The Perfectionist Threat
He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. —2 Corinthians 12:9
We expect too much of our mates. We want them to be friend, counselor, sex playmate, prudent banker, intellectual peer. And we want marriage to offer a lifetime of unparalleled happiness.
Actually, we need to give ourselves a reality check from time to time: "Why did I marry this person, and what do I really want?" Did I marry Fritz because I wanted a resident Handy Andy? No, I married him because I couldn't imagine a future that didn't include him.
Our expectations are fed by unrealistic media images and even by some Christian speakers and authors. We're familiar with the ideal of the perfect wife and husband: spiritual leader, gracious homemaker, involved parent. We read the books, we listen to the cds, and we think our marriages seem terribly inadequate by comparison.
Yet the Bible doesn't chastise us with unattainable and unrealistic ideas. The Bible speaks instead of kindness, joy, gentleness, respect, and serving. I know that I am married to this man, and this man only, to honor, to cherish, to enjoy. Instead of fretting about what our spouses are not—and what our marriages are lacking—we can be thankful for each other and concentrate on loving the person God has given to each of us.
By Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse from The Couples' Devotional Bible (Zondervan)
Tips for a red-hot romance
These 5 suggestions will convince your sweetie that it's Valentine's Day all year round:
- Bake a love note into a cupcake or write a message in icing on a large cookie.
- Buy a box of chocolates and remove a few of the candies. In the empty paper cups place a few trinkets such as jewelry or a tiny love note.
- Spend the night in heaven. Rent a dry ice machine from a theater company to form a cloud around your bed.
- In the middle of the night, write a romantic message such as "You look beautiful!" or "What a gorgeous hunk!" on the bathroom mirror.
- If you hear "your song" on the radio, call your mate, hold the phone to the speaker, and let the music do the romancing.
Adapted from Red-Hot Monogamy by Bill and Pam Farrel (Harvest House)
7 Communication connections
These seven tips can improve the way you and your mate communicate. But be aware—most but not all men and women will share these characteristics. Switch up if you need to—that's normal, too!
- Women are inclined to want "feeling" conversations, while men lean toward problem solving. Label the kind of conversation you expect to have.
- Women give and want to hear lots of details; men go for the bottom line.
- , feelings, and personal issues. Men discuss topics such as sports, politics, and movies.
- When a woman says, "Nothing's wrong," something usually is. Husbands—offer to be a sympathetic listener when she's ready to talk.
- A husband wants to be part of the solution to a problem, not viewed as the problem.
- Men tend to dislike unsolicited advice—they presume their mate believes they can't handle things on their own.
- When a woman is upset and emotional, just listen. Attempting to offer an explanation will frequently be taken as invalidation.
Adapted from One Good Yearby Dr. David and Janet Congo (Cook Communications)
After a long day at work, a date with your spouse, the couch, and a tv remote seems much more inviting than exercising. So how can the two of you stay motivated?
Sign a contract. On a piece of paper, have everyone in your family pledge to exercise together at least three times a week for the next 30 days. Once you see the physical gains (and the fun you're having), you'll all be more likely to stick with it.
Mark your calendar. After signing the contract, write down on the calendar which days you'll exercise. Let each family member choose an activity for each date so everyone gets to do what they like at least once a week. Put your heads together to come up with a weekend activity.
Source: Better Homes & Gardens (September 2003)
The case for cuddling
Does intimacy equal sex? Not exactly, according to a 2006 survey of 3,000 adults. "Intimacy is multi-faceted; it's not a synonym for sex," says Laura Berman, Ph.D., relationship therapist and founder of the Berman Center for Women's Health. "It's the sense of feeling close and connected to your partner."
For couples wanting to heat up their relationships, the survey found that those who kiss regularly and spontaneously have a closer emotional connection than those who skip cuddling outside the bedroom. And there's a bonus: cuddling decreases stress. Says Berman, "The less stress and depression, the higher the level of intimacy because you have the mental energy to invest in the relationship."
How do you keep your marriage running smoothly?
We keep score of each other's kind words and deeds, recording them in a notebook. We pay attention to the small stuff, such as when I'm watching tv and he gets up to serve me my favorite soda, or when I call him at work just to say, "I'm thinking of you." One evening a month we pull out our lists to brag on each other.
—John and Pamela Enderby, Kansas
We take walks together. At the end of every day, rain or shine, my husband, Jim, and I walk our two dogs. We talk about our day—what we did, who we talked to, and plans for the coming days and months ahead. And we continue talking once we arrive home, as we prepare and eat dinner together. No distractions such as the television are allowed!
—Jim and Cynthia Thomas, Illinois
My husband and I each have a journal, and we write to each other occasionally. It might be just a quick little love note, or a note that says, "I was thinking of you," or it can be a sensitive topic that we need to discuss further. We leave it on the pillow so the other one knows we've written in it.
—Becky and Dick Berg, Washington
When you can't pay the bills
Don't panic. Instead, follow these practical tips until you're back on firm ground.
Contact vendors before they contact you. On the bill, write the name of the person you speak with, the time and date of the call, and file it with your records.
- Pay something—even if it's below the minimum amount.
- Catch up. Cancel your cable, or get rid of your cell phone (or get a cheaper plan with less minutes). Cut any extras that will enable you to pay what you owe.
- Anticipate future expenses. The car will break down again, the baby will need medicine, the electric bill will run high. Adjust your monetary plan to prepare for it.
- Be realistic. If you can't pay your bills, you can't afford a trip to McDonald's or Starbucks.
- Don't blame it on the kids. They won't remember the birthday bash or the pile of Christmas presents. They will remember a secure, peaceful home.
- Continue to show affection for your spouse. More than ever, you need to draw close to each other. Wash your mate's car, offer a foot rub, or take a walk together.
Dancing with the Rifes
that thing we do
The second half of life can be a challenge with kids leaving home, parents aging, and physical changes. Instead of sitting around and lamenting, Chuck, my husband of 30 years, and I decided to get off the couch and do something new and fun, something just for the two of us.
I'll admit my happy-to-stay-in-a-rut husband was somewhat reluctant when the new and fun thing I suggested was ballroom dancing. To ease him into the idea, I checked out some dance videos from our local library. Using my powers of persuasion, I convinced him there was little threat to dancing by ourselves on the living room floor—except maybe an occasional sore toe. I knew he'd graduated in his thinking when, to my surprise, he bought me a dance video as a present.
Later, a couple at church told us about a dance studio that offered Friday night lessons for only $15 a couple. After the hour lesson, the floor is available for another hour of open dance. Making ourselves vulnerable in front of other dancers was intimidating at first. Now it's fun. We realize that other couples are struggling to learn the steps, too. Never have we laughed so hard and felt so free!
We even took our dancing to the ball field during our city's recent July 4th celebration. With big band music playing, I coaxed Chuck to join me for a few rounds. The darker the sky grew, the easier it became for him to dance. Now he says he's cured of his reticence and could dance almost anywhere.
Sure, we look silly at times. We're still learning. But I wouldn't trade the joy and laughter dancing has brought into our marriage for anything in the world! Dancing brings us face to face. We look into each other's eyes, which I love. Dancing truly is that thing we do that feels uniquely us.
Eileen and Chuck Rife have been married 30 years and live in Virginia.
What fun things do you and your spouse do together to enhance your marriage? Send your stories to email@example.com.
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Between the covers
The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriageby Dr. Laura Schlessinger (Harper Collins).
In her follow-up to The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, radio personality and former marriage and family counselor Dr. Laura presents marital advice in her signature in-your-face style. Schlessinger explains how understanding and working with the differences between sexes can be essential to keeping a marriage strong, and that ignoring or fighting against these truths can be a huge stumbling block to your union. Using real-life stories from her listeners, plus results from several surveys taken on her website, she presents nine areas of marital life that have the potential for conflict and neglect, including finances and parenting. Each area also includes several examples of the do's and don'ts of spousal care, such as striving to become a safe place where your spouse can discuss anything without fear of attack.
Your Time-Starved Marriage
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott (Zondervan).
First, here's what this book isn't: The Parrotts aren't asking you to quit the rat race, take your son out of soccer, or move to that nice farm in the country. As a busy couple themselves, they understand that our lives move at a frightening pace. They do ask that we look closely at how we spend our time (Are time-savers such as e-mail and Blackberries really time-robbers?) and define our time style (Are you a subjective or objective time keeper?). Armed with this knowledge, they offer tips and strategies to make the most of our time—and create more couple time, such as making a commitment to at least one daily family meal. It's a great opportunity to reconnect and slow down.
How to Speak Your Spouse's Language
by H. Norman Wright (Center Street).
When you visit a foreign country, are your actions that of a colonizer—expecting the natives to speak your language and adopt your customs? Or are you like an immigrant who adapts to the surroundings, learning the language and embracing new customs? In this book, marriage expert and long-time mp advisory board member, Wright helps the reader better understand and adapt to the communication style differences a spouse may bring to marriage. He offers ten steps, or areas of discovery, including how to decipher your spouse's "dialect" and learning to better understand the possible hidden meaning of your partner's body language, that can help you better understand each other, handle conflict with less drama, and connect more deeply than ever before.
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Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.