7 Tips for A New Marriage . . . or An Old One

The following article appeared in the Hendersonville Standard, the Gallatin News and The Wilson Post the week of February 3, 2014.

When you marry, this new relationship presents issues neither of you have ever faced before. It’s a scary time. However, you bring into this union the hope that it will be the start of a life that will bring you rich fulfillment. You are also both bringing into the relationship your faults, your strengths, and the possibility that your marriage will endure or fail. How you tend to your marriage will determine the level of satisfaction you experience and whether or not your ideal is realized. Hopefully, the following tips can give a new marriage the charge it needs or restart a once happy one.

Expect that your relationship will change. Within the first few months and even years of marriage your life will be relatively easy. You work and live for each other. There’s little else that takes your attention and what does typically has its own time slot (ie. exercise, work, and friends). However, as children enter the picture, you will be spread thin and forced to continually reconsider your priorities. This change can be good if you accept and adapt to it, or the metamorphosis can be your undoing.

As a result of your changing relationship, the excitement level you have consistently maintained will begin to fall. This is a practical matter because we can’t remain in a state of lover’s euphoria forever. This is life. The question is, can you find happiness in the little things? Can you connect over a cup of coffee or while playing with the kids? These moments of contentment and shared joy are what will prolong your marriage. Trips and dates are fun, but must not be relied upon to fully engage with your spouse. While what you deemed exciting as a young married adult may lessen, moments of intimate connection can be more intense than you ever thought possible. Why? You get better at being you, at being a lover, and you learn how wonderful the person you married actually is.

Discuss your values. You may have entered the marriage with a well thought-out plan or you may have fallen into it with little discussion about matters of importance. Where do you each stand on politics, religion, and children? Depending on their importance to you as individuals, they can either push you apart or bring you together. Talk about what is important to you.

Don’t be selfish. Your decisions are no longer about what you want, but about what is best for the family. This makes goal setting an important part of your relationship. If you have goals, both of you know what you are working for materially speaking. Then, saying no to a new boat or other luxury item will be easier if it’s not in the current plan. Talk to a financial planner and be on the same page regarding money.

Time apart is a good thing. In our families we give and give without taking personal time and this can be bad news. It could be as small as 30 minutes at the end of the day, but we must nurture ourselves. This will enable us to have something to give to our family; our best. That being said, time together is equally as important. You can’t be apart on a regular basis and then act surprised because of the lack of affection.

Read at least one book per year on how to improve your marriage. You can also follow blogs or someone’s Twitter feed who gives good advice on marriage. There are also podcasts to glean inspiration from. It’s easier to maintain a good marriage than it is to fix a broken one. A good book to start with is Willard F. Harley’s Fall In Love Stay In Love. In it he explains how spouses should work to meet each other’s needs.

Always strive to be the best spouse you can be. It’s very common for battling spouses to point at their counterpart and say, “when you change, I will.” In this case, neither party is winning. The only thing that is being built is a wall that grows stronger with each passing day. Forgiveness must be a part of your lifestyle. If you both strive to be the best spouse you can be, you won’t be pointing out the faults of the other. Rather, you’ll be working towards reconciliation.

A Contentious Woman

“A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.” Proverbs 27:15

As in many of the Proverbs, there’s little explanation that follows except to say that containing this type of woman is like containing the wind or holding oil in your hand. Maybe one of Solomon’s wives was looking on and he didn’t want her to know whom he was writing about. Maybe his reference to the wind led her to believe it was the wife who talked too much. Or his allusion to oil was a nod to the woman who used more than her fair share of the perfume.  

What a shame that the wisest man to ever live had to do so with an argumentative woman/women. I can see him now, on his throne, head resting patiently, thoughtlessly on his fist with his wife, standing above him, her ever thrusting finger in rhythmic time with her verbal barrage. “Yes dear,” he would say hoping it would bring him a moment’s peace, no doubt remembering what he had previously written in chapter 21, “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman.” By chapter 27 he had probably worked up enough courage to say what he really meant, but made sure the words were hidden between the parts about blessing a friend with a loud voice and of iron sharpening iron.

Little is said of a contentious woman other than she will drive you stark raving mad. Rain doesn’t stop while it is rain. As the verse states, it continues dropping, dropping, and dropping with no thought of your feelings or the fact that you are wearing your suede jacket. “Maybe if I let the rain completely cover my shoes, it will be alright,” you think. “Darker suede, like a new pair.” But no, the rain ruins them all the same.

Similarly, a contentious woman cares little that her words tear up her husband’s manhood, and by doing so he is not becoming the man she thinks she wants him to be. Rather, she is beating him like a helpless puppy and probably becoming her mother at the same time. This is a thought that never occurs to her but that would do her irreparable damage were the observation to be made. Her family thinks, “we should tell her what she’s doing and how she acts.”

Would it be so bad to tell her? It’s likely that in some rickety gym bleachers during a high school pep rally she uttered the words to her BFF, “don’t ever let me become my mother.” Probably because of a fight they had over her short skirt, but telling her that her pseudo-prophecy is coming true would do no good. It would just be more ammunition to throw at her targets. As though she needs more. “You said I was just like my mother so I guess I need to live up to the expectation.” Visions of the Wicked Witch of the West come to mind as well as the large collection of wire hangers I have in my closet.

While the husband is often the hapless victim in circumstances like this, the children also get a good lesson in manipulation and family dysfunction. If you cause people enough guilt yet make them feel sorry for you at the same time, you are in charge and can get whatever you want. The daughter might view her parents’ relationship much like the relationship she has with her hamster, locked in his cage in her room. “I’ll play with it,” she pleaded at the pet store, so giddy and ready to raise a national champion hamster . . . if there is such a thing. Weeks have past and he sits in his cage until she finally takes him out to clean it. “You dirty rat. I can’t stand you,” she mutters as her once prized possession is now little more than an inconvenience. When she finishes with her task, her disposition is more solidified as she hears her mother yell, “Have you swept the floor yet you lazy man?”

The other lesson contentious women give here? “Men are scum, and if we don’t tear them down, they’ll be lazy, good-for-nothings and will probably cheat on us.” It’s true. For generations men have been scoundrels, competing masses of conquering adrenaline that are not fit to be in the presence of refined women who are about the only things we don’t hit over the head anymore. Most of us anyway. And this is for the better because we should be domesticated by now. If I lose at a card game, my instinct is to jump up, allow my chair to scrape against the wooden floor and then punch the guy. Next, if old western have taught us anything, the piano will strike up as we duke it out until being thrown into the horse trough outside. But society and my wife say that this is wrong. I should be a good sport and not a sore loser.

Men are domesticated thanks to women, but in our hearts most of us are still wild. The desire to conquer is strong in us. We still retreat to the woods, we still eat hoards of meat and the desire to drive recklessly is tempered only by the loving eyes of our family. To deal with this, women have two options. First, she can be the type of woman a man longs for, and if he’s smart, he will pursue her with all the gusto he can muster. This will result in a happy and productive marriage along with the occasional trip to the woods or river. We’re still wild, remember? The other option is to be a Trojan horse to him. Lure him in with her seductive ways and promise him happiness until she has him around the throat and his other sensitive parts. This places her in a prime position to get exactly what she wants from him, which may be a child, money or simply the satisfaction that she can rule his life because of her low opinion of men. These women are sick. Her husband bought a ring as a token showing he can care for her and she has slowly become something that he can’t do anything with. She sees no wrong in her selfish actions and everyone is left with an open heart where a loving mother should be.

Proverbs 31 speaks of the virtuous woman, lauding her business sense, piety, and care for her family. Women are one of God’s most precious gifts to us. They are gentle and loving, but when they do not take their place in this world seriously, or worse, use their talents for selfish reasons, everyone suffers.

BOOK REVIEW: The Marriage-Friendly Church by Daniel F. Camp

I am a marriage counselor and a minister. With these two dynamics at play, I definitely see the need for the Lord’s church to do more in respect to marriage. In his book, The Marriage Friendly Church, Dr. Camp has developed a method by which congregations can effectively assess the state of marriage among their members and work to turn it into what God would have it be.

It is important to note what this book is not, since it is easy to go into it with some preconceived ideas. Camp states very plainly that it is not a guide to a better marriage. Also, it is not a study on any doctrinal issue (i.e. marriage, divorce, & remarriage, or woman’s role in the home/church.) It is also not a “30 Days to a Great Marriage Ministry” guidebook. However, this book does outline a thorough “assessment process” that can change your church culture into one that helps strengthen marriages.

Camp addresses several issues within the church that may actually hurt marriages. He discusses the “church face” phenomenon where spouses act as though all is well when in reality they are crumbling. He challenges the idea that a busy church is a healthy church. Your over-packed schedule may do plenty for certain subgroups of your membership while actually destroying marriages in the process.

Much of the book is about listening to determine how your membership views marriage. This will give your marriage ministry a solid start as you work to minister to a portion of our society that is in desperate need of God’s love and direction. Camp then lays out a plan to get you started in a marriage ministry that will affect your families positively for years to come.

The book (with accompanying workbook) lays out an assessment plan that will work well for larger congregations, but anyone who wants to improve marriages within their membership will learn a great deal from this well-written book.

BOOK REVIEW: 28 Days to A Better Marriage by Dale Sadler

This is the Amazon review my friend Matthew Morine posted about my book. It has also appeared in the Rocky Mountain Christian.

Years ago I heard some advice about habits. It was said that to change or start a new habit you had to practice the new behavior 21 days in a row. If you wanted to break a habit, you had to stop the behavior for 21 days straight. If this advice is true, my friend’s book is perfect for a refresher in your marriage.

The author, Dale Sadler, is a personal friend of mine. We go back numerous years to the time that we both were working as youth ministers. He was doing an excellent job with a neighboring church, and we started to partner together for various youth events. This always created a positive dynamic because the young people enjoyed the added numbers and excitement. During Dale’s time as a youth minister, he also attended graduate school for marriage and family counseling. He completed his degree, and he presently has a growing counseling practice in White House, Tennessee.

Dale takes some of his best writing and produces an excellent book on having the relationship with your spouse that you have always wanted. This book would make an excellent guide that a husband and wife could read together to strengthen their marriage. Often, healthy marriages can go into autopilot. This book will help restore some of the passion, fix a few of the problems, and generally provide a tune-up for your most significant earthly relationship. It is wise to read a marriage book a year to help keep your marriage functioning at a high capacity.

The book provides 28 great chapters that are relatively short. Each chapter takes about 5 to 10 minutes to read, but will provide long-lasting advice that can help you. All of the chapters are interesting, but there are a few that really stand out. There are some highly practical ones, such as “How to Get Out of the Dog House”, “Do Affairs Just Happen?” and “Give Her What She Needs”. One of the best chapters is “How to be Romantic”, which probably every husband needs to read. An interesting chapter is “Stop Agreeing & Start Building.” All of the chapters are insightful and helpful.

The strength of this book is that it is easily translated into real life. The chapter on gift giving is so helpful. The author warns men about common pitfalls most men mistakenly step into in the gift giving process. He also highlights the key dynamic in gift giving, pursue her with the gift. It is not just about the object, rather the experience. Dale asks husbands the question, “If she had five hours to herself, what would she love to do?” This is just a preview of the practical nature of this book.

This is an excellent marriage book that will provide a great reminder of some of the positive behaviors that go into a great marriage. I highly recommend it. 

Heritage Christian University Elevate Seminar Recordings

October 14-16 was this year’s Elevate Seminar at Heritage Christian University. The theme was “The Sexual and the Spiritual.” My lesson was entitled, “Human Sexuality: A Return to the Garden.” In this session I discuss the spiritual side of sex and how married couples can improve this intimate relationship.

Other sessions included discussions on the Song of Solomon and marriage/divorce & remarriage. All were incredibly grounded in scripture and applicable to today’s world.

BOOK REVIEW: Hope for the Separated by Gary Chapman

This is a well written “how to” manual for any couple that is separated or considering separation. Ninety percent of the book is geared towards helping you get back together, reconciling in a constructive way that will really work. The other 10% is about what to do if reconciling isn’t an option.

Chapman talks about giving a rebirth to your marriage and given my experience with struggling couples, he does an excellent job of walking a man or a woman through the steps of healing no matter what may have caused the split. Counseling after getting back together may still be necessary but the biggest hurdle of recommitting to one another can be accomplished through this book. 

Chapman gives marriage the holy reverence it deserves and walks couples and individual spouses through this very difficult process in such a way that they can truly say they gave it their best. 

When To End An Affair

Regarding an affair we often talk about the hurt, the divorce, the kids, and the betrayal, but rarely is the beginning of the affair ever discussed. Well, at least until it is too late. In their book, Intimate Issues, Dillow and Pintus address this and work to help women stop an affair before it ever starts. Men would do well to take note here also.

The authors discuss the beginning of an affair in three stages. The first being temptation. Let’s say you meet a man through normal circumstances. He is attractive, thoughtful, and everything you have been missing in your own marriage. You get excited because there is a chemistry between you and he seems equally as dissatisfied in his own marriage. Here is an opportunity to feel things you’ve not felt in a long time. It is indeed tempting. 

This tempting situation leads to the second stage; contemplation. You begin fantasizing about how things could be with this man. When you see him , careful consideration is made of how you dress and of your perfume. The affair is continually entertained in your mind and you begin noticing opportunities to act on these thoughts and feelings. 

Finally, you may move into activation. You will finish this stage with comments like, “I wasn’t thinking” or “it just happened.” Don’t reach this stage. By now, it is too late. 

You may get into the first two and hopefully within them you will see the necessity to seek marital counseling or get some type of help before your marriage ends and many lives are ruined because the best time to end an affair is before it ever happens.

This is my prayer for all couples:
“May your marriage be so personally satisfying between you and your spouse that the temptation stage sickens you.”

Speaking at Heritage Christian University

October 14, 2013
ELEVATE, a spiritual enrichment seminar, will be hosted on the campus of HCU October 14-16. The theme for ELEVATE 2013 is “The Sexual and the Spiritual”, and will address a host of issues facing Christians today. Over 35 sessions will be presented, including:
* Marriage Enrichment Seminar
* The DNA of Relationships for Parents and Teens
* The Biblical View of Homosexuality
* Marriage Counseling and the Minister
* Ministering to Children of Divorce
* The Church’s Role in Sex Education
* Preaching/Teaching the Song of Solomon
* How to Have “The Talk” With Your Children
* And many more
Whether you are a minister, elder, parent, spouse, or church member, there will be something to help you grow in your own faith and encourage others in theirs. A stellar lineup of qualified speakers will ask the hard questions and discuss biblical solutions.
More information and full schedule will be available soon. If you have questions, please contact us at 800.367.3565 or rpettus@hcu.edu.
My topic is “Human Sexuality: A Return to the Garden”

Our sinful nature that was realized in the garden can continue to keep us in a state of shame, hindering us from truly connecting with our spouses in the sexual relationship. In this session, Dale will discuss barriers to sex, the spiritual connection to sex, and ways those struggling can reestablish and maintain this precious link.