Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. —Song of Songs 8:7
My friend and her husband have been married almost ten years, and they continue to have a difficult marriage. If the purpose of marriage were purely to provide loving intimacy, their marriage might be considered purposeless. But they have stayed married largely because they were brought up to believe that marriage is for life. And they really do love each other. They just haven't figured out how to translate that into happiness.
But happiness is not the chief point of marriage. Marriages are important to God not so much for what they are, as for what they teach. Marriage teaches us what God's kingdom is like. As his kingdom is about love, it's natural that marriage should teach us about love. It does this in two ways.
The first way is seen in "easy" marriages, which shine with the beauty of intimate love, the kind of natural, heartfelt, spontaneous love that was seen in Eden. For many of us, marriages—our own or others'—are the closest we ever come to understanding such love. Even if we experience it imperfectly, we understand, through marriage, something about the love of God.
But the other way of love is what I see in my friend's marriage. It's that love that will not let go, the love of passionate demands and passionate tears, the love that will not accept defeat. Marriages like my friend's are not happiness, nor are they peace. But they are certainly a sign of something wonderful: an unshakable love.
By Tim Stafford from The Couples' Devotional Bible(Zondervan)
The Power of Praise
Mark Twain once said he could live a full month on nothing but a single compliment. Yet all compliments aren't created equal. Check out these four types of compliments and the effect they can have on your mate.
Possession. "That's a beautiful dress" or "I really love that tie." Though they tend to be superficial, these compliments are a great place to start.
Appearance. Saying, "You look beautiful," or "That shirt really shows off your eyes," is a little more personal and communicates that you find your mate desirable.
Behavior. People like to be recognized for a job well done. "You're such a wonderful cook" communicates not only appreciation, but love.
Character. The most powerful and personal of compliments, this one recognizes traits such as kindness, generosity, or wisdom. "You're the most selfless person I know," praises not just what your spouse does, but who she is.
Adapted from 20 Surprisingly Simple Rules and Tools for a Great Marriage by Steve Stephens (Tyndale)
Communication Do's and Don'ts
Try these eight tips for navigating the murky waters of communication:
- Do be honest. Keeping secrets does nothing but frustrate you and perplex your spouse.
- Do bring up an issue within 24 hours, or forget it. Don't allow a problem to remain hanging.
- Do keep to the issue. If you start discussing who should babysit and end up arguing over discipline, you've moved off-track. Take a break and return to the issue when you're both rational and calm.
- Don't criticize. You can complain—offer something specific to the situation. But criticism can involve blame and counterattacks and is sure to put your spouse on the defensive.
- Don't make threats. "If you … then I'll …" This puts your partner on the defensive. Someone on the defensive will never hear you—which means no change will happen.
- Don't play the blame game. Really listen to your spouse's complaints; think them over before you discard them as ludicrous. They may have a tiny kernel of truth. If so, accept responsibility.
- Don't make assumptions. You don't know what's going on in your mate's head. Rather than assuming something that may be a figment of your imagination, ask.
- Do say no to the "D" word: divorce. It's amazing how easily this little word can pop into your head, and worse, your mouth. This doesn't mean just not using the word; it means not even thinking the word.
Adapted from Surprised by Remarriage by Ginger Kolbaba (Revell)
Cash in on Your Marriage
Of course being married has emotional perks—love, stability, and support. But for newlyweds married three years or less, marriage can now mean financial rewards, as well.
uTango (www.uTango.com) is a new program that rewards couples for their loyalty—not just as consumers but to each other. Once you've registered, shop online with merchants such as Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and Gap. With each purchase you'll earn "Tango Bucks." If you accumulate a minimum number of Bucks per year, you can turn them into cash rewards when you reach certain marriage milestones: $10,000 on your 10th anniversary, $100,000 on your 20th, and a whopping $1,000,000 on your 30th. Now that's something to celebrate!
Hug Your Way to Hotter Sex
Sure, a big old bear hug helps you feel closer to your mate. But the right kind of cuddle can also bring out the tiger in you both. Try these three sweet and saucy squeezes:
The Total Hug: While entwined, rub your bodies against each other—as fast or as slow as you want. Use this hug to heat up foreplay, or as a sexy activity all its own.
The Forceful Hug: Grab your mate in a full-body hug and push her against a wall—you'll take her breath away.
The Reptilian Hug: While in bed, wrap yourself around your mate's legs and slowly creep up his body like a reptile climbing a tree. Savor every inch of him and pause at any point you like.
Source: Redbook (May 2006)
When Jennifer and I got married, I was in graduate school and she was teaching middle school. She'd come home exhausted, yearning for peace and quiet. But a day of only books for company left me bubbling with enthusiastic chatter about things such as the Italian unification process. Partway through my debriefing, Jennifer would blurt out, "Be quiet! You're talking too much and I'm not interested in that stuff." Needless to say, she was feeling frustrated and I was hurt.
Then I had an inspiration—a code word. If my stories were dragging on, saying the code word would allow Jennifer to communicate in a more gentle, less abrasive manner that she needed a break. Since to Jennifer my stories seemed endless and they'd definitely become divisive, I chose Vietnam as our word.
Over dinner a few nights later, I was recounting innumerable details about American foreign policy when Jennifer sighed heavily, put down her fork, and looked at me. Seeing Vietnam on the tip of her tongue, I quickly stopped talking. After a few minutes we began to chat about the upcoming weekend. Success! Since that night our codeword has given us many peaceful dinnertime conversations.
Work it out
How do you and your spouse deal with differing driving styles?
"My husband is a 'grandpa driver.' He can't make a split decision, whether that means merging quickly because the hole in traffic is going to close any second or to make an unexpected turn: "There's the street, hon—oops, there was the street."
I, on the other hand, have no problem going with the flow of traffic and making lane changes to navigate around slow-moving vehicles (my husband usually is the slow-moving vehicle).
We've come to terms with each other. He's learned to take a ribbing about his slowness and I've learned not to watch the speedometer—and even compliment him on the care he takes to keep his family safe on the roads."
—Julie Ross, Wisconsin
"My husband follows closer to people than I do, which scares me in situations requiring sudden stops. Sometimes I can't help but squeal—scaring him too. So I take a book along. If I'm reading and not looking at what he's doing, I don't get scared. When I do pay attention, I've learned not to say, 'You're too close to that car!' Saying, 'Being so close to that car scares me' is less accusing. Although he doesn't like criticism, he's willing to keep me from being afraid."
—Gayle Reynolds, Georgia
"I just keep my eyes closed! It's better than nagging him about his driving. We get along much better that way."
—Mandy Clarkson. California
"We take separate cars."
—Beverly Kelmer, Illinois
Love Your Way to Lower Cholesterol
Newsflash: sending love letters to your mate can lower your cholesterol. In a recent study at Arizona State University, participants spent 20 minutes a week penning letters to family members about their feelings. At the end of three weeks, their total cholesterol levels had decreased by an average of seven points, whereas those of the control group, who wrote about their jobs or daily activities, showed no change. "When we express our love to the people we care about, it calms us and reduces many of the physical effects of stress," says Kory Floyd, Ph.D., associate professor of human communication. Though experts aren't sure how, lower stress levels mean lower cholesterol levels. So grab a pen and paper. Your mate—and your heart—will thank you!THAT THING WE DO
After four years of marriage, my husband, Todd, rekindled an old flame. Not with an old girlfriend but with a hog. A Harley Davidson, that is.
When a shiny new motorcycle appeared at church as a prop for a weekend message,
I fell in love too. "Can I have one of those?" I asked.
Hearing my enthusiasm Todd encouraged what would soon become our new favorite pastime.
Todd started shopping and bought me a black and yellow Honda Shadow. I was so excited when he brought it home I climbed into the back of the truck and had him take a photo of me before he unloaded it.
While I waited to get into a motorcycle course, Todd (who already had his motorcycle license, but no bike) had a few months to ride the new bike. He drove, while I sat on the back so we could be together. One afternoon, about 20 minutes into the ride, Todd sensed something was on my mind and asked, "What's wrong?"
My answer? "I shouldn't be on the back of this bike. I should be driving!" Although I couldn't see his face, I knew he was smiling. That fall I bought Todd a motorcycle for his birthday, and we've been riding together ever since.
This summer we went on our first big bike trip with 70 other riders. As one of only two novices, I was placed in the back of the group. Though he's experienced enough to ride up front, I was touched when Todd immediately put his bike in line with mine, holding to the slower pace just as he'd done since I began riding. It was a joy for me to see his excitement when I urged him to move to the front. Later that night, we cuddled together and shared the things we'd seen.
Riding motorcycles has shown us that whether we're on one bike or two, apart or side by side, Todd and I are a team. It's a beautiful way to travel.
Todd and Rachael Proulx have been married 4 years and live in Illinois.
What fun things do you and your spouse do together to enhance your marriage?
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You Said It!
She was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load she carried …. [My] work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.
Rev. Billy Graham about Ruth, his wife of 64 years, who died on June 14, 2007.
Between the covers
"Yup." "Nope." "Maybe." and "Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?"by Stephen James and David Thomas (Tyndale)
These two books, A Woman's Guide to Getting More Out of the Language of Men and A Man's Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask, take a fresh, insightful look at the unique ways the sexes communicate. The co-authors, who individually have counseled thousands of couples over the years, provide humorous examples, including some from their own marriages. Each chapter covers age-old questions/gender time bombs such as: Why don't men stop for directions? Do you think that woman is pretty? What's the deal with guys and sports? and Am I like my mother? Readers will learn to understand better their communication style, as well as their spouse's.
Marriage on the Rock
by Jimmy and Karen Evans (Regal)
After five years of marriage, Jimmy and Karen had "fallen out of love." When an argument left them contemplating divorce, Jimmy asked God to teach him how to be a husband. That life-changing decision and the years of marriage counseling that followed taught them that most marriages fail because we look to our spouse to fulfill the deepest needs of our soul, rather than to Jesus—the "Rock." Accepting that truth, we can then focus on what the authors refer to as four foundational laws of marriage: priority, pursuit, possession, and purity (based on Genesis 2:24-25). Also included is a chapter for those trying to build their marriage without the active help of their spouse.
Cinderella Meets the Caveman
by David E. Clarke (Harvest House)
Clarke describes how most men are as clueless as a Neanderthal and most women mope around like Cinderella before her prince rescued her—allowing herself to be mistreated and abused by those around her. The first part of the book describes Caveman and Cinderella mistakes in areas such as communication and romance/sex and how the offending spouse can strive for improvement. The second half covers conflict resolution and how to increase both spiritual and sexual intimacy.
Misery: The Secret to Marital Happiness?
The key to a happy relationship could be accepting that some miserable times are unavoidable, experts say.
The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy reports that the pursuit of relationship nirvana can actually be potentially damaging, the unrealistic aim leading couples to feel they've failed. "Nobody's life or relationship can be in a permanent state of happiness," says Jan Parker of the Association of Family Therapy. "There will always be difficult times." Instead, "Couples need to build strengths, such as understanding, into their relationships to help them cope with hard times and appreciate the good times."
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.