How to Help Improve Your Marriage in Just a Few Minutes Each Day

  

As husbands and fathers living in 2015, our lives are busy and sometimes even downright hectic. We have careers, family commitments, community and church activities, and a host of other things pulling from our time every day. Finding time can be difficult, perhaps even feeling impossible far too often.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. If you you sleep 6-8 hours each day (I wish, right?), that means you are awake roughly 1,000 minutes each day. How many of those minutes are you spending with your wife? How many of those minutes spent are used purposefully to engage, pursue, and woo her? What if I told you that you can drastically improve your marriage in just 15 minutes each day. Yes, spending a mere 1.5% of your waking hours each day can help you have a better marriage. Here’s a few things to consider:

1. Make time for it.

As mentioned, we all have about 1,000 minutes per day while we are awake. The first thing you should do is put 15 minutes into your schedule as designated, purposeful time. Discuss this with your wife, pull out your calendars, and block some time off for the two of you.

2. Guard your time like your life depends on it.

We’ve all seen enough spy movies to know that nothing is safe. But there’s always somebody else trying to make something impenetrable. Treat this 15 minutes the same. Guard it from any and everything that can stop it or steal it. (But know that emergencies happen, and adjustments will need to be made at time… just strive to make this the exception, not the rule.)

3. Start talking.

Initially, don’t have a set agenda. Just talk and listen. Set the phones to silent and put them down. Be sure to give your wife as much, if not more, time to share and talk as she needs. Be attentive to everything she says. Ask more questions than making statements early on. Use this opportunity to truly learn more about your spouse.

4. Fight, if necessary.

It can be easy to avoid or cancel your 15 minutes if there is some conflict brewing. But if you have to fight (disagree), then disagree. Conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, it can be a healthy building block for your marriage. So use that 15 minutes to “fight” if needed.

5. Play and have fun.

Your 15+ minutes each day doesn’t have to just be talking or fighting. Play some games and enjoy one another. When is the last time you’ve played cards, a board game, or even video game with your wife? Use your allotted time to do that sometimes.

Simply pending at least 15 minutes per day focused on one another can change your marriage forever. Make the time, spend the time, enjoy the time, and watch your marriage get better. So when will your 15 minutes per day take place? Get to thinking about it and make it happen. Stop with the excuses, and just do it.*

*I’d also recommend going beyond this, and establishing a regular weekly/bi-weekly date night.

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Saint Valentine’s Day

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Today is Valentine’s Day… and after taking a quick look through some social media, it appears that the majority of posts today which reference the holiday are actually negative. Maybe this is actually the most polarizing holiday of our year? For some it can be a very fun and exciting day of expressing your love, for skeptics it is just way too commercialized and insincere (darn you Hallmark, you and your $5+ pieces of folded paper with hearts and cheesy poems), and for some singles it is a lonely reminder of something they feel is missing in their lives…

As for my wife and me, we have chosen not to let the commercialization of this holiday affect our view on the day. (By the way, are there even any holidays left in America that haven’t been tainted to some degree by consumerism?) The viewpoint that it’s just some day where Hallmark, florists, and chocolate makers manipulate the masses to churn some revenue is pessimistic and ignorant at best. To make the case that displays of love, gifts, cards, flowers, affection, etc. should be spontaneous and truly heartfelt, not dictated to be shown on a specific day seems nice until you think about it more. Should we just embrace full spontaneity and toss out birthday celebrations, anniversaries, Christmas, etc?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still spontaneous in showing love to my wife, that should always play a part. And I have never been big on “celebrating” Valentine’s Day or seen it as a mandated holiday to be observed. However, I believe there are some beautiful redeeming qualities in this holiday, and most holidays for that matter. Instead of solely focusing or dwelling on the negative aspects that accompany certain days of the year, Kat and I like to reflect on what elements of the holiday point us to our truest, greatest love: Jesus Christ.

There is plenty to enjoy and savor on Valentine’s Day; and it is a great thing for husbands to bring out the bouquet of roses, the box of chocolates, make a home cooked feast, book a romantic dinner reservation, or whatever romantic gestures that remind your spouse you love them! But alas – maybe the skeptics (and Valentine’s Day haters) will appreciate this part – what about tomorrow?

Life is really lived out in the little moments. Day by day, all the little things are what makes up the overwhelming majority of your life. Today, if celebrated, should be an overflow of deep love present in your relationship and the big moments should be a compacted reflection of the little moments. We should remember why we love, and then love to our fullest. Any time we have an opportunity to go big and show it in a special way (even if it includes using a godforsaken Hallmark card), why not?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1st John 4:7-21 (ESV)

Why Marriage (Really) Isn’t For You

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There is an article currently going around entitled “Marriage Isn’t For You” that rightly explains that marriage should not be a self-centered commitment in which oneself is concerned only with their own happiness. C.S. Lewis actually addressed this in his work Mere Christianity when he stated, “The natural life in each of us is something self-centred, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. . . . [The natural life] knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that.”

As I was reading the article though, I kept getting this nagging feeling that something big was missing… while the article makes some very good points, it is overall a bit short-sighted. It claims that marriage is not about yourself, but rather about your spouse, that it’s about family. That it is about making them happy and helping them to realize and actualize “their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams.” I would agree that falling in love in a Christian way is to say to your potential spouse, ‘I am excited about your future and I want to be a part of getting you there. I’m signing up for the journey with you. Would you sign up for the journey to my true self with me? It’s going to be hard, but I want to get there, and get there with you.’ However, there is more beyond that.

While I think this article truly has good intentions and contains some great truths, I don’t believe that it takes its thesis anywhere near far enough. What if marriage is not about who you marry, but why? What if being ‘in love’ isn’t a good enough reason to get married? What if dating isn’t about finding ‘the one,’ but about serving the One who loves you most? What if marriage isn’t about your happiness, but rather your holiness? Yes, marriage is not for you, but ultimately it is not just about or for your spouse either… it’s for God (Ephesians 5:22-33). It’s a shadow of something much greater than us.

The wedding ceremony and marriage between two people is not ultimately about celebrating the two of them, but rather it is celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His Bride. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment; rather marriage was created to be a human reflection of the ultimate love relationship with the Lord. It points to the true marriage that our souls need and the true family our hearts want. For my wife and me, it is our hope to preach the Gospel through our marriage as God has chosen the story of our lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

So, like the author claims, marriage is definitely not about making yourself “happy,” but it’s not always about making your spouse happy either. The marriage relationship between two people will never be unblemished and someday it will end in the death of one, and eventually both people. The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that; God’s triune love is actually the most selfless love there is. True love is focused on God, and that sometimes means making people unhappy in order to draw them closer to God. Marriage is not simply about making your spouse smile or laugh every day. Marriage is not always about being nice, it’s about loving your spouse as God loves them. As C.S. Lewis eloquently explains in his work The Problem of Pain, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” Marriage isn’t merely about happiness, it’s about holiness.

Truthfully, this means that sometimes you will make your spouse sad, sometimes you will make your spouse angry, and sometimes you will even unfortunately make your spouse cry. However, the beauty of marriage is still displayed in these moments, where you challenge your spouse to better love God even when it makes them unhappy. Jesus even said, “I want you to follow me so fully, so intensely, so enduringly that all other attachments in your life look weak by comparison.” (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-35; John 12:25-26)

So, the author did have it right: marriage isn’t for you, but it’s not for your spouse either; it’s also not just about the both of you… Marriage is meant to symbolize the beauty of the human soul espoused to Christ. As Martin Luther stated in The Freedom of a Christian, “Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all His goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by Him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘Though I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all His is mine and all mine is His.'” And our earthly marriage gets to be a reflection of that beautiful union. Marriage is ultimately for God.

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Related article: Pain in Marriage: For Your Joy

Grace-motivated Marriage

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No marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator. The only true source of love is Christ. No husband or wife can “complete” one another, satisfy their deepest longings, or fill the “eternal hole” in the other’s heart. Neither can be the source of identity for the other, or the object of worship.

Now I am the best husband I ever am when I’m fully concentrating on, thinking on, meditating on, and sitting under gospel preaching and teaching; when I am positioned under the life-giving waterfall of the grace of Christ. I’ll tell you why. When I am completely dialed in to the fact that, through no merit of my own, through no act of my own, and because of nothing I can do, but simply because God is merciful and gracious, He loves me, then as I engage my wife, there is this overflow motivated by being loved that flows over into my relationship with my wife.

Do you know when I’m a horrible husband? When somebody preaches a sermon on, “Here’s how you be a great husband.” Because I’m a type-A moron. So I find myself buying into the lie of moralistic behavioral modification. So I will immediately go, “Let me build up this grid. Let me start to do these things. She’ll respond this way, and I’ll do this.” So I start to go, “If I do this, she’ll do that, and what will come about is bliss.” Has anybody else tried that route? Am I alone in this? Well, I think some others may have stumbled into this type of mentality as well. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.

“The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism or materialism, but moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ.”

But when I continually hear, “Do these things, and get these results.” I’ll find myself beginning to buy into that lie, because my flesh loves that, because I’m a doer, because I can be crazy disciplined and stubborn, because I can control this or that. It has never brought me any freedom. It has never brought me any joy. It has never brought me any healthy fruit… but my flesh still loves it.

So I’m the best husband I ever am when I understand that God is patient, that God is merciful, and that God is gracious to me. And as I am the recipient of that love and grace, that overflows onto my relationship with my wife. I’m the best husband I am, not when I read a book on marriage that shows me how to handle my wife. I’m the best husband I ever am when I am completely attuned with God’s free gift of mercy, and grace, and wired into the fact that He delights in my strengths while growing me out of my immaturities. I’m a better husband when I’m aware that I am far worse than I ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, I am far more loved than I ever dreamed I could be. I’m just a better husband when I’m aware of that.

So the solution to what is wrong with my behavior is not someone telling me how to modify my behavior, it’s not medication, it’s not “finding myself” or my wife just doing these or those particular things; it’s better seeing and understanding the gospel. All too often we hear messages on how to fix this, correct that, change this, modify that… but in all this if you don’t ever get to Jesus, if you’re not getting to the gospel, then it’s only playing into the pride of man. We must get to the fact that my righteousness is a gift from God, and Him alone.

The righteousness I have is God’s, it has been granted to me by the work He alone already accomplished. (Ephesians 2:1-10; We do not help or assist God achieve our salvation.) Anything good in me, is there by Christ’s grace. More than a lack of love and respect for our spouse, our problem is a lack of love, respect, reverence, awe, and worship of our great triune God: our Father, our Lord Christ Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

When I actively pursue Christ, I better understand love. True love is willing self-sacrifice, for the good of another, that does not demand reciprocation, or that the person being loved is deserving (Ephesians 5). Love is also willing… the key character quality of love is willingness. Love, loves to love. Love loves to give, serve, build up, praise, encourage, sacrifice, and love all the more.

The goodness/kindness of God leads us to repentance… not the law or the continual, consistent repetition of a beat-down explaining how we fall short in every way. So why would we think that would work differently in our marriage, which is meant to reflect Christ’s love for His bride, the church?

To the degree you forget how fully you have been loved by God, you will forget how to love others in your life. So when I am focused on myself and how to control my behavior with the expectation of getting certain results, I am forgetting how to really love my wife.

Love grows best in the soil of gratitude. When we remember the love of our Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the help of the Holy Spirit, only then are we truly equipped and able to love others. We need the love of God to be where the roots of our hearts reside, because only there can we get what is needed to absorb and grow to love others with true love.

Some of us are still wrestling with this in monumental ways; still walking in doubt because we just doubt God’s affection for us. And that’s idolatry, because what you’re doing in essence is looking at the bloody cross of Jesus Christ and going, “That’s not enough. You’re going to have to show me something bigger than that to convince me You really love me.” Some of us are still wrestling with all of this because we doubt Christ’s affection for us despite the fact that He went to the cross and died for you. He went to the cross despite knowing you, despite knowing every stupid thing you’ve ever done, as well as every single dumb thing you have yet to do.

All the sin, weaknesses, and failures in the life of a believer have already been fully covered by the blood-soaked cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is exponentially and infinitely more powerful than any sin. So we can break the silence, walk out into the light, and face the things that God is calling us to face.

God will never give you a task to complete without enabling you with the resources to accomplish it. He is the resource. We must depend on the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, the Spirit’s help. We must always run back to and rest in the Gospel.

Love rebuke, don’t rebuke love.

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“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. . . . To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

“It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.” – Henry David Thoreau

True love in friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships will inevitably lead to rebuke at times. And while it should be done gently, humbly, and kindly… it unfortunately doesn’t always come off that way. So when you feel attacked, when you feel blind-sided by accusations that you are less than perfect, does that excuse any and all behavior that may have caused someone to voice concern to simply be null and void, because they failed to communicate their concerns in a way that was perceived as loving and genuine? Do we disregard any concern our friends would have with us if they fail to approach us in the perfect way? Are we to deflect all responsibility if the other family member behaved less than perfect towards us in the past? What if they’re currently acting foolish, yet have the gall to proclaim that you have done something wrong?

Please, don’t tune me out yet.

Do you ever have difficulties in your relationships? Does your significant other, or those close to you do stuff at times that upsets or frustrates you? Do you ever find your expectations less than met, more like almost completely shattered. I’d be willing to bet money everyone has dealt with this at some point. Are you aware and willing to admit that you also have sin in your heart and your flesh desires things above God at times… that in conflicts with your spouse or significant other, when you’re arguing with a friend, neither of you are perfect, or even close to it… and yeah, this tension really sucks sometimes. Dating, courting, and engagement are especially tough at times. Because in that dynamic, you often get most of the problems of marriage, but without all the benefits…

Marriage is difficult too, but at least you’re already in the game, and fully committed at that point, so you might as well play it to win it. And that’s fun. Really hard at times, but a lot of fun. Because you’re a team working towards deeper sanctification in Christ here in this life. You guys aren’t against one another or trying to simply co-exist in the happiest manner. You’re partners in battle, fighting alongside one another in a war. The war has already been won, but there is still a lot of mess to work through, until the day Christ cracks open the skies to let the whole world know He really is who He said He was.

However, even though redemption has already been purchased by Christ, for the time being, you ought to be heart-broken over the sin in each other’s life, not because you get your feelings hurt, you selfishly want each other just to act better, be more attentive to your needs, or just be less embarrassing in public, but rather, you want each other to experience more of Christ in this life. To know Jesus more, to be the person God has created you to be and is working in you to accomplish His will. Your “fights and arguments” shouldn’t be over petty things or personality quirks. The issue at hand is sin. Sin should grieve us and cause us to seek help and repentance in desperation.

False conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete. True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior, but without a heart change.

John Owen addressed this when he wrote, “Christians must take severe measures in killing [their] sin. This is the real danger: “Every unclean thought would be adultery if it could… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:1-17)

When we perceive sin in a brother and/or sister’s life that we believe will cause them (and potentially others) great harm over the course of their life, we are to lovingly approach them in humility. All the while, acknowledging we have our own blind spots and our own struggles with sin, but we are for each other’s good, we are for each other’s growth and development in our walks with Jesus. Others’ sin does not negate your sin. Because we struggle doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to struggle and not ever work through grace-enabled efforts to repent. We should all be seeking reconciliation together, because it’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

Becky Pippert put it this way: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… E. H. Gifford once said, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor” … So, if I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.”

Little sins left unchecked over time grow, and sin begets sin. Ever wake up one day and ask yourself, how did I get here? You better believe that I’ve found myself there… lying in bed full of regret and wondering how the heck I had wandered off so far from where I really wanted to be. We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay.

We need to understand and remember that the cross isn’t a recovery program, the place to improve on what good is already there. It is a place to die. It is not a question of giving up certain sins, but of giving up one’s illusion to rights!

None of us who claim to follow Christ can remain neutral in each other’s fight with sin. We are either for our brother and sister, hurting alongside them, and going to war with them, out of love for them, because Christ first loved and rescued us. Or we lie, deceive ourselves, the Truth is not in us, and we let our brothers and sisters drown while we idly sit by and watch with hateful indifference. Please try to listen to the concerns of others with an eager heart for repentance and deep hunger for the chance of tasting more of God’s love for you. We are all far from perfect, but in Christ, our hearts, our love, our intentions, are for each other. So in the end, when pursuing reconciliation through Christ, we are truly for each other’s good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Recommended passages of Scripture to consult for further consideration of this topic:

Leviticus 26:14-46
Deuteronomy 8:5-6
2nd Samuel 7:14-15
Job 5:12-19
Psalm 6
Psalm 38
Psalm 39:11
Psalm 94:10-15
Psalm 119
Psalm 141
Proverbs 3:11-12
Proverbs 5:1-23
Proverbs 6:20-23
Proverbs 12:1
Proverbs 13:1; 24
Proverbs 17:10
Proverbs 19:18
Proverbs 22:15
Proverbs 23:13
Proverbs 27:5-6
Proverbs 28:23
Proverbs 29:17; 19-20
Ecclesiastes 7:5
Matthew 16:14-15
Luke 17:1-4
Luke 23:39-43
1st Corinthians 5:1-13
1st Corinthians 11:32
Ephesians 6:4
1st Timothy 1:18-20
1st Timothy 5:1-2; 19-25
2nd Timothy 4:1-5
Titus 1:9-16
Titus 2:11-15
Hebrews 12:1-15
2nd Peter 2:1-22
Revelation 3:19