Focus on the Family


10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship

10 keys to help make your relationship with your spouse more loving.

by Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley

In Greg and Erin Smalley's book, The Wholehearted Wife, they list ten keys to a more loving relationship:

1. Honoring – the value of a diamond
2. Nourishing – honor in action
3. Accepting personality and other differences – understanding our unique design
4. Connecting spiritually – relating at the soul level
5. Fostering communication – a matter of the heart
6. Connecting sexually – the secrets of a great sex life
7. Resolving conflict in a healthy manner – a doorway to intimacy 8. Defusing anger – taming volcanoes
9. Forgiving – set the prisoners free
10. Transforming life's trials into blessings – treasure hunting

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Adapted from The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship.


Blessing Your Spouse

The blessing is what we all long for – acceptance and affirmation.

by Greg Smalley

An attitude of gratitude creates blessings. —Sir John Templeton


This world can be a tough place. It's filled with trials, pain and heartache. Quite often, by day's end your spouse's heart is bruised, battered and bloodied. He or she may feel discouraged, frustrated or hurt. And yet, in the midst of life's tribulations, your spouse has been given a special gift: you.

Every day you have the opportunity to give your spouse what we call "the blessing." The blessing is what we all long for – acceptance and affirmation. In fact, to "affirm" something is to confirm its truth and to strengthen it. When you bless your spouse, you are speaking truth into his or her life or you are calling out something you see that's positive.

Our heavenly Father modeled this blessing when Jesus was baptized. In a voice from heaven, God said: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). The Father offered this blessing before Jesus had done anything in the way of public miracles or recorded ministry. God was honoring who Jesus was – His character, His heart – not His actions or behavior. And if Jesus benefitted from His Father's blessing, your spouse will benefit from yours.

Words of affirmation

You have the ability, opportunity and privilege to speak a blessing to your spouse every day. At the end of a difficult day, a discouraged spouse may need to hear "I hope your boss knows how fortunate he is to have you." After a stressful day with the kids, the words "You're an amazing mom" can re-energize an exhausted heart. A blessing spoken to the heart communicates honor, value and importance.

Your spouse has some fantastic character qualities and gifts. Most of the time, however, he or she may be oblivious to these things. The Enemy works tirelessly to diminish your spouse's gifts and to minimize his or her talents and abilities, but you have an incredible opportunity to recognize and affirm these things.

Is your spouse a gifted leader? Tell her. Does your spouse show amazing compassion? Tell him. Does your spouse demonstrate extraordinary faith, giving, exhorting, discerning or wisdom? Let him or her know!

Get busy affirming your mate's gifts, talents and abilities. Speak life into your spouse's heart and communicate love by giving him or her the blessing. The apostle Paul wrote, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29). It's "life-giving" to be in a marriage where there is no unwholesome talk, but only words that bless and encourage!

DATE NIGHT

As always, act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage, we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our mate. Get dressed up. Be polite and open doors. Compliment each other. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick someplace new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Bless your spouse!

Your date night activity is to practice giving your spouse the blessing. Any time you are driving or sitting together, ask each other thoughtful questions. Be a student of your spouse. Here are some discussion starters to help you bless your mate:

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your blessing date is over, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect over good conversation. Ask the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, encouraging and uplifting.

Step 4: Home sweet home.

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think of at least one way to bless your spouse over the next few days: Offer a listening ear, demonstrate forgiveness or simply speak kindly about your spouse in front of others. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download the PDF version here



Family Financial Fitness

If your money situation has reached the point where you find yourself sweating the arrival of each new batch of bills – if you’re habitually operating in the red and lying awake nights wondering how you’re going to make ends meet – there’s no time like the present to take things firmly in hand.

by Ron Blue, Jeremy L. White

It's January. Resolution time. But have you noticed? Despite all the talk at this season of the year about losing weight, exercising more often, organizing closets, and getting out of debt, very few of us bother to take the first and most obvious step in the direction of achieving our objectives – we don't set meaningful, written goals for ourselves. As a result, our determination tends to fizzle by the time the first week of February rolls around.

If you really want to implement substantial changes in your life, you have to be intentional and proactive about it. The reactive approach (our normal human "default" mode) just doesn't cut it. This is particularly true when it comes to managing money.

Anybody who has the responsibility of running a household knows that fiscal fitness is vital to the health and well-being of every family. To put it another way, family finance isn't something to play around with or leave to chance. If your money situation has reached the point where you find yourself sweating the arrival of each new batch of bills – if you're habitually operating in the red and lying awake nights wondering how you're going to make ends meet – there's no time like the present to take things firmly in hand. Remember, decisions determine destiny. Don't just fret about your financial woes and worries. Take the bull by the horns and do something about them – right now, before the inspiration of the new year slips away!

Living on a Budget

Exactly how do you do that? The answer is simple. Before any more water passes under the bridge, you need to sit down with your spouse and establish a spending plan for the coming year. To put it more bluntly – and yes, we are about to hit you with one of the least popular and most dreaded of all personal financial concepts – you need to develop a family budget. It's the only way to take control of your money, turn the Titanic around, and get things headed in a positive direction.

Basic Strategy

What does it mean to live on a budget? In plain, common sense terms, it's a matter of making sure that your income exceeds your outflow. If you spend more than you make, sooner or later your coffers will run dry. Either that, or you'll sink into a hopeless pit of debt. "Living within your means" – that's budgeting in a nutshell, with one important addendum: for a spending plan to be really successful, it has to include provisions for keeping your ship afloat even in the face of storms, emergencies, and other unexpected expenses.

Laying the Groundwork

Let's begin by talking about philosophical underpinnings. Before moving ahead it's crucial to understand why you might want to develop a realistic spending plan. Budgeting isn't just another word for old-fashioned stinginess. Instead, the financial approach we're recommending is intended to be an outward expression of deep, inwardly held values and principles. It's been said that genuine faith is what emerges when convictions are put into action. The same holds true in the financial realm. What we do is a visible manifestation of how we think and what we really believe. Here are some of the attitudes and spiritual ideals that form the foundation of a working budget.

1) At the base of the entire system are seven important biblical lifestyle principles. You can't live as a disciple of Jesus without reorienting your attitude towards God, the world, material possessions, and the meaning of human existence in some pretty radical ways. In turn, these new values and attitudes have earth-shaking implications for your approach to handling money. Here, with appropriate scriptural backup, is a list of the most important of these principles:

a) Prayer. The Christian life is based on prayer. It's about seeking God's guidance and direction for every aspect of one's existence in this world: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

b) Contentment. An ability to remain satisfied with one's standard of living, whether high or low, is also foundational to a genuinely Christ-like lifestyle: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11); "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6).

c) Freedom from greed. This is a natural consequence of contentment. Your life can't be balanced if you're constantly desiring something you don't have – especially if that something already belongs to somebody else: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17).

d) No comparison. Greed and covetousness generally grow out of the impulse to "keep up with the Joneses" – in other words, the temptation to evaluate your lifestyle by comparing it with that of other people. This is what the apostle John had in mind when he wrote about the "lust of the eyes" and the "love of the world:" "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (1 John 2:15-17).

e) Gratitude. If you happen to have wealth or resources, there's no reason to feel guilty about it. Instead, give thanks: "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4).

f) Simplicity. This is essentially the idea that "less is more." It's a basic element of the character of a New Testament disciple; as Paul writes, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody" (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

g) Non-conformity. In the midst of a culture where personal worth is measured in terms of material wealth, it's crucial for followers of Jesus to stand apart from the crowd: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).

2) While pondering these basic biblical ideals, it's important to gauge your personal values by asking yourself this fundamental question: "How much is enough?" This is just another way of saying that, when it comes to financial planning, attitude is key.

a) One of the primary factors – perhaps the primary factor – that will determine your concept of "enough" is the level of lifestyle you intend to achieve and maintain. The principle of contentment (above) becomes relevant at this point. As Paul says, "We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:7-10).

b) To answer the question, "How much is enough?," you need to "know your finish lines." Establish a firm idea of your family's needs and goals. This is the best way to avoid falling into the trap of materialism.

c) Bear in mind that you will need to keep your eye on two different "finish lines:" short-term and long-term. Short-term "finish lines" will vary and change as your family moves through different stages of life. Your long-term "finish line" is the "net worth" you hope to achieve in order to become financially independent at retirement.

d) Remember that there are two ways to attain "enough": you can accumulate more or desire less. The choice you make will have profound implications for your lifestyle and the values that guide your financial decisions in everyday life.

Mapping Out Your Plan

Once you understand these Bible-based perspectives and are clear on your motives or reasons for taking an intentional, proactive approach to family finances, you're ready to begin. Here are the steps you'll need to follow from this point forward as you develop a workable budget plan.

1) First, be sure that you apply the basics of financial planning. Author and financial planning expert Ron Blue says that they're "as easy as 4 – 5 – 6:"

a) The four transcendent planning principles of financial success:

b) The five basic uses of money:

c) The six common long-term financial goals:

2) Keeping these guiding concepts in mind, set aside some time with your spouse to write out a number of specific financial goals or objectives for the coming year. Your list might include "cover our housing expenses," "start a savings account," "pay off credit card debt," "give more to missions," or "get our son through his first year of college." This process is absolutely essential to the success of any budgeting endeavor. You can't expect to get where you want to go if you don't have carefully defined goals.

a) If necessary, arrange to take a weekend away together in order to accomplish this objective. Goal-setting is that important to the financial health and well-being of your household.

b) As we've already indicated, goals should be measurable, carefully documented, and as precisely worded as possible.

c) It's also a good idea to concentrate on setting fewer but more far-reaching goals, always bearing in mind that biblical stewardship is a matter of using God's resources to accomplish God's purposes in the world.

d) Remember, too, that goal-setting is a faith process rather than a scientific formula. We recommend that you write your goals according to the following formula: "I believe that God would have me ______."

e) Write your goals in sand, not concrete – in other words, proceed on the assumption that the Lord has the prerogative to change your plans as He sees fit; as the Scripture says, "A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).

f) Finally, be aware of the practical benefits of goal-setting.

3) Next, sketch out your budget. It's with this third step that the process begins to move in a more concrete, practical direction. You can get the ball rolling by asking yourself two simple questions: "What am I spending now?" and "What would I like to spend?" The first question is calculated to lead you into a careful assessment and evaluation of your current financial practices. The second represents the point at which your new spending plan or budget actually starts to take shape.

a) "What am I spending now?" Only by taking an honest look at your current spending habits can you get an accurate idea of where you stand and how much work needs to be done in order to put your affairs on a firmer footing. Here's how to do it:

b) "What would I like to spend?" This question reflects your first attempt to develop a budget. Ask yourself, "Given my spending history, what would I like the future to look like?" All of us would enjoy spending more on items like entertainment and clothes, but remember – budgeting is about living within the boundaries of your income. This involves taking serious stock of your monthly living expenses. You can set up a worksheet for tallying these amounts according to the following system:

If you'd prefer, a number of budgeting software programs will take you through a similar process.

4) The fourth step is re-assessment. Once you've devised what you consider a realistic budget, work with it, making adjustments as needed, for twelve months. At the end of that time, take another weekend retreat to examine the results and determine whether the current plan is working. Did it leave you with a comfortable margin – that is, did you end the year with extra cash? Or did you fall short and end up incurring debt to cover the deficiency? If you find yourself in the latter situation, it's time to refine your plan again. In plain language, you need to decide where you can make cuts. (Hint: begin with "discretionary" spending, such as entertainment and luxury items.)

5) Fifth, it's crucial to underscore the importance of including savings as one of your regular line-item monthly expenses. In other words, we're encouraging you to discipline yourself to maintain liquidity.

a) Liquidity is just another term for readily available cash. An emergency fund containing such cash is vital for the simple reason that the future is so uncertain. Companies downsize, cars break down, medical emergencies arise, and so on. It's startling to consider how quickly you can go bankrupt after missing only a few paychecks. That's why financially fit families are careful to put something away each month against the advent of unforeseen circumstances.

b) How much of your income should you save? That's not an easy question to answer. There are a number of factors that have to be weighed. A great deal depends on your occupation and the way you generate income. An initial target would be to keep one month's living expenses in your checking account and another two months' worth in savings. If your job is subject to lay-offs, make that three to four months' worth in savings. And if you're entirely dependent upon commissions, it would be a good idea to have six months' living expenses safely stowed away where it can be easily accessed at need.

6) Finally, if debt has become an issue for you, you should also build some kind of repayment strategy into your regular monthly budget plan. Let's take a closer look at why this is so important and how it can be achieved.

a) To begin with, because debt is such a huge problem for so many people in the western world, it's crucial for Christians to know exactly what the Bible does and does not say about it. The Bible does not say:

b) On the other hand, Scripture clearly tells us that

c) Exactly how can you manage debt efficiently and start moving in the direction of eliminating it altogether? We recommend you implement the following five-step strategy:

Conclusion: God Owns It All

As you move through these steps and begin to implement your budget plan for the new year, remember to keep one overriding consideration foremost in your mind: God owns it all. Contained in these four words is the sum and essence of Christian financial fitness. If taken seriously, this concept leads us to four very simple but profound conclusions about the way we ought to live our lives:

1) Stewardship. If God owns it all, then God has the right to whatever He wants whenever He wants it. We are only His stewards, and as stewards we have no rights — only responsibilities. Accordingly, every financial decision is a spiritual decision, and the way we use our money is a true indicator of our spiritual health.

2) We are in a growth process. Our time on earth is temporary and is to be used for the Lord. Money and material possessions are an important part of this picture. When we faithfully keep the charge that God has entrusted to our care, we move closer to Christ.

3) The amount is not important. If God owns it all, we need to learn how to hold with an open hand whatever He chooses to give us, whether it be little or much.

4) Faith requires action. God's resources should be used with an eye to God's goals and objectives.

What's the upshot? Simply this – if you're struggling financially, try replacing your traditional New Year's resolutions with a thoughtfully conceived, carefully organized, precisely worded plan – a plan that sets forth in straightforward language exactly what you want to do with your financial resources, how you intend to change the unhealthy patterns of the past, and how you expect to reach the goal of being fiscally sound and solvent at the end of another twelve months.

It's not only a more practical and reliable way to achieve your objectives. It's the absolute best deal you can get for your money.


Mentoring 101

A mentor is someone you can turn to for wisdom and support — and someone who can help you make the most of your marriage.

by Focus on the Family
Twenty More Ways You Can Invest in Marriage

Meeting regularly with another couple in a mentoring relationship is a great way to invest in building marriages. But there are a host of other ways you can encourage couples around you as well. Some are simple gestures, others will involve a little effort. Scan the list below for some creative ideas of how you and your spouse can help create stronger marriages in your church, neighborhood and community.


Free Marriage Booklets

Printable guides for when your marriage needs help

When Your Marriage Needs Help
What to look for in a marriage counselor and how find one.

Should I Get a Divorce?
What you should know before calling the attorney.

Marriage and Conflict
Answers to common questions about relationships and how to resolve conflict.

Focus on the Family Marriage Ministries
An overview of marriage resources available from Focus on the Family.



We're in it for the Long Haul!

With the mindset of marriage being an adventure in which husbands and wives stick together through thick and thin, the words “until death do us part” take on a whole new meaning

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #1 - We're in it for the Long Haul!

"We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence." - Cornel West

When you got married, you likely uttered the words "until death do us part." Those are weighty words, and yet many  of us tend to gloss over them.

If husbands and wives are to remain committed for the long haul, they need to remind themselves that marriage is a sacred mystery in the eyes of God. It is meant to be lifelong. It is meant to be permanent. God Himself demonstrates the meaning of lifelong marital commitment. He tells His bride, "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3), and "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

That doesn't mean we should expect marriage to be a smooth ride. Pain and disappointment will occur in marriage, just as they occur in every other aspect of life. But committed couples have made up their minds to see the ups and downs, the bright spots and shadows, as part of the grand adventure of marriage.

With this mindset - that of marriage being an adventure in which husbands and wives stick together through thick and thin - the words "until death do us part" take on a whole new meaning. Rather than suggesting a grim picture of two people shackled together, they instead evoke a beautiful image of two souls joined in pursuit of the same goals.

 

DATE NIGHT 
Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse.  So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Complement one another. Be affectionate - hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Protect your Date Night from conflict by pausing arguments and agree to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, you can choose somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine to stimulate conversation and your sense of adventure.

Step 2: Pick a date night activity that requires commitment.  

Consider a few activities that require a genuine commitment on both of your parts to complete. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, or even to bite off more than you can chew. Then, work together to complete the challenge. For example: 

Step 3:  Relax and unwind

Before going home, you might look for a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

Step 5: The drive home can be meaningful, too.

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can express your lifelong commitment to one another in the coming week. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Click Here to Download the PDF Version


For Life

NFL coach Mike Shanahan has said, “Individual commitment to a group effort—that’s what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

by Greg Smalley

For Life

Real love, the Bible says, instinctively desires permanence.—Tim Keller

In the movie Gravity, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play astronauts marooned in orbit after their craft is destroyed by space debris. In order to get back to Earth alive, they must work together. They must have a rock-solid commitment to the task at hand. It won’t be easy. Sacrifice will be involved.

Or think about your favorite sport. The teams that win championships are those who are unified in their commitment to one another and to working, well, as a team! Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Riley once said, “There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or out. There is no such thing as life in-between.” And NFL coach Mike Shanahan has said, “Individual commitment to a group effort—that’s what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

And it’s also what makes a marriage work! Thriving couples believe that lifelong marriage is possible, and they work together to make it happen. “Until death do us part” is not just a segment of their wedding vows, it’s a mission statement. A committed husband and wife say to one another, “We’re in this for the long haul, and we’re in this together.”

Just like a mission in outer space or a championship football game, marriage brings its own set of challenges and obstacles. Married couples expect the journey to include hardships, dangers, and rocky passages—but also mountaintop views and ocean vistas. Because of this, they’re not afraid to press on together, taking life as it comes and living each day to the full. They trust God to provide their needs and stand beside them come what may. After all, it is God who models for them the ultimate example of loving commitment when He promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate—hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Put the pieces together.

After dinner, go to a toy store or department store and pick out a puzzle. Not an easy puzzle—a hard one with lots of pieces. Then go somewhere quiet and work together to complete it. This will require teamwork and commitment on both of your parts!

Not a puzzle person? Consider these other activities that require teamwork and commitment: 

Whatever activity you choose, remember to have fun! Think about the benefits and rewards of completing the activity together.

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

 Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can celebrate your lifelong commitment to one another in the coming week. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download the PDF Version Here


One in the Spirit

Cultivating romance and fostering spiritual growth with your beloved takes discipline and intentionality

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #2 - One in the Spirit

Cultivating romance and fostering spiritual growth with your beloved takes discipline and intentionality.

Just as it takes effort to build physical, emotional and relational intimacy in your marriage, many couples discover that it's tough to to be spiritually intimate with one another . The reasons for this are similar to what hinders intimacy in other areas: limited time, busy lifestyle, demands of childrearing, careers, and yes, even church.

Another barrier to spiritual intimacy in marriage may be differing backgrounds and beliefs. She might hail from a family that attended a church that was outwardly expressive during worship. His family, while also close to the Lord, may have been introspective and reserved about worship. It can take a lot of work to find comfortable common ground in situations such as these.

The bottom line is this: Just like cultivating romance with your beloved, fostering spiritual growth - both individually and in your marriage - takes discipline and intentionality. It won't "just happen".

And that's true of everything in the Christian life, isn't it? Let's face it - we're all guilty of compartmentalizing our faith at times. We do "church stuff" on Sunday, and "regular stuff" the rest of the week. But in reality, we're always in God's presence, whether we're singing hymns in a congregation or washing dishes at home.  The same is true of date night. Your dates represent a wonderful opportunity for you to dig deep and connect spiritually as a couple.

 

DATE NIGHT 

Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate - hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Pick a date night activity that turns your thoughts heavenward.

For example: 

Step 3:  Relax and unwind

The purpose of this date is not to have a one-time spiritual discussion and then return to your regular routine. It's about making spiritual intimacy a regular feature of your marriage. After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect through good conversation. Pray together, asking the Lord to grant you encouragement, determination, and resolve in your efforts to foster deeper spiritual intimacy. What was your favorite part of the evening?

Step 4: Home sweet Home 

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can express your lifelong commitment to one another in the coming week. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!


A deeper level of intimacy

“[Spiritual friendship] is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways.”

by Greg Smalley

 

The Spirit of Marriage

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord —Peter Scholte

Is marriage only for Christians? No. Theologically, we believe that marriage, like the sunshine and the rain that fall upon “the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45), is part of the common grace that God has poured out on all of mankind. Even so, couples with a strong shared faith do have an advantage over those who don’t. Husbands and wives who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are in touch with the Life that pulses at the center of the universe in a way that others can never be.

But having a shared spiritual intimacy with your spouse doesn’t mean that you have to agree on every issue. You may prefer ancient hymns while your husband resonates with modern praise and worship music. You may believe that God created the Earth in seven literal days, while your wife feels that a proper interpretation of the book of Genesis allows for the possibility of an “old Earth.” That’s ok! There is great diversity within the body of Christ, and that certainly includes the realm of marriage.

It’s also important to note that spiritual intimacy is not a guarantee that your marriage will be “perfect.” We know from Scripture (and from firsthand experience!) that all of us—believers included—are fallen people in a fallen world. We wrestle with sin, selfishness, and interpersonal conflict and will continue to do so until the day we meet the Lord face to face. 

At its core, spiritual intimacy in marriage requires each spouse to realize that while they’re in the process of being sanctified, they have not yet reached the goal. Because of this, they can’t hope to maintain healthy relationships with one another unless they’re willing to humble themselves, confess their faults, and seek forgiveness on a daily basis. Marriage is enriched beyond all human expectation when it draws its strength and inspiration directly from its Designer!

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Do something fun!

Focusing on the spiritual aspect of your relationship doesn’t mean you have to resort to sackcloth and ashes. In fact, one of the most important ways you can glorify God in your marriage is by having fun together! Consider one of the following activities, and as you engage in it, be sure to remember that in addition to having fun, you’re also investing in your relationship and celebrating God’s gift of marriage:

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

If you feel so led, spend some time praying for couples in your circle of influence who may not have the same spiritual intimacy that you enjoy.

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, talk about additional ways you can foster spiritual intimacy in your relationship over the coming week. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure! 

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More than Words

Relationships change over time. In the context of marriage, this means that there will always be something new for you to learn about your spouse

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #3 - More than Words

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw

Positive communication is vital to any relationship, and nowhere is this more evident than in marriage. When two different people commit their lives to each other, they can't hope to bond their hearts, minds and souls successfully except on the basis of solid mutual understanding.

In other words, they have to learn how to successfully communicate with one another, in both verbal and non-verbal terms. Communication is an on-going process, based on good listening skills as well as clear and honest self-expression (James 1:19). It involves openness and empathy -- a willingness to enter into the thoughts and feelings of another, to cry when they cry and laugh when they laugh.

This last point is especially important. Relationships are dynamic in the sense that change happens over time. In the context of marriage, this means that there will always be something new for you to learn about your spouse. No matter how much you know - or think you know- you'll never know it all.

Communication thrives on questions and curiosity. That's why it's important to be a "student' of your spouse - to continuously ask questions and update information. Couples who do this, especially during the busy childrearing years, find that it keeps them connected.  

DATE NIGHT 

Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate - hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Pick a date night activity that demonstrates curiosity about your spouse.

Step 3:  Relax and unwind

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect through good conversation. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging as you answer the following questions:

Step 4: Home sweet Home 

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can be a "student" of your spouse in the coming week. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

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Secrets and Mysteries

Is it possible to keep a healthy sense of mystery alive in a familiar, long-term relationship?

by Greg Smalley

"You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass." -- Hamlet, Act III, Scene ii

Is there any place for secrets and mysteries in a healthy marriage? That all depends.

From one perspective, it should be obvious that it's not a good idea for couples to keep secrets from one another. When you got married, you made a number of vows and promises, all of them centered around a single idea: namely, your commitment to work together towards the goal of becoming one. That requires openness, transparency, and positive communication. In a marital relationship, it's all to easy to let hidden truths become dividing walls.

On the other hand, there's a sense in which mystery is absolutely essential to romance. Boredom can be the death-knell of any relationship. Many couples find themselves "falling out of love' when they become convinced that they've learned everything there is to know about one another. Illusions of this kind can take hold when honesty becomes brutal and openness isn't tempered with sensitivity and discretion. Remember, transparency doesn't necessarily entail revealing every thought or feeling you've ever had. Some things are better left unsaid.

Is there any way to strike a positive balance and achieve a happy medium? Is it possible to keep a healthy sense of mystery alive in a familiar, long-term relationship? That's the problem of effective marital communication in a nutshell. Such communication is not a science but an art. It's a matter of keeping your partner intrigued and engaged. It's a question of teasing the other person out and exposing your true self without smothering or squelching the flame of mutual affection.

Date Night

Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate -- hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Recapture the mystery and intrigue of your earliest days together.

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can strike a healthy balance between transparency and mystery in your relationship.  Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

 

Download the PDF Version Here


To-ma-to, To-mah-to

Healthy conflict can actually be a pathway to deeper intimacy in your marriage

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #4- To-ma-to, To-mah-to

"Marriage is an adventure, like going to war." - G. K. Chesterton 

Some relationships are more prone to conflict than others, but none are immune.  In other words, sometimes you're gonna fight! But the question you should ask yourselves is, "How can we use this conflict to our advantage?" Smart couples know that the way they respond to their differences is more important than how they resolve them. Healthy conflict can actually be a pathway to deeper intimacy in your marriage. 

How? By approaching problems and areas of contention as a team,  with each partner striving to understand how the other processes conflict. Even when you disagree, you and your spouse can be quick to express grace and forgiveness. As members of the same team, you can keep short accounts and make ever effort to deal with disagreements immediately, and then leave them behind.

At this point you may be saying, "Wait - our Date Nights are supposed to be fun and conflict-free. Are you suggesting that we now devote an entire date to addressing disagreements?" The answer is a resounding "No!" We don't advise that you spend your Date Night dredging up contentious issues. Rather, we hope you'll embrace this date as an opportunity to accentuate the "team" aspect of your marriage. Then, at a later time when conflict does make an appearance, you'll be better equipped to confront it head-on and work through it together. 

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate - hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Even as you consider the meaning of "healthy conflict" in your marriage, remember to protect your date night by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner. 

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Teamwork!

There are many ways you might engage in teamwork on your date. Here are just a couple ideas: 

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions, be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can work as a team during times of disagreement. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure! 

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Vive la Difference!

“When two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

by Greg Smalley

What’s the source of friction in marriage?  There are probably as many answers to that question as there are couples who struggle with conflict.  But the most basic and most universal answer of all is the one we tend to forget about because it’s so obvious:  spouses are different from one another. 

Face it.  No matter how similar you and your mate may be in terms of basic interests, values, and personalities, you’re still two unique individuals.  You come from different backgrounds, operate on the basis of different assumptions, and see the world through two distinct sets of eyes.  If that weren’t enough, you also stand on opposite sides of the most fundamental of all human divides:  one of you is male and the other is female! 

Couples are different, too.  Not too many people actually enjoy conflict, especially in marriage, but there are some husbands and wives who seem to thrive on a regular diet of full-blown arguments.  Others are more skilled at resolving their disagreements in a calm, rational fashion.  Still others avoid conflict altogether by keeping frustrations and misunderstandings bottled up inside.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

Whatever your differences, you need to do more than grudgingly face up to them.  You need to learn how to revel in them.  You need to celebrate the lights, darks, and contrasting colors that make up the blended one-flesh union you call “us”.  This isn’t simply a matter of putting a positive spin on your dissimilarities.  It’s actually an effective method of defusing and disarming serious conflicts when they do arise. 

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date!  Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse.  So dress up a bit.  Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another.  Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses.  Even as you consider the meaning of “healthy conflict” in your marriage, remember to protect your date night by cutting off any real arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Explore and celebrate your differences. Here are a couple of suggestions to choose   from: 

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, relax and emotionally connect by talking about what you learned during your conversations throughout the evening.  Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can uncover and celebrate the differences between you.  Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!             

Download the PDF Version Here


Let the Good Times Roll

Thriving couples cultivate common hobbies and undertake shared adventures through regular Date Nights!

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #5- Let the Good Times Roll

"People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they're doing." - Dale Carnegie

Having fun as a couple - that, in a nutshell, is what Date Nights are all about. The entire Date Night concept is centered on this principle: thriving couples genuinely enjoy spending time together! They develop meaningful traditions and rituals. They cultivate common hobbies and undertake shared adventures. And yes, they schedule regular Date Nights together!

When it comes to enjoying fun times together as a couple, there are four goals you should keep in mind:

  1. Regularity - Opportunities to enjoy "couple time" must not be few and far between. That's why you need to be intentional about planning regular outings and activities together.
  2. Variety - Your dates should be regular, but not routine! Try new restaurants and new activities. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zones in order to experience something new together.
  3. Adventure - Injecting variety into your Date Nights also introduces an element of adventure. But you don't have to do something big, expensive, risky, or outlandish in order to be adventurous! The idea is simply to keep things fresh so that you'll benefit from the enriching experience of trying new things together.
  4. Fun - If your Date Night is adventurous and exciting, then of course it's going to also be fun! Research shows that couples who have fun together enjoy a stronger intimate bond. They create powerful incentives to "stick together" and to keep coming back for more.

With these thoughts in mind, the purpose of this month's Date Night is simple - to have fun together doing something that you both enjoy. Be sure to think specifically about how having fun together enriches your relationship and deepens your intimacy.

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate - hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Even as you consider the meaning of "healthy conflict" in your marriage, remember to protect your date night by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner. 

Start your Date Night on the right foot by injecting the elements of variety and adventure, as discussed above. Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Do something FUN together!

The possibilities for your Date Night activity are limited only by your imaginations. The important thing is that the activity is something that you both enjoy. Even a quiet walk in the park can be fun and adventurous if you want it to be. Here are a few activities to consider: 

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can keep the spirit of fun and adventure alive, not only during future Date Nights, but throughout the week. Once you get home, howeer, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure! 

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The Heart and Soul of Date Night

"To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Mark Twain

by Greg Smalley


Here’s a news flash: you and your spouse will grow closer as you spend time together doing things that you both enjoy. Sure, it’s true to a certain extent that “opposites attract.” But married couples who go the distance tend to be those who are able to connect through shared experiences and passions. Isn’t that what Date Night is all about?

There are several things to consider when it comes to spending enjoyable time together in marriage. In order to maximize their value, your shared experiences as a couple need to have the following characteristics:

We’re not suggesting that your marriage should be all fun-and-games, all the time. But building your relationship on mutually enjoyable experiences will leave you better equipped to weather the storms when they come.

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date!  Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse.  So dress up a bit.  Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another.  Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses.  Remember to protect your date night by cutting off any real arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Enjoy your time together!

Your assignment for this Date Night is simple: do something that you both enjoy! If possible, select an activity that that has the elements of adventure, variety, and fun in it, as described above. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, relax and emotionally connect by talking about what you learned during your conversations throughout the evening.  Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. - What was your favorite part of the evening? - What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn't know about me before? - What are some of the things we enjoy doing together? What memories do these activities evoke? What are some new activities that we’d like to consider for a future date? How can we make sure that  we make spending enjoyable time together a regular part of our marriage?

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can foster fun times together.  Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download the PDF Version Here


I Cherish You

Thriving couples need to be intentional about treasuring, honoring and cherishing one another. Do these things characterize your relationship with your spouse?

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #6- I Cherish You

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." - Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese

The act of cherishing is integral to family harmony and stability. This is especially true in marriage; Dictionary.com offers three definitions of cherish: 1) to hold or treat as dear; feel love for; 2)to care for tenderly; nurture; and 3) to cling fondly or inveterately to.   

Love. Tenderness. Nurture. Do these things characterize your relationship with your spouse?

When you got married, your wedding vows likely included the promise to "love, honor, and cherish" one another. This phrase can actually be traced back to 1549, where it appeared in the first recorded wedding vows, found in The Book of Common Prayer. Here's how they are recorded:

Groom: I, ____, take thee, _____, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance.

Bride: I, ____, take thee, _____, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance.

Those 16th century Anglicans understood that cherishing is an important practice for both husbands and wives. And of course, this concept didn't originate with the Church of England. Jesus said that "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). To give your heart to your spouse is to treasure, or cherish, him or her 

It can be difficult to keep that in perspective, though, amidst the busy hustle-and-bustle of careers, responsibilities, and childrearing. That is why thriving couples need to be intentional about treasuring and honoring one another. They need to keep a conscious account of the things they value about their relationship. This might take the form of keeping a journal, preserving precious memories through photos and mementos, or even maintaining a list of the qualities and character traits they most admire about their spouse. it also means taking time out to celebrate anniversaries and other important milestones in their relationship.

With this in mind BEFORE your date, each of you should take some time alone to make a list of the things you value about your spouse. include his or her personality traits, character qualities, spirituality, caring behaviors, accomplishments, and even physical characteristics. Write them down and take the list with you on your date.

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate - hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Even as you consider the meaning of "healthy conflict" in your marriage, remember to protect your date night by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner. 

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Share your lists!

Either over dinner or at a quiet location afterwards, share your lists with one another. Don't simply hand your list to your spouse and expect him or her to read it in silence. Instead, read  your list -- outloud. Feel free to add additional details to what is written on the page. For example, if you listed "compassion" as one of the things you cherish about your mate, recall a specific time you observed him or her being compassionate. Receiving those words of affirmation and love in both written and verbal forms will be much more meaningful. After you've read your lists to one another, exchange them. Consider going to a craft store to get some stickers or even picture frames to adorn your lists. Once they've been decorated and personalized, keep them handy in a wallet or purse, on the nightstand, or in another accessible location as a regular reminder of the reasons your spouse cherishes you.

[NOTE: We shared a similar idea for creating a "cherish list" during one of last year's Date Nights. If you've already created lists for one another during another date, consider an alternative activity that involves cherishing your spouse and your relationship: create a scrapbook of memories togetehr, exchange simple gifts that commemorate a special time in your marriage, etc.]   

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can be intentional about cherishing one another - even amidst the hectic pace of your lives. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure! 

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Treasure Hunt

by Greg Smalley

                                                                                   … Do not grudge

                                                To pick out treasures from an earthen pot.

                                                    -- George Herbert, The Church Porch, lxxii                                       


Treasure.  The word itself is shrouded in a veil of mystery.  It’s one thing to talk about “wealth,” “money,” “capital,” or “financial gains.”  But treasure is another matter altogether. 

Treasure inhabits the misty realms of legend and romance.  The very thought of it conjures up images of tombs and pyramids, perilous quests, and dimly lit dragon hoards.  Treasure is the object of deep delvings in the earth, the goal of impossible journeys through tangled jungles and over impassable mountains.  It’s the word we use to describe things that are not merely valuable in monetary terms but iconic, archetypal, and significant in some profoundly primal sense – things like the Holy Grail or the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

Buried treasure is even better, of course.  Its hiddenness only heightens its mystic appeal.  This explains the perennial attraction of stories about pirates, uncharted islands, secret caverns, cryptic codes, and antique maps.  Time and time again the urge to seek out and dig up buried treasure has become the catalyst for wild adventures, a prelude to the discovery of vast new worlds. 

Whether you realize it or not, you are living every day of your life in the presence of a precious hidden treasure.  It sits with you at the table and sleeps beside you in bed at night.  It’s so close that you can reach out and touch it any time you like.  It’s the treasure that lies concealed within the person you chose to marry.  

At some point you caught a fleeting glimpse of that treasure.  You followed its gleam to the altar and kept your gaze fixed upon it while you and your spouse vowed to love and cherish one another “till death do us part.”  Some of its sparkle stuck with you beyond that memorable moment – at least until the honeymoon was over.  But if you’re like most couples, you’ve since allowed its luster to become buried beneath the “stuff” of day-to-day existence:  work, chores, kids, bills, laundry, meals, and all the little mundane distractions that sometimes make life feel like an interminable grind.

The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian is like an old clay pot.  Inside is an indescribable treasure – the treasure of Christ’s eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:7).  But on the outside the pot seems dull and unremarkable.  Something similar can be said about marriage partners.  At one time each valued the other’s presence far above all the treasures of the earth.  Now, time and familiarity have made them appear plain and mundane in one another’s eyes.  They’ve lost sight of the hidden mystery that drew them together in the first place.   

If that sounds like a description of your marriage, why not use this month’s date night as an opportunity to unearth the treasure and make it shine again?  It will take some work, to be sure.  But there’s no telling what you may discover once you begin.

It’s time to start digging.

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date!  Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse.  So dress up a bit.  Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another.  Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses.  Even as you consider the meaning of “healthy conflict” in your marriage, remember to protect your date night by cutting off any real arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Dig for buried treasure (choose one of the following):    

 

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, relax and emotionally connect by talking about what you learned during your conversations throughout the evening.  Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can rediscover the treasures at the heart of your marriage.  Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download the PDF Version Here


Love in Action

A working definition of nourishing is demonstrating your love. It involves a conscious resolution to identify your spouse’s strengths and find creative ways to stimulate them.

by Greg Smalley

Love in Action

“More than words is all you have to do to make it real; then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me, ‘cause I’d already know....”—“More Than Words” as performed by Extreme


Your previous Date Night was all about cherishing your spouse—adopting an attitude that recognizes your mate’s inherent value. Now it’s time to take the next step. This date will focus on nourishing your husband or wife—doing things that demonstrate your love. Cherishing is an attitude, but nourishing is an action.

In other words, nourishing is the process of making your spouse feel loved and cherished. It’s about caring for him or her as a wise gardener cares for a patch of vegetables or flowers—watering, weeding, and feeding as required. Nourishing involves a conscious resolution to identify your spouse’s strengths and find creative ways to stimulate them. It means coming alongside your mate in moments of weakness, speaking uplifting words, and offering needed support.

Looking at it in another way, to nourish is to discover your mate’s “love language” and learn how to speak it. It is to build him or her up in active, practical ways. But just as with the other traits of a thriving marriage, the act of nourishing your spouse won’t happen automatically. It involves an investment of time and energy, and it has to be approached with intentionality.

 THE DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: From cherishing to nourishing.

During your previous date you identified some things you cherish about one another. Now, spend some time talking about ways your spouse can nourish you spiritually, emotionally, and physically. This isn’t a time to criticize your partner for his or her shortcomings, but rather to share helpful information that will help you both feel more connected, more intimate. Talk about your own “love language.” What makes you feel loved? Is it when your spouse takes time away from the TV or e-mail to just sit and talk with you? When he or she offers positive words of affirmation? When your mate helps out around the house? When you pray or read Scripture together? Help your spouse better understand what actions make you feel loved.

3. Put it into practice.

Pick an activity that affords you the opportunity to “nourish” your spouse through affirmation, affection, and other practical demonstrations of love. For example:

Step 4: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can nourish your spouse by putting your love for him or her into action. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download Printable Version PDF


Sub-Creators and Co-Creators

by Greg Smalley

Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist.  We are collaborators in creation. -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In Genesis Chapter One we are told that the first thing God did after creating Adam and Eve “in His image, male and female” was to entrust them with a shared responsibility:  “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). 

Perhaps it would be fair to say that, in the past, this idea of “dominion” has too often conjured up images of iron-fisted oppression in the minds of Bible students.  That’s a serious misreading of the text.  In actuality, the picture presented here is one of collaborative creative endeavor.  God, the grand Creator par excellence, is inviting the creatures who bear His image to join Him in the ongoing work of creation.  And He’s asking them to do this together.    

In a little parable called “Leaf By Niggle,” J.R.R. Tolkien tells the tale of an insignificant little painter who spends his entire life laboring over a picture of a huge tree.  When he dies and goes to heaven, he is surprised to find himself standing under the shade of its branches ­– his creative work has become reality!  Nor is that all:   his neighbor, Mr. Parish – an attentive gardener – is there as well, and together they get to work once again.  “Niggle would think of wonderful new flowers and plants,” Tolkien writes, “and Parish always knew exactly how to set them.” 

Marriage is the place where this aspect of our destiny comes into sharpest focus.  Within the bond of their one-flesh union, husband and wife become not merely sub-creators, working under the tutelage and authority of their Lord, but co-creators, laboring together not only to introduce new lives into the world – something they could not possibly achieve apart from one another – but also to make that world a better  and more beautiful place. 

Not even the angels in heaven have been given such a high and holy calling.        

 

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

 

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Create something together.

After dinner, try to come up with an activity that requires the two of you to work together in order to make or create something new.  If possible, choose a project that neither one of you could accomplish quite so effectively without the other’s input and help.  This may sound challenging, but you can do it!

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

Remember, this isn’t a time to vent or complain about things that aren’t working as well as you might like. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight each of your gifts and talents and compliment one another on your unique God-given abilities.
What are some other ways you can work as a team and share responsibilities in the days and weeks ahead?

 Step 5: Home Sweet Home

As you end the evening, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can work as a team—remember that teams win together, not as individuals.  Then, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!                                                                   

Download the PDF Version Here


Foreplay Redefined

by Greg Smalley

Sex begins in the kitchen.

-- Dr. Kevin Leman

Every couple knows that sexual intimacy, celebrated regularly and passionately, is vital to any healthy marriage.  Some have made this discovery within the context of deep, satisfying personal experience.  Others have learned the lesson by default – in other words, they’ve come to realize how important a generous helping of physical intimacy can be to a husband and wife because they don’t have it and their relationship is suffering as a result.  What many in both groups don’t understand is that sex is more than just sex. 

In a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways – through movies, television, racy novels, and popular songs – our culture tries to persuade us that sex is most potent when most isolated from the rest of our day-to-day experience.  This is the appeal of Internet pornography and anonymous “online intercourse.”  The most exciting encounters, we are led to believe, are those that take place outside the circle of the familiar and the mundane – the “one night stands” that “explode” spontaneously between two “strangers in the night.”  Intimacy with your “old lady” or “old man,” on the other hand, is assumed to be about as thrilling as a bowl of cold oatmeal.  But Scripture adopts an entirely different point of view.  According to the Bible, sex is all about knowing the other person inside and out and in all kinds of contexts.  The Hebrew word used is yada’ and it means a thorough, exhaustive knowledge that embraces complete mutuality and total sharing in every area of life.                   

As it turns out, deeply meaningful sex is a lot like a wedding cake.  It’s something you build layer by layer.  You start at the most basic level and work your way up.  You initiate a connection in some small and simple way and then maintain it and elaborate on it as you move forward.  The act of intercourse could be compared to the icing on the cake.  It’s the finishing touch you put on a painting that you’ve labored long and painstakingly to get “just right.”

This is what Dr. Kevin Leman had in mind when he chose the title Sex Begins in the Kitchen for his best-selling book on marital intimacy.  He wasn’t attempting to conjure up mental images of passionate embraces underneath the dining room table.  Instead, he was hoping to convey the idea that sex is actually an expression of the care a couple shows for one another in all areas of life – in communicating, in sharing thoughts and feelings, and even in helping out around the house.  He was suggesting that what happens in the bedroom may actually represent the final link in a chain of events that began hours earlier when your fingers touched while washing the dishes together.             

 

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Initiate the Connection.

Fill up the rest of your time together with one of the following activities.  Whatever option you choose, approach it as an opportunity to lay down the first layer of the cake.  Do whatever you do with an eye toward building mutual understanding and expressing affection, tenderness, warmth, and physical touch in small, simple ways.  


Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation.  Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

As you end the evening, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can incorporate touch, warmth, and expressions of genuine caring into your relationship.  Then, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure! 

 Download the PDF Version Here


Sharing the Load

We often hear about marriage being an exercise in teamwork — but what does that mean, exactly?

by Greg Smalley

Sharing the Load

“It takes two flints to make a fire.”—Louisa May Alcott


We often hear about marriage being an exercise in teamwork—but what does that mean, exactly? One of the keys to this question lies in how the responsibilities are shared. Who cooks the meals? Who balances the checkbook? Who cleans the bathrooms? Who gets the kids ready for bed? Are these activities strictly assigned to one partner, or are they shared depending on circumstances, stage of life, and so on?

Couples with thriving relationships have learned to pay little attention to shifting cultural “norms” or to the expectations of family members and friends. Instead, they make it their goal to function as a team, because the most important thing is how they work together, not what other people think.

To maximize this way of thinking, husbands and wives need to talk openly about their expectations and personal preferences. If they can be flexible in order to work out a division of labor that places more emphasis on giftedness rather than gender, they’ll likely experience a greater degree of peace and harmony.

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Playing to your strengths.

Find a fun activity that you’re both “good” at that you enjoy doing together. Maybe it’s playing tennis or miniature golf. Maybe it’s photography or painting. Maybe it’s something as simple as playing Mario Kart on your game system at home. Instead of treating that activity as a competition between the two of you, treat it as a team activity. For example, if you’re playing mini golf, add up the “par” score for each hole, double it, and then see if, by working together, you can come in under that number by the end of the game.

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can work as a team—remember that teams win together, not as individuals. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Click Here to Download the PDF Version
 


Blowing with the Winds of Change

Surprise! We're changing things up with a brand new Date Night. As the weather cools and the seasons change, we couldn't pass up talking about a critical component of your thriving marriage -- mutually satisfying physical intimacy. This date is designed to encourage the special bond between you and your spouse that often gets lost amidst the demands of work, children and real life.

Mutually Satisfying Physical Intimacy

By Dr. Greg Smalley

Without question, mutually satisfying sexual intimacy is one of the traits of a thriving marriage. Because they are joined as “one flesh,” husbands and wives must place a healthy emphasis on this physical component of their spiritual union.

It’s understandable that for many married couples, sex can become more of a “chore” or a matter of routine. With the demands of careers, church commitments, and child rearing, it can be tough for couples to find time for meaningful physical intimacy. Ideally, though, sex in marriage is about joy, pleasure, and mutual satisfaction. It’s a delightful “dance” in which each spouse puts the other’s needs and interests ahead of his or her own and explores ways of giving sexually to the other.

The Bible suggests that the sexual act is the nexus of “leaving and cleaving,” as described in Genesis: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This is the very essence of matrimony. Sex is the glue that uniquely unites a husband and wife and places their relationship in a category apart from all other human relationships.

Of course, it’s also important to note that there is a great deal more to marriage than just sex. Even the term “physical intimacy” can refer to more than just sexual intercourse in the narrow sense. It includes affection, tenderness, warmth, and physical touch. This point deserves to be stressed because sexual intimacy in marriage is a lifelong process. Different forms of expression may be appropriate at different stages—in youth and old age, in times of stress and times of joy, during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing, during and after menopause—and so on. Where pain or physical incapacity have ruled out the possibility of certain types of sexual activity, it’s worth remembering that there are other forms of physical intimacy. Physical closeness, skin-to-skin contact, even intimate conversation can be extremely fulfilling in the absence of other forms of sexual pleasure. Thriving couples approach marital sex with candor, prayerfulness, vulnerability, flexibility and a willingness to communicate at every stage of life.

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Date Night

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine. Or, in light of this date’s emphasis on physical intimacy, perhaps you can take the kids to a babysitter and then “order in” at home!

Step 2: Connect with your mate physically.

If you decide to go out, pick a fun activity that you both enjoy, such as visiting a museum, going for a walk around the park, or even seeing a movie. Be sure to engage in lots of physical touch during this time—hold hands, kiss, put your arms around each other, and so on. Now, there’s obviously a fine line between appropriate public displays of affection and an outright groping, make-out session that causes everyone around you to say, “Get a room!” Don’t cross that line.

If you decide to stay at home for this date, spend the evening exploring ways to connect physically—but non-sexually—before rushing right into the “main event.” Try giving each other back rubs or a foot massage.

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

Whether you left the house or stayed home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can enhance your sexual intimacy in the days and weeks ahead. Then, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Click Here to Download the PDF Version
 


Community-Minded

This date’s focus on community affords you the perfect opportunity to phone up another couple — or couples — and enjoy a group date.

by Greg Smalley

Community-Minded

“Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”—Stanley Hauerwas

Thriving couples cannot exist in a vacuum. They understand that isolation is a threat to any marriage—and they embrace the idea that in good times and bad, they need other people, just as other people need them. Of course, one-on-one time is vitally important. That’s what Date Nights are all about! But it’s also imperative that couples are intentional about connecting regularly with other like-minded couples. They should make a point of staying engaged with nurturing communities of all kinds—service organizations, social clubs, and common interest groups. In particular, they must endeavor to maintain an active involvement in their local church, where they have many opportunities to give and receive spiritual support.

Church fellowship is especially important because it involves both give and take. Even the healthiest of couples rely on the support of their brothers and sisters in Christ from time to time. And they also recognize that they have a responsibility to help other couples thrive. This might involve serving as mentors to a newly married couple, or coming alongside a husband and wife who are facing a particular struggle in their relationship. The author of Hebrews sums it up this way: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). This interconnectedness, this give-and-take, is what community is all about.

DATE NIGHT

Make it a double! Or a triple! This date’s focus on community affords you the perfect opportunity to phone up another couple—or couples—and enjoy a group date. Once you’ve got a group together, however, the regular Date Night principles apply:

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time. (In the context of a group date, this also means avoiding the temptation to talk about your childrearing or career woes with other couples. There’s certainly a time and place for that, but the focus of Date Night should always be fun.)

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Put your heads together.

Talk with the other couple(s) to determine a fun group activity for Date Night. Here are some possibilities: 

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After you bid a fond farewell to the other couple(s), find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

Spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can share your lives with others—and let them share their lives with you. Then, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Click Here to Download the PDF Version
 


Healthy Individuals

Marriage encompasses the spiritual and physical act of two lives becoming one. But can that union truly thrive if one or both of the individuals involved is feeling unfulfilled?

by Greg Smalley

Healthy Individuals

“Marry two half-people and oh, shouldn't one make the other whole?"—"Bouquet," by Steve Taylor

Marriage encompasses the spiritual and physical act of two lives becoming one. But can that union truly thrive if one or both of the individuals involved is feeling unfulfilled? Insert your favorite analogy here: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” “United we stand, but divided we fall.” “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” You get the idea!

A thriving marriage can only be as strong as its component parts – namely, husband and wife. Even within the “one flesh” context of marriage, there’s an important place for appropriate self-care and self-improvement. This includes spiritual pursuits that help ensure that a Christ-centered marriage is comprised of two Christ-centered individuals. As a husband and wife move toward the goal of becoming more like Christ, they also grow closer to one another.

But spouses need to be concerned about preserving their individuality in other areas as well. The marital union is a blending, not a cloning. It is a partnership in which differences – not just the difference between male and female, but the distinctions between two separate and unique individuals – come together like pieces in a puzzle. These differences should be affirmed and celebrated!

That’s why it’s important for spouses to take time for self-nurture. They need time alone with the Lord, with friends, and with their hobbies and interests. Husbands and wives can’t be everything to each other. That’s God’s role. It just makes good sense: by investing in your spiritual and emotional health as an individual, you’ll inevitably strengthen your marriage as well.

DATE NIGHT

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Open a window into your world.

What kind of activity helps you “recharge your batteries” – not as a couple, but as an individual? Take turns sharing one of those activities with your spouse. For example, she may feel rejuvenated after an energetic Zumba workout. He may achieve spiritual and emotional peace through fly-fishing. Think about creative ways to combine two individually enriching activities (one for him, one for her) into your Date Night!

Remember, the purpose here is not to embrace an activity that you both enjoy. It’s to allow you to help each other better understand what makes the other “tick.” If you’re having trouble coming up with a combined activity, you might consider simply going someplace quiet to discuss what God has been teaching you individually through your devotional life, prayer times, etc.

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation . Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 5: Home Sweet Home

On your way home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can help spur one another on to personal growth in the days ahead – and consider how that can, in turn, strengthen your marriage. Then, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Click Here to Download the PDF Version
 


Finding Common Interests and Hobbies

Developing common interests and hobbies can decrease conflict in marriage and strengthen the idea that you and your spouse are a team.

by Greg Smalley

Date Night—Finding Common Interests and Hobbies

 

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”—C.S. Lewis

It’s a common theme for many married couples—he likes to do “guy stuff” like playing sports, collecting baseball cards, or going hunting. She likes “girly stuff” like scrapbooking, sewing, or blogging about bargains. When it comes to movies, he’s a Saving Private Ryan fan while she loves any film with the phrase “based on the novel by Jane Austen” in the credits. Where dining is concerned, he could eat meat and potatoes at every meal, while she enjoys sampling cuisine from all over the world. And on it goes.

Certainly, some of these activities speak to the innate differences between males and females. There’s nothing wrong with husbands and wives having different likes and dislikes based on their unique personalities, talents, and experiences. It would be a serious mistake, however, for couples to assume that every moment of free time should be relegated to “his interests” and “her interests,” and never the twain shall meet.

When husbands and wives get too caught up in “doing their own thing,” they are missing out on critical opportunities to connect with one another. Developing common interests and hobbies can decrease conflict in marriage and strengthen the idea that you and your spouse are a team. Having common hobbies can help couples deepen their sense of intimacy, connection, and especially friendship.

When was the last time you thought about your spouse as your friend—someone you enjoy spending time with and with whom you can engage in mutually satisfying pursuits? If husbands and wives have a firm grasp of their roles as partners, lovers, or parents, but fail to understand what it means to be friends, they are missing out on a key component of marriage. The Bible places the concept of friendship front-and-center in the depiction of romantic love found in the words of Solomon: “This is my lover, this my friend” (Song of Songs 5:16b, emphasis added).

DATE NIGHT

Remember to always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage, we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our mate. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate—hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine. In fact, choosing a new restaurant is a fantastic way for husbands and wives to develop a common interest. Find a restaurant or a type of cuisine that neither of you has tried before. You’ll experience something new together for the first time. And who knows? You both just might like it! If so, you’ve already identified something that you both enjoy. All it took was venturing out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

Step 2: Discuss your interests over dinner.

As you prepare for your adventure together, discuss what makes each of you “tick” when it comes to hobbies and pastimes. Here are a few questions to ask your spouse:

Step 3: Discover your common interests!

Now for the fun part—picking an activity to do together. The following list, while by no means exhaustive, contains 20 activities you may find fun to do together:

  1. Playing sports or learning a new sport
  2. Cycling
  3. Bird watching
  4. Co-authoring a blog
  5. Participating in social work
  6. Collecting antiques or artwork
  7. Composing music together or “jamming” on instruments
  8. Photography
  9. Clay modeling or pottery
  10. Scuba diving
  11. Horseback riding
  12. Learning a form of self-defense
  13. “Treasure hunting” with a metal detector
  14. Frisbee golf
  15. Exploring a specific movie genre or director
  16. Hiking
  17. Gardening or landscaping
  18. Cooking
  19. Volunteering at church, or with a local social service agency
  20. Visiting local tourist attractions or museums

Step 4: Process what you’ve just experienced together.

With creativity and communication, hopefully this process has enabled you to take the focus off of simply “his interests” and “her interests” to create an enriching new category: our interests. Now that your activity is over, talk about your time together.

Step 5: Relax and Unwind

After your shared event is over, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect over good conversation. In addition to the above questions, answer the following. Be sure to keep your responses positive, encouraging and uplifting.

• What was your favorite part of the evening?

• What is one thing you learned about me tonight that you didn’t know before?

• How can we cultivate further opportunities to nurture shared interests and hobbies?

Step 6: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about ways you can either expand on an area of shared interest, or else identify another area of shared interest yet to be explored. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

MORE TIPS AND IDEAS FOR CULTIVATING COMMON INTERESTS

• Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Wives, there are plenty of women who enjoy films in which “stuff gets blowed up real good,” to coin a phrase used by Roger Ebert and other film critics. And husbands, there are a ton of guys who appreciate films like The Young Victoria—although they probably wouldn’t admit as much to their male friends.

Download the PDF version here





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Giving Together

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #13—Giving Together
Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.—Oren Arnold

More and more, the ever-elusive “true meaning of Christmas” seems to get swamped in the annual crush of materialism, busy-ness, and commercialism. E.B. White once wrote, “To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult every year.” Interestingly, he penned those words (in an article in The New Yorker) in 1949—decades before controversy over the public display of nativity scenes and “Black Friday” sales in which customers trample one another in pursuit of the latest gadgets. What would Mr. White have thought if he’d lived to see what Christmas has become today?

We’d suggest that the perfect antidote to the crass commercialism and consumerism of Christmas is an attitude of service. What better way to take the focus off of ourselves and the “stuff” that somehow seems so important at Christmas? The Bible itself reminds us that “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, emphasis added). The Child in the manger is not a portrait of kingly elegance and excess, but of humility and service.

This month’s Date Night will give you the opportunity to take a break from the holiday grind—the stress, the worries, the overcrowded schedules, the race to find the perfect gift, and other stressors—and invest as a couple in the well-being of someone else. Through volunteering your time and talent in service to others, you’ll know the satisfaction of making a positive impact on an individual, a group, or even your entire community. What is more, you’ll likely experience a deeper marital bond and sense of intimacy through serving together.

Your “Christmas date” can go one of two ways. You might want to simply combine your date and your service project into one event. Or, if your crowded holiday calendar allows, you can go on a “regular” date to plan and talk about your volunteer ideas, and then actually perform your act of service at a later time—perhaps on a Saturday. This second approach would allow you to enjoy some quality “couple time” on your date, and then involve your kids in the actual service project later. It’s up to you. The following Date Night assumes you’ll be planning your service project separately from actually performing it, but it can easily be adapted if you wish to combine your date and service project into one event.

DATE NIGHT
Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.
Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Consider what type of service project would be a good “fit” for you as a couple.
After dinner, take a drive around town. If you look around, you’ll likely see many opportunities to serve others in your neighborhood, church, or community. Talk about what appeals to you. Do you have a heart for serving the poor? Are there elderly people (or young people, for that matter) in your circle of influence who are lonely at Christmas? Do you want to serve as a couple, or get the entire family involved? Pray together to determine what approach and what type of ministry God might be calling you to.

Step 3: Choose a service project.

Pick an activity that appeals to you both (as well as to your children, if you choose to involve them). Then, put it on the calendar! Pick a definite date and time to make your act of service happen so that it won’t get lost or overlooked amidst the general hustle and bustle of the season. The opportunities for service at Christmas are limited only by your imagination. Here are just a few possibilities:

Step 4: Relax and unwind.

After you’ve identified a Christmas service activity and put it on the calendar, go someplace quiet for dessert or coffee. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

Step 5: Christmas bonus questions!
To add some holiday spirit to this part of the evening, consider adding a few of the following questions to your list. 
What was your all-time favorite Christmas gift?

Step 6: Home sweet home.
As you drive home, spend time talking about your upcoming service project, as well as thinking ahead to your next date. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Download the PDF version here


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Random Acts of Kindness

Deliberately call to mind the highlights of your life together

by Greg Smalley

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. —Leo Buscaglia


What was it like in the early days of your relationship? If you're like many couples, you took advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate your interest and prove how much you cared. You probably wrote love notes and thank-you cards, gave small gifts, opened doors, ran errands without complaining, offered frequent neck and foot massages. In other words, you performed regular acts of love and kindness. In many ways, a successful dating relationship involves "showing" the other person how much you care. However, as the years go by, these random acts of kindness often begin to fade – or all but disappear.

Why do we often treat strangers better than our own spouse?

In a marriage, we sometimes get so busy working and raising children that it's easy to start neglecting our spouse. Once complacency and routine set in, small acts of love become nonexistent. Yet it's never too late to recapture that enthusiasm; to once again "show" our love. As a matter of fact, 1 John 3:18 instructs: "Let us not love with mere words or tongue but with actions. . . . "

Love in action

This date night is about regaining the passion to perform small acts of love for your spouse. Wikipedia describes a random act of kindness as "a selfless act performed by a person wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual. There will generally be no reason other than to make people smile, or be happier." When you do something kind for your spouse, he or she feels better, you feel better, and best of all, your husband or wife is more likely to pass on the kindness. Your kindness is multiplied. In addition to the ways you care for your spouse already, what if you did some extra things without being asked? These acts of love and kindness don't need to be elaborate or expensive. Instead, find at least one loving act you can practice for your spouse each day.

Date Night

First of all, remember to act like you’re trying to get another date! Sometimes in marriage, we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. Get dressed up. Be polite and open doors. Compliment each other. Be affectionate—hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. But don’t forget to protect your date night from conflict by interrupting any argument and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Time for random acts of kindness!

Your date night activity, as a couple, is to practice random acts of kindness toward other people. See how many kind acts you can do together while on your date! Here are some ideas or create your own:

Step 3: Be a student of your spouse.

Any time you are driving or sitting together, ask each other questions. Be fascinated by your spouse as you learn new information!

Step 4: Relax and unwind.

After your random acts of kindness date is over, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect over good conversation. Ask the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, encouraging and uplifting.

Step 5: Home sweet home.

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think of at least one random act of kindness you can do for your spouse over the next few days. Perhaps you can prepare a favorite meal, fill up his or her car with gas, buy a small gift or simply turn off the TV and talk. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!


Download the PDF version here



Making TIME for Intimacy

Couples need "T.I.M.E." together. Here is what we see as the minimum time commitment you should have to maintain the minimum connectedness needed for a healthy, strong – and intimate – marriage.

by Bill and Pam Farrel

Time, or lack of it, is the biggest enemy of intimacy. Americans are generally very busy people, and many of them say stress is negatively affecting their lives. Authors Dave and Claudia Arp, in their book No Time for Sex, recount a conversation with one of their psychologist friends who said, "If you don’t talk, think, or read about sex, you’ll soon forget about it!" Cliff and Joyce Penner, for their book The Gift of Sex, interviewed several thousand people, and 75 percent said that lack of time was the greatest frustration in their sex life.

The average couple doubles their level of responsibility every 10 years, so by the time you are a midlife couple you are "running" everything:

Life seems to catch couples running to everything except into each other's arms. While these are all good, worthwhile, and important activities, couples need to make each other something you run to regularly, too.

Couples need T.I.M.E. together. Here is what we see as the minimum time commitment you should have to maintain (not to deepen or grow a relationship, but just maintain the minimum connectedness needed for a healthy, strong marriage with a little red-hot monogamy):

Ten to 20 minutes to talk together alone every day. (Time in the car with the kids listening doesn’t count.)

Invest in a weekly date night (or date breakfast or lunch) together for at least four hours. (It takes a couple hours to emotionally connect, and then you want to leave at least a few minutes for sex.)

Make a monthly "day away" policy. At least once a month spend eight to twelve uninterrupted hours together to reconnect. You can spend the time doing things you both enjoy: errands, shopping, exercising, or a relaxing activity or hobby. Be sure you have the house to yourselves (or at least your bedroom) for a few moments of red-hot monogamy sometime during this special day together.

Escape quarterly (or at least biannually) for a 48-hour weekend.

We think this is a nice formula for sexual success.


Road Trip

Whether we’re talking about Date Night, or any other time that you and your spouse have time together in the car . . . it’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey!

by Greg Smalley

Date Night—Road Trip!

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.”—Fitzhugh Mullan

According to a 2001 study by the Center for Transportation Analysis, the average time someone spends in a vehicle, whether as the driver or as a passenger, is one hour per day. And for adults between the ages of 35 and 44, that average increases to more than 80 minutes a day!

We can all relate to that, right? Whether it’s the daily commute to and from work, a hectic schedule of taxiing kids to school and other activities, or simply running errands, driving is a significant part of our everyday experience.

The question is: How do you use that time?Is driving simply a chore—a means of getting from “point A” to “point B?” It doesn’t have to be that way. Rather than allowing drive time to become just another part of the daily grind, consider making it an opportunity to connect with those you love. You don’t have to wait for family devotions or some other pre-planned event to connect with your kids. You can have meaningful conversations and make genuine connections during the hour or more every day that you spend in the car with them.

The same is true for you and your spouse. It’s important, while you’re in the car together, to embrace the opportunity to connect through conversation. It’s about enjoying the drive rather than simply getting through it. We call this “Windshield Time.” You may be simply making a quick trip to the grocery store. But those few moments in the car—something that seems so basic and routine—represent an opportunity for you and your spouse to share your feelings and connect. That’s Windshield Time!

Think back to last month’s date. Did you talk about anything meaningful in the car on the way to dinner, or were you simply in a hurry to get to your destination? After dinner, did you share anything special with one another when you were en route from the restaurant to the shared activity that was the focus of last month’s Date Night?


Whether we’re talking about Date Night, or any other time that you and your spouse have time together in the car… it’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey!

DATE NIGHT

Remember to always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage, we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our mate. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate—hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine. And remember, your date doesn’t begin when you arrive at the restaurant. Be sure to engage with your spouse just as soon as you leave your front door and get in the car. Sneak in a little Windshield Time before you arrive at the restaurant!

Step 2: Hit the Road

As we’ve already noted, most often Windshield Time will take place during the course of your daily routine, such as running errands or picking the kids up from school. However, in order to get more comfortable with the idea of connecting with your spouse while driving, the majority of this month’s date will be spent in your car. Just drive, and enjoy having the extra time to connect with one another. Here are some ideas to get you started on your “mini road trip:”

Step 3: Make it Meaningful
Remember, driving for driving’s sake is not the point here. The purpose is to learn how to connect with meaningful conversation while you’re in the car. Windshield Time is a chance to invest in your spouse and take an interest in him or her. This is important on your Date Night, of course, but it’s especially critical during those times in the car that might otherwise seem routine and mundane. Here are some possible topics of conversation:

Step 4: Relax and Unwind
After your mini road trip is over, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect over good conversation. In addition to the above questions, answer the following. Be sure to keep your responses positive, encouraging and uplifting.

Step 5: Home Sweet Home
As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. And remember that the trip back to your house isn’t just a matter of going between points on a map—it’s yet another opportunity to nurture and develop your relationship with your mate. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!


Download the PDF version here


Talking Turkey

Jell-O Frisbees. Lumpy gravy. Blackened turkey. No matter. What matters is that we gather together, with gratitude to God for His love and for the blessing of each other.

by Mary Pierce

The locusts — as my husband affectionately calls our extended family — were on their way to our house for Thanksgiving. We host Thanksgiving every year, gathering together for a time of love and bonding. Every year another culinary disaster looms, threatening to distract us from what really matters.

That year, 22 locusts were headed our way, and the turkey refused to thaw. I spent the morning giving it cold-water baths. (OK, I cheated just a little and gave it a spritz or two of warm water.) Then, trying the nuclear thawing option, I realized it's impossible to wedge a 20-pound turkey into an 8-pound microwave.

"Why don't we just eat later?" my rational mate proposed. I shuddered to think of 22 hungry locusts having to wait for dinner, so I hustled to prepare the side dishes: sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, scalloped corn — and Jell-O, of course.

The ability to make Jell-O is a gift. I'm not good at Jell-O. I envy women who effortlessly concoct crystalline mounds of jiggling glory. After measuring, heating, stirring and chilling as directed, I held my breath as I turned the plastic mold upside down onto a plate. I gave it a gentle shake, straining to hear, just this once, the satisfying plop of a well-turned Jell-O.

I lifted the mold, and — slurp! shoop! — a shimmering mound landed on the plate. Perfect! For a moment. Then it began to flatten. And flatten. And flatten.

"It's a Jell-O Frisbee," my husband said.

Shortly thereafter, the last of the locusts arrived as I was basting the buzzard. But a miscalculation shot hot grease all over the oven. The smoke alarm blasted, the teakettle screamed and the potatoes boiled over at the same time. I swished a dish towel under the smoke detector, trying to clear the air while hollering for my husband to find the stepstool and disconnect the battery until the smoke cleared.

In that moment of noise and laughter — the wonderful chaos of family and life — I realized once again what was important. Thanksgiving is not about perfection; it's about people — people who share the ups and downs of life and still love you.

For 15 Thanksgivings in a row, we've been blessed as we've gathered to eat, laugh and talk — young, old and in-between, family, friends and foreigners. One year my niece told her then-fiance that part of their marriage "deal" would be coming to our house every Thanksgiving.

Last year they couldn't come, spending Thanksgiving in neonatal intensive care with their premature son. This year they'll bring Jonah, robust and healthy, for his first Thanksgiving with the clan.

And we'll reminisce about past culinary disasters, like the time the stuffing had mystery bits in it. "Are they walnuts? Almonds?" After dinner I noticed a chunk of my rubber scraper was missing. Oops.

Grandma, who remembers yesteryear better than yesterday, will tell us about the time she baked a turkey with the bag of innards still inside.

Jell-O Frisbees. Lumpy gravy. Blackened turkey. No matter — they're the stuff of laughter and memories. What matters is that we gather together, with gratitude to God for His love and for the blessing of each other.

We express our gratitude as we hold hands and pray. With our shared amen, we have a moment of quiet. Then, someone always says, "Hey, this is the same thing we had last year!"

Yes, it's the same thing every year: noise and laughter, remembrance and blessing. We say goodbye to some, hello to others. We celebrate our blessings together, and we'll do it again and again for as many years as God allows.


You're on the Same Team

In a marriage there is no such thing as a win/lose scenario when you are on the same team.

by Greg Smalley

Date Night #7 – You're on the Same Team


A snowflake is one of God's most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together! – Author Unknown


When you said "I do" at the altar and were pronounced husband and wife, you instantly became teammates. In a marriage, then, there is no such thing as a win/lose scenario when you are on the same team. We either win together or lose together. Everybody wins, or everybody loses, period. There is no other option.


That's because when we settle for the win/lose approach, we don't really get one winner and one loser. We wind up with two losers. Jesus put it this way: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall" (Luke 11:17). Power struggles destroy relationships, because any time you and your spouse square off, the outcome is rarely positive.


If you're not already doing so, we encourage you to make a commitment to a new way of doing things: Establish a "teammates" mentality – an attitude that says it's unacceptable for either one of you to walk away from an interaction feeling as if you just lost.

 
As teammates, redefine winning in your marriage as finding solutions that both people feel great about. A winning solution goes beyond a plan that seems merely acceptable or tolerable; it makes both people feel valued and instantly restores unity and connection. This is the same thing that the apostle Paul encouraged us to do: "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).

DATE NIGHT

As always, act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage, we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our mate. Get dressed up. Be polite and open doors. Compliment each other. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.


Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.
Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Act like teammates!
Your date night activity is to practice being teammates with your spouse. Plan an activity where you and your spouse play on the same team or attend an event where others are functioning as a team or group. Remember to act like a good teammate throughout the date (i.e., be caring, positive, respectful, enthusiastic, appreciative, a good listener, an encourager, and the like). May the best team – yours – win!

Step 3: Be curious.
Any time you are driving or sitting together, ask each other questions. Be fascinated by your spouse as you learn new information! Here are some questions to help you function as teammates:

Step 4: Relax and unwind.
After your teammates date is over, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect over good conversation. Ask these questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, encouraging and uplifting.

You may want to write your own "win/win" pledge. Here is an example:
Instead of facing off as adversaries when dealing with common problems or when trying to make decisions, we want our marriage "team" to always win. Since we are on the same team, if one person in the marriage "loses," then both people in the marriage lose. We agree that all conflict and important decisions will be handled using this "win/win" approach. It is unacceptable for either of us to walk away from an interaction feeling as if we had lost. As teammates, the win for our marriage is to discover solutions that we both feel great about.


Step 5: Home sweet home.
As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think of at least one way over the next few days that the two of you will make a decision as a team. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

Adapted from The DNA of Relationships, published by Tyndale House (Copyright 2007 by Gary Smalley, Greg Smalley, Michael Smalley and Robert S. Paul); and Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, published by Howard Books (Copyright 2012 by Greg Smalley). Used by permission.

Download the PDF version here


Devotional: Communication and Conflict

We are called to be attentive to one another in marriage, to stop and listen and to learn about each other.

from Focus on the Family

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19

As men and women our differences go beyond the obvious physical ones. We think differently, we respond differently, different things catch our hearts. However, we are too-often inclined to ignore that fact and plow through life with our own perceptions of how others should live and respond. The harvest of that kind of mentality can be misunderstanding, resentment, and alienation.

We are called to be attentive to one another in marriage, to stop and listen and to learn about each other. We must be willing to ask; we must be willing to reveal. Much can be learned about one another by how we live, but there are also things that words can give life and understanding to.

Conflict is inevitable, and often it is through conflict that we come in touch with the deep places and real meanings of our feelings. It is often only through times of discord that we can identify and offer the deepest content of our hearts. What we must remember in these moments is that our spouse is not the enemy. It sounds odd perhaps, but couples often come at each other from that very stance. In that place where little listening occurs, painful and damaging words are spoken, and anger isolates.

Consider James’ words, what a compelling picture of relationship. When we look at one another in marriage, when we realize that this is just the person we need to help us become who God has made us to be, then our hearts are more likely to respond in attentive tenderness.

Father, you communicated your love to us by sending Jesus to live and die for us. You bring us together in marriage, we who are so very different, and you call us to communicate with one another the very love we receive from you. Teach us, Father, how to do that in a way that honors each other and glorifies You.


Helping families thrive in partnership with you.



Devotional: External Relationships

When we choose to live our married life according to the design God has for us, it can be amazing.

from Focus on the Family

‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ Matthew 19:4-6

These words show us that marriage is the act of bringing two individuals together, uniting them, and making them one flesh. It is totally a “Godthing,” nothing we could ever do on our own.

When we choose to live our married life according to the design God has for us, it can be amazing. However, when we choose to try to remain separate and insist on being connected with others in the same way we were before marriage, it’s a lot like running a three-legged race connected to two different people; it’s not going to be pretty!

The image of being joined brings with it a sense of husband and wife bonded primary to one another. It’s not necessarily a call to preclude relationships with friends or family, though it may be. Above all it is the call for us to consider life and choices with the one to whom God has joined us.

From being made one in Christ and seeking his design for our life, we can discern prayerfully which relationships bring life to our marriage and which ones seek to separate us from one another, or from God. Furthermore, it is not discernment reserved exclusively for the beginning of marriage. A relationship that was life-giving early in our marriage may change and need to be relinquished, or a relationship we pulled away from in order to establish who we were as a couple may become a place to which we can return.

Father, this union is of your making and reflects your heart. Give us wisdom and delight as we let your love join us together. Let us not consider what we are leaving but rather what we are stepping into with one another and with you.


Devotional: Facing Adversity

The reality of the presence of adversity in life is a given.

from Focus on the Family

But now, this is what the Lord says–He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk though the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:1-2

The reality of the presence of adversity in life is a given. Some Christian teaching mistakenly proclaims that this life of faith somehow entitles us to a smooth and painless ride through life, and that if we’re not traveling first class it’s only because we don’t have enough faith.

Consider Isaiah’s words: When you pass through the waters . . . when you pass through the rivers . . . when you walk through the fire. In addition remember what is written in Psalm 23: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. None of that sounds like adversity has been avoided. However, in each of these places we are promised by the Lord, I will be with you.

The question that begs to be asked at this point is: Which is a greater reality, the intensity of a trial or the presence of the Lord with us in that trial? This question sometimes cannot be answered until we have stood in the midst of the rising waters and experienced Him with us. It is then that the knowing moves from head to heart and the impact of the adversity lessens in the magnitude of God’s presence.

Father please help us to craft our marriage in the reality of your words in Ecclesiastes 4:‘Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.’ Let us let You be our third strand, Lord; weave us in your strength that we might be held in your hope, no matter the storm.


Devotional: Love and Respect

To assume that our ability to love another person has its source in our own hearts carries with it the potential to be embarrassing, painful, or dangerous.

fromFocus on the Family

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

To misjudge the source of something can be embarrassing-- as in incorrectly guessing the sender of an anonymous love letter. It can also be painful–as in having the wrong tooth filled. Finally, it can even be dangerous–as in repairing a gas leak by soldering the pipe just shy of where the actual crack is.

To assume that our ability to love another person has its source in our own hearts carries with it the potential to be embarrassing, painful, or dangerous. We love because He first loved us. While early in marriage the depth of our love may seem to thrive in the abundant delight and overflow of our own hearts, a day may come when finding a drop of love or respect in our heart for our spouse will feel impossible. Where does that leave us?

It leaves us with the call to look at Jesus –God made flesh and came among us. He is the One from whom love begins; He is the One from whom we are given both access to love and patterns with which to offer love.

Consider Jesus washing his disciples’ feet; consider Him willingly and sinlessly going to the cross for our sins. This is what draws us out of ourselves and into the heart of Love, this place where his mercy meets our unworthiness and still, He loves us.

Standing in that place of watching Jesus, the call becomes both clear and accessible. It is then that we are to be willing to lay down our own rights and pour out that same love to the one with whom God has joined us together in covenant.

Father you love us abundantly and you love us well. Draw us into a posture of attentiveness, that we might see You loving us and learn to, long to, love and respect one another with that same purity, passion, and delight. Lord that we not seek to draw love from our limited wells but rather from the unlimited depths of You.


Devotional: Marriage in Crisis

It is rare that a marriage hits a crisis point as the result of one move of one person.

fromFocus on the Family

‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. ’Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:12-13

Whether the elements that batter your heart come from someone else suddenly ripping apart your roof of protection, or from your own tearing off of those tiles, there is a helplessness that comes from exposure. That same helplessness often renders us unable to see how to even navigate the storm, let alone cause it to subside.

It is rare that a marriage hits a crisis point as the result of one move of one person. The dance of a marriage is not a dance of one. Intentional or unintentional, malicious or thoughtless, planned or impulsive, both partners are continually making moves and taking steps that either add to the beauty of the dance or choreograph chaos.

When we are at the point of crisis-- analysis of moves, assigning blame, or demanding change are generally without effect. When the roof has been removed, there is one place to go for covering, to the Lord.

While returning to the Lord rather than facing into the circumstances may feel counterintuitive, it is the covering of His grace, compassion, patience, and love that steadies us and gives us wisdom and hope.

In Joel we see the call to come to Him with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. If the storm within us, the brokenness and repentance, is not commensurate to the storm without, we are unlikely to know or to seek the shelter we need.

Father, sometimes I want to fight, sometimes I want to fix everything, sometimes I just want to run away. Give me the wisdom and the strength to run to You, You who stand in the midst of the storm with me. Give me a heart that is willing to repent and be instructed, and give me the grace to trust your heart.


Devotional: Military Marriages

We so long to find or to create certainty in our lives. There is but one certainty in life, and that is the presence of our loving God.

from Focus on the Family

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:18-19

Mary and Joseph most likely began their engagement with normal dreams and expectations for their life together. All of us in our time of engagement spend time dreaming of our future; there is no reason to believe that Mary and Joseph were any different.

Two angel visits later, the future of this young couple became anything but the life they could have imagined. How many of us have been awakened out of our dreams only to find that what we thought was certain was nowhere to be found?

We so long to find or to create certainty in our lives. There is but one certainty in life, and that is the presence of our loving God, sealed with his words in Joshua 1:5: I will never leave you nor forsake you.

When we feel as though we’re drowning in the turmoil and upheaval of our lives, God encourages us and puts us with others who know the journey. Consider what he did for Mary and Joseph to help them to navigate the journey. He put them in a community of men and women with hearts for God. He gathered Mary in the midst of others who loved Jesus and were drawn to Him and the Father through Him. On the cross Jesus gave John and Mary to one another as mother and son and Mary lived in John’s house.

No matter the size or duration of the challenges before us, God is faithful to his promise, and He simply never leaves us.

Such a promise, loving Father, a promise that we need in the uncertainty of our lives. Help us to yield our hearts to your hope, and find our courage lodged in your love.


Devotional: Sex and Intimacy

To yield to one another sexually in marriage is to step into God-created intimacy.

from Focus on the Family

My lover is mine and I am his. Song of Songs 2:16

These are words of belonging, words that for an engaged couple can generate tender imagining and anticipation of what life together will be. Lived out by a married couple, these words can hold together in intimacy what much of the world seems to determined to break apart. Intimacy in marriage, sexual and otherwise, was created by God and is to be fought for, delighted in, and fiercely guarded.

To yield to one another sexually in marriage is to step into God-created intimacy that takes us out of ourselves and into places where the walls can crumble and we can be tenderly vulnerable and real. There is peace and expansiveness of heart that come with this intimacy; one that offers such glorious contrast to the confusion and momentum of the world.

We must be willing to fight for intimacy in our marriages and to fiercely guard it. We fight for it by being attentive to each other’s hearts; by yielding to God in a way that allows us to more easily yield to one another. We guard it by be intentional, considering what pulls us from intimacy and stepping away from those places, considering what brings us life and stepping deliberately into those places.

My lover is mine and I am his; we long to belong. Marriage, as a coming together before God, offers a sense of belonging that mirrors our belonging to the Father. While the vulnerability that intimacy brings is sometimes hard or scary to step into, it is such a wonderfully holy place that God gives us, a place of delighting in one another that echoes of the Father’s delight in us.

Father, forgive me the places where, although I long to belong, I rebel under your covering. Forgive me the places where I choose not to yield. Let me delight so much in You that I can delight in the one you have given me in marriage, that together we might be Yours.


Devotional: Spiritual Foundations

Spiritual intimacy between a husband and wife provides a safe covering.

from Focus on the Family

The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Isaiah 32:17-18

Intimacy in a marriage is birthed in more ways and to greater depth than we often imagine. Spiritual intimacy between a husband and wife provides a safe covering, but also more than a covering. Coming together as a couple before God brings us to a place of access to the power and passion we need to live in this world–not just survive, but thrive.

Consider Isaiah’s words as he describes how the righteous will live: in peace, quietness, confidence, security, undisturbed places of rest. What a counter cultural image! Each of these is a heart posture before it becomes a reality. And when as husband and wife we stand together in that heart posture, God crafts this reality in our lives. It doesn’t mean there aren’t storms or struggles, but this is how we’re able to live well and carry hope in the midst of whatever life holds.

As might be expected, because of the power it can hold, spiritual intimacy is fiercely opposed. Many couples get lost in feeling uncomfortable praying aloud together, or they slip into comparing, she’s more spiritual than I am; I can’t pray as well as he can, often giving up and yielding to what feels comfortable, but results in spiritual impotence.

Corporate prayer, engaging with scripture together, worshiping together, all are primary resources for building spiritual foundations as a couple. It’s not about finding a formula, but being willing to answer the call to enter in and remain intentional in the building of our spiritual life together.

Father, Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but that You have come that we may have life and have it to the full. Please don’t let our pride or insecurities stop us from coming together before you with worshipful and attentive hearts. We want your life, in fullness not in fractions.


Devotional: Starting Out

When couples mistakenly look to each other as the sole source of encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion, life becomes complicated.

from Focus on the Family

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2:1-2

We are given a truly beautiful picture of marriage in this scripture: being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. It’s a glorious tapestry to imagine, especially as a couple begins their life together, but it’s also an imagining that can be wrought with questions like how to even begin to weave such glory.

What we need to know is that we are not called to do the weaving; we are called to yield to the Father so that we can be woven together by Him.

Look at the first part of this scripture and consider what each person has the potential to bring into a marriage out of the overflow of their relationship with Jesus: encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion. What an amazing description of what we long for in marriage. It is from that springboard in which a couple is able to discover the rhythm of their life and love together.

When couples mistakenly look to each other as the sole source of encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion, life becomes complicated. We are called to offer these things to each other, but if our source is not Jesus, we will be quickly depleted of these gifts and will harbor resentment and feelings of inadequacy in our relationship.

Let us first encourage one another in our personal relationship with Jesus, and then let Him craft our corporate relationship with Him, and we will watch with humility and awe as He begins to weave us together in Him.

Lord God, the colors of your heart are stunning. Take those colors and weave us into a tapestry of your design. As a couple, let us yield to You and trust that You will cover us in your love. That in our lives and love You are glorified.


Devotional: Time and Money

As with everything in our lives, our ability to live in the fullness that God has for us has all to do with our focus.

from Focus on the Family

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

As with everything in our lives, our ability to live in the fullness that God has for us has all to do with our focus. The world tells us that we must concentrate on things, money, success, and on protecting all that we are able to attain–no matter the cost. The world tells us the insidious lie that who we are and what we have is never enough.

In Deuteronomy 6:5 we discover where God tells us to put our focus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. In its counter-cultural way, this command seems to totally ignore our earthly needs. The tug to manage our lives, our time and our money is strong; after all, if we don’t, who will?!

We are called to be good stewards of all that we are given. That stewardship is lived out in recognizing God as the source of all good gifts, taking those gifts–whether meager or much– giving thanks, and then offering those gifts in response to his prompting in our hearts.

When a couple can come to a place of letting the Lord manage their lives rather than letting their lives manage them, there comes a deep and accurate sense of having enough. In need or in plenty, rushed or relaxed, hungry or well fed, through Him and in Him we find that Godliness with contentment is great gain. 1Timothy 6:6

Father, the world is so loud as it clamors for our hearts. It is the noise of confusion that lures us out of living in You as we frantically attempt to manage each moment. Give us the grace to focus on your Glory and to know how to be content, no matter what.


Teen-Fueled Tension

Making marriage work as your kids move into adolescence

by Pam Woody

Just when we thought we'd been married long enough to figure out a few things, my husband, Ben, and I woke up with teenagers in our home. As we entered the turbulent teen years, we were forced to deal with a growing number of crises fueled by our three daughters' rising estrogen levels.

Ben and I struggled to stay on the same team, and sometimes we found ourselves on opposite sides. That's what happened one evening as we argued about teaching our oldest daughter how to drive.

My husband had already given her a few lessons in a large parking lot. I thought she was ready for a new challenge, so I let her try her fledgling skills on the back roads. When I told Ben about our little adventure—including our near accident at an intersection—he wasn't pleased.

"What do you mean, you took her on the back roads?" he fumed. "And you almost got hit?"

I defended my decision. "I thought she could handle the car well enough. I just forgot that she wasn't used to road signs and other vehicles yet."

Ben's anger was sparked by his fatherly concern. Working as an EMT and firefighter, he'd seen his share of road fatalities. But I felt he was challenging my parenting skills. Instead of steering the discussion in a positive direction, I wanted to prove I was right.

As the argument escalated, I realized we had once again squared off against each other instead of tackling the issue together. After our emotions cooled, we both acknowledged that we needed to take steps to protect our marriage during the turbulent teen years.

New reasons to argue

Parenting teens provides a new set of conflicts for couples: debates over discipline, respect, privileges, responsibilities, media choices and dating boundaries. Then there are the driving escapades, the increased financial stress, and of course, the delicate dance of holding on and letting go.

Knowing that the kids will soon leave home also can turn parents against each other as they evaluate what's been done correctly—and what hasn't. When my oldest was a senior in high school, I found myself fluctuating between grieving and longing for the day she'd be gone. Most of my concentration and emotions were spent on my kids; it was no wonder that marital tension reached an all-time high during the teen years.

Mounting pressure

Beyond the normal dramas of adolescence, however, teen rebellion creates even greater pressure on a marriage. John Trent, founder of the Center for Strong Families, compares this pressure to pumping air into a balloon without any kind of release. "If couples are experiencing a prodigal kid," Trent says, "then there's tremendous emotion being pumped into the system. It feels like every day is an explosion."

Whether couples are dealing with typical teen issues or outright rebellion, Trent recommends that they take a few moments in their day to ease the building pressure by asking God for the love, patience and kindness that will sustain them through new conflicts. "It's really important to off-load [the stress] to Somebody with really big shoulders, and then we're ready to at least start over from a position of strength," Trent says.

The power of small changes

Trent says the small changes we make in our relationships can pay big dividends in the long run. He describes how he and his wife, Cindy, approached the teen years in their home. John and Cindy asked themselves, What are some small things we can start doing now that will strengthen our relationship?

They resolved to set aside an hour and a half each week to take inventory of their relationship. They would sit at the food court of a mall (a public place where they would not be prone to argue) and talk about family issues—marriage, parenting, whatever the week's challenge. Time away allowed them to work on the small things in their marriage and their family so they would have strength for the big things. It also assured their kids that Mom and Dad were carving out time to nurture a lasting relationship.

Staying connected

Ben and I explored the small changes we could make to strengthen our marriage. We committed to talk openly about parenting issues. We also purposed to stay open-minded and seek counsel when we couldn't agree on how best to deal with the pressure in our home.

To build a sense of camaraderie and connection, we researched hobbies that we could share, and we agreed to count our blessings so that gratitude would keep our hearts entwined.

But more than anything else, the best defenses for our marriage have been forgiveness, accountability, prayer and the Word. They have supplied the grace we need to survive any teen crisis.

I realize more than ever that seasons come and go in our lives and the stress of today will be the wisdom of tomorrow. That wisdom includes trusting a heavenly Father to care for our teens, even as Ben and I hold tight to each other.