A Practical Explanation of the Greatest Commandment

Posted: 10th October 2017 by Jason Coleman in Love is a Choice

Have you ever wondered what the greatest commandment really means? When you get down to the heart of the matter or the brass tacks, what does it really mean to love God? And how am I supposed to love Him with all of my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength? And how about the 2nd commandment…to love others as myself? What does that look like, in 21st century America (or wherever you live)?

I’ve heard countless sermons over my 35+ years of Christianity and all the years of Christian education, but I never quite heard the explanation to these commandments in as clear and understandable language as I did when reading Daniel Fusco’s book “Upward, Inward, Outward.

Jesus himself said that of all the commandments in the Bible, all 613 of them, these are the most important. So basically, all of God’s instruction for you and I can be boiled down to two things – Love God, and love others in the same manner as we love ourselves.

Pastor Fusco divides the book into three movements, as suggested in the title. In the first movement, he breaks down into common language and understanding, what it truly means to love God through worship, prayer, solitude, and meditation.

One of my favorite quotes in this section goes like this, “God’s joy does not depend on or ensure that everything works out perfectly. It isn’t circumstantial. God’s joy is the disposition of a heart that knows ‘it is well with my soul’ because God is God. This is the joy he shares with us when we come to Him with worship.” Wow.

Another favorite of mine in this first movement falls under the section on prayer. Fusco says, “Most of us, when we pray about something that doesn’t happen, we stop praying. And that’s exactly why God doesn’t usually answer our requests immediately.” That stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been so guilty for a very long time of bringing something to the Lord in prayer, but failing to be consistent and persistent in my prayer and eventually ‘giving up’ on it, if the answer doesn’t come about or it isn’t answered in the way I want it to be. Fusco follows that statement up with, “We know God isn’t a cosmic vending machine, but a lot of times we act like he is. God knows our hearts and our natures, and he wants us to learn to seek after his heart.” My initial response is, “OUCH.”

There are plenty more “nuggets” in the first movement, but you need to discover them on your own. To sum up the section, I loved it when he said, “There’s simply too much at stake to not be people of prayer.”

In the second movement Pastor Fusco tackles the subject of loving ourselves.

To many people, the thought of loving yourself has a negative connotation. You might think that it’s not very Christ-like to love yourself. Only the wicked, prideful, and arrogant people love themselves. But, when Pastor Fusco explained it by saying, “We love and value ourselves based on the finished work of the cross of Jesus,” that stirred something within me that I hadn’t considered before. “At the Cross, our identity is displayed in God’s grace and love.” (Fusco’s words – not mine).

He goes on to say, “The only way to love ourselves in the way that God desires is to see ourselves through the lens of the cross of Jesus.” When we understand who we are in Christ, and we understand our identity in Christ – that our identity IS Christ – we have a better understanding that it’s impossible to “love our neighbors as ourselves” unless we have a healthy love for ourselves. And by seeing ourselves as Christ sees us, redeemed through the blood of the cross, we can accept the fact that we are lovable after all!

He talks about fasting (including the right and wrong ways to do it), intentionally prioritizing God’s kingdom, and the importance of aligning our priorities with those of Jesus. There is so much packed into the second movement I feel that I need to go back through it again, slowly, to absorb all the nuggets I probably missed the first time around!

In the third and final movement, Fusco challenges us with loving our neighbors…all of them.

You’re only a few pages into this movement when he writes about one of the most selfless, sacrificial acts of kindness (besides laying down His life for us) that Christ did – washing the feet of His disciples. Through that act, He taught the disciples – and us – that love means action.

Fusco challenges the reader to find our uniqueness in Christ, and to be who God uniquely made us to be. And, he wraps up this movement by discussing community and generosity – two topics that were important to Christ during His time here on earth.

I have to honestly admit, I don’t finish all the books I read. In fact, so many of the leadership and “religious” books lose me about two-thirds of the way through, because they become monotonous or repetitive to the point of nauseam. But not this one. One thing that Fusco has going for him, other than the fact that he is tackling an extremely important and difficult subject, is his humor and relatable stories.

Without giving away too many secrets, he includes plenty of scripture but artfully weaves in stories of Cheez-its, nasty toenails, childbirth, hairy babies, second graders, and a drummer who interrupted a saxophone solo because it was so awful. Not only that, but he has included some hilarious footnotes that really bring out his personality – including comparing himself to Ryan Gosling – but with dreadlocks!

Daniel Fusco explains, in a way that only he can, the importance of living a life of love, and living it Upward towards God, Inwards as you love yourself, and Outward as you love the world around you.

If you’ve ever heard him speak, you can certainly “hear” him through the pages of this book.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was provided an advance copy of this book with the hope of an honest review in return.

About Pastor and Author Daniel Fusco

Daniel Fusco is the lead pastor of Crossroads Community Church, which has campuses in Vancouver, WA and in Portland, OR, as well as a large “online” audience. He is a conference speaker, a jazz musician, and the author of Honestly (NavPress) and Ahead of the Curve. He lives in Washington with his wife, Lynn, and their three children.

“Upward, Inward, Outward” is available here http://amzn.to/2i0HQ3L or anywhere you buy books.

Slide7It is easy to get married—it is difficult to stay married. I can’t recall where I first heard those words, but truer words have rarely been spoken. For decades studies have shown that approximately half of the marriages in our society end up in divorce. Those are staggering results, and the disappointing thing to me is that there is not much of a difference between Christian marriages and secular marriages.

Debby and I have made countless mistakes in our marriage—some that could have resulted in tragic consequences. But for the grace of God, our mistakes and sin could have resulted in divorce and we could have been yet another failed marriage statistic.

Discovering Your Amazing Marriage is a collection of our thoughts and convictions on marriage that we have compiled to encourage couples to discover that marriage truly can be amazing.

To some degree it is a mindset. It is a realization that love is a choice and that the state of our marriage is also a choice. There have been times in our relationship that we struggled mightily and we didn’t know where to turn or how to make improvements. We knew that our marriage wasn’t working but we didn’t have the answers.

We were fortunate enough to have several couples come alongside us as mentors and counselors. They modeled a Christ-centered relationship and taught us how to communicate, how to love, how to put one another as our top priority, and how to survive the firestorms of life.

We wrote Discovering Your Amazing Marriage to give our readers a glimpse of the struggles we had in our relationship and to encourage and equip them to avoid some of the mistakes and poor choices we have made. We’re not proud of some of the choices we’ve made but God is providing us an opportunity to use the lessons we’ve learned to encourage others and promote healthy marriages.

We encourage couples to ‘stay the course’ and through the pages of our book we provide tools and steps they can use to move their marriage from mediocre to amazing. It is designed for both spouses to read the book and work together to make changes and begin to value one another and their marriage in ways not previously done. We want people to see that they don’t need to settle for mediocrity, but that they can achieve excellence in their relationship and enjoy a truly amazing marriage.

While it is ideal for both couples to do this together, we realize that in some cases, one person may need to be the catalyst for change and he or she may read the book alone and initiate the ideas we present. If you sense that your relationship is not where you want it to be but your spouse doesn’t care to invest in your marriage, there may still be hope for you. Pray for your spouse continually and make the changes in your attitude and behavior that God is calling you to make. Trust God to work on the heart of your spouse.

Too often we meet couples who have “settled” into a routine of mediocrity and we see that they are comfortable with the state of their relationship. They don’t pour themselves into making their relationship grow and thrive and they miss out on what they are capable of achieving. They miss out on the best that God intended them to have. We want couples to know that moving their relationship from mediocrity to amazing will take work on their part, but that it will be worth the effort!

Our process has worked for us over the years and we often are asked, “What is it about you two,” or “What do you two have in your marriage that we don’t have—because we want it.” In our book you will find ideas and techniques we use everyday to improve communication and to clarify expectations—which are key elements in keeping our marriage amazing. We discuss practical ways of putting one another first and steps you can take to protect your marriage from outside influences.

In today’s day and age where disposable marriages are rampant, we want to challenge couples to buck the system and to stay married despite their problems and misunderstandings. We encourage couples to stay together and to be happy and content while doing it.

Our call is to encourage couples that the Holy Spirit can and will transform marriages. It is our goal to help lay a foundation for future marriages, as more and more children are brought up by parents who are completely and totally committed to one another and to their marriage.

Our book format is unique in that it is geared towards both the Christian and non-Christian alike. This study guide is different however, as it is designed specifically for the believer in Jesus Christ. It is intended to accompany the book and provide a deeper understanding of a Christ-centered marriage, but can also be used as a stand-alone study tool.

http://amzn.to/2aH4TfX

However you use this study guide—individually, together as a couple, or in a small group setting—we pray that you are challenged to make Christ the center of your relationship and that you put Him first in all things.

Yours to Count On,

Jason & Debby

 

Priority ListRecently Debby and I were the keynote speakers at the kick-off event for the new Marrieds Ministry at our church. The following is an excerpt from our address…we pick it up just after I said that we typically describe our marriage as being “amazing.” In this blog post we will discuss the first point and save the second for a future blog entry. Let’s jump in to the dialogue…

 

When I say our marriage is amazing, I don’t say that because Debby and I are extraordinary people or that we have the perfect little marriage that has no problems, no challenges, and no rocky times.

Truth be told, it’s amazing because our marriage has suffered problems. It’s amazing because we have our challenges, and we have travelled over rocky terrain and we have managed to strengthen our relationship through these times.

And the message we have for you and for couples across this room is that an amazing marriage really is possible.

But our marriage hasn’t always been amazing. If fact, there were many years when we were so dysfunctional as a couple that it was difficult for us to carry on a productive conversation. Sex was nearly non-existent and we were completely frustrated with one another.

In the 26+ years of our marriage, we have dealt with some of the most destructive and challenging attitudes, behaviors, and situations, which have the potential to destroy many marriages, and we have been tested in ways we never dreamt possible when we exchanged our vows.

At the time, we felt that our young love was so deep, so unique, and so strong that we could weather any storm; any testing, any temptation and that we would sail right through life without any wear and tear. Oh how incredibly naïve we were.

There’s nothing unique about us. We’re ordinary people, just like you in many ways.  Pastor Daniel’s book Honestly describes the messes in our lives and he could have written exclusively about ours.  We’re basically just two sinners who said “I do,” but we’ve learned from our mistakes and we’ve leveraged those lessons to strengthen our marriage.  We have trusted in God to make sense of the messes that we’ve created in our marriage.  In fact, we’ve been speaking to groups for about 6 years now and the more we publically talk about our story and share our experiences, we find that everyone has a story and far too many are similar to ours.

Today we want to discuss two lessons that we have learned along the way in our journey; lessons that may encourage you in your own relationship with your spouse and in your relationship with Jesus.

In keeping with the heartbeat of Crossroads, that Jesus is real, and that He loves us and we need to simply respond to Him, we will discuss how these lessons played out in our life and what they might look like in your marriage. We will not only share some times where we did things right, doing marriage God’s way, but we’ll also share some examples of times when we did things our own way, in our own flesh, and how those decisions were destructive to our marriage.

Prioritize your relationship.

The first thing we want to share is the priority we place on one another and how we prioritize those people and things that are important to us and to our family. It is important that you prioritize your relationships.

In order for our marriage to be strong and healthy, our priorities need to be in the proper order. When we put God first, and then one another, we are able to fully experience His blessing in our life and in our marriage. However, if we put self first, and live for “me,” there is a constant conflict as we make choices that are selfish and that meet our own needs, wants, and desires.

When you put God first in your life and He sits on the throne, then your other relationships have a much higher probability of being successful. It doesn’t mean that life will be perfect, as Pastor Daniel shared last week. Having Christ doesn’t mean you get everything you want and you avoid all problems. If that was the case everyone would say yes to Jesus. But when our vertical relationship, that relationship between us and God, is right, then our horizontal relationships, those with our spouse, our kids, and other family or friends, have a better chance at being right.

If your relationship with God is not first in your life, you may consider asking yourself, what would my life, my marriage, my career, look like if I focused on my relationship with God first and then focused on my horizontal relationships?

Men, as the God appointed spiritual leaders of our home, let me tell you that if you aren’t living your life for God and you aren’t sold out to Him, and leading your family the way God expects you too, if you make that decision and you start to be the spiritual leader of your home and you truly begin to lead your wife and your family, you will be amazed at what God will do in your life and in your marriage.

This is a truth that we whole-heartedly support and embrace, but it hasn’t always been true of our marriage.

You see, when we were young and immature, we really had no idea what it really meant to put one another’s needs before our own, and what it meant to honor God in our marriage. We thought we were putting God first by going to church faithfully on Sundays and getting involved, but He wasn’t the priority like He should have been.

When I say we were young, we were really young. Debby and I met and started dating when she was 16 and a junior in HS. We dated a couple of years and got married when she was 18.

She turned 19 on our honeymoon and has never lived on her own. After we got married we moved her out of her parents’ house and in with me, and that was a significant adjustment period for her. She had been accustomed to always having someone else around the house – someone to talk to and interact with – and after she moved in with me, well, she didn’t always have that interaction.

This is of course, before the invention of the cell phone and social media, so when she was alone at home she was truly alone (except for the cat, who never talked back).

I was a young assistant manager with a sporting goods company and I was fully committed to my work. So much so that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say I was married to my work. I was trying to make a positive impression on my superiors and working hard to progress through the ranks and earn a promotion.

There’s nothing wrong with working hard and earning promotions, but I was doing it at the expense of my relationship with God and with my wife. Being as though this was a retail position and Sunday’s were one of our busiest days, I worked a lot of nights and Sundays and, as a result, our church attendance dropped off. I was spending so much time at work, working not only my scheduled shift but often times going in early or staying late, that the time I had left to spend with Debby was shrinking.

The combination of the sudden life change for Debby and my excessive work hours was dangerous. On one hand you have a young bride who suddenly finds herself alone when she is unaccustomed to living alone, and on the other you have an eager-beaver mentality that does anything that’s required, and then some, in the pursuit of a promotion. Nothing good could possibly come from that combination.

To make matters worse, I was also in the Army National Guard which meant that when I did have a weekend off from work I was likely on a drill weekend with the Guard and that left Debby home alone, for the entire weekend.

Being an outgoing personality and not wanting to stay home alone, Debby returned to the party scene she had known before we got married, and went to dance clubs with her girlfriends on the weekends when I was working or away with the Guard.

The clubbing and girls nights out were fulfilling a need that I was either unaware of at the time, or unwilling to fill. She needed to be around other people and wanted acceptance. After a very short time, she found herself in increasingly compromising situations which ultimately led to an affair.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one-time heat-of-the-moment bad-decision affair, but one that went on for a period of time.

While I was at work pursuing my career and trying to provide for our new family, she craved attention and could not adjust to being alone. God wasn’t a priority in her life at the time, in spite of the fact that she was a relatively new believer, and my schedule communicated to her in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t a priority in my life either.

I was either too stupid or too ignorant to notice. Oh, I knew that something was different, that she was more distant, there was tension in the air and things weren’t as they used to be, but I didn’t do anything about it.

The day that I discovered her affair was a reality gut-check for me. Here we were, only three months into our marriage, and we hit this brick wall that stopped us dead in our tracks. It was pretty apparent that our priorities were out of order, and that we were both living for “me” rather than “we.”

Someday we may share more details about this and the days and months after the affair, but for now I’ll just say that the path forward was long and difficult, but we made a conscious decision to stay together and make this thing work. The one thing we could agree on was that divorce was not an option. We had no idea at the time what that would look like or how we would survive, but we were determined to stay together.

It was only by the grace of God and His forgiveness, coupled with strong mentoring from several Christian couples that got us through.

Over the years we have learned the importance of putting God first and foremost in our lives and the importance of our relationship with Him. When we are living for Christ and serving Him, and placing Him first in our actions and our words, everything else falls into place.

Debby would tell you that she is the happiest and finds the most contentment when she is serving others, either in the church or other ministries, and when her focus is outward and not inward.

Once you establish God as your first priority, your spouse should be your next priority. He or she needs to be the one who captures your thoughts and who fills your calendar. It is extremely important that you demonstrate this to your spouse on a daily basis.

Mark my words, and this is coming from first-hand experience, if your spouse doesn’t believe that s/he is your priority and you don’t make them feel special, over time they will seek out someone who will.

Let’s be honest, it’s not easy to keep your marriage at the top of your priority list, since there are so many other people and things competing for your attention. Your kids, your boss and co-workers, your hobbies, your extended family, your church…these all compete for your time, your attention, and your dollars. While each of these do have a place in your life, it is important that you place them in the appropriate priority order and that your spouse occupies the top spot in your life, after your relationship with Christ Jesus.

To say it differently, your spouse needs to believe that he or she is the most important person in the world to you and that you nothing else can come between the two of you.

relationship prioritiesWhen you do that, it changes everything. It changes your attitude, it changes the way you think about your spouse, the way you talk to him/her, the way you treat him/her, the way you value him/her…it ultimately changes everything about your relationship.

And let me say this, don’t ever say anything insensitive, hurtful, disparaging, or negative about your spouse on social media. If you can’t say anything positive and uplifting or encouraging about your spouse, it’s best that you don’t mention him/her at all on social media.

One small thing that Debby and I do to communicate our relationship priorities is that we always sit next to one another and do not allow our kids or anyone else, sit between us. Whether we are at home, at church, at a conference, the movie theater, or just walking down the mall, we are always next to one another and we are usually holding hands.

From the early years when they were little, we’ve taught our kids that when we go somewhere as a family, they cannot sit between us or walk between us. It’s our way of letting them know that we prioritize our relationship with one another and that no-one, not even them, will come between us.

I have told our kids on many occasions that the best thing that a dad can do for his kids is to love their mother, and demonstrate that love on a continual basis. It’s a great comfort and sense of security for kids to grow up in a home where their parents model a godly marriage and are deeply in love with one another.

I realize this may sound extreme to some of you and, maybe you like to sit in church with your kids between the two of you because you’re in protection mode, or for better control to ensure they sit quietly and behave. Or maybe you’ve never given it much thought…whatever the case is, that’s fine. We’re not going to judge you for that. I’m just telling you that there are little things you can do to demonstrate to your spouse, to your kids, and everyone around you where your priorities lie.

This is just something that works for us.

Once you establish your relationship with God as your primary relationship and then your spouse as your next highest priority, then it’s important that your kids fall in line next, and then your other family, or friends, or whomever else is important to you.

That’s right; your kids come after your wife or your husband.

We’ve all seen families where the children rule the roost. In these families the kids are the priority and they set the agenda and the tone of the household. It most likely begins innocently enough, but the parents, one or both of them, begins to focus more on the needs of the kids rather than the needs of their spouse. Over time one of the spouses, usually the husband, feels the need to compete with the kids for the attention of his wife and they drift apart. The spouse begins to feel disappointment, which grows into anger, which develops into bitterness, which becomes resentment, which usually leads to 1-800-Divorce.

So where are your priorities? Is your spouse a higher priority than your kids? We’re not saying you neglect your kids or don’t love your kids. We’re just saying that parenthood is temporary, marriage is forever. There are plenty of people out there that say we have that backwards, but marriage was designed to last forever. Oh, they’ll always be your kids. But God willing, someday they will grow up, get a job and move out of the house. If you have spent years focusing on your kids and then they move off to college or get married, it may be too late to begin to build your relationship with your spouse. How tragic for you to have nothing in common with your spouse when the kids are gone and your relationship grows stale, or falls apart.

I told you we haven’t always gotten things right. There was one point in our marriage where I realized that I was spread so thin and I was involved in so many different things outside our home, that the time I was spending with Debby was just about zilch. I was the President of our youngest daughters Gymnastics Booster Club, the Treasurer of the High School Booster Club, and Elder-elect at our church, serving in an Awana Club at church as well as on the ministry team, which is like an advisory board…all in addition to being a husband, a dad, and working a full-time job. Oh, I almost forgot, I was also the Treasurer for a missionary-support organization.

If I wasn’t working, I was either at a meeting, planning for a meeting, or thinking about a meeting, and Debby and the kids were getting my left-overs. The good thing, if there is one in all that, is that this was happening when our relationship was on solid ground and we were really past the most difficult periods of our marriage. However, I realized that my priorities were out of line and I wasn’t demonstrating to her that she was at the top of my list.

I remember making a decision to stop saying “YES” every time someone approached me with a new opportunity and I became very good at saying “NO.” I resigned from most of the positions I was juggling and re-aligned my priority list.

It was easy to justify every position I held, to some degree, but add it all up and I didn’t have any margin in my life. No extra time for Debby, for the kids, or even for me. I knew I needed to make a significant change.

When your spouse is your first priority, after God, it strengthens your commitment to one another, it improves your communication with one another, and it eliminates complacency in your marriage.

Some of you today may find yourself complacent. Your marriage may not be all that great and exciting, but, you’d argue that things aren’t all that bad either. Pastor Daniel talked about this last week when he told us the opposite of love is apathy. Are you complacent, or apathetic towards your spouse? Maybe you’ve settled into a routine and are just going through the motions. Maybe you’ve found yourselves to be more like roommates, with occasional privileges, rather than a happily married couple enjoying your life together.

If so, it doesn’t need to be that way. Marriage can be, and should be, amazing. My challenge to you tonight is to identify one small area of your marriage that you can change, that will have an immediate impact on your marriage and demonstrate your priorities.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

 

About the authors

Jason and Debby Coleman are marriage mentors and the authors of Discovering Your Amazing Marriage (Seraphina Press).

They have survived infidelity during the first year of their marriage and have been married now for over 26 years. They have four children and reside in Vancouver, WA.

Marrieds Night at Crossroads Church, Vancouver, WA

Posted: 26th March 2016 by Jason Coleman in Love is a Choice

Marrieds Night

April 10 @ 6:30 pm  8:30 pm

| Free

married's

We are hosting a special event for married couples April 10, 6:30pm in the Family Room. Join us for a night of inspiring teaching, real-life stories, humor, dessert and more as we portray the challenges and beauty of God’s design. To attend and reserve free child care for kids newborn to 5th Grade, register here!

Date: April 10
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Cost: Free
Event Categories:
, ,, , 

Venue

Crossroads Church
7708 NE 78th St 
Vancouver, WA 98622
Phone:
360.256.9711

broken marriageI saw a post on Facebook several months ago that was a pretty interesting read. It was written by a man who had recently been divorced after almost 16 years of marriage. His post was a list of marriage tips, written from the perspective of a divorcee, to help others protect and save their marriage. I took some of his advice, (I threw out the rest of it), matched it up with scripture, and added to it to come up with a marriage workshop we recently taught.

Now before you wonder why I’m sharing advice from someone who lost at the game of love and marriage, let me ask you…who better to give advice than someone who learned some very tough lessons and paid a high price? The price he paid was the loss of his best friend…his lover…his life partner. You should know by now that in life, we usually learn better through tough times…through pain and suffering, than we do when it’s smooth sailing.

So here’s the thoughts…in no particular order of importance.

Never stop dating: Never ever take each other for granted. When you were dating, everything was about the other person…your thoughts were held captive by her / him. Your time was spent with the one your heart was pursuing. Your money was spent on him/her. You cherished the moments you had and when you were apart, you desperately counted the minutes until you could be together again. Am I wrong? Take a moment and think back to a special date or your special place. Do you remember that feeling? Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 14:1 “Pursue love…

Guard your heart: Just as you committed to be the protector of one another’s heart, you must guard your own heart with the same diligence. Love others, develop healthy friendships, but remember that there is a special and sacred place in your heart where no one must enter except your spouse. Refuse to let anyone or anything in. Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Fall in love over and over and over again: You are constantly changing – so is your spouse. S/he is not the same person you fell in love with. Accept that change, and CHOOSE love. We all sag, droop, wrinkle, bulge, etc. Our outward bodies will change, and we need to accept that about ourselves but most importantly, about our spouse. Now, that’s not to say that we can’t hold off the effects of aging somewhat. A gym membership is a great idea. Watch that cholesterol, reduce that salt, eat more roughage. Eating healthy demonstrates your love. Take care of your body, for it is the temple of the HS. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Guys, what are you doing to fight to win her heart, over and over again? Gals, what are you doing to attract your husband to you, over and over again? If he’s not attracted to you, he will find someone he is attracted to. You can count on it. It’s how he’s wired…and God created him that way! Song of Solomon 8: 6-7  “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”

Always see the best in your spouse: Focus only on what you love about him/her and focus on their positive traits. If you tend to focus on the negative, over time, the negative will be all you see. If you focus on what bugs you, you will find reasons to be bugged. Her little annoying habits – and we all have them – will start to show up everywhere, all day long. Have you ever been out looking for a new car? You decide you like a particular style that you hadn’t considered before, and you buy it, and the very next day it seems like EVERYONE is driving it! They were always around you, but you didn’t care before, you didn’t pay attention to them before. But now that you’re focused on it and you bought one, you are more aware and they are everywhere! If you focus on what you love and admire about your spouse, you can’t help but be overwhelmed and consumed with love for your spouse. Focus on his/her positive traits and the other annoying things will fade away in the peripheral vision. When you no longer see anything but love and positive traits when you look at your spouse, you will want to spend all your waking moments with him/her and you will think you’re the luckiest person alive to be able to call him/her YOURS. Proverbs 25:11 reminds us, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

It’s not your job to change or “fix” your spouse!: Your job is to love your spouse and if anything needs “fixing” – fix yourself! If s/he changes, love them for it (unless it is a negative, sinful change). You can’t “fix” your spouse, no matter how hard you try. Love him/her and open up a conversation to discuss any changes you’d like to see made. Approach it with love and understanding, and you’ll be apt to have a much more receptive audience.  Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”

Take full responsibility for your own emotions: It’s not your spouse’s job to make you happy and s/he can’t make you sad. You are in full control of your happiness and contentment, based on what you choose. You and I choose our attitude and we control our happiness. Proverbs 17:22 – “A merry heart doeth good [like] a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Philippians 2:14 – “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Certainly our spouse can influence our attitude and emotions, but we are responsible for them and we can choose how to respond to circumstances, words, and actions. Never blame your spouse if you get frustrated or angry. These are your emotions and when you assign blame, his/her human response is to either get defensive or blame you in return. When you feel that you “win” an argument, do you really win? Does the relationship win? Rather than finding fault or assigning blame, take some time to evaluate YOUR fault in the disagreement and take responsibility for it.

Don’t run away when s/he’s upset: When your spouse is upset, you most likely can’t “fix” it but you certainly shouldn’t run away or avoid them either. Sometimes the best thing to do guys is to just hold your wife. This is a lesson our marriage counselor taught us years ago, when we were learning how to communicate. So many times I tried to “fix” her emotions when what I really needed to do was to hold her. Sometimes the best antidote is to listen and hold her – even when she thinks she doesn’t want you to. Many times when Debby was upset I’d just hold her, and more often than not, she tried to pull away and push me away. Those were the times when I kept my mouth shut and just held her. She needs to know that you are there, willing to listen, but also willing to just be still. We both need to learn to listen to what’s NOT being said and to understand what is really being communicated behind the words and emotions. Understanding that a woman’s emotions are more fragile than a man’s and tend to roll in and out like the tide is key to understanding your spouse. It’s human nature to try and avoid conflict and to not want to be around one another when one of you is upset. However, these are the times when it’s best to allow a little space and perhaps a cooling off period, and then reassure your spouse that you love him/her and that you are willing to work through the conflict. Running away is never the response that will result in resolution. Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Romans 14:19 – “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”

Don’t use silence as a weapon: Silence is deadly, and can have a disastrous affect on your relationship. It is easier to communicate and work through a problem when you are both talking, even if you’re launching mortars at one another, than if you are experiencing the icy ‘silent treatment’ and your mind races through the 99 different ways that your spouse resents and hates you. When you’re talking, at least your imagination isn’t running wild and you’re not consumed with trying to figure out what your spouse is thinking. Oftentimes that can be more damaging to the relationship and delay resolution that hurtful things you could say to your spouse. Now, I’m not advocating you say hurtful things to one another just for the sake of avoiding silence – you need to learn how to articulate your feelings and resentments in a way that causes your spouse to understand them, acknowledge them, and that leads to resolution. Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 18:13 – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth [it], it [is] folly and shame unto him.”

Be silly and don’t take your self too seriously: Laughter is good for the soul and the relationship. Spend time doing things that make you laugh…that bring you joy. Essayist and biographer Agnes Repplier, who was known for her common sense and good judgment, said, “We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.” A woman discovered a shelf of reduced-price items at a local bookstore. Among the gifts was a little figurine of a man and woman, their heads lovingly tilted toward one another. “Happy 10th Anniversary” read the inscription. It appeared to be in perfect condition, yet its tag indicated “damaged.” Examining it more closely, she found another tag underneath that read “Wife is coming unglued.” Are there times when you feel like you are “coming unglued?” We all have those moments, and laughter is the best medicine and humor makes all things tolerable. Proverbs 15:13 “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” Proverbs 17:22 “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Job 8:21 “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.”

 Be present: Wherever you are, be all there. Give one another not only your time, but your focus, your attention, and your soul. Clear your head, and your schedule, when you are with one another so you can be fully present. Treat your spouse as if he or she is the most valuable and most important person in the world and when you are together, give of your best. Treat your spouse as if s/he is your most valued and most important treasure – she is! So, how do you do this? Here’s a few tips:

  1. When your spouse is talking, STOP what you are doing and look at them. Eye contact is important as it lets him/her know you are focused and paying attention. Give them your undivided attention. STOP – LOOK – LISTEN
  2. If you find yourself being distracted or if there is something urgently important that they interrupted, be honest. Share the fact that you are being distracted and work to eliminate the distraction. When you’re honest enough to communicate in love, it draws you closer together and you will understand each other better. Better to acknowledge that you are being distracted than have him/her wonder why you are drifting off. If you simply MUST be doing something else, communicate that too in a loving and caring manner and tell your spouse that s/he will have your undivided attention just as soon as you can break away from whatever it is that is urgent.
  3. Listen to your spouse in the same manner as you would want to be listened to.

Being in a relationship means “relating” with one another and connecting. So be all there – distraction free and fully engaged. Just like in some drawings where you “must be present to win” you and I must be “present” to “win” in our marriage. I Cor 13:4-5 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.

 Learn one another’s love language: Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. Once you understand the ‘language’ that your spouse speaks, you will be in a better position to understand what makes them tick. Chapman explains how important it is for couples to understand how each other and themselves both give and receive love. It is possible for couples to truly love each other, but to truly feel unloved because they don’t think the same about giving and receiving love. For example, if a husband does not meet the primary love language of his wife, she might not sense his true feelings and start to be unsatisfied with their relationship.

  1. Words of Affirmation “If this is your love language, you feel most cared for when your partner is open and expressive in telling you how wonderful they think you are, how much they appreciate you, etc.”
  2. Acts of Service “If your partner offering to watch the kids so you can go to the gym (or relieving you of some other task) gets your heart going, then this is your love language.”
  3. Affection “This love language is just as it sounds. A warm hug, a kiss, touch, and sexual intimacy make you feel most loved when this is your love language.”
  4. Quality Time “This love language is about being together, fully present and engaged in the activity at hand, no matter how trivial.”
  5. Gifts “Your partner taking the time to give you a gift can make you feel appreciated.”

 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: You will make mistakes, and so will your spouse. We all do…you’ve heard he phrase, “no-one’s perfect.” It’s true, we will all say and do dumb things. Now, we should try and avoid doing dumb things and the fact that we’re not perfect isn’t a ‘license’ to be an idiot, but don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don’t withhold forgiveness if you are wronged. We should strive to learn from our mistakes and apply those lessons to other situations in life. That’s growth. Mistakes and bad judgment happens. That’s keeping it real. You and I aren’t expected to be perfect, just try not to be too stupid. Psalms 37:24 – “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth [him with] his hand.” When you make a mistake or do and say something dumb, don’t try and cover it up – that makes it worse. Admit it and move. Proverbs 28:13 – “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh [them] shall have mercy.”

Be fully transparent: A key part of trustworthiness is earning the trust of your spouse. That means being willing to share everything – especially those things you don’t want to share. It takes courage to open your heart and be transparent and to admit to insecurities or faults, but part of that courage is allowing your spouse to love you fully in spite of your flaws and weaknesses. Trust is one of the primary foundations of a healthy relationship. Trust is the cornerstone of a marriage. If you don’t or can’t trust one another, what type of a relationship do you have? Without trust, a relationship is destined for disappointment and failure. Ephesians 4:25 “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Earlier we spoke of the importance of guarding your heart. One way to do that is to be transparent and fully accountable to one another. We encourage couples to share e-mail and social media passwords and to allow each other full access to your cell phone and other communication devices. Knowing that your spouse can go through your text history may keep you from making an inappropriate comment which could lead to an inappropriate relationship.

Never stop growing together: It’s a stagnant pond that breeds malaria and disease while the flowing mountain stream is fresh and cool. Atrophy is the natural process when you stop working a muscle, just as it is if you stop working on your relationship. Never stop growing, never stop improving your relationship. We discussed this in a chapter of our book called “One Day at a Time.” We should constantly strive to increase our faith in God and our commitment to one another, growing deeper and deeper in love with one another. II Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” To borrow the words of the late President Ronald Reagan, “Our best days are yet to come.” As we continue to grow in our relationship with the Lord and with each other, our love grows deeper, stronger, and more resilient to the pressures of the world. Find common goals, dreams, and visions and work together towards accomplishing those dreams.

Don’t fight about money: Money is very important in a relationship and it’s important that you are on the same page with one another in how you spend your resources, but don’t fight about it. In most national surveys on the leading causes for divorce, money problems come up either #1 or #2 and according to a survey conducted by a leading Money Magazine, most couples argue about money twice as much as they argue about sex. Here are a few financial landmines to avoid.

  1. Mine, Yours, Ours – Sometimes couples can’t agree on financial goals or they don’t trust one another to be fiscally responsible so they try the “divide and conquer” approach. Otherwise known as “Mine, Yours, and Ours.” They split the bills according to their different income amounts and after they pay “their” bills the rest of their money is, well, theirs to do with as they choose. The biggest problem with this, that I see, is the process often leads to resentment over individual purchases made or savings that one spouse accumulates. Sometimes an argument is made that the two had different assets before the marriage began and those assets need to be “protected.” If that’s how you feel, that you can’t fully trust your spouse, then maybe you shouldn’t get married. Just a thought.
  2. Debt – School loans, car loans, credit cards, impulsive buying habits – most people bring financial baggage to the alter with them. If you have a load of debt when you’re single, you introduce that debt to your partner and s/he owns it when you get married. If one partner has more debt than the other, or one is debt-free and the other isn’t, it may be agreeable in the beginning but over time, resentment can kick in and lead to serious disagreements. Furthermore, after the marriage one is likely a spender while one is a saver and that too can lead to a clash of the titans.
  3. The Power Play – this often occurs when the earning potential or earning reality is unequal. For example, he works and she doesn’t, or vise-versa. One earns significantly more than the other – and women, if you earn more than your husband, don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t feel embarrassed, ashamed, thinks that he’s a disappointment or that he’s ‘less than a man’ – it’s in our nature to be the bread winners…yes even in the year 2015. Earn as much as you can ladies, and yes I support equal pay for equal work, but be sensitive of his feelings. Reassure him…but know that all of your reassuring won’t completely change how he feels. Maybe one comes from a rich family and one poor. Generally speaking, the higher wage earner feels the ‘right’ to dictate the spending priorities which could lead to disagreement and resentment. One solution may be to allow the non- or lesser-earning spouse to have the deciding vote in financial matters. The most important thing is that you communicate and decide financial matters together.
  4. Keeping Up with the Joneses – Unfortunately Americans have a reputation for playing “keep up” with the Joneses. In other words, when your sister gets a new car, you have to get a newer or better car. When your best friend buys a new house, your house suddenly isn’t good or big enough. Always trying to “one up” your friends and neighbors is what drives many of us in to the unending debt spiral. When we were young, we were poor. We intentionally made a choice to keep Debby home with our kids. Because of that choice, we didn’t have all the toys, cars, or spending money that our friends had. Yes, it was often difficult, but it was a choice we made together and I wouldn’t re-do it if we could. It was the right thing to do, for us. But whether you both work or not isn’t the issue. Avoid the “one up” game and live within your means. “Live like no-one else, so you can live like no-one else!” ~ Dave Ramsey

Here are some key verses on money

Philippians 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I love what Dave Ramsey says about money, “Debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.”

Forgive immediately: We need to learn to forgive immediately and not hold on to hurts and faults of the past. Don’t let history hold you hostage. Holding on to past mistakes that either you or your spouse has made is like a heavy anchor on your marriage and it will hold you back and eventually sink your ship. Forgiveness is freedom. Cut loose the anchor of bitterness, resentment, and un-forgiveness and always, always choose love. Choosing forgiveness is choosing to love. I’m constantly reminded that God has forgiven me, and I know the depth of my sins, so how could I ever choose to not forgive Debby for anything? We need to come to an understanding and realization that our relationship is far more valuable than the words or actions that wounded our pride, let us down, or in some way caused us to feel insignificant. An amazing marriage consists of complete forgiveness and restoration of your relationship from all the hurts and wrongdoings. You nor your spouse are perfect and those imperfections need forgiveness. Immediate and complete forgiveness. Far too many people spend sleepless nights trying to unpack the past hurts and hang on to a word or deed that was offensive, when what they really need to do is let it go and move on. Forgiveness begins with a conscious choice, or decision. You and I need to completely release our spouse from the hurt and pain s/he has caused and make a move toward complete forgiveness. Forgiveness offers a freedom that I can’t explain when you release someone, and yourself, of the burden. I encourage you to talk through any areas in your marriage where you are holding on to past hurts and offer forgiveness to your spouse. Choosing to release forgiveness can elevate your marriage to new heights you never thought were possible. The relationship Debby and I have developed over the years is by far deeper and stronger than we ever imagined and we owe it in part to the trials we faced together and the battles we fought to save our marriage. We would have never chosen to face infidelity, but it happened to us through poor choices, but by the power or God and His forgiveness, we were able to overcome that, among many other things, and we have strengthened the bond in the process.

Psalm 103:8-12 “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

David prayed in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Colossians 3:13” Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Affirm your spouse publically – Make your spouse feel, no, believe, that they are the most important person in the world to you. Speak well of your spouse in your inner circle. Praise your spouse publicly. Sing his/her praises through social media. Never make disparaging comments about your spouse in public or on a public platform. Michael Hyatt says, “I am convinced that praising your spouse in public is one of the most important investments you can make – in your family and in your leadership.” He says this is important for at least five reasons:

  1. You get more of what you affirm Praised behavior is repeated. It’s human nature – just be genuine, not manipulative!
  2. Affirmation shifts your attitude toward your spouse Words are powerful tools. If you start speaking well of someone, you start believing what you say.
  3. Affirmation helps strengthen your spouse’s best qualities Encouragement is also a powerful force for good. We all need positive reinforcement.
  4. Affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery When others see you are happily married, they are less likely to proposition you. It’s like a defensive shield.
  5. Affirmation provides a model to those you lead To be a truly effective leader, you must lead yourself, and then you must lead your family. Your marriage is a powerful visual of how you treat the people you value the most. When you speak highly of your spouse, your followers are more likely to trust you.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ~ Philippians 2:1-4

Love passionately – There is a direct correlation between the health of your relationship and your intimacy. You see, the closer your relationship, the more frequent and passionate your intimacy. Most people think it is the other way around – the more sex you have the closer your relationship will be. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We have some close friends who, according to them, had frequent and great sex. But that’s really all they had. They loved to love on one another, but their relationship was like a dried and withered vine – it produced no fruit. Sex is a thermometer of your relationship, not the thermostat. You can’t set the temperature of your relationship based on the frequency you have sex. However, if you constantly hold out or have a lingering “forever headache” that will put a freeze on your relationship in a hurry. Unfortunately, sex is a topic that is rarely preached on and many Christians avoid talking about it. If you think that the Bible only talks about sex in a negative “don’t do this, avoid that, do not lust, fornicate, etc” manner, than you need to read your Bible!

Proverbs 5:18-19 “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.

Song of Solomon 4:9-15 (NLT)  9 You have captured my heart, my treasure, my bride. You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes, with a single jewel of your necklace. 10 Your love delights me, my treasure, my bride. Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices. 11 Your lips are as sweet as nectar, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. Your clothes are scented like the cedars of Lebanon.

12 You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain. 13 Your thighs shelter a paradise of pomegranates with rare spices— henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, fragrant calamus and cinnamon, with all the trees of frankincense, myrrh, and aloes, and every other lovely spice. 15 You are a garden fountain, a well of fresh water streaming down from Lebanon’s mountains.

Make your marriage your first priority – After your relationship with God, your spouse and your marriage must be your top priority. Marriage takes work, and a lot of it.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Ephesians 4:2-3 “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

Chose Love. Always – In the end, this is the only advice you and I need. If this is the guiding principle through which all your choices are governed, there is nothing that will threaten the happiness of your marriage. Love will always endure. “Happily ever after” isn’t a fairy tale – it’s a CHOICE. But it takes work – hard work, every day. And a commitment to grow together and a willingness to continually invest in creating something that can endure eternity. Through that work, the happiness will come.

Marriage is real life, and it will bring ups and downs. Embracing all of the cycles and learning to learn from and love each experience will bring the strength and perspective to keep building an amazingly successful marriage, one brick and one choice at a time.

1 Peter 4:8 “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

Debby and I attended a “Solomon, Sex, & Marriage” seminar this past weekend at the Cannon Beach Conference Center, in Cannon Beach, OR. The conference was lead by Shane & Phyllis Womack. Shane is the Senior Pastor of Knott Avenue Christian Church in Aneheim, CA and he and his wife have lead marriage conferences for many years.

This seminar was like no other, in that it was direct, straight-forward, and dealt with a topic that many people find difficult to discuss…SEX. They read through the Song of Solomon and discuss the interpretation and application in “no-nonsense” terms that are direct and pointed.

Many couples do not talk openly and honestly about sex, and as a result, many don’t have the quantity or quality of sex that they desire. Sex was created for our enjoyment and is a wonderful, giving act between two loving and committed partners. The world has a dirty and perverted view of sex, but biblical sex is good, amazing and thoroughly satisfying for both partners.

The story in the Song of Solomon is a description of how a marriage should look to God and a picture of mutual pleasure between the two lovers. The writing is poetic and flows beautifully.

If you have an opportunity to attend a seminar, we highly recommend it!

 

“Sometimes the most basic elements are the most fascinating, the most absorbing, and also the most complicated.” ~ Virginia Graham

1. Trust

“Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence. The obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed” 1

Trust is one of the primary foundations of a healthy relationship. There’s not much you can build in your relationship if there is an absence of trust. Trust, after all, is the cornerstone of marriage. We trust that our spouse has pledged complete and unending love and commitment to us. We trust that our spouse has our best interests at heart. We trust that our spouse fully intends to spend the rest of his or her life with us, regardless of the circumstances that may change. We trust that our spouse will love us unconditionally, and that if all we own is stripped away, our spouse will still be there loving and caring for us. Finally, we trust that there is nothing in the world more important to our spouse than us and our relationship.

So what is trust anyway? Blind faith? Not hardly. As Webster defines it, there are numerous meanings of the word trust, in both the noun and verb form. Some of the more applicable definitions in the noun form include “the trait of trusting; of believing in the honesty and reliability of others.” Trust is also defined as “complete confidence in a person or plan.” As a verb, trust is defined as “having confidence or faith in; allowing without fear.” 2

As we relate trust to relationships, it is easy to see that if there is not a complete trust in one’s spouse, the marriage relationship cannot thrive, much less survive. Trust is an integral part of our relationship as a married couple and it is the glue that holds us together. Having complete confidence in a person to love us, no matter our faults or circumstances, is truly a rare and unique experience.

Trust means having a complete assurance that circumstances will not influence the relationship we share with one another. The vow that many of us have taken that states “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” simplifies this concept of trust. If we entered into a relationship that was based on circumstances, it would be so easy for the marriage to dissolve at the first sign of trouble. Trust, therefore, means complete confidence in one another, which is vital to the healthy growth of a mar­riage relationship. Without trust, a relationship is destined for failure and disappointment.

2. Integrity

“Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” 3

Integrity, just like trust, is foundational and essential in the marriage relationship. Integrity encompasses trust, but is more clearly defined as moral soundness. I’ve heard it said that integrity means doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. I add that integrity is doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because someone else expects you to do it. In the marriage relationship, integrity means remaining true to your spouse and avoiding situations that are potentially destructive to your relationship. Integrity can also mean avoiding situations that evade or avoid responsible actions.

The majority of us would like to think that we have integrity and we would also like to think that others see us as having high moral charac­ter. We all desire and expect this behavior in our spouse. It is one of the foundational truths of any successful marriage that both marriage part­ners posses and exercise personal responsibility and integrity.

When I exhibit integrity as a virtue and a character trait, it builds respect from Debby. When she sees me holding myself to a higher standard and following a sound moral compass, the level of respect she has for me increases. However, being as though I am not perfect and make poor choices from time to time, when I fail to uphold those expectations and do or say something unexpected and regrettable, she can look at the overall track record of my integrity and realize that whatever the offense was, it was an aberration and not consistent with my habits. There are times when we both say and do regrettable things or make poor choices, but they don’t shake our commitment to one another or destroy our marriage.

Integrity certainly does not mean perfection; rather, it is a character trait that one strives to achieve through a combination of decisions and actions. A person known to be of high integrity is not one who never makes mistakes or never has a lapse in judgment, but someone who gen­erally makes wise decisions and who puts a high premium on making good choices. It is one who takes responsibility for his or her own actions and is consistent, regardless of circumstances.

Integrity can be defined as the strength of one’s will to stand for something or to hold something in high regard. In our marriage covenant, it is the covenant of marriage itself and the sanctity of marriage that is held in high regard and protected from dangers that can come from any and all directions. Integrity in marriage refers not only to complete honesty, but also to the moral obligation you have toward your spouse to remain faithful and true in all things, but especially in terms of your sexual relationship.

There are truly few things that can destroy a marriage quicker than a spouse who lacks integrity in the sexual realm. Infidelity immediately destroys the foundational trust in a marriage and could potentially take years to rebuild. Integrity can be restored provided both partners renew their commitment to one another and their commitment to make the marriage work, at all cost.

3. Unconditional Love

“Affection or commitment with no limits or conditions; not subject to a condition or conditions; absolute and complete love” 4

As you will see, the majority of the topics in this chapter are closely in­tertwined and related to one another. Unconditional love is one of those fundamental truths that must be present for any relationship to grow and prosper. If your love for one another is conditional, it cannot and will not be eternal. Conditional love is dependent upon a specific set of cir­cumstances or criteria. It changes and adjusts when the circumstances change. Unconditional love means that regardless of the circumstances and storms you may face in life, your love will stay the course and remain faithful and true.

We believe that love is a conscious decision to care for your spouse in such a way as to meet their needs and exceed their expectations every day. It is a selfless love that puts the other first, in all things, and that demonstrates your commitment.

It is important to establish unconditional love early in your relationship, even when the challenges seem small and insignificant. Time doesn’t necessarily work the same in all relationships and most of us aren’t on a textbook-style time frame. By that, I mean that your love won’t necessarily be tested with a progression of challenges, starting with something small and insignificant in the beginning and growing with intensity over time. Some relationships are thrust into challenging waters at the very onset of the relationship, as ours was, while others may have the luxury of developing a long-term relationship before facing adversity.

As you love your spouse unconditionally and prove your love time and time again, their self-esteem and confidence in the relationship grows. Their value rises and they in turn are drawn into a deeper love for you. One popular marriage author describes the relationship between a man and a woman as a bank account. The more positive things you say and do, the more deposits you make in your account. On the other hand, every time you make a thoughtless comment or commit a foolish and selfish act, your account is debited. The idea then is to have a positive balance, just like in your checkbook, and to make more deposits than debits to maintain peace and harmony in your relationship.

There is nothing more beautiful than two people who truly love one another with an unconditional love. There are no motives, no schemes, no enticements, and no manipulations. Unconditional love doesn’t require deposits, it doesn’t require favors, and it doesn’t require bribes. Unconditional love is one person loving another, regardless of circumstances, and regardless of any reciprocal act or behavior. They love because that is what they do, that is the choice they make, and nothing can change that fact. Unconditional love is a choice; one that chooses to stand the test of time and the test of circumstances.

4. Resolve

“Firmness of purpose or intent; determination.” 5

Resolve may not be one of the words you would have chosen if you were putting together a list of absolute requirements, but as it relates to marriage and unconditional love, we believe it is one of the essential elements of a successful and amazing marriage. Resolve, or tenacity, and determination will get you through when the storms of life are pounding away at your anchor. They will allow you to stand firm, without wavering in your convictions. Without having a predetermined resolve that you will stick by your spouse when life gets tough, thoughts of doubt and despair may creep in and begin to take hold in your heart.

It is no secret or surprise that bad things happen in life. Sickness, job loss, disappointment, financial setbacks, and countless other challenges appear in our path on a continual basis. Challenges and problems cannot be avoided and oftentimes cannot be controlled, much less result in a chosen outcome. What you can control, however, when you face these trials and tribulations is your response to them. How will you handle these setbacks? Who will you turn to for comfort, and who will you turn to for solutions? Will you play the blame game and try to find fault in others, or will you accept the fact that bad things do happen to good people and work together to find a way out of the mess you are in? The answer lies in your resolve and commitment to one another.

People respond to crisis in different ways, and some people immediately look to find fault in others. Their financial troubles certainly can’t be a result of their own choices. It must have been caused by someone else. Someone else gave a poor investment recommendation; otherwise your 401k would not be reflecting the loss that it is. The termination notice your boss handed you is obviously part of a bigger financial crisis your company is facing and cannot at all be associated with your work ethic and the choices you’ve made.

Can you see how easy it is to fall prey and victim to your circumstances and how easy it is to find fault in your spouse for your current or ongoing problems? Resolve and total commitment to one another is paramount in determining the success in your relationship. It is a mindset that no matter what happens in your relationship you must maintain the tenacity to stay the course. Even if your spouse gives up and doesn’t seem to care anymore, you must determine in your heart to stay the course, no matter how long it takes, and trust that he or she will respond. Resolve to love your spouse, regardless of the circumstances that come your way and learn from every setback and failure.

5. Compromise

“A settlement of differences by mutual concessions” 6

In an amazing marriage, compromise is a concept that we feel is crucial to success. Compromise, as we define it, simply means that individually you must give up so together you can go up. There will be times when you need to sacrifice what you want as an individual in order to get what you need as a couple, or to get what your spouse needs. Oftentimes we have wants, perceived needs, and desires that we try to pursue, but perhaps at the expense of our relationship. There are times when we need to set aside our individual desires for the sake of the relationship and make compromises.

A large part of compromise begins with acceptance. Accept your spouse for what and who he or she is. This is an aspect of the unconditional love we discussed earlier. Your spouse is a unique individual with different skills and abilities, as well as a unique personality and unique character traits. Accept them for who and what they are. You really can’t change a person to a large degree, and it is important to value your spouse and accept them as they are. There are some obvious reasons your spouse was attractive to you initially, but undoubtedly there are some things that you wish you could change about your spouse. However, you may not be in a position to change them as much as you’d like to.

We hear a lot about acceptance in our society. We are told that we are to blindly accept differences in one another and work toward the goal of unity. That sounds good, but what if he is a habitual drug user? What if she has anger management issues and continually threatens your children? I think we could all agree that those are qualities that we would not want to accept. Too often a concept or a principle that sounds good cannot be applied across all situations, all circumstances, and all people.

Rather than blindly accept who your mate is, we suggest that you understand where the point of acceptance is. There are obviously some habits you would not and should not change. These need to be recog­nized and understood. There could be many things that your spouse does that may seem trivial or even a slight annoyance to you, but they are a part of who he or she is. There may be something that they value that you don’t see as having any worth whatsoever, but you need to allow them the freedom of individualism. There are also some things that you just don’t consider important enough to influence for a change.

However, some traits or behaviors may prove to be damaging to your relationship, and you must face and address those. Oftentimes these are not identified or realized prior to marriage and they may come as a surprise to you. What are you to do if you find yourself in a marriage commitment and then discover less-than-desirable behaviors from your spouse? You are not expected to be a doormat, yet there’s not much that you can really change in someone else if they don’t want to change. So, how do you cope with potentially harmful habits or behaviors?

The first step is to identify the behavior. Identify and clarify what it is that you feel is either harmful or potentially harmful, and identify it in as clear a manner as possible. Avoid generalities, and be as specific as possible.

The next step is to discuss the behavior with your spouse. As you do this, be conscientious of how your spouse may feel upon hearing this from you. Explain your feelings clearly and specifically, but not in an of­fensive and condemning tone. Don’t criticize or condemn your spouse, but make it clear that you disapprove of or are fearful of the particular behavior. Include your potential fears and why it is that you feel the way you do. It is important to note that if you feel danger in any way, either have this discussion in a public setting or take a close friend with you who can be both supportive and protective at the same time.

Let your spouse know that you love him or her, unconditionally, yet be very specific in what your concerns are. In many cases, when you approach someone with a spirit of love and concern, he or she will be more open to consider your feelings than if you attack in a manner that undermines and belittles them. Above all else, be loving and respectful, while being honest with your feelings.

If you address a concern with your spouse in a loving and noncon­frontational manner, the chances of him or her listening to you and un­derstanding your concern is much greater. However, if you come across as accusatory and demeaning, it will often lead to a battle of the wills and neither of you win. Keep in mind that your main objective here is to influence and change a potentially harmful behavior or attitude, and the best way to do that is with genuine and honest dialogue.

Compromise doesn’t always mean that you are accepting, or rejecting, personality traits and habits. Oftentimes compromise simply means giving up something you want as an individual for something that benefits you as a couple. An example of this may be money or time that you want to devote to a particular hobby or activity that you enjoy, but that also prohibits you as a married couple from doing something that is necessary for your well-being or livelihood. Perhaps you want to invest in a hobby that takes up a higher percentage of the household income that could be otherwise used to pay bills, reduce debt, or purchase some much-needed household improvements.

When you choose to delay a personal purchase—or perhaps you choose not to invest time in a sport or hobby so you can spend time together as a couple building your relationship—you are investing in your marriage and practicing the art of compromise. Compromise is putting the needs of your relationship before your individual needs. When you both do this, your marriage enjoys the very best that you can offer and the quality of your time grows exponentially. When your relationship is put before individual needs, you both win.

Compromise doesn’t mean sacrificing your wants, needs, and desires of your relationship either. Compromise is a two-way street; and when both of you honor and respect one another, you will find that more often than not the end result is a closer and more satisfying relationship. You may even see that as you compromise more and more for your spouse, they, in turn, will do the same for you and the wants and needs that you both have will begin to be met time and time again.

6. Honesty

“Freedom from deceit or fraud; honorable in principles, intentions, and actions.” 7

Honesty is a very important piece to the puzzle in achieving the successful and excellent marriage you are seeking. When there is a firm foun­dation of honesty between one other, there are incredible freedoms that are experienced in the marriage, on both sides. Both spouses should feel confident in the marriage and come to expect honesty with regards to anything that may challenge the marriage. When you develop a pattern of trust, the level of honesty that you can expect from one another gives you the freedom to express your fears, your dreams, and the desires of your heart, without being fearful of what your spouse may say or think.

At times, you may feel that something that transpired during the course of your day isn’t really that important, and you may choose not to share it with your spouse, but we encourage you to share everything with one another, and to hold no secrets. What may seem insignificant to you may mean a great deal to your spouse.

Recently Debby was at one of her coffee meetings with a friend of hers and as she was ordering her coffee, the barista was a bit overly friendly as he appeared to be trying to flirt with her. As she was telling me the account of what had happened, I thought to myself how easy it would be for me to feel thoughts of jealousy or even anger. In a relationship that is less stable, the husband may even think that his wife was encouraging this type of behavior and was reciprocating the flirting. It is important to remember that we cannot be responsible for the actions of others. If someone flirts with Debby, I have absolute confidence in her and in our relationship so I don’t need to worry about it—that goes for the coffee barista and anyone else.

Debby has the freedom to relate that incident to me, not being fearful of how I may respond. I didn’t jump in my car to go down to the local coffee shop to exact my revenge on the barista or report him to corporate for inappropriate behavior. No, I actually had a moment of pride that my bride is beautiful enough to elicit the attention of others. By sharing that experience with me, it also reinforces my trust in Debby that she will be honest with me in all things.

7. Respect

“To hold in esteem or honor, to show regard or consideration for” 8

Earlier in chapter 1 we talked about choosing to love your spouse, every morning and in a manner that far exceeds their expectations. We believe that the word “respect” and the verb definition of it go hand in hand when related to marriage. If you choose to honor your spouse and hold them in high esteem, and you do it in a very practical way every day, then your spouse will flourish and thrive knowing they are greatly valued, honored, and respected. You will build their esteem and self-confidence. When your spouse is elevated to a place of honor and respect, he or she will be more likely to invest in your relationship as well. As with most things in your relationship, it is reciprocal.

When you meet the needs of your spouse above your own, your spouse will begin to mirror your attitude and actions and begin to do the same for you. When there is mutual respect and each spouse holds the other in high esteem, in tangible and visible ways, you will begin to see your marriage move from mediocre to amazing. It will not happen overnight, nor will it happen over a short period of time. However, if both of you are consistent and invest in each other everyday, after a period of time your marriage will be elevated to the next level. You and your spouse may notice it at different times and the changes may be subtle at first, but your marriage will continue to reach new heights.

Before you know it, people will begin to ask you and your spouse what it is that you have in your marriage that is different, and how can they get it, too. They will ask you how it is possible that you can be so in love and treat one another as newlyweds when you have been married for years. Others will be attracted to the joy and the love that you share, and they will recognize that your relationship is unique. We believe re­spect for each other is crucially important.


[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/trust

[2] http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/trust

[3] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/integrity

[4] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unconditional+love

[5] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/resolve

[6] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/compromise

[7] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/honesty

[8] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/respect

This article is an excerpt  from Jason & Debby Coleman’s book: Discovering Your Amazing Marriage and has been published with the permission of the authors and publisher- Seraphina Press.

About the authors

Jason and Debby Coleman are marriage mentors and the authors of Discovering Your Amazing Marriage (Seraphina Press).

They have survived infidelity during the first year of their marriage and have been married now for over 22 years. They have four children and reside in Federal Way, WA.

My Spouse is Cheating…

Posted: 5th April 2014 by Jason Coleman in Communication, Guard Your Marriage, Infidelity

broken marriage“I just discovered my spouse has been having an affair, I am devastated and I want to save my marriage and seek therapy, but my spouse is not willing to come to therapy. What should I do?”

Many people want to change the world or change others, yet few are willing to change themselves. It is a positive sign that you are willing to address your problems and fight for your marriage.

I am a firm believer in couples counseling, but if your spouse is unwilling to seek counsel I would encourage you to go alone, at first.

An affair doesn’t “just happen”—there are always struggles and difficulties that trigger behavior that results in an affair. Even the “one time opportunistic” affairs indicate a troubled marriage.

To properly answer the question, I need to know if your cheating spouse has ended the affair. If s/he is unrepentant and still engaged in the affair, therapy won’t help.

Love must be tough. You ask him/her to leave. It hurts, but don’t allow a cheating spouse to share the same roof—and certainly not the same bed—with you. Reconciliation can’t begin until s/he is faced with the reality of the consequences of their decisions.

If the affair has ended, you need to understand the problem—why won’t s/he go to counseling? Afraid of feeling guilty? Embarrassed?

You can gently assure your spouse that you truly desire to take whatever steps are necessary to repair your relationship, and ask him/her to reciprocate. His/her willingness to be vulnerable with a counselor or therapist demonstrates a heart of repentance and a desire to rebuilt trust.

If s/he is still unwilling, go alone. You may be the difference-maker in his/her attitude.

~ Jason Coleman

Marriage Mentor and co-author of “Discovering Your Amazing Marriage”

www.youramazingmarriage.com

HobbiesAsk a number of relationship experts what they think about couples spending time alone with their hobbies and activities and you are bound to get a variety of answers.  Some would likely advocate that couples “do everything” together to strengthen their bond, while others would absolutely endorse time spent apart doing gender specific activities.

Over the years, Debby and I have taken a practical approach to this, and we encourage one another to spend time pursuing and enjoying a hobby or activity that we are passionate about. There are some things we do together, but for the most part, our likes and interests are vastly different, and we encourage each other to enjoy those things. Within reason.

For example, I am an avid fisherman and Debby doesn’t like fishing. If I were to insist that she come with me, she would be bored out of her mind! On the other hand, she has enjoyed stamping (B-O-R-I-N-G), scrapbooking (yawn!), and more recently, quilting (really???).

Which brings me to make this blog entry.  Today she is hosting a quilting party at our house. Not a type where she invites friends and family and gives them a tough sell on product. In fact, she’s not selling anything.  She’s simply opened up our basement to her quilting friends for a few hours where they can come over and work on their projects.

She has six or seven ladies (even a man!) down there who have laid out their current project and they are spending some quality time together doing what they all love to do…quilt and chat.

OK, so here’s the whole point of this blog. Before you stop reading and wonder what the heck inspired me to write this, here’s the deal. Rather than go outside and work on the lawn, the car, or go fishing, I decided to stay home and be the host.

After I helped her tidy up the room and set up tables and chairs, I was the door greeter.  I helped the ladies, many of whom are elderly,  carry their sewing machines downstairs, and I have spent the majority of the past hour catering to their every needs. Cookies. Coffee. Water. Additional chairs. Etc.

I’m not tooting my own horn here, I’m simply explaining that by being the host for her quilting party, I am freeing Debby up so that she can enjoy the time herself and get some work done on her own projects.  If I wasn’t around, I am quite certain that she would be worried about making sure everything was just right for her guests, that she wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the time to dig in herself.

The point is simple. Rather than always enjoying your own hobbies or activities separately, why not get creative and see how you can support one another and make sure your spouse has opportunities to enjoy his/her hobbies while you are spending time with them in a supportive role.

I am sure that once you think it through, you will come up with some creative ideas of your own! So encourage one anther to enjoy hobbies and activities, and once in a while, find a way to do them together!

Um, for the record, I am not quilting!!!

 

SantaThis morning I circled the mall several times seeking the elusive parking stall nearest the mall entrance that would minimize the amount of rain drops I needed to dodge. Realizing it was a futile effort, I chose a spot on the outskirts of the parking lot. I trudged my way through ever-widening puddles and driving rain, soaking my feet and clothes, all the while trying to remember why I refuse to carry an umbrella.

Upon reaching the mall entrance, I passed by the old familiar sight of a bell-ringer and a red kettle. But this time I didn’t receive the hearty “Merry Christmas!” greeting. In fact, not even a more politically-correct “Happy Holidays!” was uttered as I passed the stoic volunteer.

For the next few hours I wondered aimlessly through the chain stores and assorted specialty shops looking for the best gift; a gift that grabbed my attention and fit my budget.

Jewelry, ugly sweaters, cell phones, skin care products, remote-controlled helicopters—all the typical offerings you might expect to find in a typical shopping mall—yet none of them seemed to be a perfect fit for anyone on my gift list.

Tired of wondering aimlessly from store to store with no inspiration, I bought a cup of coffee and decided to sit and watch the crowds.

I saw groups of teenagers laughing as they made their way down the crowded corridors, each one engaged in their own little world of social media and oblivious to those around them.

I watched as parents struggled to maintain their sanity as they corralled their toddlers and led them away from various shops amid their screams of “Mine!” and “I want that mommy!”

I saw shop owners peddling their wares, exaggerating features and benefits as they tried to make a sale.

Lines were forming at cash registers and credit cards were being swiped at a rapid pace in every direction. Yet everywhere I looked, I saw one thing in common. Frustration and fatigue. Faces were long and weary as shoppers bumped into one another as they loaded up with toys and gifts.

Where was the joy? Where’s the “peace on earth” and the holiday spirit? Has Christmas become a season of obligatory gift-giving and budget-busting angst?

I realized at that moment that there is no gift I could find in the mall that would be the “perfect gift” or that could satisfy everyone on my list.

As I finished my gingerbread latte I decided that this year, I will give a gift to my family that is more valuable than anything the mall has to offer and more costly than anything on my list.

To my wife, I will give the gift of unconditional love and commitment. To my kids, the gift of security and family.

I am convinced that one of the best gifts I could give my children is an amazing marriage between their mother and me. The security of knowing that their mom and dad are passionately in love and committed to one another is a gift that will keep giving throughout the year and through their entire life.

Because I know that one important factor in a successful marriage is the commitment to spending quality time together, I will carve time out of my day to focus on my wife and my kids. I will give them what they desperately want and need, even if they are unwilling to admit it.

You may want to consider adding this gift to your gift list as well. It won’t cost you a dime, but the value is priceless.

Every situation will be different, so I can’t tell you what would be right for you. Work schedules, school schedules, sports, activities, and other responsibilities on your time will dictate what is right for your particular situation.

The “when” is not the important part; it’s the doing. Set aside time for your spouse. Just the two of you. Quiet time together is an important aspect of an amazing marriage and one that you will recognize the benefits of immediately.

The amount of time isn’t even that important initially. If all you can carve out is five to ten minutes, start there. As you recognize the value of quality time spent alone with your spouse, you will start to see where you can steal a few minutes from a project or an activity.

Turn off the television, pry yourself away from the computer, avoid bringing work home, and spend these found moments with your spouse. You will begin to see the benefits of spending time together and you will begin to make this a higher priority in your marriage.  As you do this, the benefits you reap will impact you and your spouse, as well as your kids, in a spectacular way.

So go ahead and buy the new pair of shoes, the new toy, or the piece of jewelry that your loved ones want. But make sure that the best gift you give this season is the gift that only you can give—YOU!

Your spouse and kids want that more than anything else on their list!