Saturday, December 24, 2016


     Around 11:00 p.m. last night, December 23, 2016, I became a great-uncle.  I’ve always been a great uncle, but now I’m really a great-uncle.  My nephew and his wife had their first baby—a precious girl.  For nine months, they have been anticipating her arrival, and now their joy is complete.
     Waiting isn’t always easy, and in our culture of immediate gratification and instantaneous results, anticipation is a lost gift.  Advent and the Christmas Story are all about the power of anticipation, as we celebrate the fulfilment of the greatest anticipation ever—the Word becoming flesh and making his home among us.
     Anticipation can be a powerful blessing in marriage.  There are some things in life that just can’t (and shouldn’t) be rushed.  Anticipation slows us down.  It helps us to appreciate each moment for what it is, as we look forward to something even better ahead.  It creates an environment of preparing, praying, and hoping.  Through positive anticipation, we expect the best of our spouses.  We prepare ourselves to be blessed by our mates and be a blessing to our mates. We pray more fervently for each other.  We find joy in marriage that would have otherwise escaped us.  We find hope that carries us day by day.
     Carry the true message of Christmas into your marriage.  Slow down and anticipate the goodness that comes from your covenant relationship.  Some things are always worth waiting for.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What are you expecting?

     Expectations are necessary for all relationships.  Without expectations, it would be impossible to function in a normal and healthy manner.  It is important for a couple to recognize how expectations are communicated, how they function to make a relationship healthy or unhealthy, and how they are processed.  If a couple doesn’t communicate their expectations in a clear, concise manner, they leave the door open for resentment, anger, and disappointment.  With that in mind, here are five questions about expectations every couple should consider:

How are expectations communicated?
Verbalized—Verbalized expectations are when you explicitly state what you want or need from your spouse, or what each of you will do within the context of the relationship.
Projected—Projected expectations are not vocalized because you believe your spouse should instinctively know to do or not do something based on your own beliefs or life experiences.

Projected expectations are often unfair (how can your spouse do something he/she doesn’t know they are supposed to do?) and lead to resentment.

How are expectations expressed?
Roles—Role expectations are deciding who will do the physical tasks within the relationship (who takes out the trash, who manages the money, who takes care of the kids, etc.).
Character—Character expectations are the intangible qualities that are necessary for maintaining safety in a relationship (trust, integrity, faithfulness, etc.).

Character expectations are often exhibited through roles.

How are expectations perceived?
Unrealistic—Unrealistic expectations are when you expect too much out of yourself or your mate.  This can come in the form of unrealistic expectations about one's skills and abilities, available time, access to resources, etc.
Realistic—Realistic expectations may (and sometimes should) still challenge you or your mate, but they will not create a level of wants that leads to perpetual disappointment or frustration.

Unrealistic expectations create pressure, diminish the quality of the relationship, and normally end in frustration and/or disappointment.

How long do expectations last?
Ongoing—Ongoing expectations are expectations that last throughout the relationship and will not change (For example, I expect my spouse will always be honest with me, or I expect my spouse will not cheat on me).
Seasonal—Seasonal expectations are expectations that are dependent on a particular stage of life or event, but may not be present for the entire relationship (For example, when a new baby is born, the husband may have to take over some of the roles the wife was normally expected to do prior to the new arrival, or when one spouse’s health declines the other spouse may need to readjust his/her expectations of mobility, or self-care, or intimacy, etc.).

Always be aware of the emotional needs that accompany both ongoing and seasonal expectations.

What do expectations reveal?
Love—Expectations that come from a place of love seek what is best for the marriage—what will lead to good communication, healthy conflict resolution, and an ongoing desire for personal self-evaluation and improvement.
Control—Expectations that come from a place of control quickly become intolerant, unforgiving demands that are forced on your mate to satisfy your own selfish nature rather than bless the marriage.

Loving expectations draw you closer to your mate as you draw closer to God.  If you are not drawing closer to God as a couple, you may be seeking control rather than demonstrating love.

     In a safe, strong relationship, a couple will regularly re-visit their expectations of each other, particularly during significant stages/changes in life.  Having a healthy understanding of expectations allows for better communication, conflict resolution, decision-making, connectedness, intimacy, and spiritual growth.  How long has it been since you and your mate honestly asked, “What are you expecting?”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent and marriage

     Advent is a word meaning “toward the arrival.”  For hundreds of years, Christians have observed it as a way of celebrating Christ’s arrival and preparing for his next coming.
     Whether you formally celebrate it or not, Advent has powerful implications for marriage.  You see, if you are a Christian and you are called to marriage, then God expects you to use your marriage as a way of bringing glory and honor to him.  He expects your marriage to reflect your love for God and your love for others who are made in the image of God.  Christian marriage is not supposed to look like secular marriage with some “Christian window dressing.”  If the only difference between your marriage and the non-Christian couple next door is that you go to church on Sunday, you’ve missed the point of what God is trying to do through you and your spouse together for the sake of his Kingdom.
     That being said, how does your marriage reflect the hope and joy of Christ’s presence in your covenant relationship?  How does the most significant event in human history, God becoming flesh and living among us, change the way you love, honor, respect, and give of yourself for your spouse?  What does it mean to your marriage that in the person of Jesus Christ, “God made his dwelling among us”? (John 1:14)  How does the light of his presence in your marriage penetrate the darkness of this fallen world that is trying to overtake your union?
     As we look forward to Christ’s return, does your marriage point others toward the time when all things will be made new?  Do they see the love, goodness, grace, redemption, and forgiveness in you that gives glimpses of the final eternal Kingdom to come?
     The Advent season is upon us, so use this time of celebration and observance to renew your commitment to Christ and to your marriage.  Give thanks for God’s presence in this world and in your marriage, as we anxiously await Christ’s return.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Makes a great, inexpensive Christmas gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A couple's guide to surviving the holidays

     Where did you go for Thanksgiving?  What are your plans for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?  Are your holidays normally an enjoyable time with family—a time you can laugh together, share together, and reflect on the goodness of God in your lives—or are your holidays a stress-inducing nightmare that you wish would end quickly.  (Or maybe it’s a combination of both.)  While we all dream of perfect, peaceful holidays, few find it.
     When you marry someone, you marry into a whole other family.  And with another family comes another set of holiday traditions, immediate in-laws, extended family, in-laws’ family, and an ever growing web of folks to accommodate in one way or another.  The different demands and expectations that others place on a couple, or that a couple places on themselves, can set the stage for tension and conflict throughout the holiday season.

     The holidays can be a festive time, but they can also be a time of anger, conflict, and stress in a marriage.  It's amazing how much distress we can bring upon ourselves when we're driven by guilt, ("You can't be the first person in the family to not make it home for Christmas Eve dinner in the last 27 years."), obligation ("I think we can make the hundred mile drive between both houses on Christmas morning, and then still stop by Aunt Joan's that night."), and worry ("We have to go.  What if something happens between now and next Christmas, and this is the last Christmas I can see them.").
     So how can a husband and wife protect their marriage, honor their families, and still enjoy the holidays?  Every couple has to figure out how to navigate the waters themselves depending on their circumstances, but here are a few general thoughts:

  • First, create your own traditions and guard them zealously.  If Santa comes to your house on Christmas morning, don’t let someone guilt you into giving that up.  Set boundaries together long before the holiday season hits, deciding where you will and will not go and what you will and will not do, and stick to those boundaries.
  • Second, recognize that things may have to change as your family changes.  Kids grow up.  In-laws are introduced into the equation.  Jobs change.  People move.  Health changes.  Seek some normalcy, but recognize that life happens, and sometimes it can happen very quickly and very unexpectedly.
  • Third, be keenly aware of the emotional impact those changes can bring.  Is this the first holiday season without Dad?  Is this the first time a recently married child will be spending the holidays with his/her new in-laws and not see you at all?  Are there major health changes that have created new challenges for the holidays?  If so, it's okay to be emotional about those things.  Be prepared to give you and/or your mate space to grieve.
  • Fourth, don’t become what you say you don’t like.  Think about the things that cause you stress during the holidays, and don’t do the same thing to others.  If you felt guilty every time you heard “I guess they just won’t get to see their grandparents on Christmas day,” then don’t do the same to your kids.  If you hated running to a dozen different places, don’t ask your family to spend the entire holiday on the road.  And certainly, don’t use manipulative tactics to satisfy your own selfishness.
  • And finally, don’t miss out on the spiritual blessing of the holiday.  The word “holiday” means “holy day.”  Make it a priority to let the holidays include at least some time of spiritual renewal for you and your spouse together.
     Nobody wants to offend and alienate family, especially during a time that’s supposed to be joyful and peaceful.  Ultimately you have to decide if you are going to be angry and resentful (at your spouse, at your in-laws, or at anyone else), or if you’re going to let the holiday be a blessing to you and to your marriage.


Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Makes a great, inexpensive Christmas gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What do I have to be thankful for?

     “What do I have to be thankful for?”  It is easy to come up with cliché reasons to be thankful, and I believe there really is a place for recognizing the often-overlooked, simple blessings of life in general, and the blessings of marriage in particular.  But the reality is we live in a fallen world.  Sometimes life doesn’t go at all like we want or expect.  Sometimes life hurts—either through our circumstances or through our relationships.  And marriage is certainly not immune to this reality.
     So, how do you find a place of thanksgiving if your year has been punctuated with pain?  How are you thankful when you’ve lost your job unjustly?  How do you celebrate when you and your spouse have had serious, marriage-threatening conflict?  How do you praise God when you’re worrying about your children?  Where is the joy when someone you love won’t be sitting at the Thanksgiving table for the first time…or the twentieth time?  How do you go through another year defined by strife, or arguing, or loss—a year filled with things that stands against what a family holiday is supposed to be?
     There is no easy answer.  No magic bullet that will make all the pain and confusion go away.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope.  As you observe Thanksgiving this year, consider the following:

  • Let Thanksgiving be a time-out to rest.  You might not be able to fix your problems, but be intentional about setting them aside at least for a day.
  • If your pain is not due to an issue with your spouse, don’t shut your spouse out.  Let him/her be a safe harbor for you as you process whatever is plaguing you.  Remember, if you are hurting or stressed, it’s very likely your spouse is too, and he/she needs you just as much as you need him/her.
  • If your pain is due to an issue with your spouse, begin the journey toward forgiveness.  Forgiveness isn’t easy, and restoration of trust takes time, but let Thanksgiving Day be the day you make the first move in that direction.
  • Set your mind on things above.  Seek God in your current circumstances.  What is he teaching you about yourself?  About how you relate to your spouse and others?  Most significantly, where is your relationship with him?  How can you love God and love your neighbor (and remember, your spouse is always your closest most intimate neighbor)?  How can you treat others the way you want to be treated?
  • And finally, if you are in a healthy, blessed place, be sure to pay attention to those who are not.  It is easy to overlook those who are hurting when we are not.  Use your marriage to bring goodness into someone else's life.

     I pray that you are in a blessed and joyful place personally, in your marriage, and in your life.  If not, I pray that you will find clarity, discernment, humility, reconciliation, or whatever it is that you need so that your marriage will be blessed as we move through the holidays.  No matter what your Thanksgiving will look like, be thankful.  God is still on his throne ruling, and he always loves you.  What do you have to be thankful for?  A whole lot more than you might be able to clearly see right now.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.