they were slaughtered. Many people hear the warnings about premarital sex and think they are not susceptible to its powers. You are surrounded by movies, magazines, TV shows, and friends who all deal with dating sex as if it is a harmless little fluff ball, nothing but fun. Any negative consequences are ignored or laughed at. Everyone seems to think sex is “just a little bunny” until it is too late.

Far too many people have fallen prey to the fuzzy little bunny of sex, not thinking that it can actually do a ton of damage. This isn’t about condemning people but rather, we need to teach and warn others…especially our young people. You have to talk to your kids and warn them of the potential damage they face and the probability that they will impact their future sex lives when they become sexually active outside of marriage.

People who have had several partners, had all kinds of sexual experiences, used pornography, gotten into masturbation, or ventured into homosexual behavior, etc. have all sorts of imprinting and images stuck in their heads. There are memories and associations in their minds from all they have seen and done. Often people ask me, “Pastor, how do I get rid of these things so that my spouse and I can have a normal sex life?”

Now, this will really depress a lot of people—not that I’m here to depress you all—but the truth of the matter is you may never get rid of these images or feelings. One of the problems we have in Christianity is that because we believe in healing and restoration, people live casually. They think that what they do won’t matter because Jesus will heal it all and make it okay.

The reason so many churches don’t speak out about sexual sin is because Christians think it’s not big deal since once you get saved and ask Jesus to forgive you He’ll just heal it and it will all be gone. But that’s simply not true. Those of you who have been down this path, have you noticed the pictures never go away? You may be serving Jesus for 30 years and be living as pure as the wind driven snow, but sometimes you might be having sex with your spouse and you’ll still remember having sex with someone else. There are woman and men who love their husbands and wives deeply. Yet, if they are honest, they’ll admit that those thoughts still intrude into their minds even years later. They still remember it. A sound, a smell, a touch can all trigger a memory or an image in your mind. It’s not something you can just do casually without repercussions. This is why the bible says don’t do it.

Paul warns us to flee from sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6:18 because “All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” What he is saying is that you hurt yourself, you sin against yourself and there is damage done to your own mind and body when you do this.

When you go down this path it’s going to be harder for you and at some level, you may struggle for the rest of your life. There is no magic formula or pixie dust or special prayer that you can say to make the residual consequences disappear. I know that people get upset when I say this, but it’s true. It’s like if you commit murder and then repent and ask God to forgive you, He will. You can even ask the victim’s family to forgive you and they will…but you still have to serve your time in prison. Why? Because even though there is forgiveness, there are still consequences. You can ask God to forgive you of your sexual sin and in your standing before Him, it’s like it never happened. But in your body and in your mind there are consequences to that sin.

Scripture tells us we can renew our minds and take our thoughts captive and that is what people who have done these things have to do. Again, I’m not condemning people but trying to point out the importance of telling your kids and our young people about this. They need to know this is a big deal and that they can’t casually have sexual experiences before they’re married thinking they will just forget it all when “the right one comes along”. You don’t forget it. You can be haunted by the images and the experiences for the rest of your life.

Sexual experience are highly imprinting even if you are not serious about it. Your brain and body don’t know that it “doesn’t really mean anything” and that you aren’t serious and just messing around. There is hope and you are not doomed, but it will require a lot of intentionality, a lot of resistance, a lot of energy fighting the thoughts, feelings and temptations because of your past. You can heal and have a meaningful life, but there is no magic wand to wave to make it like it never happened. People who don’t go there, the ones who do sex right in the context of marriage, don’t struggle with these things.

That is why churches need to talk about this. We should all be driven to teach the truth and quit giving the picture that Jesus will just make things all better…especially those who have been down this road and know what I’m talking about. We must start connecting the dots and realize that sex is very powerful and it’s a really big deal outside of marriage.

Remember the analogy…it’s not just a bunny.

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Asking Too Much of Marriage – Sharon Hodde Miller and Laura Turner for Christianity Today

February 14th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

We’re often quick to associate loneliness and unhappiness with singleness, particularly in Christian circles. We expect marriage to overcome those feelings. We overlook not only the joy in that can be found in singleness, but also the sense of longing that persists in marriage.

Two of our Her.meneutics regulars came together to share stories of their marriages, to underscore the point that no one person, not even our spouse, can meet all our needs and solve all our problems.

Married People Get Lonely, Too

Sharon Hodde Miller

“I’m sorry I can’t be a group of girls.” With those strange but sympathetic words, my husband tried to comfort me while I sat on the couch and sobbed.

We had moved to the Chicago area less than a year prior, and I missed my friends. Although I had relocated from North Carolina with him by my side—a wonderful partner and my very best friend—my heart ached for female companionship as well. Yes, I had a husband to keep me company. Yes, I was married. And yet my marital status had little to no bearing on my loneliness.

That was a couple years ago, and not much changed in the following years. I continually struggle to find a group of women with whom to share my life, and despite the health of my marriage, that hole in my social life became a deeply rooted ache in my heart.

Ironically, I am not alone in my loneliness. Research shows that loneliness is epidemic in our nation. In two recent surveys, 40 percent of adults reported feeling lonely, two times as many as in the ’80s. Among adults over 45, one in three report feeling chronically lonely. Among the elderly, half (about 5 million) say the television is their main company. Finally, loneliness afflicts singles and married alike, some couples reporting feelings of isolation from their very own spouses.

As these statistics show, loneliness takes many different forms and can affect us at any stage of life. For me, it was the absence of intimate, female friends following a family move. For some, it is singleness; for others, the isolation of raising small children or watching grown children grow distant. Still others feel alienated from their very own spouses, and some from their very own families.

I have discovered that marriage provides no sure protection. Many married people struggle with paralyzing loneliness, and not because their marriages are unhealthy or their spouses are absent. Like anyone else who struggles with loneliness, their souls are giving voice to a basic human thirst that marriage cannot always quench: the need for community.

In the last three years I have come to realize that no single person can satisfy one’s craving—a God-given need—for community. My good, healthy marriage cannot appease every longing of my soul, no more than any individual relationship can. That is why God didn’t stop with the institution of marriage. Marriage wasn’t sufficient for reflecting the community of the Trinity, the diversity of his being, or the incarnation of his Son. Instead, God created the church, the fundamental community to which all Christians belong.

Without a doubt, marriage is an important pillar of the church. It reflects the beautiful union between Christ and the church, and it is a powerful means of grace. But my marriage cannot cure loneliness, because God did not design marriage for that end. (Notice in Genesis 2 that Adam was “alone,” not “lonely.”) God did not design marriage to function as our essential community. Instead, marriages merely participate in our essential community, which is the church.

Although the design of marriage is inherently relational, the design of the church is more broadly communal (1 Cor. 12). The church offers belonging to all Christians without bounds. You can be single, married, widowed, divorced, and there is a place for you.

Of course, the church is not perfect, and there are times when she will add to the loneliness rather than extinguish it. I have experienced this kind of loneliness myself. Yet even on those days, the church succeeds at one thing: pointing us toward the one True Friend who never disappoints. In John 15:13 Jesus said to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Not long after, Jesus laid down his life for us, forever redefining what perfect friendship is.

In a culture that is both “spiritual but not religious” and also plagued by loneliness, the role of the local church becomes ever so clear. Amorphous spirituality cannot satisfy one’s need for community, and the advent of atheist churches is proof enough of that. In the face of rampant loneliness, Christian community—tangible, flesh and blood community—matters.

And yet Christian community is only a shadow of the community we have with God. In some ultimate sense, loneliness is the soul striving after that for which it was created: perfect companionship with God. Whether you are single or married, lonely or not, that is a welcome reminder for us all.

Marriage Doesn’t Change Everything

Laura Turner

There are enough blog posts about marriage that I’m reticent to write another. But so much of the discussion around marriage gathers around the extremes: marriage is wonderful, a fairy-tale, the ultimate expression of romance that mirrors Christ and the church, or marriage is difficult, strained, full of conflict and compromise and tiptoeing around the other person. There is a thread of truth in both camps, but more in what remains unsaid. Singleness is the same way—there are joys and there are pitfalls, peaks and valleys, desires fulfilled and unmet.

I never thought I would get married at 24. My mom, almost 30 when she married my dad, was the pattern on which I’d not-so-consciously set my life. I was 19 when Zack and I started dating—a sophomore in college—and sure that ours wouldn’t be a lasting relationship. Until, four years later, we were engaged. I knew I didn’t want to wait until I was 30 to marry this funny, disarming, winsome man. I didn’t know what to make of this diversion from what I had been counting on my life to look like.

Ruthie Dean, author of Real Men Don’t Text with her husband Michael, recently wrote about the feared call of singleness, advising “if you are married, it’s never a good idea to tell someone single that they might never meet someone.”

In the post, Dean likens singleness to cancer and says that telling someone they may never marry is akin to telling an expectant mother her child may die before kindergarten. While I understand what she is saying about the pain associated with unwanted singleness, I disagree with her premise, which implicitly sees marriage as the fulfillment of hope and a promise of happiness.

So often we forget that Paul had harsh words for those who married and a less-than-wholehearted endorsement (1 Cor. 7:9). Biblically speaking, marriage isn’t anything to strive for—if we take Paul at his word, it is actually something to avoid.

Singleness and marriage, especially in the Christian world, aren’t easy to talk about well. We get tempted to ignore one and concentrate on the other, to extol the virtues of marriage and family while not quite sure what to say about being single. But, they are not so different from one another, being married and being single.

If you were impatient and funny and pale before you got married, you’ll be impatient and funny and pale after you say, “I do.” You’ll just have someone else around most of the time to be the target of your impatience, to laugh at your jokes, to hug you, or hear you complain about the seven hundredth sunburn you’ve gotten. Marriage calls for new habits or routines, but actual inner change has always been work between a person and God.

Marriage is hard, to be sure. At least, it is for us, especially in the first year. I’ve written here about how I struggle with anxiety; I have ever since I can remember. Getting married, even to someone as wonderful as Zack, did not do me any favors in the anxiety department, with all the changes that go along with a new life together.

Marriage is also remarkably fun. It is crazy to me that we don’t have to say goodbye at the end of the day, that we can watch Breaking Bad in bed until midnight and no one is going to tell us not to. We can go out to dinner together, get drinks and play cribbage at a bar on a Thursday, drive out to the ocean, or sit at home and read. We make each other laugh in our weirdness, which I think is one of the secrets of marriage: find someone who is weird in the same way you are weird.

The best thing we get out of life—the best thing that God gets out of life—is who we become. And who we become will be shaped by our spouse, if we have one, or our parents or friends or siblings or dogs. But who we become will mostly be shaped by God, and that is why it is not a bad thing to talk about the possibility of never marrying. Marriage is no panacea, and to think so will only do damage by making you unhappy where you are now and disappointed in any future relationships.

I do like what Dean wrote about how we focus our minds. Rather than dwelling on singleness, she suggests, “What if we talked about contentment and trusting God with the future?” When we can trust God with our contentment, whether we get married becomes far less important than who we are becoming.

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Why Men Don’t Change – Gary Thomas

February 12th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

What if your husband isn’t motivated by your pain?

What if he’s only motivated by his?

Many wives live with great frustration because they keep telling their husbands that something he is doing (or not doing) is causing them great pain, but the husband never changes. This confuses the wife. She thinks, “If I knew I was doing something that was really hurting him, I’d stop it as soon as I found out. Why won’t he?”

The answer, according to my friend Dr. Melody Rhode (a gifted marriage and family therapist), is “functional fixedness.” This phrase describes a man who will never be motivated by his wife’s pain; he’s only motivated by his pain. For change to occur, he has to feel his own discomfort. He doesn’t like hearing you tell him you’re not happy; in fact, it probably irritates him. But if the pain necessary for him to change is greater than the pain of putting up with your occasional expressed frustration, he simply endures the verbal outbursts as “the cost of being married” and will put the entire episode out of his mind as soon as it’s over.

Why?

Because it’s painful for him to remember the conversation and he wants to avoid pain at all costs!

(For the men reading this post, it’s certainly true that women as well as men can fall prey to functional fixedness. The reason I’m describing husbands here is because I first broached the issue in my book Sacred Influence and have since had women write to me for more clarification. So don’t be insulted. Just flip the gender and the principles will be roughly the same.)

According to Dr. Rhode, men don’t normally change if what they’ve been doing appears to work for them. For example, when a woman allows her husband to treat her with disrespect, he has no motivation to change—and so it’s unlikely he ever will.

“There’s a simple question I ask wounded women who seek help to endure belittling or degrading treatment from their man: ‘Why does your husband treat you badly? Answer: because he can.’”

This is not, in any way, to blame a woman for the abuse, but to develop a new understanding in order to map out a different future.

Melody continues, “If what he’s doing is working for him, why change? He needs a compelling reason to change and it needs to be more compelling than your unhappiness or private misery with the situation.” 

A God-fearing man would be motivated to change simply by understanding that his actions or inactions hurt you. But you may be married to a man who doesn’t care if his actions hurt you, so long as he gets what he wants. In such cases, allowing the behavior while complaining about it won’t change anything so long as the husband keeps getting his way. Remember, with such men it’s not your pain that motivates him, it’s his pain.  You have to be willing to create an environment in which the status quo becomes more painful than positive change (we’ll discuss suggestions for doing this in the next blog post; this post is focused on the spiritual dynamics behind the problem).

Here’s what’s going on spiritually. Melody points out that “functional fixedness” in men is rooted in the fall–our remaining selfishness and sin nature. Many men never connect their spiritual conversion with how they relate to their wives. “For the most part men do not experience a conversion, transformation, a renewing of the mind, in their relationship to Jesus and the Holy Spirit that changes the way they see their wives and themselves in relationship to their wives. In the old nature men are desensitized to their wives, clued into their own natures and the fallen bent toward wanting their own way. This could mean simply ignoring their wives or being unresponsive to their wives’ feelings and needs, or it could expand to the extreme of dominance, oppression, and abuse.

“Functional fixedness might be equivalent to what the Bible calls being ‘stiff necked’ people or ‘darkened in their own thinking,’ even ‘hard hearted.’ Having eyes, they don’t see the woman in front of them except in relation to their own feelings and needs (i.e. is she sexy or fat?). Having ears, they don’t hear the woman they are married to except as it pertains to them (is she nagging or affirming me? Saying something I want to hear or something I want to shut out?). The real problem here is that women can’t change this. The problem lies with the man. It is his uncircumcised heart and unrenewed mind that sees his wife as a ‘self-object’ and her pain as something to be avoided, silenced, ignored, or even harshly treated.”

Do you understand what Melody is saying? You’re thinking, “How can I get my husband to be more sensitive?” while your husband is thinking, “How can I end this conversation that is causing me pain?” He doesn’t want your pain to stop; he wants his pain to stop. This is because his heart hasn’t been renewed. He is a stranger to agape love. Putting someone else’s needs above his own doesn’t even occur to him because he does not have a sacrificial heart or mindset. Your call for him to sacrifice simply because something he is doing hurts you is like asking a soldier to fire a weapon he doesn’t possess.

If your husband is mired in functional fixedness, any appeal to empathy is futile. He is spiritually incapable of empathy. Again, he will be motivated by his pain, not yours.

Here’s what Melody says needs to happen spiritually: “Christ calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which means to take on the suffering of others, particularly wives who we are told are members of our own body. We see very clearly the depth to which Jesus Christ has taken residence in a man by the sensitivity he develops towards his wife who is different than him and has a whole world of pain and feeling that he is naturally unresponsive to. This whole interface reflects how thin or superficial many Christian men’s relationship with their savior is. I think it is a cry for help we women are sounding to herald the need for flaming revival in the hearts and minds of our men.”

Men, let me talk to you for a second here: let’s take Melody’s words to heart. The depth of God’s work in our souls is demonstrated by the level of compassion, concern and care we have for our wives and their pain. To be hard-hearted toward our wives reveals a hard-heartedness toward God. 

I agree one hundred percent with Melody that the problem isn’t marital; it’s spiritual. The husband’s conversion hasn’t affected the way he looks at himself or his wife. He is still motivated by selfishness.

What can a woman do? Melody (who has specialized in working with women who are married to narcissists) suggests the following: “Women need to quit being bent to their husbands for their worth and validation; that’s the female result of the fall.  They need to be helped to know God as their husband, provider, and protector and not to be expecting this from their husbands. If they believe in the Kingdom of God, they need to pray blessings on their spouses and that God will captivate them, wrestle them down by the brain to transform them from being selfish peacocks or thugs to love the Lord and then demonstrate that love by being kind, gentle, sensitive and compassionate to their women.”

To the men reading this, we can construct a helpful grid. How close are you to God? How godly are you? We can measure it by asking how kind are you to your wife? How gentle are you with her? How sensitive and compassionate are you at home? These are the markers of God’s Spirit in a man’s soul. To receive Christ is to receive the spirit of the suffering servant who puts others’ needs above his own. To not care about another’s suffering or to increase another’s suffering isn’t the work of Christ; it’s the mark of his enemy.

For women, this spiritual reality means that you need to adopt a long-term view of change that will be internal and spiritual before it is external and marital.  More than simply praying for a change in the way your husband treats you, pray for a change in his heart toward God. In the end, that’s the most effective way for him to change the way he treats you and looks at you. He’s spiritually bent, so that needs to be your focus before God. Instead of trying to “fix your marriage,” ask God to overwhelm your husband’s soul with the presence of the Suffering Servant, Jesus. 

Take your focus off yourself for just a moment and place your energy and efforts on how you can you influence your husband to go deeper in the Lord. Can you encourage him to get involved in a circle of men who will challenge him? Can you help him find a local church that impacts him? Are you just attending the church you like, or is it a church where he feels at home, where he can connect with the teachers, where he comes alive spiritually? That might mean changing churches.

Can you ask him to read a Christian book that will kindle the fire in his soul, promising him something special in return? Maybe he won’t read a book—will he occasionally read a blog with you, as long as you find a way to make it interesting? He may not be seeking spiritual inspiration, so you may have to do it for him.

There are so many gifted teachers today online. If you can’t find one in your hometown who motivates your husband, go to the digital world and see if there is one with whom your husband can “connect.” Personally, I listen to about three to five sermons on any given week. You don’t, as a couple, have to put God “aside” when you get home from church on Sunday afternoon. As you’re driving, doing the dishes together, and just sitting having a cup of coffee on Saturday morning, take 35 to 40 minutes (most sermons last no longer than that) and get a special “boost” from God’s word.

If your husband won’t do any of this, then you have to keep praying (not as a last resort—I’m recommending praying as a first response, too) for God to soften his heart. Join with other women to plead with God to bring a revival amongst the men in your community.

Also accept some responsibility. When you marry a man with a hard heart, it might take a long time for the heart to soften, but don’t forget—you chose this man. It won’t serve you at all to accuse God for choosing this man for you. I’ve addressed this in other blog posts. (God Didn’t (and Won’t) Tell You to Marry Your Spouse)  You need God on your side as an encouragement; nothing will be gained by becoming His accuser.

Settle in and take the long-term view. In Sacred Influence, I tell the story of a woman who was married to an unbeliever for over two decades before he became a Christian. In some cases, a husband’s heart may never soften. Choices—including the choice of who we marry—have consequences.

I sincerely hope that offering such a stark description of the spiritual heart of a man won’t discourage you; in reality, nothing is as discouraging as empty promises designed to sell books and tickle ears. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Trying to get a dead or luke-warm spiritual heart to be white hot requires a deep spiritual transformation. If a man is infatuated and the sexual chemistry is high, he’ll change. But it will last only as long as the infatuation and sexual chemistry does. Many of you have witnessed this firsthand (and often the change is superficial, lasting only as long as it takes to get married).

Having said this, there are a few practical things you can do in your marriage to help address functional fixedness while you wait for a spiritual transformation. That will be the subject of my next blog post. For this one, I just want to state the problem and emphasize that it’s spiritual. Until you understand what’s really going on, you won’t be able to address it in an effective way. Put your effort into pursuing a spiritual change for your husband (or your wife). That’s where you need to start.

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The Dude’s Guide to Marriage – Paul Tripp

February 11th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

The Dude’s Guide To Marriage

As a pastor and counselor, I have been exposed to many things that make my heart grieve. I’m sure you have experienced the same emotion, if you have tried in any capacity to love, serve and minister to sinful people living in a broken world.

Sometimes this grief is short-lived and easily comforted, but other times, my grief is much deeper and long-lasting. Today I want to write about something that produces that latter type of grief, then recommend a resource from friends of mine which I think can significantly help countless husbands and wives.

MARRIAGE CONFERENCES

I speak many weekends each year at marriage conferences around the country, and almost without fail, this same thing happens each weekend: during one of the session breaks, a wife will approach me and say, “This is such helpful material – I wish my husband would have come with me.”

I’m grieved every single time I hear it.

How can a marriage be healthy when the husband is so detached and inactive that he’s unwilling to give up one weekend of his life to focus on it? Why are there so many Christian men who would rather spend a weekend with their golf clubs, fly rods, shotguns, or tennis racquets than they would at a marriage conference with their wives?

How crushing must it be for these women when their husbands reject the conference invitation? What must she be thinking as she takes in the content of the weekend … all by herself? And how is she processing that as she pulls into the driveway, loaded with new hope and enthusiasm for her marriage, only to remember that her husband doesn’t share the enthusiasm?

I wish it only happened a few times here and there. But it doesn’t.

MARRIAGE NEGLECT

This recurring behavior reveals a deeper and more destructive trait in Christian marriages: neglect. I’m deeply persuaded that the number-one reason marriages fail is not the result of adultery or abuse, but neglect.

Long before adultery takes place and shatters trust, and long before abuse makes the marriage a dangerous place, neglect has already sucked the life out of the marriage, and in so doing, set it up for difficulty and dysfunction of some kind.

You simply cannot have a sinner living with a sinner without focusing and working on your marriage all the time, any more than you can plant a garden and expect it to produce beautiful and healthy flowers without being committed to watering and weeding it.

Now, what I’m going to write next is painful to write, but I must: it is my experience in almost forty years of pastoral ministry that men tend to be way more neglectful of their marriages than their wives are.

There are hundreds of thousands of men every day who, when they punch out from work, essentially punch out from life. This means when they get home, what they secretly want is to be left alone. They aren’t arriving at home willingly and lovingly engaged in the daily maintenance work that it takes to make marriage all that God designed it to be.

Why this marital neglect? The Bible sums it up with a word: sin. Sin makes men (and women) selfish. It gives men antisocial instincts that are destructive to marriage. Sin makes selfishness natural, entitlement natural, demandingness natural, disinterest in others natural, and irritation and impatience natural.

Because we are sinners, it’s simply not natural for us to willingly and patiently serve and love our wives as Jesus loves us. And men, for that to ever be natural, we need help.

MARRIAGE HELP

That’s why I was so excited when my friend Darrin Patrick told me about a new book he and his wife were writing: The Dude’s Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well.Darrin and Amie not only have written a very provocative call to men to give themselves to their wives and their marriages, but they have also beautifully and practically detailed what that looks like.

I also love this book because it preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ to every dude who picks it up and reads it. I mean, come on – what man could honestly consider the lifestyle of self-sacrificing love that this book calls all of us to in our marriages and say, “Sure, I can do that, no problem”?

When I read this book, I immediately thought, “This standard is too high; there’s no way I am going to pull it off.” But Darrin and Amie reminded me of the right-here, right-now message of the grace of Jesus. This grace is the hope of every husband.

The Dude’s Guide to Marriage is insightful and practical for every man because it requires you to make one very humbling confession: our biggest, deepest, most long-term problem in marriage, one that none of us can escape, is us!

Beneath the loads of wonderful, practical advice that Darrin and Amie give, you will find something deeper. It’s a call to man up, admit your sin, and seek the help that’s only ever found in the forgiving, enabling, and transforming grace of Jesus. That grace is yours for the taking, and with it comes a brand-new way of marriage.

If you can’t tell, I highly recommend this book. You can learn more about it, and the authors, at www.TheDudesGuide.org. There’s also a free online conference this weekend – November 6 and 7, 2015 – streaming at Live.TheDudesGuide.org.

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What Happened to Wedding Vows – Catherine Parks for Christianity Today

August 20th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

If you’ve attended many recent weddings, you’ve likely heard brides and grooms exchange promises that deviate from the traditional vows taken from the Book of Common Prayer.

More and more couples alter the traditional lines or write their own —going along with the Pinterest-fueled movement to personalize nearly every element of the wedding day. They’ll stand before witnesses to pledge things like:

“I will always peel your clementines.”

“I promise to support your coffee habit.”

“I vow to be on time.”

As I researched marriage trends for A Christ-Centered Wedding—the book I co-wrote with my mom, Linda—I noticed a strong desire among today’s brides and grooms-to-be to express themselves uniquely, to include inside jokes and specific references throughout.

Some churches, though, resist their efforts, requiring traditional vows to preserve the sanctity of the ceremony. When couples are excited about the fun and fanfare of their wedding day, these kinds of rules can seem overly rigid. But when we consider the long-term significance of those solemn words, it makes sense.

Even those outside the church recognize the correlation between vows and our understanding of marriage. More than light-hearted statements on deferring to one another’s preferences, vows are the cornerstone of a wedding ceremony—the promises that bind together the bride and groom.

At my college reunion, I met up with friends whose weddings I had witnessed and whose marriages I had followed. Seeing them several years into their marriages, I recognized how they’d already lived their vows.

I looked in the eyes of those who had rejoiced “for better” and ached “for worse.” I saw the disease of “in sickness” and the gracious healing of “in health.” I laughed with those who were walking through “poorer” times, and benefited from the generosity of those now “richer.” These people—my people—were testimonies that the grace of God had enabled them to keep their vows through disease, infertility, death, uncertainty, familial strife, loss of jobs, suffering in gospel ministry, and countless other challenges.

The vow to peel one another’s clementines would not have been enough to guide a couple through these intense sorrows. But a promise “to have and to hold,” “to love and to cherish,” no matter the outcome, until death—that means something. A promise to be faithful to a covenant, by the grace of God—this is the language we can recall and rejoice in when the unexpected blows us away. This is the language that reflects the faithfulness and love of our great God and Savior.

We learn how to make and keep vows by looking at God. In Ezekiel 16:8, God says to Israel, “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.” We know from God’s very character and nature that he is a covenant-keeping, vow-honoring God. Even in relationship with an unfaithful bride, he keeps his promises.

The reason some churches use standard vows is not to restrict couples. Rather, it is to submit to the joyful commonality of marriage itself. When we make our vows to one another, and the vows are the same ones couples have committed themselves to for hundreds of years, we are joining an ages-old fraternity. We are submitting ourselves to God’s design for marriage, rather than redefining it in our own terms.

On the other hand, simply reciting the same words we’ve heard over and over again in weddings has the potential to create complacency. These vows, the words of which were a battleground for the reformers, become stagnant statements if we don’t own them for ourselves. For this reason, some pastors require couples to write their own vows, thereby encouraging them to think long about the meaning of their commitment.

In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller wrote on the unique purpose of wedding vows, saying:

Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can be safely assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.

But anyone ever touched by divorce (which, sadly, is probably the vast majority of us), knows that just saying words—any words—does not a covenant-keeper make. We are dependent on the grace of God to keep our vows.

John Calvin stressed this in his marriage ceremonies, making use of multiple opportunities to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the couple’s lives and stressing the need for divine grace by quoting Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the Lord.”

Whether we use the standard vows formed hundreds of years ago or write our own based on the truths of Scripture, at the end of the day we know marriage is as much about forgiving as it is vow-keeping. No vow will make us perfect, but grace is not just for keeping the vows—it’s for when we don’t as well.

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The Dark Side of Married Life – Dr. Corey Allen

June 19th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

There is a dark side in each one of us that is seldom discussed.

An aspect of us that plays out in the shadows of relationship.

And far too often it is unrecognized and unacknowledged, allowing us to treat those we claim to love poorly, all while feeling virtuous.

Not sure what I’m talking about?

Unless you’re familiar with Dr. David Schnarch, you likely haven’t heard about this dark side of married life. What follows is adapted from his work.

This is the couple where the husband tortures his wife with his premature ejaculation issue for 20 years while doing nothing to address his issue. Or the wife who grudgingly participates in sex with her husband and feels like she’s doing him a favor. Or the marriage where both spouses claim to be each other’s best friend yet continually treat each other with contempt.

This idea is exacerbated by trite statements like “people always do the best they can at the time” because it takes goodness for granted, minimizes how hard it can be to actually do the best you can, and it blinds you to the ugliness of those who regularly don’t.

People who refuse to acknowledge their own hatred, anger, hostility and vindictiveness are most damaging to those they love.

The problem isn’t that we have an urge to be mean at times (everyone does at some point), but when we deny it we are then more likely to act on it.

It will be better for everyone if we will accept that we each have a malevolent side.

I realize talking about what happens in the shadows goes completely against the idea of having empathy and unconditional love in marriage, or the importance of feeling securely attached to your partner – but denying its presence wreaks havoc on relationships.

You don’t have unconditional love for a spouse who repeatedly has affairs, lies to your face, goes through your personal accounts, or treats you with contempt. You also don’t empathize with a partner who won’t get a job, or won’t help out around the house, or won’t grow up, and expects you to live within his or her limitations. It’s just as (if not more) important to learn to stand on your own two feet with your spouse as it is for him or her to make you feel safe and secure.

It can be difficult to call out the cruelty that plays out in marriage, and even more difficult to see it in yourself if you were raised to believe you’re able to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Because what happens when you marry someone who refuses to see/do life as you?

It’s easy to think that they are cruel and only want you to submit to their tyranny – but do you realize that your reaction is likely because they won’t submit to yours?

This is the level at which the growing up process in marriage operates, whether we like it or not!

For example, how about the couple where the wife refuses to have sex with her husband and avoids him for months. When she finally agrees to have sex, she wants to stop after she has her orgasm and when her husband (who hasn’t orgasmed) wants to continue she feels “abused and used.” She claims to be the victim but what society often refuses to acknowledge is in this case the wife could be perpetrating on her husband from the victim position. The husband is no saint either, he was inconsiderate and often belittling. The point is – both spouses were cruel to each other, and both failed to see it in themselves.

When we refuse to acknowledge our own maliciousness towards those we love, emotional mayhem is bound to occur (it occurs even when we acknowledge it – but the damage is mitigated).

Dr. Schnarch has even coined a term for this idea: Normal Marital Sadism.

What his work has pointed out is the tendency among all of us to at times be cruel to our spouse, maybe without knowing it but more likely knowing it and feeling okay or even justified.

In a society where attachment parenting is in focus thus leading parents to proudly declare their undying devotion to their child by letting them sleep in the parents’ bed long into childhood begs the question, are they indulging themselves or their children? But what about the possibility that one spouse is being cruel – setting up the need for the other spouse to compete for attention, affection and status with their mate, and against their own child?

Personally, I get nervous around people who act like they are filled with nothing but compassion and kindness. My hope is that married people will begin to realize they’re living with an emotional terrorist. Someone who can be underhanded, withholding, and vindictive. When you realize you have to deal with this kind of person day in and day out, you can then turn your attention to your spouse’s flaws too.

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