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Posts tagged ‘Marriage’

The Marriage Map

from The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

The marriage map is meant to give you a broad overview of the experiences most couples have when they negotiate the marital terrain. As you read through these stages and developmental passages, don’t get too hung up on the timetable. Some couples move through these stages more quickly than others, and some bypass certain stages entirely. See if any of this sounds familiar to you as you think about your own marriage and that of friends and family.

Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your one and only star-crossed lover. Everything other than the relationship quickly fades into the background. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You even like each other’s friends. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. You are completely in sync. Everything is perfect, just the way you imagined it would be. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.

At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. You feel good in your partner’s presence and start to believe that he or she is bringing out the best in you. Depression sets in when you’re apart. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be together. You never run out of things to say. Never, never, have you felt this way before. “It must be love,” you tell yourself. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. “And why not,” you reason, “we’re perfect together.” And marry, you do.

Unless you elope or opt for a simple, judge’s chambers-style wedding, your euphoria takes a temporary nosedive as you plan and execute your wedding. Once you get past the superhuman challenges dealing with family politics and hosting a modern-day wedding, your starry-eyed obsession with each other re-emerges and takes you through the honeymoon period. At last, you are one. You have committed your lives to each other forever- soul mates in the eyes of God and the world. And for a period of time, nothing could be more glorious. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.

Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. What accounts for this drastic change in perspective? For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator and, to top things off, snoring has become a way of life. There are big things too.

Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. Although you share interests in hobbies, you disagree about how often you want to participate in them. You like the same kinds of restaurants, but you enjoy eating out often while your partner prefers staying home and saving money. Your tastes in music are compatible, but you prefer quiet time in the evening while your mate enjoys blasting the stereo. You have many common friends, but you can’t agree on which nights to see them.

You’re confused about what’s going on. You wonder if an alien abducted your partner and left you with this strange and complicated being, a person with whom you can’t agree on a single thing. You argue about everything. “Who is this obstinate person I married?” you ask yourself. “What was I thinking?” You knew life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses, but you never thought all you’d get was a bed of thorns. You figured that love would carry you through the rough spots, but you didn’t imagine there’d be times you didn’t feel love. You feel so disillusioned and you wonder if you made a mistake. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions. For example, it is now that you decide whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to “win” and get their partners to change, which tr

Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Stage Four- That’s just way s/he is
In stage four, we finally come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see eye-to-eye with our partners about everything and we have to figure out what we must do to live more peaceably. We slowly accept that no amount of reasoning, begging, nagging, yelling, or threatening changes our partners’ minds. We look to others for suggestions; we seek religious counsel, talk to close friends and family, attend marital therapy, read self-help books, or take a relationship seminar. Those of us who are more private look inward and seek solutions there.

We more readily forgive our spouses for their hardheadedness, and recognize that we aren’t exactly easy to live with either. We dare to ask ourselves whether there’s something about our own behavior that could use shaping up. When disagreements occur, we make more of an effort to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and, much to our surprise, we have a bit more compassion and understanding. We recognize that, as with everything in life, we have to accept the good with the bad. Fights happen less frequently and when they occur, they’re not as intense or as emotional as in the earlier years of marriage. We know how to push our partner’s buttons and we consciously decide not to. When we slip, we get better at making up because we remind ourselves that life is short and very little is worth the pain of disharmony. We learn that when you’ve wronged your spouse, love means always having to say you’re sorry. We mellow. We let things roll off our back that might have caused us to go to battle before. We stop being opponents. We’re teammates again. And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.

Stage Five- Together, at last
It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off. Since you are no longer in a struggle to define who you are and what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. Even if you always have loved your spouse, you start to notice how much you are really liking him or her again. And then the strangest thing starts to happen. You realize that the alien who abducted your spouse in stage two has been kind enough to return him or her to you. You are pleased to discover that the qualities you saw in your partner so very long ago never really vanished. They were just camouflaged. This renews your feelings of connection.

By the time you reach stage five, you have a shared history. And although you’d both agree that marriage hasn’t been easy, you can feel proud that you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment and dedication to making your marriage last. You also look back and feel good about your accomplishments as a couple, a family and as individuals. You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You feel closer and more connected. If you have children, they’re older and more independent, allowing you to focus on your marriage again, like in the old days. And you start having “old day feelings” again. You have come full circle. The feeling you were longing for during those stormy periods is back, at last. You’re home again.

About the marriage map
I’m certain that if more couples realized that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d be more willing to tough it out through the downpour. The problem is, most people fool themselves into thinking that whatever stage they are in at the moment, is where they will be forever. That can be a depressing thought when you’re in the midst of hard times. And in marriage, there are lots hard times- unexpected problems with infertility, the births of children (marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of each child), the challenges of raising a family, children leaving home, infidelity, illnesses, deaths of close friends and family members. Even if there is lots of joy accompanying these transitional stages, it’s stressful nonetheless. But it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. There are seasons to everything in life, including marriage.

Also, it’s important to remember that people generally don’t go through these stages sequentially. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. Just when you begin to feel more at peace with each other in stage four, a crisis occurs and you find yourselves slipping back to stage three- change your partner or bust! But if you’ve been fortunate enough to have visited stage four, sanity sets in eventually, and you get back on track. The quality and quantity of love you feel for each other is never stagnant. Love is dynamic. So is marriage. The wiser and more mature you become, the more you realize this. The more you realize this, the more time you and your spouse spend hanging out in stage five. Together again, at last.

Michele Weiner-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting

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Marriage: Scheduling Intimacy

Putting sex on the calendar makes it a date to remember!

(by Jill Savage)

The young mom on the other end of the phone poured out her frustrations. She desired sex, but her husband could care less. As the parents of five, all under the age of six, they rarely found time for each other outside the bedroom, let alone inside. She confessed that she felt they were more like roommates than lovers. I listened with understanding. As a mother of five myself, I know the struggle of keeping our family marriage-centered, not child-centered. I know the difficulties in finding time for just the two of us. And I know the challenge of differing sexual drives.

When she finally paused to catch her breath, I explained some of the strategies Mark and I found to keep our marriage a priority. We talked about creative date ideas, inexpensive childcare options, and the importance of connecting on a daily basis. I asked her if she and her husband ever considered scheduling their sex life. She responded with an awkward silence.

Finally, she laughed and said, “You’re kidding, right? Sex is supposed to be spontaneous. Nobody schedules sex.” Pencil it in-in code!

For 22 years of marriage, Mark and I have been at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our sex drives. Mark thinks about sex once every 17 seconds. I think about it once every 17 days. And this wasn’t our only marital challenge. Eventually, we found ourselves in a marriage counselor’s office.

Our differing sex drives were just one issue of many in our hurting relationship. During that healing season, we learned some new strategies for communication, conflict resolution, and compromise concerning our sexual differences. That’s when we first discovered the concept of scheduling sex.

At first, just like that young mom, we couldn’t get past the misconception that sex isn’t something to be scheduled. Who says sex should always be spontaneous? Movies, television shows, magazine articles, and romance novels, that’s who! If we’re not careful, we begin to use the media to determine what’s “right” or “normal.” But then, we’re using the wrong measuring stick. We can’t allow our culture or the media to set direction for our relationship. Instead, we need to apply our God-given creativity to find the time and set the strategies to make our sex life within marriage work. Once we were able to grasp that scheduling sex wasn’t such a crazy idea, we put it into place within our partnership. Today, we’re still amazed at the transformation it brings to our physical relationship.

How does planned lovemaking benefit a marriage?

Consider these advantages:

It eliminates “The Ask”

In most marriages, one partner possesses a higher desire than the other and requests sex more often, while his or her partner rarely asks for physical intimacy. For the spouse with a higher desire, the fear of rejection often sets in. One becomes weary of having to ask, or even beg, for sex on a regular basis.

When a couple can agree upon a basic schedule for sex in marriage, it takes the guesswork out. While this still leaves room for occasional spontaneity, it reassures the higher-sex-drive mate that it will happen, and not only that-they know when! Usually, the schedule is less often than the partner with a higher desire would want and more frequent than the partner with a lesser desire may want. Instead, it’s meeting on middle ground.

It increases desire

For the partner with a diminished desire, scheduling sex engages the brain, the largest sex organ in the human body. The brain needs to be clued to prepare the body for a sexual response. Most people who have a lower sexual drive simply don’t think about sex very often. Scheduling jumpstarts this process.

Once sex is on the calendar, it provides a reminder to think about sex, prepares us mentally for being together physically, and primes us to “get in the mood.”

When I complained to a friend about having trouble getting in the mood, she said, “Jill, you’re trying to go from making meatloaf to making love in 30 seconds flat? You can’t do that. You have to have a strategy for going from point A to point B.”

Rarely does the partner with an increased desire need to get “in the mood.” In contrast, the partner with a lesser desire may need to work at it. When sex is on the calendar, though, it serves as a prompt to set strategies in motion. Scheduling sex reminds spouses that they’re working together toward the goal of intimacy, valuing their appointed rendezvous, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen.

It increases anticipation

When lovemaking is kept on the front-burner, it builds anticipation. Both husband and wife begin to prepare for their marital recreation.

Have you ever thought of sex as recreation? It is! God gave us the gift of sex as a form of recreation in our marriage. It’s our own private playground where God intends for us to enjoy physical pleasure.

When sex is on the schedule, we enjoy planning our time together, because we both hold the same goal. We can even become a lifelong learner of giving pleasure to each other. Keeping a couple of Christian sexual technique books on the shelf may develop us into connoisseurs of giving physical pleasure to each other, and it builds anticipation as we think about the next time we’ll be together.

It allows for prime-time planning

He prefers nighttime when he can be romantic. She prefers daytime when she’s not so tired. They decide that twice a week lovemaking is on their calendar-Tuesday at noon (he comes home for lunch and she arranges a sitter for the kids) and Friday at night (after a warm bath and an evening of watching a movie together or going out on a date). This schedule worked well for one couple we mentored.

Most couples not only differ in their desires concerning frequency of sex, but also in the atmosphere that’s conducive to sex. Some struggle with making love anytime children are in the vicinity. Others prefer a certain time of the day. When you put your lovemaking on the calendar, you can work to accommodate those likes/dislikes to meet the needs of both.

It helps couples prepare physically

I used to tease my husband that once we got on a lovemaking schedule, it sure took the pressure off shaving my legs every day! On a serious side, there’s value in preparing yourself physically to make love to your mate. A hot bath or shower, a freshly-shaved body, and some great-smelling lotion often relax us for physical intimacy. It also builds anticipation as you prepare to be with your spouse.

If weariness keeps you from being excited about sex, an early evening nap may be just the key if lovemaking is on the agenda that night. Since some of the guesswork is out of the mix, we can prepare not only mentally, but physically.

It builds trust

If we’re going to commit to lovemaking on a regular basis, we need to honor our word and agreement. When we honor our word, it builds trust and deepens intimacy. On the rare occasion that something prevents your regularly scheduled lovemaking, spouses need to communicate their value of sexual intimacy so they can make alternate plans to meet those physical and emotional needs. This is the key to successfully calendaring your intimacy.

Several weeks after that initial conversation, I spoke with that young mom. Her voice held enthusiasm I hadn’t heard before. I asked her how things were going, and she indicated that she and her husband were working on some new ways to energize and invest in their marriage.

She concluded by saying, “Now don’t bother calling Friday around noon, because no one is going to answer the phone!” I knew that she learned the same secret we learned years ago. While spontaneous sex may have its place in life, scheduling sex always has its place on our calendar!

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Jill Savage (www.jillsavage.org/) serves as the executive director of Hearts at Home (www.hearts-at-home.org). She is the author of four books including Is There Really Sex After Kids? (Zondervan)

The Secret to a Lasting Marriage: Embrace Imperfection

SOURCE:  Deb Graham

When I was a little girl, my mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work.

On that evening so long ago, my mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage, and extremely burned toast in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his toast, smile at my mom, and ask me how my day was at school.

I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that toast and eat every bite! When I got up from the table that evening, I remember hearing my mom apologize to my dad for burning the toast. And I’ll never forget what he said: “Baby, I love burned toast.”

Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his toast burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, “Debbie, your momma put in a hard day at work today and she’s real tired. And besides-a little burnt toast never hurt anyone!”

In bed that night, I thought about that scene at dinner and the kindness my daddy showed my mom. To this day, it’s a cherished memory from my childhood that I’ll never forget. And it’s one that came to mind just recently when Jack and I sat down to eat dinner.

I had arrived home, late as usual, and decided we would have breakfast food for dinner. Some things never change, I suppose!

To my amazement, I found the ingredients I needed, and quickly began to cook eggs, turkey sausage, and buttered toast. Thinking I had things under control, I glanced through the mail for the day. It was only a few minutes later that I remembered that I had forgotten to take the toast out of the oven!

Now, had it been any other day — and had we had more than two pieces of bread in the entire house — I would have started all over. But it had been one of those days and I had just used up the last two pieces of bread. So burnt toast it was!

As I set the plate down in front of Jack, I waited for a comment about the toast. But all I got was a “Thank you!” I watched as he ate bite by bite, all the time waiting for some comment about the toast. But instead, all Jack said was, “Babe, this is great. Thanks for cooking tonight. I know you had a hard day.”

As I took a bite of my charred toast that night, I thought about my mom and dad, how burnt toast hadn’t been a deal-breaker for them. And I quietly thanked God for giving me a marriage where burnt toast wasn’t a deal-breaker either!

You know, life is full of imperfect things-and imperfect people. I’m not the best housekeeper or cook. And you might be surprised to find out that Jack isn’t the perfect husband! He likes to play his music too loud, he will always find a way to avoid yard work, and he watches far too many sports. Believe it or not, watching “Golf Academy” is not my idea of a great night at home!

But somehow in the past 37 years Jack and I have learned to accept the imperfections in each other. Over time, we have stopped trying to make each other in our own mold and have learned to celebrate our differences. You might say that we’ve learned to love each other for who we really are!

For example, I like to take my time, I’m a perfectionist, and I’m even-tempered. I tend to work too much and sleep too little. Jack, on the other hand, is disciplined, studious, an early riser, and is a marketer’s dream consumer. I count pennies and Jack could care less! Where he is strong, I am weak, and vice versa.

And while you might say that Jack and I are opposites, we’re also very much alike. I can look at him and tell you what he’s thinking. I can predict his actions before he finalizes his plans. On the other hand, he knows whether I’m troubled or not the moment I enter a room.

We share the same goals. We love the same things. And we are still best friends. We’ve traveled through many valleys and enjoyed many mountaintops. And yet, at the same time, Jack and I must work every minute of every day to make this thing called “marriage” work!

What I’ve learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults – and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences – is the one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting marriage relationship.

And that’s my prayer for you today. That you will learn to take the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of your married life and lay them at the feet of Jesus. Because in the end, He’s the only One who will be able to give you a marriage where burnt toast isn’t a deal-breaker!

Impossible Marriage Situation

(Question/Answer re “Impossible Marriage” Situation by Michelle Wiener-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting.)

I’VE TRIED EVERYTHING, BUT NOTHING WORKS !!!

QUESTION —
Dear Michele:
“I’m working on my marriage, but it still isn’t working.” Michele, after reading your books (Divorce Remedy, Divorce Busting and Getting Through to the Man You Love), I have one question: The underlying assumption of all three books is that you DO love your spouse. I am in a situation in which I don’t really love my spouse, and actually often don’t like or respect him. Yet he is a good father, and our children are incredibly devoted to our little family. I definitely believe that a divorce would be the best thing for ME (and probably for him), but the worst thing for my children. It’s been hard for me to try to divorce bust because I can’t seem to get over the hump of feeling I’m knocking myself out to work on something I don’t really want, namely, staying married to my husband. Does this mean mine is just one of the marriages that can’t be saved? Most of the posts I read on the boards seem to be from people who WANT their spouses. Any comments would be appreciated, and I’m sure would be enlightening to many on the board, because I’ve heard from many about to be Walkaway Wife’s who feel the same way I do — little, if any, love or respect for our spouses, and little, if any, desire to be married to them. Thank you. Jenny

ANSWER —
Dear Jenny,
You ask an interesting question and I hope my response will be helpful.

First, I want you to know that your assumption that my books presuppose love for one’s spouse is completely incorrect. My books presuppose a commitment to working on one’s marriage. It is absolutely true that when you love your spouse, it makes going through the hard times more palatable and sharing the good times more enjoyable. No question about it. But I don’t assume people reading the books love their spouses.

I know you won’t like what I’m about to say, but I can tell from your post that you have never really committed to working on your marriage. Yes, I know you’ve had a telephone consultation and some counseling. But that doth not commitment make. Too many people say they’re working on their marriages when they drag their bodies to therapy or talk to some sort of expert. That’s not even scratching the surface. Working on your marriage means making the decision to be there in spirit, not necessarily to be head over heels in love when you start, but to invest yourself fully.

Working on your marriage means giving of yourself completely, putting your spouse’s needs before your own- and vise versa. It means quitting the game of keeping score. It means forgiving and letting go. Working on your marriage means focusing on people’s strengths and downplaying their shortcomings. It means not expecting to have all or even the majority of your needs satisfied by one person. It means vowing to have a full and satisfying life of your own so that you don’t blame your spouse unfairly about your unhappiness. It means appreciating the little things and overlooking life’s annoyances. It means recognizing that no one, not even you or me, is perfect.

I’m not sure why I think this, but I have a distinct feeling that you are holding on to resentments from the past. (I don’t even know you but the feeling is there nonetheless). It seems to me, that your current willingness to stay is built on guilt and self-sacrifice rather than any pleasure derived from the gift you would be giving your children and “your little family” and as a result, yourself. As long as you look at staying through the eyes of resentment, you will not be able to fully immerse yourself in what you need to do to make your family truly work.

Unfortunately, no one, not your parents, friends, family, therapist, clergy or me, can make the decision to have a good, healthy family for you. Only you can make that choice. You have been sitting on the fence- staying but holding back. (Maybe that’s why you chose Paradox as your username.) This won’t get you where you need to go. I can promise you that. Make a decision. Own your decision. Stop fooling yourself into thinking you’re working on things when you’re not. If you feel you can’t forgive and start fresh, take ownership of that. Go. However, you know my first choice. But in the end, that doesn’t really matter. Yours is the choice that matters. If you choose marriage, the rest is relatively easy. You decide. Love is a decision.
Michele

Does a Good God Want Me in a Bad Marriage?

SOURCE:  Sabrina Beasley McDonald/Family Life Ministry

Editor’s note: As the author states early in this article, her intent is to address unhappy marriages in which there is no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. As she writes, “They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as ‘irreconcilable differences.’” These are the conditions in most problem marriages—and our desire is to encourage these couples to seek reconciliation. However, if you are married and are suffering from physical abuse, this article is not for you. You need help. We suggest reading Dennis Rainey’s article, “Responding to Physical Abuse,” which lists several practical steps to take.

A friend of mine finally walked out on her husband. She was tired of his excuses and irresponsibility. She was finished with his criticisms and cutting remarks. In her mind, enough was enough, and it was time to end the marriage.

Yet as she described their relationship, I couldn’t help but think that this marriage didn’t need to end in divorce. There was no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as “irreconcilable differences.”

When I later talked with her, I asked if she knew that God said, “I hate divorce …” (Malachi 2:16). Or that Jesus specifically addressed divorce in Matthew 19:8-9 saying, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

My friend said she heard this before and added, “But I cannot believe that a good God wants me to suffer in a bad marriage. He wants me to be happy.”

It was a response I’ve heard a dozen times from other women in similar circumstances, and it’s a question that plagues the hearts of many marriages today: If God is good, could He possibly want me to be unhappy? Doesn’t He see that staying in my current marriage would cause me a lot of pain? Can I call God “good” if He allows me to suffer in a bad marriage?

Does God want me to suffer?

No one enjoys pain. Quite the opposite—we long for contentment. The “pursuit of happiness” is so valued in America it’s an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence.

It’s not wrong to desire pleasure. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that God delights in doing good things for His children. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

The problem is that God also calls us to righteousness, and often that requires giving up our personal happiness for the greater good. This is referred to as sacrifice, and it’s never easy, fun, or “happy.”

The apostle Paul reminds us that part of the Christian life is suffering for the sake of the cross. “… We are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:16-17, emphasis mine).

As Christians we are even called to rejoice and be glad in our trials because troubles are valuable to our character and spiritual growth. Romans 5:3-5a says, “… We also exult [rejoice] in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint … .”

So does God want us to suffer? Suffering for the sake of pain is not His desire, but there is a reason why we go through it.

You may be wondering how anything positive could possibly come from your hurting marriage. The apostle Paul wrote, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine). Christian marriage is not exempt from this principle. Just as we are called to sacrifice in our spiritual walk, we are also called to endure suffering in marriage for the sake of righteousness.

Even though we seldom can see how God is using present trials for our future benefit, He has promised to use them for good, and He is faithful to keep His word. Here are just four of the ways He can bring about His purposes:

First, God is conforming you to His image. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Voluntary self-sacrifice is a necessary part of the Christian life. It is often praised on mission fields or behind pulpits, but in marriage, it’s far less glamorous. Nevertheless, self-sacrifice in marriage is just as Christ-like in God’s eyes.

Staying married isn’t always easy. It often requires that you give up the right to win, stifle your pride, and defer to the needs of your spouse. But the more you practice these principles, the more you become like Christ.

Ephesians 5 explains this phenomenon by referring to the relationship between Christ and the Church. “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her …” (verses 24-25). Christ loved the church so much He died for her. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. In the same way, as these verses explain, when you give up your life for your spouse, you are conforming to the image of Christ who gave up His life for you.

Second, God is using these sufferings to bring you to deeper faith and repentance. Difficult times always bring us to our knees. They remind us that we are not in control, and only God is. During this experience you should be asking yourself, “How much of my suffering in this situation is caused by my own sin?”

In addition, prayer and reading Scripture will deepen your relationship with Him as you learn to trust in His sovereign control. These hard times can even give you a greater compassion for others going through tribulations.

Third, God is using these sufferings to teach your children how to resolve conflict. God has given you the responsibility to exemplify a godly marriage to your children. Psalm 78:5-8 declares:

For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments … .

God set up the family so that His principles could be passed down through generations. Your struggles give you the ability to demonstrate how to keep a promise through better or worse, how to give and receive forgiveness, and what sacrifice looks like.

Fourth and most important, God desires for you and your spouse to be reconciled. Our God is a God of reconciliation—He shows this over and over again throughout Scripture as He extends grace, mercy, and forgiveness to His people. When we reconcile a broken marriage, it is a picture of His relationship with us, His bride.

A bad marriage in the Bible

The Bible isn’t silent on the issue of tough marriages. The Old Testament tells the story of a righteous man named Hosea who was called by God to marry the prostitute Gomer. Even though Hosea was a kind and loving husband, Gomer left him over and over and ran back to her old lifestyle. Hosea’s marriage was not under the best circumstances. I certainly wouldn’t say it was “good,” but nevertheless, God told Hosea to go get his bride and bring her home.

I can imagine that there were times when Hosea wanted to give up. Why would he stay married to a woman who didn’t love him? Why should he rescue her from the world she loved? Why not move on to someone else who deserved his love?

Hosea was committed to Gomer because he loved God more than he loved comfortable circumstances. More than anything, he wanted to please God, instead of himself. As a result, God used Hosea’s marriage as an example of His unconditional, covenant-keeping love. God told Hosea, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes” (Hosea 3:1, emphasis mine).

Because we are in a covenant with Him, God has said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In the same way, choosing to stay married to your spouse despite the circumstances shows a love that is unconditional, long-suffering, and reflects the nature of God (see 1 Corinthians 13). If you have no other reason to endure the suffering in your marriage, do it because you love God. Do it because He asked you to.

Restoring your relationship

If you are in a bad marriage, the answer is not to dissolve the relationship, but it is to restore your relationship the way God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ. Stick through the hard times and work on the tough issues. Even though your present suffering is being used for your good, God has not left you without hope—He desires for your marriage to be restored. Here are five suggestions that will help during your journey to reconciliation.

First, look at yourself. No one is perfect (Romans 3:10). It’s easy to see the mistakes and annoyances that our spouses have. It’s much harder to look inward and identify the ways we contributed to the problems. Think through your marriage and seek the areas where you said or did something wrong. Then ask forgiveness from your spouse. You will be amazed how this small step could eventually turn your bad marriage into a good one.

Second, identify your real enemy. At FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, we are reminded that our spouses are not the enemy—Satan is. Ephesians 6:12 says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” One of his greatest weapons is to trick you into blaming someone else, usually your spouse, for problems. When you start to bicker and quarrel, remember that your true enemy is the one who seeks to destroy your marriage.

Third, meditate on God’s Word daily. The proper way to battle Satan is with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). You won’t know how to use a sword if you’ve never handled one. The same is true for God’s Word—you won’t know how to wield its power if you don’t read and study. When Satan attacks, the Word of God will give you wisdom and the power to withstand his fiery darts.

Not only is God’s Word a weapon, it is also a guide for life. There are dozens of Scriptures regarding wisdom in everyday living—conflict resolution, handling money, roles of husbands and wives, parenting. You can find the answers you need if you will only look for them. Supplement your reading with Christian authors who can help you understand biblical concepts.

Fourth, appreciate your spouse. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Perhaps you’ve forgotten that your spouse has good qualities. At one time you were attracted to him or her in some way. What were those things that made you fall in love? Once you’ve thought of something, verbalize it or put it in a letter. You’ll be amazed at what a kind word can do for your relationship.

Fifth, pray for your spouse. It’s difficult to harbor bitterness against someone when you’re praying for that person. The more you pray, the more God will change your heart, and you will see a dramatic difference in your attitude. If possible, begin praying together. In his book Two Hearts Praying as One, Dennis Rainey says, “When you pray together, you multiply your joys, divide your sorrows, add to your experiences with God together, and help subtract your haunting past from your life.”

Finally, take action to restore your marriage. What makes a marriage good is hard work and a resolve to stay married. No matter how easy it seems for other people, no marriage can work automatically. Don’t let Satan fool you into thinking that no one else experiences problems or that yours aren’t solvable. If you remove divorce as an option, you’ll find that there are ways to build into your relationship: Attend a Weekend to Remember®, read articles from Christian marriage websites, read books and materials from Christian marriage experts. And then apply these biblical principles to your life.

Pursue all avenues of reconciliation before divorce: professional Christian counseling, intervention with your pastor, and personal forgiveness. Read “Finding a Christian Counselor” to help you find the assistance you need.

There’s no secret formula to dealing with a difficult marriage. Just because you are suffering now, don’t give up on the blessing that God is using to mold you and your spouse into His image. It may not seem like a good marriage at this time, but wait and see what God has in store for you … I’m willing to bet you’ll be glad you did.

11 Qualities Every Truly Happy Relationship Has In Common

SOURCE:  Brittany Wong/Huffington Post

Marriage therapists share their top relationship must-haves.

Chemistry and physical attraction may have brought you and your partner together, but you need more than a spark to maintain a happy, lasting relationship.

With that in mind, we asked marriage therapists to share the one quality they believe couples need to develop in order to stay together for the long haul. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Compassion

“You have to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Compassion toward your partner allows him or her to feel respected, appreciated and cared for and it fuels the connection, intimacy and partnership. Think of it as the essential food that every healthy relationship needs.” ― Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist in Sherman Oaks, California 

2. Compromise

“So many couples believe that a lack of problems, or the ability to anticipate and avoid them, is a key to a happy relationship. But in my experience, it’s not so much about avoiding problems so much as it is about being able to solve them together. Problems are always going to happen, just as life does. Knowing you can face them together keeps a relationship strong and healthy.” ― Alicia HClark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.   

3. A sense of humor

 “The strongest couples I’ve met have the capacity to laugh at themselves. When a partner can laugh about their own messiness or their wish to have the table set in a certain way, they can communicate what they want without turning their partner into the enemy. Laughing at ourselves instead of judging makes the journey entertaining instead of a constant battle.” ― Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California

4. Trust

“As a specialist in infidelity, I can tell you that trust is the most important thing in a marriage. It takes years to build and a second to break. But it’s more than just sexual fidelity. A spouse is trusted with so much: fears, vulnerabilities, painful wounds from childhood. In a good marriage, a spouse discloses these innermost thoughts and trusts that it won’t be used against them in future arguments.” ― Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist and the author of After A Good Man Cheats: How to Rebuild Trust & Intimacy with Your Wife  

5. Positivity

“We all need to be praised and appreciated but we so often get the opposite ― criticism ― even from our partner. Positivity is needed in relationships, especially ones that have grown past the honeymoon stage. Whether it’s a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ or a specific compliment for something done, we all need to hear it. When we praise our partner we strengthen our connection, bond and love.” ― KurtSmith, a therapist who specializes in counseling for men 

6. Intimacy

 “Sexual and emotional intimacy is the bright shiny star of relationships. Intimacy is the difference between your relationship with your barista and your relationship with your spouse. You build intimacy over time. Intimacy is the feeling of belonging and being loved. It’s the feeling of being known and understood. It’s the feeling of being accepted and appreciated. If you have ever experienced or heard someone describe their relationship as hollow or empty, it’s probably because it’s lacking intimacy.” ― Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

7. Mutual respect

“Life tends to throw some unexpected curveballs along the course of a relationship. The one quality that consistently helps couples through adversity or tragedy is mutual respect. Self-esteem is essential to feel secure and satisfied with yourself so it makes sense that a high esteem and respect for your partner is an essential ingredient in a lasting relationship, both in joyous and challenging times.” ―  Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center

8.  Presence

“Being present is more than just putting down your devices and paying attention ― it’s showing that you’re deeply interested in the inner life of your partner and want to make their world better in any way you can. Being present means freely giving your partner the gift of your full focus and being there for them in a way that’s deeper than just being physically present. It means seeing things from their point of view and not just your own.” ― Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia

9. Love

 “You need to love, honor and cherish one another. These vows are what keep people together happily over the long term. Here’s a brief rundown on what each mean: ‘To love’ means you demonstrate your love. Love is a verb ― an action word. There is no other way to show your spouse you love them except through action. We love through physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. ‘To honor’ is to respect the one you love. You approach them in conversation in a way that shows you want the best for them and don’t want to harm them. ‘To cherish’ means to show your S.O. how much you value them. You treat them as the special person they are – your one and only.” Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas  

10. Understanding

“There’s no problem you can’t resolve when you’re listening to each other and acting like a team. Create regular times during the week when you can talk uninterrupted and don’t let a week go by without a date night. Keep listening and understanding each other. Every ounce of listening effort will pay off tenfold.” ― M. Gary Neuman, a psychotherapist based in Miami Beach, Florida

11.  Friendship

“Couples who are good friends know each other well, give each other the benefit of the doubt and are fond of one another. When you take the time to strengthen your friendship, you’re more successful long-term. Making friendship a priority will help you weather any storm that comes your way.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois

Healing From Infidelity

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SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

Life certainly has its challenges, but little compares to the monumental task of healing from infidelity.

As a marriage therapist for two decades, I’ve heard countless clients confess that the discovery of an affair was the lowest, darkest moment of their entire lives. And because affairs shatter trust, many seriously contemplate ending their marriages.

However, it’s important to know that, no matter bleak things might seem, it’s possible to revitalize a marriage wounded by infidelity. It’s not easy- there are no quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions- but years of experience has taught me that there are definite patterns to what people in loving relationships do to bring their marriages back from the brink of disaster.

Healing from infidelity involves teamwork; both spouses must be fully committed to the hard work of getting their marriages back on track. The unfaithful partner must be willing to end the affair and do whatever it takes to win back the trust of his or her spouse. The betrayed spouse must be willing to find ways to manage overwhelming emotions so, as a couple, they can begin to sort out how the affair happened, and more importantly, what needs to change so that it never happens again. Although no two people, marriages or paths to recovery are identical, it’s helpful to know that healing typically happens in stages.

If you recently discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, you will undoubtedly feel a whole range of emotions- shock, rage, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. You may have difficulty sleeping or eating, or feel completely obsessed with the affair. If you are an emotional person, you may cry a lot. You may want to be alone, or conversely, feel at your worst when you are. While unpleasant, these reactions are perfectly normal.

Although you might be telling yourself that your marriage will never improve, it will, but not immediately. Healing from infidelity takes a long time. Just when you think things are looking up, something reminds you of the affair and you go downhill rapidly. It’s easy to feel discouraged unless you both keep in mind that intense ups and downs are the norm. Eventually, the setbacks will be fewer and far between.

Although some people are more curious than others, it’s very common to have lots of questions about the affair, especially initially. If you have little interest in the facts, so be it. However, if you need to know what happened, ask. Although the details may be uncomfortable to hear, just knowing your spouse is willing to “come clean” helps people recover. As the unfaithful spouse, you might feel tremendous remorse and guilt, and prefer avoiding the details entirely, but experience shows that this is a formula for disaster. Sweeping negative feelings and lingering questions under the carpet makes genuine healing unlikely.

Once there is closure on what actually happened, there is typically a need to know why it happened. Betrayed spouses often believe that unless they get to the bottom of things, it could happen again. Unfortunately, since the reasons people stray can be quite complex, the “whys” aren’t always crystal clear.

No one “forces” anyone to be unfaithful. Infidelity is a decision, even if doesn’t feel that way. If you were unfaithful, it’s important to examine why you allowed yourself to do something that could threaten your marriage. Were you satisfying a need to feel attractive? Are you having a mid-life crisis? Did you grow up in a family where infidelity was a way of life? Do you have a sexual addiction?

It’s equally important to explore whether your marriage is significantly lacking. Although no marriage is perfect, sometimes people feel so unhappy, they look to others for a stronger emotional or physical connection. They complain of feeling taken for granted, unloved, resentful, or ignored. Sometimes there is a lack of intimacy or sexuality in the marriage.

If unhappiness with your spouse contributed to your decision to have an affair, you need to address your feelings openly and honestly so that together you can make some changes. If open communication is a problem, consider seeking help from a qualified marital therapist or taking a communication skill-building class. There are many available through religious organizations, community colleges and mental health settings.

Another necessary ingredient for rebuilding a marriage involves the willingness of unfaithful spouses to demonstrate sincere regret and remorse. You can’t apologize often enough. You need to tell your spouse that you will never commit adultery again. Although, since you are working diligently to repair your relationship, you might think your intentions to be monogamous are obvious, they aren’t. Tell your spouse of your plans to take your commitment to your marriage to heart. This will be particularly important during the early stages of recovery when mistrust is rampant.

Conversely, talking about the affair can’t be the only thing you do. Couples who successfully rebuild their marriages recognize the importance of both talking about their difficulties and spending time together without discussing painful topics. They intentionally create opportunities to reconnect and nurture their friendship. They take walks, go out to eat or to a movie, develop new mutual interests and so on. Betrayed spouses will be more interested in spending discussion-free time after the initial shock of the affair has dissipated.

Ultimately, the key to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness, which is frequently the last step in the healing process. The unfaithful spouse can do everything right- be forthcoming, express remorse, listen lovingly and act trustworthy, and still, the marriage won’t mend unless the betrayed person forgives his or her spouse and the unfaithful spouse forgives him or herself. Forgiveness opens the door to real intimacy and connection.

But forgiveness doesn’t just happen. It is a conscious decision to stop blaming, make peace, and start tomorrow with a clean slate. If the past has had you in its clutches, why not take the next step to having more love in your life?

Decide to forgive today.

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