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This post will continue to adapt as life progresses.  I believe this may be a very long post but will remain a clear, crisp catalog of necessary focal points for the engagement and early married stage.  If you have something to add, please write a comment or message.

Conflict happens; it’s actually quite a good thing.  The key is how you fight.  Make sure to ground and calm down so that the argument does not speak out of heightened emotions.  The idea is not to “win” but to end fairly, drawing closer together rather than claiming individual victory.

Conflict causes intimacy.

Avoid using “Why?” questions.  “Why?” sounds condemning and interrogating.

Reflect and discuss with your partner on how you witnessed your parents and other married adults process through and resolve conflict.  How do you work through and resolve conflict–fight, flight, or freeze?  Speak through models and concepts for future conflict with each other.  What will you say when you need a break or when the day has been too heavy and you can’t give your partner your all in a tough conversation? What does “do not go to bed angry” mean to you both?

Take time outs.  Know how one another naturally responds and find a compromise that allows for grace and mercy to speak louder than the emotional reactivity.  Take a breather, pray, write down what needs to be said, and ease your way back into the conversation.  Lean into each other and trust your foundation in Christ.

Love is an action.  It is something we do.  You may not always like each other, and it is okay to admit, but ALWAYS affirm you love one another, especially in the midst of conflict and in the resolution/conclusion of an intense moment.

Fixers out there, do not rush to the resolution.  Allow for conflict to be a time of processing and growing together.  Find a pace that benefits the marriage rather than hiding issues in the closet or under a rug.  Don’t just put a band-aid on the wound, help to clean it out and patiently seek the healing with your spouse.

Trust. Gottman’s facebook page is a quick resource and encouragement for me: “Sorry does not equal trust.  Sorry equals forgiveness.  Changed behavior equals trust.”

“Forgiveness isn’t about accepting or excusing a behavior…it’s about letting it go and preventing their behavior from destroying my heart” (Anonymous)

We’re getting to know one another each day of our entire lives.  Give one another credit and grace: When something awful is said, reply: “I know this isn’t your heart. I’m choosing to forgive you…”

In communication

If you are a counselor, you know that we have to read between the lines often.  Verbal and non-verbal cues help us to understand what is going on.  In relationships, our developed skill helps us to know people without asking all the intrusive questions.  However, your husband may need you to ask the questions to know that you care to get to know him, even though you are able to gather information about him in a more subtle fashion.

Fight with and for one another, the couple unit, NOT against one another.

Listen to understand rather than to reply.

Empathy. Offer one another warm, accepting arms, listening ears, and an understanding heart.

Communicate how each spouse understands biblical leadership roles and how the roles will be met within the couple unit.  Examine Scripture and other literature, individually and together.  Discuss what you find: what you want to adapt and what you disagree with.  What are you willing to give? Where’s the compromise? What exceptions exist that require flexibility in roles?

Finances.  Communicate where each spouse finds value.  Assess how money has been spent individually, in dating, and how categories of spending will be budgeted for in marriage.  The first month is a trial (so leave extra money for just in case and adjustment spending).  Each week assess how you’ve been doing: Where have you overspent? Where are you both doing very well? What change(s) do you want to make the next week? Then, at the end of the month make the calculations.  Month two is again an experiment.  Same guidelines.  Be open to feedback and tools from people who have been practicing and budgeting longer than you.  The key is value. Arguments over finances often occur when what one person values either causes too much to be spent, when money runs dry without them being able to enjoy their valued aspect, or seeing the opposite in their spouse.  There may be a need for compromise, but first, budget for “fun money” for each spouse and experiment with how much is practical for your relationship.

Oxytocin is key.  Get as much of the hormone as you can.  Safety in a relationship is the ultimate fabric of trust and knowing one another.  For intimacy to grow, we must each feel safe.  Oxytocin helps to feel comforted by one another.  How do you share oxytocin? Skin on skin.  My recommendation? Sleep naked.  There are added benefits.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish.  Rather, it is quite selfless.  Care for your health–physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Make the effort and allow your spouse to take the journey with you.  If your spouse is challenging themselves in a specific way, keep them accountable and motivated by joining in with them.

Shared experiences.  Anything that works towards “making a home together” try to do together.  The act of creating and molding is an intimate experience in nature (ie. cooking, hanging pictures, setting the table, folding and hanging laundry, choosing where things will go and what will be displayed: formation of the room, location of furniture, etc.).

New experiences.  Share in the first memories of exploring new places, new cultures, new activities, and new cuisines.  Nothing touches memories of the conversations and trust that comes with a mutual experience.

No distractions.  Put the phones in the glove department, lock your car, and head out for a walk, picnic, or for a meal.  When it comes time for sex, have the phones in the other room and on silent (unless used for mood music). Be completely enamored with your significant other, there, before you, and in the moments you share with one another.

Boundaries.

Make a safe place in your home where conflicting conversations, phones, and stress do not touch.  Usually the bed, but can be somewhere else, is for intimacy and intimacy alone–sexual, spiritual, and emotional.  Set a place apart for heavy conversations.  Set a place for prayer and a place for fellowship.  You will need boundaries between what is communal and what is private–information shared and what is seen by visitors in your home.

Friendships.  Everywhere and with everyone you invest in takes time away from the marital unit.  Deuteronomy has a wise suggestion: “A newly married man must not be drafted into the army or be given any other official responsibilities. He must be free to spend one year at home, bringing happiness to the wife he has married” (24:5).  We can instill boundaries to protect the coming together of man and wife.  With this said, be careful and wise about the people you allow to influence your life, your husband’s life, and your marriage.  Be careful and be wise with whom and what you allow to enter your home.

Pursue relationships with couples in your life stage, who are ready to experience life fully seeking after God’s intention for their marriage, who are willing to challenge a perspective change, and who you both can laugh and be free with.

Pursue relationships with couples who are just a stage or two ahead of you, who are willing to open up their life book, inviting you to scan through the pages, learning and growing from their life experiences.

Pursue deeper community in the church.  Allow yourselves to be known and serve with one another.  Do keep in mind the boundaries that protect the foundation of marriage.  Serving may appear different for a season.  Heck, church may even appear different for a season.  The idea is experiencing life lived authentically in community with God’s children while serving God in pursuing holiness.

How will you introduce your loved one to your friends in words and reality?  How will it look differently with single and married friends?  How will you protect your single friends? How will you protect your spouse?  All while remaining transparent and available to the loving-kindness that comes from loving and being loved by God…

Speak with one another about what will be shared with friends–single and married–and what should not be shared outside the marital unit.  What is the difference between complaining and sharing?  Who will you permit to be accountability partners?  Motives.  Are you trying to up yourself or do you present problems to others with a willingness and vulnerability of heart and mind for changed perspective and approach?

Intimacy.  Emotional, Physical, Spiritually, and Sexually.

Know each other’s love languages.  Everyone receives “I love you” differently.  Some are rather good at serving, others may be brilliant poets, while others offer up intentional quality time.  Yet others know just the right gift to give someone.  And still, there are those who are most affectionate with their touch.  However, our spouse may not receive “I love you” best from the way we are naturally best at offering love.  So we MUST put their receiving love language into practice.

Honeymoon/ First time Tool Kit:

  • Coconut Oil or alternative lubricant
  • Vitamin E Oil (Trader Joes)
  • Mood music
  • Red sheet
  • Snacks & drinks (preferably ones that don’t cause lethargy or bloating)
  • A scent (cologne, essential oils, lotion) to help the memories be tied to an aroma
  • Birth control
  • Probiotics (to prevent vaginal infection and sickness for both wife and husband)
  • A sex book for communication, positions, and further exploration (Sheet Music, Celebration of Sex)

To improve sexual intimacy and health…Sexercises to be done by the bride-to-be/wife and the groom-to-be/husband and the foods that heighten sex drive and health for the bride-to-be/wife and the groom-to-be/husband.

The vagina is a very detailed part of our bodies.  We can strengthen the vaginal walls with kegel exercises (which when done during sexual intimacy adds stimulation and closeness for both partners) by flexing the muscles inside our vagina as if to hold and let go of a pencil. Daily care of the vagina consists of using a gentle soap, such as Dove’s Unscented Bar Soap, to wash around the vulva and in the folds of the labia, while not getting any in the actual vaginal canal which cleanses itself through discharge.  In case you do experience an irritating, dryness or infection–Bacterial Vaginosis, Urinary Tract Infection, or Yeast Infection–there are preventatives as well as home-care health solutions to practice.  The biggest things I learned: ALWAYS pee after sex and NEVER put a douche up your vagina–it cleans itself.  Remember bad bacteria thrives in warm, moist environments, and in cleaning your privates, be sure to keep from cross-contaminating from your anal and vaginal regions.

Speaking of lingerie…Be confident in what you choose to wear.  If you like structure, wear it confidently.  If you like freedom, be free.  If you like the unstructured feel with support, find it, wear it, and let those fawns (as Solomon says) or head lights (named by Dr. Kevin Lehman, author of Sheet Music) show.  He’ll enjoy the appearance, and you’ll enjoy the comfort.

Period sex.  To us, it may be gross and slimy in thought and feel,  but in actuality, it makes for a great lube. The key is red sheets.  After the fact, you’re reminded of its’ presence, but perspective change: you just painted your spouse naturally with your own body.  That’s intimacy.

Sickness. Understanding each other’s needs and wants is vital, especially when one spouse is sick.  “In sickness and in health” we choose to love one another.  So when expressing our needs and wants is difficult, we’d benefit from such rhythms already being known.

Clearly identify for one another what comforts–medications, environments, practices, and limitations–are expected or most beneficial when sickness occurs.

Although generally, we speak of sickness as a physical ailment of some sort, for the purpose of building the foundation of marriage we’ll include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion.

Limitations.  I find speaking in “engine” or “temperature” terms helps best.  When I have only 30% to give in an entire day if an intense emotional conversation happens, I’m only able to offer everything else 10%, or I’m completely absent and shut down. When my engine is low, my temperature rises quickly.  Meaning, my reactivity is up.  I’m more likely to say something that may hurt my spouse’s feelings or stop responding altogether.  That’s me, but what does it look like for you?  Discuss what is fair and loving for your relationship when one spouse is sick: What does physical affection look like–kissing, intercourse, sensual touch, manual stimulation, or any other used practice? Are all heavy conversations put on hold or is there a gauge you can use to justify if the time is now or later to address the topic?  How much grace and freedom is acceptable–do you put off homework and work projects or turn in less than average work?  What is the most loving way to greet one another when one is sick?  What does quality time look like?

Be brave enough to call a HALT (time-out for when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired) and take 20 minutes (minimum) to cool down, climb into the upstairs brain, label what you felt/feel, explain your need, and communicate in a way that honors both yourself and your spouse.

Do not bring mom into the debate.  Moms typically care for their children when sickness strikes; however, in marriage, suggesting to your spouse, “well Mom did this…Mom did that…” has no place unless there is a time of teaching your loved one how to make soup, how to tuck in the blankets, or do any other preferred comforting practice.  Even then, take out the “Mom” language and appreciate the caregiver that is currently with you–your spouse.

Family worship.  Each morning praying each other up, recognizing and asking God’s intent for each breath to be known and experienced throughout the day.  Each night spending the last hour in God’s Scripture, praising, and praying beside one another and together.  Ending the night with a final word of affirmation of how your spouse best exemplified God’s love to you. Allowing neural pathways to form around Truth and love, shaping the night’s rest and dream content in preparation for the next day.

Regular check-insJeremy and Audrey Roloff call their time “Navigator’s Council,” Gottman calls it “The State of the Union Meeting,” and Stephen and I call ours “Lion’s Den,” so feel free to be creative with how you label these disciplined hours for your marriage.  During these times ask: What are your needs and wants for this week? Have I been meeting your needs and wants this past week?  What do you think of our communication, of our conflict this past week? Have we been assertive? Have we been fair?  Have we given each other grace and encouraged one another’s growth? How can we best pray for and affirm one another in their call this week?  How can we best pray for our spouse this week? What are our goals for this next week?  What are the priorities–necessary accomplishments and needs over wants?  How can we best affirm, motivate, and keep our spouse accountable to meet their responsibilities?  How will we each individually and together seek rest during the week?  What was said or unsaid, done or undone that needs forgiveness?  Have I held to my vows in action this week? Add any other questions and feel free to modify the list as you present yourself to God in confession and surrender, and in the emotional vulnerability you have with your spouse in deep conversation.  End the hour or so each week at the altar with your spouse, then coming together to respond with the marital gift of sexual intimacy.

Review your vows regularly.  These promises to one another are meant as an address of love, but are also a measurement, a challenge to be kept.  Bring them into your check-ins, onto dates for the romance component, or into sex, for just some ideas.  If you did not write personal vows, feel free to look over ours, Song of Solomon, other vows, or take the opportunity to write them this week and for the first time reveal them to each other on your date this week.

Date days/nights.  No electronics.  The world is the present.  Have fun, laugh, and dream together.  Check-ins are separate from dates. Family worship is separate from dates, separate from check-ins.  Each have their separate need for attention, but combined have power to build up the togetherness in understanding one another, the couple unit, and the direction two are heading together.

Set a bare minimum. In acknowledging your–yours and your spouses’– love languages, set “I need at least ___ every day to fill my love tank and serve God in what He asks of me this day.”  For example, our bare minimum includes a component from each part of our whole selves: spiritual (sharing a prayer–one opens and the other closes the prayer–in bed at the start and end of our day, we read a short devotional after prayer in bed), we read the Gottman Minute and respond to one another with the emotional challenge each day, we greet each other physically with a 6-second kiss, socially we interact with one another and our intentional friends, and mentally we remain students to Christ, school, and our marriage daily.  What are your bare minimums that honor you, your spouse, your marriage, and above all, the Lord?

I mentioned at the top that this will continue to be updated, because, in all honesty, these are practices my husband and I are learning, adapting, and applying into our own marriage.  In many of them, I have my own faults that are being worked on now or will be in the future to come.  What I ask of myself and of each of you is effort.  Reality is we are not in our heavenly bodies, so we are incapable of being perfect in any and all of these practices.  So, we remain moldable: honest, willing, and teachable.

Recommended Resources: Gary L. Thomas’ Sacred Marriage, Timothy Keller’s Meaning of Marriage, Kevin Leman’s Sheet Music (Christian author on sexuality), Dr. John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Matt Chandler’s Mingling of Souls, Christopher & Rachel McCluskey’s When Two Become One (Christian take on intimacy), Dr. Gary Smalley’s For Better or for Best and If Only He Knew (each is a book for the spouse to familiarize themselves with the gender differences. I recommend reading them beside each other and spurring up conversation when you get to an “Aha” or “Do you really think this way?” moment),  Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages (simply take the inventory and read about the different love languages online.  Their online resources suffice without needing to read the book),  Dr. Eliana Gil’s Outgrowing the Pain Together (for couples where one or both spouses experienced abuse as a child)

Books on my reading list (if you have read any of the following, please let me know if you would or would not recommend these books): Les & Leslie Parrott’s Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Morris May’s How to Argue so Your Spouse Will Listen, Gary J. & Carrie Oliver’s Mad About Us, Michael & Amy Smalley’s More Than a Match, Ted Cunningham’s Fun Loving You and The Power of Home (for couples later in life and with children)

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