Feel Beautiful: Dust Off Your Exercise Shoes!

I’ve been sitting here for the last ten minutes trying to decide what to write about feeling beautiful this year. While also debating with myself about getting on the elliptical machine today.

My inner conversation goes a bit like this:

You should exercise.
But I’m tired.
Which is why you should exercise.
But I don’t have time. I have so much to do today.
And you’ll have more energy for all those to-do’s if you exercise.
I hate exercising.
I know. Do it anyway. You hate having not exercised and dealing with the consequences.
But . . . but . . . but . . . 

Woman tying athletic shoes + blog post title

It’s time to practice what I preach and just get on the elliptical already — right after I move the clothes hanging off it. Because while I’d love to be one of those people who can’t wait to exercise, I am not. I love being active — playing games, going dancing, hiking to see some great views — but anything that smacks of “working out” just feels like “work” to me.

So if you’re in that space, I’m right there with you. We know we should be taking better care of our bodies, we understand that exercise will give us more energy and confidence, and we feel more beautiful when our bodies are stronger, shaplier, sexier. But finding time — or rather, making time — and committing to an exercise plan makes us cringe and crave another piece of chocolate.

This is a call to both me and you! Dust off your exercise shoes and commit to ten minutes a day. Just ten minutes! Start small, and we can build on that. What can you do in ten minutes?

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood.
  • Do several push-ups and sit-ups.
  • Get on an elliptical machine, treadmill, or exercise bike.
  • Turn up the music and dance around the house.
  • Grab an exercise band or light weights and do some strength training.
  • Chase your kids around the house or outside.
  • Ride bikes with the family.

Or simply Google “ten-minute exercise” and see all the suggestions that come up. (I found a lot!)

Why should you commit to exercising?

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

“As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed” (Proverbs 26:14).

“She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (Proverbs 31:17).

So first off, God wants us to take care of the body He gave us. He knitted it together (Psalm 139:13), and we shouldn’t unravel His handiwork with careless neglect.

But we also receive benefits in our marriage. Exercise increases feelings of attractiveness and gives us added energy. It’s related to a better sex life, the marriage bed being a good place to use some of that extra energy. Plus, research has shown that exercising couples report higher frequency and enjoyment of sexual intimacy.

You look and feel better when you’re in shape.

I’m not advocating you beat yourself up for how you look and then schlep yourself to the gym every day to beat yourself up some more. No way! I want you to start feeling beautiful right now — knowing God made you beautiful inside and out (Ephesians 2:10; Proverbs 31:10).

However, we can do more to take care of our bodies. The best way to do that is to start with understanding how valuable you are, believing your husband when he says you’re beautiful, trusting the body God gave you is enough for your marriage. When you believe deeply that you are worth it, you’re even more likely to commit to taking care of yourself.

And you can start with just ten minutes. Come, y’all, exercise with me!

I’d love to hear from you below if you’re committed to dusting off your exercise shoes and taking care of your body better. And if you’re already diligently exercising, please share with the rest of us what has worked for you and helped you stay motivated!

How to Boost Romantic Chemistry in Your Marriage

On Monday, I started answering a reader question about what to do if you don’t find your husband attractive. The wife’s question went like this:

Recently I’ve realized that I’m not attracted to my husband. I don’t think I ever was. He’s a good looking guy, but not my type of good looking. . . . I feel [guilty] and shallow, for being so upset that I don’t feel SOMETHING when he walks in the door, or when I spot him in a crowd of people.

Do you have any advice for me?

I have to believe other wives are out there with similar stories. Maybe you wed your husband because he’s a great guy, a devoted Christian, a wonderful provider, or the sort of guy you figured you’d marry, but he didn’t give you that heady sensation we often expect with love. Or maybe you were once very attracted to your husband, but now, not so much.

Where are you supposed to go from here?! You’d like for the guy you share a bed with every night to give you a case of the yeah-baby! tingles.

Earlier this week, I covered three important perceptions you can work on to help increase your attraction to your husband. Today, let’s talk about “romantic chemistry.”

Romantic chemistry is called that for a reason: Actual body chemicals are involved in our attraction and connection to a romantic partner. We feel drawn to or aroused by someone who gets certain natural chemicals moving through our bodies. Numerous studies have looked into these chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins. When our partner is nearby and we experience these body chemicals, we feel bonded to that person.

If you don’t have that automatically, you can still foster the firing of those chemicals in your body when your husband is near. What can you actively do to get that “love potion” moving through your veins?

couple in lab + blog post title

Oxytocin. Often referred to as the “bonding chemical,” oxytocin is released when you experience deep embraces, nursing an infant, and sexual activity. It creates feelings of connection and attachment and love.

You can increase its presence by engaging in physical touch, like holding hands and sustained hugs of twenty seconds or more. It’s important to hang on to that touch long enough for your body to register the affection and respond with an oxytocin release. And yes, sexual encounters with your husband definitely impact the “bonding chemical” — with sex capable of producing an oxytocin rush for wives at three to five times the norm.

Dopamine. Dopamine is involved in the reward system of the brain — a chemical that provides good sensations when a particular activity is experienced. Matching the activity and the feel-good results, we learn to repeat that behavior again and again to get the same “high.” It’s what contributes to addictions, but it’s also what contributes to a continuing desire to be with someone you love.

Make use of that reward system and pair good sensations with your mate! When dopamine is combined with other chemicals in humans, including oxytocin, our happy-place feelings become attached to the individual who helped create them — our spouse. Watch a delightful romantic comedy together, have him give you a relaxing massage, or experience orgasm in his arms. Let dopamine fire away and get you “addicted” to love with your husband.

Testosterone. Research has shown that testosterone fuels sex drive in both men and women, and feeling “lovestruck” gives women a natural boost of testosterone. But don’t worry about the chicken-or-egg argument for what comes first; add a boost of testosterone and see if that doesn’t increase chemistry with your guy.

How can you naturally increase testosterone? LiveStrong has several ideas, among them:

  • eat plenty of protein
  • intake enough “good fats”
  • limit alcohol intake
  • take Vitamin C . . .

And have sex at least weekly, since longer periods of inactivity with your mate cause a drop in testosterone production.

Endorphins. Endorphins aren’t usually part of the heart-pounding attraction you experience when he walks into the room. Instead, these naturally occurring chemicals take longer to cultivate. But they’ve been compared to opiates in their ability to produce feelings of calm, stress-reduction, and general happiness. Endorphins are what cause the “runner’s high” (for you other people who keep running long enough to experience it).

How can you increase your “love opiates”? Certain foods stimulate the release of endorphins, including spicy foods and chocolate. Why not incorporate snuggling and snacking on endorphin-releasing nourishment? Smells can also trigger endorphins, particularly lavender and vanilla. You could burn vanilla-scented candles or place lavender-scented potpourri in your bedroom. Or go all out, grab some lavender-vanilla massage oil, and get to rubbing each other!

Exercise more, exercise together. Endorphins are released with steady exercise, and sharing those moments with your husband means you feel that “runner’s high” when he’s around — getting a double-whammy. Laugh! Oh yeah, research has shown that laughter triggers endorphins. So watch comedies together, share jokes and word play, flirt and giggle, even go to a Christian comedy show for date night. And, of course, sex releases endorphins. Have some of that with him.

Others chemicals are involved in chemistry and unleashed by spending enjoyable time with your spouse, engaging in physical touch, and keeping yourself healthy. And while it may seem like I’m skewing the results toward sex (writing as I do about married sex), honestly everywhere I turned to research the issue of romantic chemistry, sex with your mate triggered increases in the chemicals needed to feel connected, attached, loved. And some of these effects are only seen in those with long-term, committed relationships.

Turns out “have more sex” is a pretty good prescription for your marriage! No wonder I keep saying it. *smile*

Sources: Love Chemicals and Chemistry of Love – About EducationThe chemistry of love: Oxytocin may drive monogamy in relationships – Los Angeles TimesThe Chemicals Between Us: Chemistry in Romance – Heroes and Heartbreakers.comHow to Increase Testosterone Levels Naturally in Women – LiveStrong.comCupid’s chemistry – Royal Society of Chemistry; The science of love: I get a kick out of you, The Economist; How to Supercharge Your Sex Drive – HuffPost Women8 Ways to Naturally Increase Endorphins – Reader’s Digest12 Ways To Release The Happy Hormones “Endorphins” – Good Relaxation

What If You Don’t Find Your Husband Attractive

I received an excellent question from a reader about what to do if you don’t find your husband attractive. She writes:

Recently I’ve realized that I’m not attracted to my husband. I don’t think I ever was. He’s a good looking guy, but not my type of good looking. . . . I feel [guilty] and shallow, for being so upset that I don’t feel SOMETHING when he walks in the door, or when I spot him in a crowd of people.

Do you have any advice for me?

I guarantee this wife is not the only one who feels like this — missing the attraction and “chemistry” they expected to have with the man they married.

Perhaps you wed your husband for other reasons: that he was a good man, a solid Christian, a great provider, or the sort of guy you envisioned yourself marrying. Maybe you even expected the fireworks to spark after you said the I Do’s. But the vows have been repeated, the honeymoon has passed, your wedded life has begun — and this guy still doesn’t curl your pretty toes.

What do you do?

Man looking at woman, and woman giving him an expression of rejection + blog post title

This will be a two-parter. Let’s first talk about how you can change your view of your husband and romantic chemistry.

1. Reflect on what’s great about your husband. You appreciate and enjoy what you’re grateful for. Case in point: Sometimes I wish I could do the splits, but I have never in my entire life been able to achieve that level of flexibility. But hey, I was born with a birth defect of my hips that would have caused me to be an invalid 100 years earlier. So I’m super-grateful I can walk, jump, dance, and run. In light of that, who cares about the splits? I’m too thankful for what I have to get upset about what I don’t have.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Maybe you could apply that kind of positive thinking to your husband, and pray to see your husband the way God does.

If you married a good guy, reflect often on what’s so great about him! Even start a gratitude journal listing 1-3 things each day that make you happy to be married to your man. By reflecting on the type of guy you do have instead of the type of guy you think you want, you might discover your husband’s type is pretty darn awesome after all. And it won’t simply be a head-thing, but rather feelings of gratefulness and happiness will build inside you at the thought of him.

Make sure to list your husband’s good physical characteristics, since that’s where you’re struggling. You may not feel attracted to them right away, but when you begin to keep track and notice what’s truly handsome about your guy, you’ll begin to appreciate it in a new way. After some time, you may find that looking into his eyes or seeing that cute dimple or watching him flex his manly muscles really does give you a little thrill.

Bonus: Keep the journal and refer to it in future years if/when you go through a tough season in life. It will give you perspective.

2. Express your positive thoughts to your husband. We have this prevalent idea that we must think and believe and feel something before we express it, but in fact the Bible, psychology, and common sense teach us otherwise. You can impact how you think, believe, and feel by doing something regularly. Yes, it’s the “fake it ’til you make it” concept. And it works.

If you compliment someone again and again and watch them light up in response to your positive words, you’ll reinforce that behavior for both of you. I’m not saying you should lie about your thoughts or feelings — simply find something positive and uplifting to say. Focus on an attractive trait of your husband and comment on it. Rinse and repeat. Often.

Read through the Song of Songs for inspiration on how married lovers can describe the beauty of their mate. For instance, not everything in this passage from Song of Songs 5 is the wife’s personal declaration of her husband being her type (only verses 10 and 16). Most of it is an inventory of objectively interesting and beautiful characteristics, expressed in positive ways.

10 My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
    outstanding among ten thousand.
11 His head is purest gold;
    his hair is wavy
    and black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves
    by the water streams,
washed in milk,
    mounted like jewels.
13 His cheeks are like beds of spice
    yielding perfume.
His lips are like lilies
    dripping with myrrh.
14 His arms are rods of gold
    set with topaz.
His body is like polished ivory
    decorated with lapis lazuli.
15 His legs are pillars of marble
    set on bases of pure gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
    choice as its cedars.
16 His mouth is sweetness itself;
    he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, this is my friend,
    daughters of Jerusalem.

Train yourself to focus on his handsome qualities. Over time, you may find your mind and heart responding to what your mouth has expressed.

Bonus: You’ll foster his feelings of confidence and encourage him to look and be attractive to you.

3. Rethink romance. I could do a whole series on this one, but suffice it to say that the world — and oftentimes Christians — espouse that a successful marriage and satisfying intimacy requires having romantic chemistry, falling in love, feeling like he’s your soul mate, being sexually compatible. I hate to break it to you, but that’s not the view expressed in the Bible.

I’m thrilled we live in a culture where I can choose my husband, a man I loved before I said “I do,” but I’ve looked into this one again and again . . . and marriages in the Bible happened for a number of reasons — chemistry, love, family connection, alliances, physical provision. God’s Word asserts that, regardless of how you got started, you can have a holy and happy marriage! Because a good marriage involves living out godly principles. Imagine your husband loving you exactly the way 1 Corinthians 13 describes; wouldn’t that feel awesome? Start acting loving in your marriage, and the object of your affection may become a pretty attractive target.

The truth is some people seem to fall in love at first sight, others in the course of their courtship, and others after the nuptials. I have no doubt that some couples who experience arranged marriages or poor starts fall into deep love and develop real chemistry over time. I encourage you to rethink the notion that you must feel all those tingles right now. You can get there. Ask God for His divine help. He wants the best for you — including a sexy and satisfying relationship with your husband.

Bonus: You’ll know that if you ever “fall out of love,” you can rekindle those feelings again!

Next time I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of romantic “chemistry.” Before I go, let me leave you with a lyrics video of a beautiful song about how your “type” can change when you fall in love with your spouse.

Taking a Break Today: Here’s Why

I’m sitting here, knowing I have a few posts drafted that could be edited and polished and published. Or I could start a new topic and write something up. But some days, things just aren’t clicking.

Many of you know that feeling in the bedroom. Maybe you want to have sex, want to enjoy intimacy, but even when you try, you’re just struggling and things aren’t happening. Most of the time, I’d say keep going and see if you can still get there.

But sometimes, you have a reason that things aren’t working — maybe something happened in your day or week that just makes that struggle so much harder.

My blog thing is the loss of a pet. Our cat of 18 years died yesterday. At night, I’m usually wedged between husband and kitty in the bed, and as I fell asleep last night one side was empty.

As a kitten, then as an adult, with R.I.P. Shadow

I’m really not crying much. It was time for him to go, and I thank God for the time I had to care for one of His beautiful creatures. But I simply feel hollow today and things aren’t clicking. So I’m going to take a break, mourn and remember, and come back next week refreshed and ready to go.

Which is how I think you should treat those times in your marital bedroom too. If things aren’t clicking that moment, it’s okay to say not now, but don’t go too long before you come back and experience intimacy with your spouse. Indeed, sexual intimacy can be a comfort in times of grief.

By the way, the loss of our Shadow means we can no longer blame any unusual noises coming from our bedroom on the cat. *smile*

Related post: Get Off Our Marriage Bed, Fido!

Marriage & Family: Southern Style

I’m a Texan, born and bred. Which means I was raised with U.S. Southern phrases, like the constant use of “sir” and “ma’am,” “fixin’ to” (meaning preparing to do something), and the quintessential plural form of you — “y’all.”

In fact, I don’t know how y’all in other places get along without this fine word. For the first few years of my blog anonymity, when I was keeping pretty much everything specific about myself to myself, one of the killers for me was making sure I didn’t default to the use of “y’all.” In case you’re wondering, it’s simply a contraction of “you” and “all.” (Oh, and never, never spelled ya’ll, but y’all.)

But that’s not the only plural form of you we use. There’s “y’all” and “all y’all.” Yep, that latter one indicates more people and usually gets used with a crowd. It’s not as common, but it’s certainly accepted down here.

Which brings me to my point. (Finally, you say.)

A couple with their feet side by side on a hay stack + blog post title

I was thinking about the various prescriptions people give about how to handle prioritizing kids and marriage. Some suggest that children should take the front-and-center role while they are young, because they need constant care. Since they cannot fend for themselves, moms and dads must anticipate and fulfill their needs, guide their actions, and provide a secure, loving home for them to thrive in life. A solid marriage can handle taking the backseat for a bit while the calling of raising godly children takes precedence.

Then there are those who say, “Poppycock!” (Not literally, I would think, because who uses the word poppycock?) These people assert the child-centered home has destroyed marriages, and couples must put these life-suckers into their rightful place — that place being well behind the relationship of husband and wife. Indeed, couples must fiercely protect their together time, making sure they have ample time away from their children and not even discussing those little knee-biters while on dates or romantic weekends. After all, the best thing you can do for your children is build a fabulous foundation of marriage for the family.

Actually, I was re-reading a section of The 7 Principles of Marriage by John Gottman (which I totally recommend) about the challenge of adding children to a marriage. Dr. Gottman, who has studied marriages extensively, reported, “What separates these blissful mothers from the rest has nothing to do with whether their baby is colicky or a good sleeper, whether they are nursing or bottle-feeding, working or staying home. Rather, it has everything to do with whether the husband experiences the transformation to parenthood along with his wife or gets left behind.”

The more I ruminate about this — and yes, how it affects a couple’s marital intimacy — the more I think we Southerners are onto something. It’s not an either/or proposition. As a member of a family, I need to attend to all three forms of the you.

You. It’s important to bring the best you possible into the marriage. For instance, I don’t think you can have a truly happy marriage when one of you is constantly unhappy.

While romantic books and novels claim otherwise, you’re not a half-individual completed by the arrival of your mate. Rather, your marriage will thrive best when you invest in being a full individual — by attending to your physical health, dealing with your insecurities, pursuing a deep relationship with God, developing confidence and joy.

You are a separate person, apart from your husband and children (Galatians 6:5, 2 Corinthians 5:10), and it’s okay to spend time alone and working on yourself. As you grow into being the person God wants you to be, you bring a healthier individual into your marriage and family.

Y’all. You and your husband constitute a “y’all” — the plural you. The Bible says that you become one flesh in marriage (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31). You must invest in that marriage to keep it holy and happy.

You need to maintain that identity as the married couple throughout the child-raising years. That means spending time with each other and engaging in conversation that isn’t all about the kids’ activities and the family schedule. It means date nights and vacations away (if you can swing that) and regular sexual intimacy. All of this is actually good for your children — for them to see your loving marriage in action. It gives them a sense of security, provides a solid foundation, and teaches them what godly marriage looks like.

All y’all. If you and your husband added children to the mix, you’re now an “all y’all.” You need that sense of family, and one thing that determines how well your marriage withstands the introduction of children is how you make that transition.

Too often, I see the “all y’all” consisting of mom and kids, with dad feeling left out. Or it could be that dad has a real connection to the kids, and mom feels left out. Some parents also invest so much time in themselves and their marriage that the kids fall by the wayside.

Mom and Dad need to both be involved in child-rearing, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye on every detail (what couple does?!). As much as possible, get on the same page and get involved and foster that sense of family. Include your husband in the mix, or take up an interest in basketball or music or whatever your kid is into that has left you feeling out of the loop. Have the frank discussions together, with both husband and wife there.

Your kids will be blessed by seeing their parents working together, another moment of modeling loving and respectful marriage. It’s an “all y’all” that benefits everyone.

You need all three — you,  y’all, and all y’all — to experience the best for your marriage and family. And of course, you need a very big HE, as in GOD, to infuse all of these parts.

How have you invested in yourself, your marriage, and your whole family? What benefits have you seen with each of these priorities?