Friday, May 30, 2014

Finding touch points

     Whenever I’m at the gas pump, I think of my wife.  She’s not part of a “big oil” family from Texas.  We don’t have a particularly funny or memorable story that happened at a gas station.  We didn’t have a fight about running out of gas that is burned into my mind.  In fact, there’s nothing that really connects us as a couple to the gas pump.
     So why do I think about her?  I think of my wife because I normally pay for my gas with a Wal-Mart gift card, and the gift card has a picture of two wedding rings on it.  The wedding ring gift cards are normally given as a wedding present.  There are plenty of other images available on the gift cards (even gift cards with a little gas pump on them).  But I chose the card with the wedding rings.  It was an intentional choice to give me a “touch point” for thinking about my wife.

     Do you have touch points through your day—daily reminders that keep you connected to your spouse?  Touch points are physical objects or little rituals you do that elicit a positive mental or emotional response within you to remind you of your mate when you are apart.  They are not meant to be elaborate, or to be huge, time-consuming practices.  In fact, most people around you won’t even recognize that anything has just happened.  Touch points are simple “quick hit” moments throughout the day to keep your mate securely in your heart and mind.  They can be things you do daily, weekly, or even on an irregular schedule.  Touch points become a way to build intimacy, connection, and desire for your mate.  They are a way of helping you to focus on the blessings and the good things in your relationship.  Touch points help you to love and feel loved. 
     Because every individual has his/her own habits, and every couple has their own history, touch points will be different for every couple.   Things a person might do could include anything, like

  • spinning your wedding band on your finger a couple of times during the day while thinking about your love
  • blowing a kiss to a picture of your mate that you keep on your desk at work
  • turning up a particular song on the radio that means something to you as a couple
  • pausing at a specific time each day to send a quick text to let your spouse know you’re thinking of him/her
  • letting a taste or smell connect you to some good shared memory
  • keeping some small item in your pocket or purse that you’ll notice throughout the day to remind you of your spouse
  • making a point to say something positive about your spouse to someone else at least once a day

The possibilities for what you can do to create unique touch points are endless.
     As you think about touch points in your day, the key is intentionality.  Even if your touch points are things you’d normally do anyway (like fill up a car with gas), you can infuse greater meaning into those things with just a little effort.  But remember, because we are creatures of habit, it can become easy to lose your touch points to routine.  Your wedding ring can become just another piece of jewelry.  The same picture can sit on your desk in the same place until you no longer notice it.  Buying gas can become just buying gas, and nothing more.  It takes conscientious effort to stay connected when you are apart, and having regular touch points throughout your day is a great way to do just that.
     And, if a co-worker or a friend sees you grin for no apparent reason as you experience a touch point, you can thank God for blessing you with a lover who makes you smile.  (As you think about your own touch points, please respond in the comments and share the special things you do to stay connected to your mate while you're apart.)


As the "wedding season" gets into full swing, now is a good time to assess what your church is doing to facilitate healthy, Christ-centered marriages.  The Marriage-Friendly Church is available now and gives you the questions every church needs to be asking.  Available at 21st Century Christian or on

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What are your triggers?

     Triggers.  Hot buttons.  Stupid stuff people say.  It doesn’t
matter what you call it, we all have things that can set us off.  In any intimate relationship, and particularly in marriage, it pays to know your own triggers—and it pays to know your spouse’s triggers.*
     All types of things can trigger someone emotionally.  Sometimes the things that set us off are rooted in our pasts, either as individuals or as a couple.  Other times, our triggers are related to work stresses.  One-time events or infrequent situations might cause a reaction.  Being around someone who has wronged you can push a hot button.  Even normal things like hunger or lack of sleep can cause someone to feel agitated, drained, or anxious.  And when your triggers are activated, it becomes easy to explode at your spouse.
     While it’s unpleasant and at times hurtful when your spouse blows up at you, your objective should not be to eradicate your mate’s emotional nature.  Emotions are a gift from God that can greatly enhance a relationship.  The objective is to bring your own emotions under control of the Spirit of Christ so that a bad day or an ill-timed comment doesn’t become a minefield that your spouse has to navigate.
     So how do we do that?  There’s no cookie cutter solution because everyone’s triggers are different, and while some things that get us upset are nothing more than a short-lived blip on the radar, others things can be deep and painful and frequent.  Here are a few suggestions that might help when triggers have been activated.
     Communicate rather than react.  Does your husband know that something happened or something was said that has you on edge?  Does your wife know that you missed lunch today due to a meeting and you're really, really drained?  Your spouse may say or do something to further agitate the situation if he/she doesn’t know, and the easy thing to do is explode on him/her.  Take a deep breath and calmly explain what has happened and what you are feeling at the moment.
     And remember, in good communication, timing is often everything.  If your mate shares with you that he/she is upset, give time for him/her to work through the initial emotional response and cool down before offering advice.  If what you’re about to say begins with “I know you probably don’t want to hear this right now…” then you might need to reconsider saying it right now.
     If your mate is upset, ask “Is there anything I can do to help?”  Whether your mate needs time alone or to be held closely, to know that it’s okay to yell and scream or twenty minutes of uninterrupted silence, when you take the time to ask, you let you spouse know that you are there, you care, and you recognize his/her present disposition.
     When you are the one whose buttons have been pushed, there is a temptation to use those times as an excuse to act in an ungodly manner.  It is much better to control yourself on the front end than to have to continually say, “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that to you.  I was just mad.”  While necessary, apologies wear thin very quickly if you let angry outbursts at your mate become your habit every time you get upset.  Remember, God did not redeem us into a new life so that we can act in an un-Christlike manner and blame it on “a bad day” or “someone said/did something to me.”  In marriage, you are one flesh, so only speak and act toward your mate in a way that you want your mate to speak and act toward you.  (If your mate is berating you or losing control of his/her speech, don’t idly take abuse.  If the anger becomes directed at you, it is perfectly acceptable to tell him/her in a loving way, “I know you’re upset right now.  I love you, and I’ll come back when you can talk to me in the way that I deserve to be talked to as your husband/wife.”)
     And finally, remember that you know your spouse’s triggers better than anyone else, so don’t use those triggers against him/her to manipulate, induce guilt, or otherwise try to control your mate.  To do so is cruel and abusive.
     When someone activates one of your mate’s triggers, you can be a blessing to your mate, helping him/her navigate a difficult time and draw closer together.  Or, you can use it as an excuse to create distance and drive a wedge between you and your spouse.  Be a safe haven for your love and let it bring you closer together.

(*Please note that in this post I am referring to managing normal stresses and conflict, not extreme, abusive, or addictive behaviors.  If the conflict in your relationship presents danger to your well-being—physically, mentally, emotionally, or in any way—or if you live in a state of fear due to conflict, seek immediate professional and protective help.)

Picture, copyright: <a href=''>auremar / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Today's blessing

     Have you blessed your mate in some way today?  I’m not talking about expensive gifts or elaborate trips or anything like that.  I’m talking about the simple blessings of life.  The things that make everyday living a pleasure.  While big things are nice from time to time, when you consciously and intentionally strive to bless your mate in some way every day, you strengthen the bonds that build trust, intimacy, and joy in your marriage.
     You might not do the same things every day, but think about things you can do for your mate consistently that communicate love, intentionality, selflessness, and most of all a joy in seeing him/her happy.  What can you do that will be meaningful to your spouse?  Some possibilities might include:

  • Let your mate hear you pray for him/her out loud
  • Make sure her car has a full gas tank
  • Do one of his normal chores
  • A prolonged kiss
  • Turn off the TV/ computer/ smart phone/ etc. for at least a few minutes every day to connect with each other
  • Fix her favorite dessert
  • Put a note in his lunchbox praising him for something
  • Give her a 2-minute back rub in the morning
  • Say “thank you” for the things your spouse does, even if they are expected
  • Make each other laugh
  • Vow to not criticize your spouse for a week
  • Take care of the kids to give your spouse a break
  • Clean the kitchen when the other one cooks
  • Ask how her day was, and really listen
  • Buy him something he probably wouldn’t buy for himself (again, it doesn’t have to be expensive)

The list could go on and on.  When you notice that your spouse did something that was a blessing to you, let him/her know.  Acknowledgement and gratitude usually fosters more of the same goodness.  However, be careful not to let the blessings your spouse gives you become expectations.  If you begin to see it as an expectation rather than a blessing that is freely given, then if he/she ever stops doing a particular thing, it can open up the door for resentment and failure to see the other blessings that are present in your marriage.
     If you establish an environment of blessing each other’s lives, when conflicts arise, they can be easier to handle because the desire to be a blessing to each other will be the normal state of your marriage.
     Take a minute now to figure out how you are going to bless you mate today, and please share in the comments section some things your mate has done to bless you. 

Photo Copyright: <a href=''>flairmicro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Friday, May 2, 2014

Comparative Living

     We live in a culture that feeds on dissatisfaction.  Most advertising is designed to make you want something you don’t have.  How can you ever be happy if you don’t have the latest phone, the most powerful vacuum cleaner, the freest-flowing gutters, the tastiest gum, the best wrinkle-reducing cream, or the most reliable/ fastest/ safest/ (insert your own favorite adjective here) car?  What does it say about us when we frequently use the term “fever” to describe our longings—“new car fever,” “new house fever,” etc.
     The root of our dissatisfaction is often comparative living.  Far too many people cannot be happy at the thought of someone having, enjoying, or being something they are not.  But living comparatively creates discontentmentdiscontentment with your lifestyle, discontentment with yourself, and discontentment with your spouse.  That discontentment then becomes a constant source of conflict within the marriage.  Communication suffers as one or both partners talk endlessly about their dissatisfaction.  Conflicts center around the “missing” thing, and whose fault it is that they’re not achieving it.  Time and money (the biggest indicators of a couple’s priorities) begin to flow toward the obsession and away from things that really matter.  Eventually, comparative living distracts a couple from pursuing a long-term, selfless, holiness in their relationship, as they chase a short-lived, self-centered, happiness.
     At its lowest level, comparative living moves from the pursuit of stuff and bleeds into the personal relationship.  A husband decides what he should be attracted to based on a woman other than his wife.  A wife defines her husband's worth based on how he compares to her friends' husbands. Then, couples begin find fault with one another, breeding tension and animosity as they pick each other apart.  “Why doesn’t she have a body like that woman?”  “Why can’t he provide for our family like that guy does for his?”  “I wish my wife would listen to me like my secretary does.”  “Why can’t my husband appreciate what I do as much as my co-worker does?”  Whether vocalized or internalized, comparative living will destroy intimacy and drive a wedge between spouses.
     When we begin chasing “bigger” and/or “better” it is easy to lose sight of what is really important.  Our selfish natures can take over as we pursue whatever is tempting us at the moment.    And the saddest part is, comparative living is an endlessly frustrating pursuit, because there will always be something else you will desire more.  On a personal level, comparative living causes a person to settle for being “better” than someone else, rather than being who God created him/her to be.  As a couple, comparative living provides and endless parade of “something else” that will take your focus off of bettering your own marriage.
     Don't misunderstand what I'm saying.  Money is not evil.  If you bought a new car it doesn't mean you're going to hell.  Seeking a different or better job doesn't mean your marriage will crumble.  Wanting to live in a different neighborhood doesn't mean you love a status level more than you love your family.  And we do need to try and improve ourselves for our own sake and the sake of our marriages and families.  But just be aware of your real motivations and priorities.  In our greedy, restless culture, we have become masters of rationalization and justification.  “I’m only working overtime for the good of my family.”  “I want to look this way to make my husband happier.”  “When I buy this it will bring us closer together as a family.”  We know that if we can just find a reason that sounds right enough, sounds selfless enough, then we can chase after whatever we want.
     Comparative living can kill a marriage.  Rather than looking at what everyone else has, thank God for the blessings you have, look for what truly needs to be at the center for your own marriage, and focus on how you can give for the good of your marriage rather than how you can get more for yourself.  The Word of God is forever true when it tells a couple to “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness,” and then all the other things will take care of themselves. (Matthew 6:33)

Image credit: <a href=''>andresr / 123RF Stock Photo</a>