Category Archives: Marriage – General

This Valentine’s Day, Give Extravagant Love

What makes the real difference on Valentine's Day and in your marriage? It's extravagant love, which comes first from God.

If you’d known me in high school or college, you could have heard my rant about how Valentine’s Day was a ploy used by greeting card companies, florists, and candy makers to guilt people into purchasing things they didn’t need, all to express the love they could have been expressing 364 other days of the year. I gave versions of this same rant my first several years of marriage as well.

And then I became a marriage and sex blogger.

Valentine’s Day is huuuuge in this world. So many couples celebrate this day and want fresh or practical suggestions on how to commemorate their special love. It’s a great time to speak about how to romance and honor your spouse, because people are listening.

Not to mention that sales of marriage and sex books, affiliate-linked products, and more increase this time of year. That’s just a fact. And on that note…hey, look, a great place to buy lingerie! (And they’re offering 25% off on lingerie and boxers through Valentine’s Day with the code LOVE25.)

Honoring Intimates Logo

Anyway, over the years, I’ve dug myself out of my cynicism, written many posts about Valentine’s Day, and learned to appreciate it as a holiday with origins in a lovely tale about a priest who continued to perform wedding ceremonies despite a ban by the king—because he believed in marriage. Here are those (many) past posts:

Here’s some simple advice.

But today, just a few days before Valentine’s Day, I want to offer simple advice about how to treat this holiday. Actually, it’s not even my advice. It’s ancient advice, with great wisdom. Here it is:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Romans, chapter 12, verse 10

That’s from the New Living Translation, and here are some other translations of that same verse:

  • Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (NIV).
  • Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor” (CSB).
  • Be devoted to each other with mutual affection. Excel at showing respect for each other” (ISV).

What is extravagant love?

People often talk about unconditional love, but I prefer the phrase extravagant love. To me that connotes going above and beyond, the same prescription here translated in words like “take delight” and “outdo” and “above yourselves” and “excel.”

On this holiday that focuses on romantic love, maybe it’s a good time to take stock and ask how we’re doing on this one with our spouse. Are we showing them extravagant love? Love that goes above and beyond what we’ve done before, what we think we’re capable or, what we believe they even deserve.

On this holiday that focuses on romantic love, maybe it's a good time to take stock and ask how we're doing on this one with our spouse. Are we showing them extravagant love? via @hotholyhumorous #Valentines #marriage Click To Tweet

But here’s the real core of the matter: You can’t do extravagant love on your own.

You can do extravagant gestures, extravagant gifts, extravagant romance. But day-in, day-out, through-all-life’s-challenges, trying to show extravagant love to your spouse in your power can wear you out.

If you want a really great Valentine’s Day, and marriage, ask yourself what it means to show genuine affection to your spouse and to take delight in honoring them. What would extravagant love look like? And then ask God to pour His love into you so that you can pour it back out to your beloved.

I don’t think I can give better advice than that. Happy Valentine’s to you all!

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Happily Book Review: Contrarian Advice for a Great Marriage

On Tuesday, we released another podcast episode on Sex Chat for Christian Wives, but this one was unusual: we hosted a male guest. Kevin A. Thompson is the lead pastor at Community Bible Church in western Arkansas, speaks at marriage and parenting conferences, and has authored two marriage books, including Friends, Lovers, and Partners.

I don’t know how I originally connected with Kevin, but I’ve read his blog for some time and interacted with him online. I’ve been impressed with his willingness to address tough topics from a biblical viewpoint. And he came at it again in his most recent book, Happily: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last.

(Note: I received a copy of this book free from the author, but I promised nothing but to read it. My decision to write this review is entirely my own.)

Kevin starts by discussing our tendency tend to believe that happy and unhappy marriages occur through luck or by getting certain rules right, like “you must find and marry The One.” However, the real way to both avoid divorce and have a happy marriage is to embrace eight contrarian commitments he outlines in the book.

These contrarian commitments are Jesus’ contrarian principles for our lives, laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, the section we call the Beatitudes.

The First Commitment

For example, the first commitment is to Happily Humble Yourselves. Easier said than done, right? And yet, think how many marriage struggles are caused or exacerbated by our lack of humility. As Kevin says, “At the heart of nearly every marriage problem is pride,” but he also points out that “most of the people we meet who lack humility are not arrogant; we are insecure.”

What if we instead had a right perspective of ourselves in comparison to God? What if we understood our value, so we didn’t fall prey to insecurity, as well as our insufficiency, so we didn’t fall prey to arrogance?

What if both of you approached your next conflict with humility? And what if you approached your marriage bed and all the issues surrounding it with true humility—neither arrogant nor insecure? Wouldn’t you listen better, make your requests in a more loving way, pursue help more quickly?

The Second Commitment

Now take the second commitment he covers: Embrace the Hurt. What?! you say. I didn’t get married to get hurt!

Well, are you breathing and in relationship with anyone on this earth? Then welcome to some hurt. In our broken world, that’s how this goes. We will disappoint one another. But that does not mean you cannot have genuine joy, because hurt can result in healing and growth.

Kevin reminds us, “Marriage reveals our flaws and exposes our greatest wounds.” It’s the iron sharpens iron principle, which I discuss at more length in my devotional book Intimacy Revealed. That friction reveals our flaws and gives us an opportunity to improve ourselves and serve others.

Of course, there’s a big difference between the regular, inherent hurt we feel when our differences rub against each another and the pain of abuse. If you’re experiencing the latter, you do not happily endure that. Kevin states that we need to distinguish which pain is a caused by a problem not to be tolerated and which is the result of our imperfection and need for growth.

For those in abusive situations, seek help. Today. Now. Stop reading this blog post and go research abuse resources in your area.

For those in the regular conflict of marriage, Happily‘s prescription is to mourn the emotional pain we feel when let down by others. Which will inevitably happen. But then seek how to grow together through the hurt.

The Commitments & the Beatitudes

As you can see, these two commitments reflect the first two Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-4:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

The remaining six commitments do the same:

  • Happily Avoid Both Apathy and Aggression (“Blessed are the meek…”)
  • Happily See Marriage as Bigger than You (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”)
  • Happily Refuse Power Struggles (“Blessed are the merciful…”)
  • Happily Live in Truth (“Blessed are the pure in heart…”)
  • Happily Make Peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers …”)
  • Happily Endure Whatever May Come (“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…“)

Maybe some of those commitments surprise you, especially when paired with the word Happily.

Yet what made the difference in my own marriage when it was failing? Yes, I benefited a lot from specific resources that helped me work through issues in our relationship. My ministry is all about providing that kind of resource for couples who are struggling or simply want to improve their sexual intimacy.

But the key for me and my marriage was, through prayer and intention, living out biblical principles day to day: principles like those found in the love passage in 1 Corinthians 13, the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and the Beatitudes as covered in this book. Once you shift your attitude to that of Christ, you can make real progress in your marriage.

Once you shift your attitude to that of Christ, you can make real progress in your marriage. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

And as Kevin says, those who put in the effort to have a good marriage may feel lucky, but it’s because they put in the effort that yielded the blessings. I recommend this as a book for a couples to read together and discuss, but it’s also good for one spouse to read and put into practice. Check it out here:

And be sure listen to our podcast episode with Kevin here:

What A Colonoscopy Reminded Me About Marriage

Yesterday, I had my first colonoscopy.

If you have not had one and don’t want to hear about this screening until you absolutely must, I suggest you stop here and click away or fixate on the happy penguins I’ve provided below.

via GIPHY

For those still reading, let’s talk earnestly about colonoscopies. They stink. Not because the scope part is bad; you’re knocked out and don’t remember a thing about that part. But the preparation of clearing out your colon for this necessary screening can be brutal.

My preparation time

Now there’s a range of experience, with some reporting it’s not that bad and others describing tearful times on the toilet during which their discomfort on a scale from 1 to 10 would be 12½. My experience fell somewhere around an 8.

I was warned by wonderful friends, but the first few hours after I drank the first bottle of clears-colon-quickly juice, I was fine. A few visits to the restroom, but no big deal. I thought I’d weather this thing like a champ.

And then, it hit. Like a tornado appearing in the horizon, moving at ballistic speed, and ramming into you with all the force of “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Then comes the second bottle of solution. And I’m using the chemical definition of “solution” here, because if this is the solution-answer to anything, I don’t want to know the question.

Of course, this is all timed the night before in a way to make sure you sleep as little as possible. Maybe so that you’ll be too weak to fight back when you get to the surgical center and remember exactly where that scope is going.

Without going into further detail, let’s just say that one’s dignity is not exactly a high priority during this preparation process.

Two other couples in the waiting room

What does this all have to do with marriage? Well, the morning of the procedure, two other couples were also waiting in the lobby to be called, and both were clearly married—one much older, and another middle-aged like us.

When the elderly man was called, his wife was in the restroom, and he was very concerned about not being able to touch base with her first and leaving behind her purse and belongings. The front desk staff reassured him and took care of the wife’s stuff, and when she emerged, they immediately informed her where her husband had gone.

With the second couple, it was the wife getting the procedure, and as she was filling out paperwork, her husband simply brushed his hand over her head and hair—loving and familiar, a simple reminder he was there.

Sweet, huh?

And it’s my turn…

Once called back, I was given the first bed in a row of intake rooms separated by curtains. From that spot, I could hear the initial questions a nurse asked the people coming through for a procedure. When queried about whether the staff should talk to a spouse about how things were going, every person said yes. Meaning the marrieds had someone there, caring how things went, trusted to support and advocate for the patient.

Then there was the moment when my RN informed me that colon is “aired up” for visibility during the procedure, meaning afterwards…the air needs to come out. As in, they want it to come out. For a Southern gal raised with a certain view of manners, this is a challenge. I replied, “Great, so you call the spouse back into recovery, and then we’re supposed to fart all we can with them there?” The answer is yes.

Yet I know that even after all of that, my husband will find me attractive. Go figure.

Finally, there was the recovery time as I was waking up from general anesthesia. If you haven’t experienced this, it’s a bit like going from tipsy to buzzed to sober. (And now I just realized that I’m also assuming you’ve been intoxicated at some point in your life and let you know I have. I don’t do it anymore, but I was once young and stupid. Anyway, digression over.)

In that tipsy state, your filters are down. I found myself saying stuff with no ability to track the thought fully before it spilled out of my mouth. I mean, much worse than my usual inability. And what did I say? I got mushy and gushed to my husband about how much I love him.

Benefits of marriage that aren’t in the vows

Look, this marriage thing ain’t always easy, including the sex part about which I mostly write. I don’t pretend otherwise. It requires intention and effort to foster the kind of relationship we should have for a lifetime of love. But oh, the benefits!

  • Someone to drive you to and from your medical procedures
  • Someone to “have your back” when you’re unconscious and unable to speak for yourself
  • Someone who cares how you’re doing, including the health of your colon
  • Someone who loves you in spite having seen up-close-and-personal photographs of your colon
  • Someone who still thinks you’re sexy, even after you’ve farted while lying on a gurney in a hospital gown

The author of Ecclesiastes knew this too when he wrote:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(4:9-12)

What have you learned about the benefits of marriage in the face of health challenges or procedures?

Oh, and if you’ve had a colonoscopy, you already know this, but if you haven’t, it’s in your future. Allow me to provide one important tip: if at all possible, before your colonoscopy prep, purchase a toilet with a bidet. Just trust me on this one.

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Are You Dating Your Spouse Enough?

When my children were little, going out on a date felt like an excursion to the Orient. At least in terms of planning, preparation, and cost. Lining up a babysitter, buying movie tickets, getting kids ready, and forking out enough money to fund Mommy & Me classes for a month just for one night? Often didn’t feel worth it.

Especially when what hubby and I most wanted was just more sleep.

Fast forward to those children become teenagers, and it was so much easier to find our way out the door, sitting at a restaurant enjoying grown-up conversation, and having the energy to finish the night properly when we got home.

And now, we’ve just entered the Empty Nest stage, and dates are becoming more about dinners at home alone and sex, well, wherever we want to have it in this big house. (Don’t tell my sons. They may never sit on the living room couch again.)

But looking back, I realize that we needed dating at every stage of our marriage. Those times when we weren’t dating much? Things weren’t great in our marriage. We were in survival mode, rather than nurturing our connection.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have ample family time and alone time, but being a couple now and then—without the demands or distractions of work, household, and parenting—reminds you why you fell in love. And why you should keep falling in love, over and over.

Research has even shown that we experience a boost of feel-good chemicals when we’re first falling in love that can be later mimicked by experiencing novel activities together. The typical dinner-and-movie probably won’t have that effect, but exploring your town together, taking walks in different places and in different seasons, or visiting new restaurants, museums, or sports activities can bring you closer together. You associate those feel-good times with the one who was with you — your beloved spouse.

But whatever season you’re in, how can you find the resources of time and money to date your spouse regularly? Here are a few ideas.

Organize a babysitting co-op.

Spock (husband) and I started dating again regularly when we joined our church’s babysitting co-op. Couples took turns babysitting groups of children, ages 2–11, using church facilities and a regular routine. For four hours, children played, watched a video, ate kids’ fare, and had adult supervision throughout. Meanwhile, couples who weren’t on call that night paid a few dollars for their kids’ meals and got those four hours to go out and do whatever they wanted. 

While we had the use of a gym and adjoining classrooms, you could organize a smaller co-op in couples’ homes or a church nursery. Adjust the ages to what works for you. Come up with a routine that appeals to kids and works for adults. See if area restaurants will deliver food or purchase grocery items that are easy to prepare, like frozen pizzas or sandwiches. Make sure you get parental permission to seek health care in an emergency and have good contact numbers for everyone.

If you can’t get that going, at least find another couple to swap with or ask around at your church for who the good, reasonably priced babysitters are.

Get creative about your dates.

My husband and I default to dinner-and-movie dates too. Or dinner and wandering through a store. But while those count for good maintenance, the dates that have brought us closest together and made for great memories are the more creative ones.

We’ve taken day trips to historical spots, visited various museums (many offer free admission on certain days), attended the Texas Renaissance Festival, cheered on our awesome Houston Astros at the ballpark, kayaked at our local town lake, and attended Shakespeare in the Park.

Google your town’s or your state’s tourist bureau and see what’s going on around you. Tour Pinterest for ideas on having a special date night at home. Also, check out The Dating Divas, which has a gazillion date-night ideas on their website. Just think outside the box!

Talk about expectations.

What does a “date” involve in your mind? It might not be what your spouse pictures. While dating before marriage, most of us expected the night to end with a kiss. Once married, a fair number of spouses expect a date to end with a roll in the hay.

Then there’s the romance/wooing factor. Let’s face it: some of you tried a lot harder when you were dating. Perhaps you got spiffied up, went out to a nice restaurant, and then went dancing, but now you think the local sandwich shop and a tour of Walmart should count. While your spouse is scratching their head and wondering, What happened to the romance?

Talk about what dating should look like. Discuss expectations, activities you can mutually agree on, and how the date might end. Figure out what will make you each feel more cherished and more connected to the other.

Attend a marriage event.

One of the best dates you can go on is a marriage enrichment event. That could be a regional conference, a ministry retreat, or a date night hosted by your local church. My husband and I have attended, and once coordinated, weekend marriage retreats for our church couples class, and they stick out in my memories as wonderful times we dedicated to nurturing out relationship. Not to mention we stayed in hotel rooms, a setting especially conducive to physical intimacy.

I have one particular event in mind, though. The Get Your Marriage On marriage conference is a single-evening event on Saturday, November 17, in St. George, Utah. And I’ll be delivering a keynote about sexual intimacy!

CLICK TO LEARN MORE

St. George is located in Southwestern Utah, with beautiful views and plenty of those novelty experiences to enjoy together. And you can stay in a hotel room at the Amira Resort & Spa at a discount, when booked through the conference. Then there are the presenters: marriage and family therapists, a professor providing relationship education, a massage expert, Tara Carson of The Data Divas, and yours truly (that’s me!).

The event is underwritten by the Ultimate Intimacy app, The Dating Divas, The Center for Couples and Families, and more. On top of all that, I’m crossing my fingers (cross yours with me, please!) that I’ll have my newest book, Pillow Talk: 40 Conversations to Have with Your Spouse about Sex, out in time for Get Your Marriage On. If so, that’s the first place print copies will be sold!

And now you’re all like: Oh my goodness, this sounds fabulous, but we could never afford it! Y’all, it’s only $99. For a couple. Seriously, this is a great value and investment for your marriage!

Yes, you’ll have additional costs with lodging, transportation, and meals. But if you can swing it, you’ll have an unforgettable experience. And you’ll meet not only me, but also my beloved Spock — the man crazy enough to marry me and stay married to me for 25 years.

Get Your Marriage On might be just the kick in your two pairs of pants to revitalize your dating life. Regardless, prioritize dating in marriage. It leads to greater connection, a stronger foundation, and yes, typically more sex.

Q&A with J: Do Women Try to Manipulate Men?

“Just tell me what you want!” he says, exasperated by all her hinting and expectations and … well, manipulation. Because that must be what it is, right? Why else would she play games?

This question, more or less, came up in a series of posts written by Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband and The XY Code. You can go read those posts here:

First You Have to Know – The Generous Husband
Why He Thinks It’s a Game – The XY Code
He’s Not As Careful with His Words – The XY Code

I took issue with the word “game” as a description of what’s happening for most women. In addition to commenting, I had a great online conversation with Paul, at the end of which I volunteered to write a post about why women often aren’t as direct in their communication.

Generally speaking, she’s not trying to manipulate him or make it difficult. Most women who haven’t learned a lot about men’s brains and communication style don’t understand they’re being unclear to him. We honestly believe you should be able to see what we’re saying!

Especially because … sometimes he does.

Case in point: My husband, whom I fondly call Spock because he is super-logical and not instinctively romantic, does not pick up on hints. When he tries, he often guesses wrong. However, we stepped into a local furniture/knick-knack store one time, and I commented on how much I loved a particular painting. I thought nothing of it, because I was simply admiring a product at the store.

Lo and behold, at my next birthday my husband presented me with the painting! It now hangs next to my desk:

Creative, fun, and quirky…like me!

I don’t know why that one time he paid attention to my interest and followed through with the gift. But had I not already known the way his mind generally works, I might have concluded that his willingness to meet my understated desires was selective. Some women might figure: Because he did it this one time, why can’t he do it all the time? 

But it’s not fair to take a one-off and try to force that into a pattern. That would be like thinking that one time I made a perfect meal means I could deliver chef-worthy food every single night. (Not.)

It’s easy to misread one another if we don’t make an effort to understand the inherent differences in our communication styles, which come from our backgrounds, our personalities, and our gender. Not all of the stereotypes will apply to your spouse, but it’s worth asking whether such things are true.

And give one another the benefit of the doubt when your spouse says you misunderstood their intentions. Yes, if you said X, it would mean Y. But for your spouse, saying X might mean Z. Because we think and communicate differently.

Again, I believe God made it this way because, to have a good marriage, we’re then forced to let go of our selfishness, aim to understand our spouse, and stretch ourselves in loving them. The way Christ modeled.

But let me back to the original question: Do women try to manipulate men? Sure, some do. But most of the time, if a wife’s dropping hints and thinks her husband should pick up on them, she’s not trying to manipulate him. She’s lived her life learning how to pick up on subtlety, and her brain is even hardwired better for this task, so it’s difficult to understand why he can’t. Especially when, as I pointed out, now and then something does stick for him.

Meanwhile, ladies, take those moments as a treat, but try to be more direct with the men in your life. I hear from a lot of husbands who feel frustrated because they want to give their wives what they want, but their wives won’t tell them and the guys cannot figure out the hints. Because men are hardwired that way and learned that communication style.

Look, a lot comes down to verses like these: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). What would it look like to devote yourselves to one another in communication? Would it be one of you getting his or her own way? And what about honoring? Can we honor one another’s way of looking at things and work together to reach understanding?

Let’s not accuse each other of intentions that aren’t there, but rather work through our differences to reach unity.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Now please go read my guest post at The Generous Husband: Why She Communicates the Way She Does (and It May Not Be What You Think)

Also check out a great podcast episode I just listened to: The Art of Manliness – The Male Brain

And a great one for wives to read: You’re Not Allowed to Complain About Not Getting What You Didn’t Ask For (It’s more balanced than the title conveys.)

Plus one more: Is It Manipulation? Motive Matters from The Forgiven Wife

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