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6 Things to Try Before Giving Up On Your Marriage​

We’ve long understood the pain and perils of relationships characterized by physical and emotional abuse. The toxic and often tragic consequences of abuse between couples are as wide ranging as they are reprehensible.
However, there is another kind of abuse, often obscured and unseen, that wreaks havoc on relationships and leaves dissatisfaction, distress, and divorce in its wake. In a recent article for The Good Men Project, Thomas G. Fiffer explores the silent suffering of those in unhealthy and unloving marriages.

Fiffer describes the all too common, but equally overlooked unions marked by emotional withholding as one in which “coldness replaces warmth, silence replaces conversation, turning away replaces turning towards, dismissiveness replaces receptivity, and contempt replaces respect.” And because of the insidious, creeping and passive aggressive nature of this sort of dysfunction, Fiffer argues that it is difficult to identify and remedy.

Arising out of chronic breakdowns in communication, and likely informed by self-esteem issues and a lack of connectivity on the part of the abusive partner, the fallout manifests as a failure to love and be loved. Couples talk past and look through one another, and the problems triggered by loneliness and isolation begin to pile up on each other.

For instance, Christine and Jake have been married for fourteen years and they three children ranging from ages three to twelve. During a recent counseling session, Christine declared that they have fallen out of love and are considering getting a divorce. With intensity in her voice she states, “Jake has a pattern of withholding his thoughts and feelings from me and I’ve become very resentful and lonely.”

Christine put it like this, “For a few years, I saw myself as saving Jake from his unfortunate childhood. His mom died when he was eight and he was raised by an alcoholic grandfather and passive grandmother. But after we had our second child, things became unbearable, like I wasn’t even in the room and he only responded to our boys when he absolutely had to.”

Because emotional withholding lacks the obvious and overt trauma of physical and verbal abuse, the distance between partners grows slowly over time, giving way to quiet desperation. Without the closeness and companionship of a successful and supportive relationship, the emotional center of the couple is all but missing. The spouse who is the object of abuse is left with fear, doubt and the inability to trust in their partner or their future together.

Fiffer points out that victims of emotional withhold are paradoxically “wish[ing] for the fight… because even a shouting match, an ugly scene, would involve an exchange of words, because even physical conflict would constitute physical connection, because fire, even if it burns you, is preferable to ice.” And like a pot about to boil over, the possibility for physical and verbal abuse naturally grows out of this condition of emotional neglect.

The fragility and anguish caused by emotional withholding is described eloquently by Fiffer: “Your accomplishments go unrecognized, your contributions unmentioned, your presence at best grudgingly acknowledged, and any effort at bridging the chasm is spurned.” Indeed, the desperate search for love in a loveless relationship leads to “pleading, begging, literally on your knees, apologizing for everything, offering things that are distasteful to you, promising to be better, just to re-secure your partner’s affection.”

Christine continues, “Sometimes it’s like I’m so desperate to get Jake’s attention that I will go to great lengths to get him to notice me – even shouting at him or threatening to leave.”
In the end, Fiffer asserts that “there’s only one way to deal effectively with a partner who withholds from you, and it’s this: You must make it clear that the relationship is OVER, FOREVER, if your partner does not start acknowledging you and communicating.”

While ultimatums and hard decisions may lay ahead, it’s plain to see that an emotionally healthy and stable marriage starts with fostering — and actively practicing — an open dialogue, expressions of love, and the kind of supportive give and take that can make your relationship a two-way street.
Now that you know the signs that your relationship is suffering or dying due to emotional withholding, here are six things you can try before giving up.
  1. Stop criticizing your partner.
Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking your partner. It’s okay to complain a bit but criticism is a leading cause of divorce, according to Dr. John Gottman. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t talk to me about your problem at work. We agreed to be open with each other.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me the truth. How can I trust you?”
  1. Take responsibility for our own actions and ask for what you need in a positive way.
Ask for what you need in an affirmative way, such as “I know I’m not good at asking for support but I’d appreciate it if you’d help more with preparing meals.” Be sure to turn towards each other with good eye contact and body language rather than turning away (such as starring at a computer screen) when your partner is talking to you.
  1. Practice managing conflicts as they arise.
Don’t put aside resentments that can harm communication. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. Take responsibility for your part in a dispute. Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm). If you feel flooded take a short break and agree to talk later but don’t wait more than a day. During conflict, be sure to have five positive comments to every negative one.
  1. Boost up physical affection and sex.
Try to double the amount of physical touch you have as a couple daily by hugging and kissing more, cuddling on the couch, and having sex more often. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. It’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones, lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  1. Practice a ritual of connection daily.
A positive activity such as giving each other a kiss on the cheek as you leave for the day can boost positive feelings. Also, going for a picnic, listening to music, or a daily walk after dinner can strengthen your bond. In The Intentional Family, researcher William J. Doherty says that a daily ritual is the surest antidote to marital failure.
  1. Nurture fondness and admiration for your partner.
Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities — even as you grapple with their flaws — and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day. Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Listen to their point of view and avoid the stonewalling, which is shutting yourself off from communication.

A happy couple is free from the agony of emotional withholding. As a result, they are able to build and maintain trust, and acknowledge their fears of failure; hopefully viewing their relationship as a source of security and strength. They turn toward each other often and look for opportunities for emotional and physical connection to enhance intimacy and communication.



3 Powerfully Simple Ways to Make Your Marriage Happier​

Did you go into marriage thinking it’d be your happy place?

I did. And when it wasn’t, I blamed my husband.
He was supposed to be my personal happy machine.
He didn’t see it that way. And since he wasn’t making me happy, I started making him miserable.

I’d nag and complain because he seemed more interested in anything other than me. I longed for a happy, emotionally intimate relationship.
We weren’t ever going to have one at the rate I was going.
What can you do to make your marriage happier?
In truth, my criticism and complaining were dragging our marriage down. And they didn’t move me one step closer to the loving, compassionate, emotionally intimate marriage I wanted.

Fortunately, I found three happy marriage tips that helped me get the connection I want.​

1. Let him know he can make you happy.
If your husband feels like all you do is complain, he’ll think he can’t make you happy and he’ll stop trying. Let him know when you’re pleased. Tell him what you like. When he knows what you like, he’ll do more of it. He sees your complaints as criticism of him. Let him know you appreciate what he does. If he makes the bed, thank him instead of re-making it. Act like you’re happy to see him. Tell him you’re glad he’s home or you missed him. Find another outlet for your complaints. Focus on telling him what you like. Ask yourself, “Would I want to come home to me?” When you feel good about him, he feels good about himself. Instead of complaining let him know what you want. When he knows what you want, he may try to get it for you.

2. Smile at him.
The simple act of smiling can transform you and those around you. When you smile, your face sends a message to your brain that you’re happy. And smiling makes you look better. You appear approachable. Would you want to approach someone who always has a sour face? When my husband walks in the door and I smile at him, he automatically smiles back. When I’m happy, he’s happy. If you want to be happy, act happy. People like to be around happy people.

3. Say thank you.
Seems simple, but it works. One way to be thankful is to let your husband know you appreciate him. Thank him for what he does, even if it’s something he’s supposed to do. If he picks up the kids from school, thank him. If he takes out the trash, thank him. Look for reasons to thank him. When he feels appreciated, he feels respected. When he feels respected, he’s going to want to make you happy. A grateful wife is a happy wife. Make a list of things you’re thankful for in your marriage and in life in general. Start focusing on those things and expressing thanks for them.



Our Fake World​

Almost everything about our world is fake. We are careful to make it so.

The word fake does not just mean false. It is a false based on mimicking truth. There is a level of intentionality about fakeness. It is fools gold, counterfeit money, art forgeries, and plastic surgery – intended to look like the real thing, but sorely lacking in authenticity.

Why We Are Fake

The truth is too hard. It takes time, effort and intentionality. It costs us something. It is not what we expect it to be.
It is much easier to make our own version. After all, like a good art forgery, you can barely tell the difference at first glance. So, we want to make something that looks enough like the truth that we can fool ourselves and others to believing it is true.

We do this with our appearance and our personality. We take the truth and try to mask it, manipulate it, and otherwise submit it to our control. Businesses have fake mission statements. Politicians have fake agendas. We fake humility and gratitude. Pretty much everything good in our world is susceptible to forgery.

The Effect of Fake

The hard truth is we all know how fake this world is. It’s like if we push it hard enough, we’ll realize it is a junior high theater set made of cardboard.

But instead of doing the hard work of discovering truth, we fall in line with the fake parameters of our world. We just make our own versions. Most of us aren’t really sure what a non-fake world would look like and whether it is even really possible. And so we fall in line. We play the games. We do what we have to, to receive the approval of man. And humanity likes nothing more than a truth minus suffering.
The streets of this world are paved with fools gold. And the result is we have a hard time knowing the truth. We have a hard time recognizing things for what they are truly worth, even for what they truly are.

The Truth

A few years ago, we were in Florence, Italy where the statue of David is on display. We were traveling all over Europe and on a tight budget. And they keep David in a little museum that you have to pay to get into. Also, there is an “exact” replica in the city square where the statue originally stood. We went back and forth about whether it was worth it to spend the money to see the original. Long story short, we did. It is hard to explain what it was like to see it. I’m not an art guy. It’s not like the statue of David was particularly high on my bucket list. We just figured we should splurge and see the original.

It is crazy, but the “real” statue had a different feel to it. There was a beauty to it I can’t really describe. We saw the replica at the square as well and it just looked different. Not the angles or the shapes – as far as my untrained eye could tell, it was pretty consistent. It just wasn’t real.
We have the same attitude about the truth as I did (originally) about David’s statue/replica. The replica is the same. Cheaper, simpler, easier, and less crowded. But exactly the same. The fake was identical.
But if so, why did the “real” one have such a different affect on me?

The hard thing about being fake is that it catches up with us. We live in this careful constructed world but we cannot help bumping up against the truth every once and a while. And it is akin to how I felt when I first saw Michelangelo’s David. It is jarring. Ineffably different.
The truth is powerful. Beautiful. Reality is mysteriously greater than the “exact” replicas we try to gloss over it with. We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by succumbing to this fake world and participating in its illusions. The truth is nearby, ready to transform us.



How to Read the Bible Without Missing the point.​

Too often we skim over God’s Word rather than slowing down to see what it’s saying. Sometimes, we look at what Scripture says, yet we fail to ask — what does it mean? Other times, we consider what the Bible is saying and what it means, yet we still fail to ask the two most vital questions — What is God saying to me? and How does God want me to apply what I have read to my life?

Life is busy. We live in an instant gratification world where we expect quick responses and fast results. We are accustomed to doing things quickly and getting immediate satisfaction. But, that’s not how God wants us to approach Him or His Word. Quite the opposite.
To experience the full measure of God’s presence — we must slow down. To grasp the true meaning of God’s Word — we must consider it carefully.
“My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart, for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body. Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:20-23

I’m guilty of living life at Mach speed. If you ask my friends, they would likely say, she doesn’t know how to slow down. But, when it comes to experiencing God and His Word, I’ve learned to make myself stop. I intentionally set time aside to spend quality and quiet time with God. I ask questions when I’m reading my Bible and I ask God to open my eyes and heart to what He desires to teach me.

No matter what passage, chapter, or book of the Bible I’m reading, I’ve learned there are powerful and life-changing messages within its words. But, I will completely miss God’s point, if I don’t slow down and take time to carefully examine His Words.

If we want to find courage for life in the Bible, we must do more than simply read its words and move on. We must meditate on the Scriptures and apply what we learned to our everyday lives. God wants to change the way we think, the way we act, and the way we react. It’s our job to carefully consider His words and apply them to our lives in ways that challenge us and change us.
So how can you read the Bible without missing God’s point?
  1. Begin with prayer. Ask God to open your heart and mind to what He wants you to understand within the book or passage you are reading.
  2. Observe the words. To observe what God is saying, you must ask questions of the text like, Who is talking; Who are they talking to; What are they talking about; and Why are they talking about the particular subject?
  3. Interpret the words. To interpret God’s Word, you must ask questions of the text like, What does God want me to learn; Is there a sin I need to avoid; or is there a principle I need to follow?
  4. Apply the words. To apply God’s Word, you must ask yourself, what real-life situation am I facing that relates to the text I am studying; how can I change what I believe or how I behave to better honor God and His Word? Then put what you’ve learned into practice.



Get Finally Unstuck​

[ 1 min read ★ ]

A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity—Proverbs 17:17

“I’ve got this.” It’s a phrase used often by men, in one form or another. We say it to ourselves; we say it to others. And, most times, we have got whatever “this” happens to be. Every once in a while, though, we encounter something we cannot handle, something we haven’t “got.” Of course, that doesn’t always diminish our willingness to make our “got this” claims still. You see, “I’ve got this” often originates from our need to project images of manliness and self-sufficiency. And so, “I’ve got this” can become a stubborn habit. Even when it becomes obvious to us (and maybe everyone else) that we, in fact, haven’t “got this,” we sometimes continue right on in our stubbornness, telling ourselves that—from now on—we simply must try harder.

The truth is, some things are too big for us. But, because truth isn’t always welcome, we often cry out to God instead: “Why can’t I get beyond this?” “Why won’t you help me?” Well, brother, he has helped. He’s given us what we need to overcome even seemingly intractable problems.

“. . . though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

While some things are too big for us alone, none is too big for Holy Spirit-infused communities of men—standing together, praying together, holding each other accountable, keeping one another encouraged.

Okay, so what do we do?​

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but can’t seem to get around to doing? Is there something you’d desperately like to stop doing, but cannot? It is against such things that we must bring the power of community. So, now’s the time. Get control of your pride, put a name to that thing, and ask your brothers for help.



7 Questions Every Single Parent Should Ask a New Partner​

During our first counseling session, Angie broke down in tears as she talked about her ex-boyfriend Dean bailing out after just six months of dating. She knew that Dean didn’t particularly like children (and she had two teenage girls) but she was head over heels in love and continued in the relationship much too long.

Angie reflects: “Dean’s a great guy but he told me from the start that he didn’t want to marry someone with kids and he just wanted to date casually. I let my imagination get carried away with me and started thinking about us buying property together. When he caught wind of this, we sat down and had a long talk and he broke up with me. I should have seen it coming.”

Over and over again, I see clients leap headlong into a new relationship soon after divorcing— even move in with someone — only to face a disastrous breakup a short while afterward.
While it’s normal to seek comfort, companionship, and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether the new person is a good match for you and your family. Ask yourself, “Is my new love interest a good fit for my family?” And, do they like children and want to spend time with kids who are not their own? Truth be told, you can be attracted to a lot of people, but when you have kids, you are asking for trouble when you pick a partner who isn’t fond of children.

7 questions every single parent must ask a new partner before diving in head-first.
  1. Why did your marriage (or last committed relationship) end?
  2. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger-management skills. Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict or see it as an opportunity for growth?
  3. How do you feel about making a commitment to someone with children?
  4. How do you feel about having children? How many children do you consider the best number if you want them?
  5. Do you believe that couples should share chores and child-care responsibilities? If so, what do you believe is a fair distribution of chores?
  6. What is your view of divorce? What would you consider a good solution to a period when your marriage is rocky?
  7. What is your vision for your life in five, 10, and 20 years?
Next, if you feel satisfied that your new love interest is a good fit for your family, it’s critical to determine the best time to introduce them to your children. This is the number one question parents ask me. My response is: What’s the hurry? Even if you are madly in love and seem to have a lot in common with your new love interest, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire.

When you find a person that you are becoming seriously involved with, be sure to prepare your children in advance for the first visit. Keep in mind that the setting and timing of an introduction is vital to your success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.

Divorce expert Rosalind Sedacca recommends these tips: “Ask the kids for their feedback. Discuss their feelings. Watch how your partner behaves with them. Make sure the kids never feel threatened by the thought that they are losing their Mom or Dad to a stranger. How you approach adding a new partner into your life will affect their long-term relationship with the children.”

A crucial factor to keep in mind when introducing a new partner to your children is their age. In fact, younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, concluded that most children find their parent’s courtship behaviors confusing and strange.

On the other hand, adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, but they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling, so go easy on physical contact in front of them. Do you want your teenager to model their behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships thoughtfully.

I’ve witnessed many new relationships go south when a partner is introduced to children too quickly. It can cause anguish for everyone, especially children who are probably holding on to the idea that their parents will eventually get back together. It may take them time to accept a new person in their life.
Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interests, especially the first few years after the divorce. Children need time to adjust to their parents’ split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions.

Consider that you are a role model for your kids and exposing them to casual partners may not set an example for responsible dating. Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships. Do you want them to feel pessimistic about lasting love?

The key to successful parenting post-divorce is healing, and introducing a new love interest too soon might complicate, delay or damage this process. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm. So take it slow and don’t introduce your kids to your new love interest until you have a fairly good sense he or she is a “keeper.” Talking to a therapist may help you to make this decision and these sessions will be time well spent as you move into this next phase of your life.



How To Reclaim Control Of Your Life​

Every day we wake up and log in to a game. The game is called control. We spend our entire day trying to gain control. We want to control the way people think about us and the way things turn out, our work and relationships, our emotions and our outcomes.

The scramble for control is a system one behavior. It has been programmed within us. We don’t even realize we are doing it. And when we do, we’re not sure what could be done to log out of the system and try something different.
And so, day after day, we try to beat one level and then the next. We fail and have to return to levels we thought we had beaten. It’s a never-ending game that zaps our energy and our potential.

Why We Want Control

The reason we want control is simple. We want to avoid pain. We want to sidestep suffering and find the peace and happiness that every human longs for.
We’ve bought into a specific narrative. And that narrative tells us that if we can dominate our circumstances and our relationships, we can predict the outcomes. We won’t be disappointed or hurt.
Unfortunately, life does not work that way. Perseverance is an inevitable part of human development. Our attempts to short-cut suffering are both destined to fail and spoil our development.

How To Win

The secret is this: the game is not all wrong. It can’t just be dismissed. It is a game we are meant to play. When we are made aware of the shortcomings of the scramble for control, we often swing too far in the other direction – throwing our hands up and refusing to play altogether.
The game of control does not need to be avoided, it needs to be won. But we don’t win it by conquering the world. We win it by discovering truth.

The truth is that there are things we can control, but our control has limits. We are not meant to be dictators, but we are meant to take responsibility. There are only three things we can control: 1) whom we trust; 2) our attitude/perspective; and 3) our choices.
To win the game of control, we steward these responsibilities with grace and truth. We take ownership of these three things and do the most good with the opportunities presented therein.

When To Log Out

It is so tempting to spill our efforts at control into other arenas. But there are only three things and, try as we might, our attempts to invade will fall short. We cannot control other people’s reactions or feelings (In a sense, we can’t even control our own emotions– just use them properly). We can’t control what others do or say or think, and we can’t control systems like governments or churches. However, we can influence all of these things.
Influence is a natural consequence of stewarding our responsibility well.
To life a fulfilling life, we must avoid the temptation to overstep our bounds. We must transform our generalized scramble for control to a intentional and localized effort. Only then can we unlock the doors to peace, joy, and purpose – the paths we so desperately long for.



Processing After a Fight? It’s Different for Men – Here’s Why​

Dear Shaunti,

I feel like my husband is a total avoider. When we get into an argument, all he wants to do is ignore the situation and escape to the TV room. He doesn’t care that we need to talk it through. What can I do to get him to talk to me?
— Wanting more words

Dear Wanting more words,
Boy, can I feel your pain! In fact, in the research I’ve done with thousands of men and women, I know that most women can feel your pain! Getting everything out on the table and resolved right now makes total sense, right? Right…to everyone, that is, but most men. I’m guessing that it’s not that your husband doesn’t want to communicate, but that he needs to go about it very differently.

If you are like most women, you are a verbal processor and think something through by talking it through. And with lots of connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, you can talk and think about many thoughts and feelings at the same time.

But most men (perhaps including yours!) are internal processors. In most cases, it is actively difficult for a guy to think something through by talking it through. His brain is wired to process one thing at a time, going deep within each one, as he tries to figure out what he’s thinking and feeling – and what you are thinking and feeling. Pressing him to talk before he’s had a chance to process all that makes it harder for him to think things through. If lots of emotions are swirling around, he’ll struggle even more. I am guessing that when he “escapes” to the TV room it isn’t really to “ignore” the situation but to get space to process it.

So although you innately feel a need to talk right then, try a different approach and see what happens: at some non-emotional time (in other words, when you aren’t arguing), ask him if he’s the type to need time to process and express your genuine interest in understanding what that is like. Explain your own need, and ask if you two can try an approach that works for both of you. You’ll give him the time he needs (for example, until the next morning), but can he then agree to try to talk about it at that point? Then when you do get into a conflict, take a deep breath and (as hard as it is) don’t press your husband to talk. Wait and see what happens when you come back and talk about it later. Although it may take a few tries to find the timing that works for both of you, I suspect that if you get into that pattern, you will have much better communication in the end.



Sexual Parameters within Marriage​

God created sex for two reasons. First, He wants us to procreate. Second, He wants us to experience pleasure in marriage. As we pursue the latter, we need to feel free to explore the realms of sexual pleasure while also knowing our boundaries.

As you might imagine, during my years teaching and counseling couples, I regularly get asked, privately, about these boundaries. What is allowed sexually within marriage? What isn’t allowed? Is it OK to experiment?

Couples ask these questions because they fear any sexual experimenting might somehow be wrong or sinful, especially when it comes to certain sexual positions, sexual enhancements or “toys,” and other fantasies.
In addressing these issues, I first tell them that God wants them to enjoy sex. Then I tell them that when something isn’t specifically forbidden in Scripture, that’s generally because it is allowed.

Need an example? Consider oral sex. I’ve heard a good number of preachers over the years talk about how it’s a sin. But there is no place in Scripture that forbids it within the context of marriage.

The same guidelines apply to other practices. While I am not necessarily endorsing or recommending particular sexual aids or positions, I don’t believe a preacher or anyone else has the moral authority to tell husband and wife what they can or cannot do in the privacy of the bedroom—especially if the Bible hasn’t forbidden it.
When it comes to the question of whether to allow or disallow any sexual practice, I recommend asking these questions:
  • Is it forbidden in the Bible?
  • Does it violate my conscience before God?
  • Does it violate my spouse or is it against his or her will?
  • Is it physically safe? Does it cause harm to me or my spouse? Are there health issues or risks involved?
  • Does this treat my spouse in a disrespectful manner or damage our relationship in any way?
Use these questions to help you and your spouse discover your sexual parameters. As for me, I believe the boundaries for sex in marriage are broad. Remember that God wants you to have fun and enjoy intimacy with your spouse.

When it comes down to it, my advice is this: If it feels good to you and isn’t against God’s Word, you should consider it.
The best marriages are those in which two people enjoy each other and make each other feel good. Approach sex from this perspective and don’t let the opinions of other people dictate your sexual practices.

After all, other than God, you know better than anyone what you like and what is best for your marriage. When properly practiced, sex builds your relationship and binds you to each other. It creates an atmosphere of pleasure and delight.
And within that garden of pleasure and delight, a marriage flourishes.



Understanding Justice, Mercy, and Grace​

GUEST POST by Paula A. Lambert, author of This Season of Hope
“… And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8 NIV
My closest friends know I haven’t always been a rule follower. It’s true I guess to some degree. I often push the limits of
whatever I’m confronted with. As you might imagine, this approach has not always worked out very well.
While on a weekender at the beach with some great friends, we were looking for a place to have dinner. As the driver, I was attempting to follow the GPS on my phone and when the voice on the GPS said, “you have arrived,” we saw nothing. In the location where we expected to see the restaurant, there was literally no building at all.

We all found this to be quite humorous. It was biker’s week at the beach and we were in the middle of heavy traffic. Still processing the missing restaurant and trying to figure out where to go next, I saw the traffic light turn yellow. I continued driving through the intersection as the light was also turning a beautiful hue of red. My friend in the passenger’s seat said, “those are blue lights behind you. Pull over and hand me your phone.”

Reality set in. I felt the serious responsibility of the moment and it was very sobering. Referring to the officer who was approaching the vehicle, I said, “I hope he’s in a good mood.” After the officer approached the vehicle and asked for the license and registration he said, “Well, I’m in a good mood today.” Yay! He was so nice and decided to only give me a warning!

After I had a little time to think about what had just happened, I went to the spiritual place in my mind and said, “I didn’t get what I deserved. Thank you, Lord, for mercy.” I was truly thankful. I honestly should have gotten a ticket. I clearly broke the law and I was keenly aware of the possible consequences. An expensive ticket would have just killed the good mood for the rest of the weekend.

Instead of a ticket, though, I received a lesson in justice, mercy, and grace. Justice would mean that I would have gotten a pricy ticket for the standard amount for running a red light. That would be what I deserved. Instead, I didn’t get what I deserved. I received mercy in the form of forgiveness and no ticket. Grace, getting what I don’t deserve, was what I received from my friends. Instead of being angry, they were able to get a good laugh about that experience. Actually, they will probably never let me live that down!

A short two weeks later I was at a different beach with a different group of friends. I had parked the car near the beach access. Returning to the car after an absolutely perfect day, I discovered a ticket on my windshield! In the margin handwritten were the words “$100 fee upon next violation.”
My first thought was, “What?!” I hadn’t even realized it, but I was in a reserved parking section. On the dashboard, I had placed the pass that allowed admittance to the condo, and I thought that it covered all the parking areas. Apparently, it did not. And while ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, mercy had been extended to me once again.

Everybody wants justice when it’s for someone else. When it comes to us, we prefer mercy and grace. I deserved justice. Fortunately for us, God is also a God of mercy and grace. That knowledge gives us hope in the most uncomfortable situations. We may warrant the cuffs of justice and long for the relief of mercy, but God generously gifts grace to the undeserving. What a compassionate God we have!
“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.”
Isaiah 30:18 NASB

“But because of His great love for us,
God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions –
it is by grace you have been saved.”
Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV
Name a situation where God gave you mercy or grace.
Name a situation where you can exercise grace for someone else.



Regaining A Sense of Vision in Your Life​

What are you doing today? Why? What is the purpose of your day? What do you hope to accomplish out of life and how is this day contributing to that agenda?

Vision is a powerful motivator in our lives. It drives us to act. It gives us a sense of camaraderie with the people who share our vision. It gives us a feeling of purpose, adding meaning to our lives.

If you think about the job, relationship, or hobby you are currently engaged in, it likely started from a specific vision. You wanted to work to pay the bills or fall in love to get married. Really, you wanted to do something meaningful with your day and to have someone to love and be loved by.
We always start with a vision. We do not waste our time with something unless we have a certain hope or expectation for how it will benefit us. As our endeavor continues, the vision we started with can get lost in the shuffle, confused and diluted, or it can fade away entirely.

Losing Vision

Not all of our visions are good. In fact, this is probably the number one reason we lose a sense of vision. It is because we wanted validation or money or something else superficial that does not truly satisfy. We’ve believed a lie or settled for a temporary fix. Often the loss of vision exposes the imperfection of our vision.

Even if our vision was (is?) perfectly healthy, we can lose it easily. This is because things do not stay in the honeymoon phase forever. When circumstances get tough, we often lose sight of where we were going because the current situation seems so pressing. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and we can find ourselves spending the rest of our days putting out fires and forgetting about vision altogether.

Rescuing Vision

No matter why we lost our sense of vision in the first place, it is available for resuscitation.

Exploring vision takes time. When fires are burning and the To-Do List for the day is long and overwhelming, we often just feel as if “we don’t have the time” to sit and contemplate vision. It seems a luxury.
But the only thing more time-consuming than considering your vision is operating without one. You will waste more time in the long run by continuing to chase your tail.

When we think of vision, we often think of stuffy and obligatory mission statements. We think of poor goals and heads in the clouds. We might give it lip service on one company retreat a year, but we have real things to do day in and day out.
All you really need to revitalize your vision is a commitment to do so. To really believe and internalize the importance of vision casting for your personal and professional life.

You’ll be lost without it. And it is so easy to lose. But the same reality works in the opposite direction – if you can find your vision and keep it at the forefront, it will unlock levels of productivity and effectiveness that are otherwise elusive. It won’t help you avoid challenges but it will remind you why the challenges are worth enduring.



Top 13 Bible Verses About Virtue​

God places a high value on godly virtues, so here are the top 13 Bible verses about virtue as found in Scripture.

Second Peter 1:5-7 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

A virtuous person is one who has high moral standards, and acts with integrity, honesty, and morality, and importantly, even when no one is looking. The Apostle Peter tells us we are to “make every effort” to supplement our “faith with virtue,” meaning it doesn’t come naturally, even for Christians. Notice that Peter puts virtue before knowledge, but virtue with self-control leads to godliness. This godliness allows God to love others through us.

Proverbs 10:9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

When the Bible mentions “walk” or “walking,” it is referring to a lifestyle, so whoever lives with integrity in life can rest assured they’ll walk securely. There’s a lot more damage that can be done be telling a lie than telling the truth, even to one’s own heart. This means, we must keep our promises, or not make them in the first place. God “honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4).

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

One way I can get rid of that “song in my head” is to replace it with another, so in this sense, when we’re thinking bad or negative thoughts, it’s time to dwell on virtuous things…things that are honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. It’s still up to us to make every effort to “think about these things.”

Proverbs 31:10-11 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

To the question, “Who can find” an excellent wife,” I can honestly say I have a virtious wife. Perfect? Of course not, but a godly woman who “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Prov 31:20). With my own eyes I have seen her as “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov 31:26). Her value is far above that of rubies because “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov 31:30b).

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

These are natural by-products of the Holy Spirit. These are godly virtues that we cannot produce of ourselves (John 15:5), and these virtues (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) are in great demand today.

Proverbs 11:3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.

By saying “The integrity of the upright guides them,” we could understand that to mean, what they know they must do, they do. Whatever is right guides their decision making. If you know the right thing to do and manage to do it, the consequences will provide a straighter path in life, and one that’s straighter is decidedly safer than one that’s crooked. That’s the treacherous way, and that way destroys many.

James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Anything more than “Yes” seems to be an attempt to prove that we mean it. If we swear by something that we have no control over, that cannot guarantee something will or won’t happen. Swearing to do something only puts a person at risk for humiliation when they fail to do it…even though they “swore on their mother’s grave.” A simple yes or no will suffice…and it’s better than trying to add stipulations to it.

First Chronicles 29:17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.

This writer has a clean conscience. That’s more difficult to have when you know God knows the heart (1 Sam 16:7), but clearly, we can’t fool God. He tests our hearts, but not so He’ll find out anything new about us, but so we’ll find out new things about us! One thing we know, God is pleased by the righteous virtues of His people. Of course, they’re not sinless or perfect, but they’re striving to live a virtuous life.

Proverbs 19:1 Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.

Riches can’t help us walk in integrity any more than poverty can, so walking in integrity has nothing to do with a person’s social or financial status. A poor person will do far better in life walking in integrity, in this life and at the judgment, than a rich one will do who walks in his or her own way.

Psalm 41:11-12 By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.

God upholds those who walk in integrity. Integrity is even more important in this world with all the corruption there is, so the psalmist sees God’s righteous hand will uphold him throughout life. God also sees His children as being set “in your presence forever,” or as if, it’s as good as done.

Romans 5:7-8 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I can remember many heroic accounts of someone giving their lives for another or for several people, but I cannot remember someone volunteering to die; even willingly, for someone who’s an known enemy. That’s the virtuous love of God that doesn’t give enemies what they deserve (God’s wrath), but what they need (love, forgiveness). Those are virtues we should endeavor to live.

John 8:46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

Who could accuse Jesus of any sin? No one could because He was without sin. Jesus asked the crowds of self-righteous Jews, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” Here was their chance to accuse Jesus of sin, publically, but they were silent in their accusations about Him because He did no sin, and there was no other way that we could be redeemed by God than “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:19). It took His perfection to save us.

Luke 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

Pontius Pilate understood that there was “no guilt in this man,” Jesus Christ. The Son of God was virtuous in every way possible, and Pilate knew that there was no reason to have Him crucified, but rather, Pilate knew the Jews were jealous of Him (Matt 27:18). Even so, Pilate gave into the near-to-riot crowds and had the sinless Son of God put to death.


If you liked these Bible verses about virtue, I hope you’ll share them with your friends. The virtues that the Bible speaks about, and those generated by the Holy Spirit, are like water to a dying and thirsty world. Without these virtues, Christians would be just like the world, but if we have one virtue above others, let it be our love, for it is by our love for one another that the world will know we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).



Olympic athlete Daniel Jervis praises God after he loses​

Unlike most Olympic athletes making headlines these days, Daniel Jervis did not win a medal in the Tokyo games. In fact, he came in fifth in the men’s 1500-meter freestyle. After the event, however, he said something that is worthy of global attention.

He began: “I want to thank my village of Resolven. I want to thank my church, Sardis Baptist Church, [and] Ammanford Church in Ammanford, who have been really supportive of me. Everyone back home has been praying for me.” Then he added: “The thing I’m most proud of in my life is that I’m a Christian, and obviously God was with me tonight, and I’m just really grateful to be representing him.”

It is fairly common to see competitors win and then thank God for their success. However, skeptics can dismiss such faith, no matter how sincere it is, as the natural result of success. They often claim, as Satan said of Job to God, “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:10–11).

For this reason, it can be especially powerful when believers glorify God before they achieve success. For example, South African Olympic swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker posted on Instagram a prayer for God’s will to be done “no matter what the outcome,” days before she won a gold medal and set a new world record in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke.
And it can be even more powerful when we honor God when we lose.

“I’m planning my future, not my legacy”

This fact is on my mind in light of an interview Jane Marczewski gave to CNN’s Chris Cuomo Wednesday. The singer known as Nightbirde has been much in the news after her stunning performance on America’s Got Talent, her disclosure that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her recent announcement that she will not be able to continue on AGT because of her cancer battle.
When Cuomo asked how she was doing, she was honest: “Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been curled up in a ball like a cocktail shrimp, having an A-plus pity party for myself, because it’s just been a bad, bad month. It’s been really, pretty devastating.”

She described having to leave AGT: “I’m not a quitter. So it was really, really hard for me to say that I couldn’t finish the show. I got shocking news less than a week ago about cancer regrowth that has taken over my lungs and liver. So my liver right now is mostly cancer. More cancer than liver in there right now.”

Then she added: “But like I said, I’m planning my future, not my legacy. Some people would call that blind denial. I prefer to call it rebellious hope. And I’m not stopping anytime soon.”
She then asked Cuomo, “Don’t you want to see what happens if you don’t give up? Don’t you want to see what happens? And that’s what I keep saying to myself and that’s what I say to everyone watching tonight. Don’t you want to see what happens if you don’t give up?”

Just as she impressed the acerbic Simon Cowell on AGT, she similarly impressed Cuomo, who asked whether or not she has “always been like this.” She replied, “I don’t know. I think when you’re faced with so many blows to the gut in a row, like I have over the past several years, you find out what you’re made of in a sense, and you’re given the opportunity to choose what you want to become. So no, I don’t think I was always this way.”

“Therefore we will not fear”

Psalm 46 begins: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). This is not a wish for the future but a fact in the present.
A “refuge” is a place where we go to be sheltered. However, we must choose to go there. A shelter is no help to us unless we use it. If we think we can withstand the storms and crises of life on our own, we will not humble ourselves enough to admit that we need God’s help and then to seek that help.
So, when the crisis comes, run to God. The Hebrew word for refuge is literally “a place to which we flee.” Don’t walk to him—run. Run to his help, his power, his love, his grace. And seek the “strength” he offers, knowing that his power can be yours if you will ask for it from him.

If you do, through the incontrovertible lens of your Father’s omnipotence and love, you will be able to testify with the psalmist, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (vv. 2–3, my emphasis).
Sometimes God calms the storms, and sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child. A troubled saint said, “I prayed for less wind in my sails, and God gave me more sails for the wind.”

“He must win the battle”

Martin Luther turned Psalm 46 into one of the best-loved hymns in Christian history, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. In that hymn he wrote these words, “Did we in our own strength confide, / our striving would be losing; / Were not the right man on our side, / the Man of God’s own choosing. / Dost ask who that may be? / Christ Jesus, it is He; / Lord Sabaoth, His Name, / from age to age the same, / And He must win the battle.”

Note the word must. If our Father is truly omnipotent, no power can defeat him. If he is truly omniscient, no need can escape his knowledge. If he is truly all-loving, he will only ever do what is best for his children.

The next time you lose a race, remember Daniel Jervis’ example and look for a way to thank and honor your Lord for his love and grace. Remember Jane Marczewski’s question: “Don’t you want to see what happens if you don’t give up?”
And remember this fact: it is always too soon to give up on God.



One Word to Start Over​

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . for by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned—Matthew 12:37

Men sin. We all do. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Fortunately, it’s not our sin that keeps us from God’s forgiveness. It’s our unwillingness to recognize it, to deal with it, which does that. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We must, therefore, confess . . . and regularly.

That is easier to say, of course, than to live. Confession is hard. Giving voice to words describing our sin is hard. We often think that just saying them, naming our sin, will somehow make it more real. We think naming our sin will put more of its taint upon us. Brother, it’s real. Its full taint is upon us already. And there’s no path to forgiveness and taint removal, except first through confession. But it’s not actually confession if we never say the words—if we obfuscate or talk around the sin. Naming it, simply and plainly, pulls it up and out of the tangle of denial and confusion. It places our sin in the open, where we can see it, where we can paint a target on it, where we can finally bring the power of the Holy Spirit and community against it.

Okay, so what do we do?​

Reduce your struggle with sin to one word: Pride. Self-centeredness. Hard-heartedness. Indifference. Resentment. Rage. Greed. Dishonesty. Lust. You choose your word. Be honest. Once you have it, say it aloud. Gather some brothers. Pray for courage, then go around, each man saying only their one word. Pray again, this time against the words spoken. When the time is right, go deeper and explain the meanings behind the words.



4 ways modern dating is killing real love​

I recently came across a series of interviews with women in their twenties who were commenting on the current dating scene. Most of the women being interviewed were using dating sites and apps like Tinder which have been criticized for promoting casual “hookups” instead of meaningful relationships. Some of these young women were lamenting the fact that they’d lost track of the number of sexual partners they’d had in the previous twelve months, and many of the men on these dating apps would order a “date” the way he would order a pizza…”I’m looking for a petite redhead who is into...”

These women couldn’t remember the last time a man had sent them flowers, but ALL of them had received text messages with explicit sexual images from men. These young women seemed to long for more meaningful relationships, but in the modern dating scene, they didn’t know where to begin. They didn’t seem to fully realize that they were being shaped by an unhealthy cultural mindset anymore than a fish in the ocean doesn’t realize that he’s wet…it’s simply the only world they know.
Their experience is certainly NOT the experience of every person who is out there dating, but sadly, their experience seems to be becoming more the norm than the exception.

I believe that we have both the power and the responsibility to change the modern approach to dating or else we may run the risk of forfeiting the true meaning of love, the commitment of marriage and the stability of family for future generations. It all begins with understanding some of the dangerous mindsets that are being adopted by many in the modern dating scene.

1. Modern dating tends to create a “Hookup Culture” which treats the opposite sex as an object to be used instead of a soul to be cherished.
When we approach relationships with purely carnal intentions and selfish goals, we dehumanize ourselves and we also dehumanize the objects of our lust. True love can’t possibly exist in this kind of mindset.
2. Modern dating defines love as a feeling instead of a commitment.
In my new book The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships the first chapter is all about how love is a commitment much more than a feeling. The strength of our commitment will always determine the strength of a relationship. If our relationships are based solely on feelings (which are fickle), then our relationships (even our marriages) will never be built on a solid foundation.

3. Modern dating encourages people to “play a role” instead of simply being themselves.
In our social-media driven culture, we’re constantly tempted to manage our public image and refine that image if it isn’t getting the popularity or attention we desire. Many people go through relationships and never let their guards down. People never get the chance to know and love the real you when you’re always playing a different character. True love requires transparency and authenticity. True love also require complete honesty. Don’t be impressed by what someones posts online; be impressed by what he/she is doing when nobody is watching.

4. Modern dating devalues the significance of marriage.
Many in our modern world think of marriage as an outdated and antiquated idea, but we need it more than ever. In my article on 7 reasons why marriage STILL matters I point out some of the cultural, practical and even spiritual reasons why we need to elevate the value of marriage. Dating just for the sake of dating will do more harm than good. We were created for so much more, so let’s stop lowering our standards.



An Unhappy Wife Means an Unhealthy Marriage​

A good friend of mine once told me a story I’ll never forget. Late at night, before he went to sleep, he lay in bed next to his wife. At the time, everything seemed to be going his way, and he remembers thinking how wonderful things had turned out.

In a moment of emotional honesty that tends to be pretty rare among guys, he said to his wife, “You know, I’ve never been happier than I am at this moment.”

She burst into tears.
He asked what was wrong, and she sobbed even more, tears streaming onto her pillow. “I’ve never been this unhappy,” she said.
This simple conversation awakened my friend to the reality of his marriage, and it transformed their relationship. He never knew how unhappy his wife had become because he never took the time to ask.
Men, don’t assume that your wife is happy just because you are happy.

In fact, here’s what I want you to understand: You’re not a successful husband until your wife says you are.
The true barometer of a healthy marriage is a happy and secure wife.
Why? Because the countenance of a wife reveals the true character of a man. When you see a woman who is beaten down and vulnerable, you’re seeing the reflection of a man who is wounded—and who wounds those he loves. This is a man refusing to embrace his responsibility before God.
But when you see a woman who exudes confidence and security, a woman whose eyes shine with glory, a woman of poise and beauty and self-assurance, you’re seeing the reflection of a man who understands what it means to love and cherish his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25).

Jesus gave everything for us, laying down His life so that we might have a relationship with God. He held nothing back, and God commands men to hold nothing back when it comes to their wives.
A godly husband is expected to lay down his life to bring his wife to her full potential before God. He holds nothing back.
One day, every man will stand before Jesus and give an account of his life. I fully expect a question like this: “How did you treat the precious women I put in your life? How did you treat your wife and daughters?”

Had I been asked that question nearly forty years ago, I would have bowed my head in shame. Thankfully, God reached into my heart and changed my life. Today, the man I became is reflected in the woman Karen has become.
She radiates poise and confidence, and God is doing great things through her.
Men, we have been given an incredible responsibility. God has entrusted us with our wives, some of His most precious possessions.
He has given us an extraordinary responsibility and a task of enormous significance. We dare not take it lightly.
Is your wife happy and secure? If you don’t know the answer to this vitally important question, it’s time to ask.



Rallying Cries​

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith,
act like men, be strong—1 Corinthians 16:13

When we men gather, our gatherings should be about something. Without a something, brotherhood doesn’t last. There are, of course, plenty of possible such somethings: we gather to watch sports, play sports, talk sports, talk politics, discuss philosophy, drink coffee, drink wine, drink beer, hunt, fish, golf, bike, hike, and many other things. Some of us, though, believe there’s one something that stands well above the rest—a great cause—to follow our King, Jesus Christ, which includes fighting for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and engaging an enemy that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It’s an honor that we’ve been called to such a cause. But, just as men are apt to allow their attention to drift and to lose focus over time, so are groups of men. We must, therefore, be intentional about maintaining purpose, about maintaining alignment with one another, and about maintaining morale and increasing mettle toward opposition and hardship. One approach is to borrow an ancient technique: the rallying cry. It requires we simply consecrate, and then adopt, a few well-chosen words that capture what we stand for, words that reflect our agreed upon priorities, and that rally us always back to God’s (and now our) great cause.

Okay, so what do we do?​

Decide today what you and your brothers are about . . . decide your something. Ask yourselves, what brought us together? What’s our purpose in being together? What are our priorities toward one another? What do we care about? What makes us unique? If you’ve never thought about these things, now’s the time, brother. Keep it fun. Set aside some time to pray together and to listen. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Then collaborate and iterate and formulate your group’s rallying cry.



The Keys to Being an Emotionally Available Partner​

During a recent couples counseling session, Kylie, 36, spoke about her frustration with her husband, Tim, 35, who she feels distances himself emotionally and doesn’t show empathy when she’s upset very often. They’ve been married three years and she’s concerned that if she doesn’t feel closer to him, it will cause them to split up because she feels lonely in their marriage.
Happy couple embracing and laughing on the beach
Kylie reflects: “Tim is a good husband in many ways but he tends to go into a shell and doesn’t deal with emotions very well. Yesterday, I had an argument with my sister that upset me and all he could say was “Get over it, that’s just the way your sister is, you should know that by now.” I felt worse after sharing with him and retreated to my office. I worked all night on a Saturday which is usually our date night.”

In a recent article on his website, Kyle Benson addresses one of the most common problems reported by the couples he works with: one or both partners not being emotionally available. Because this is such a widespread and relatable issue in relationships, Benson unpacks what he calls “The 6 Steps to Becoming an Emotionally Available Lover.”

Benson’s insights, borne not only of his counseling of couples, but also out of his own personal experience in relationships, are both practical and grounded. As with so many strategies to overcome romantic hurdles, Benson’s 6 Steps are rooted in self-awareness and the desire for couples to actively work on themselves and their partnership.

In Step 1 (“Take a hard look at the beliefs you have about yourself in your relationship”), Benson asks readers to probe their feelings about themselves as a way to become more emotionally accessible to their partner. He writes that partners “explore why it is that you don’t feel worthy of a close, loving relationship” and challenges couples with a question: “Is there a way to challenge your belief that if your partner gets to truly know you, they will reject you?” Simply put, we must look inward before we can be a fully functional and present part of a happy relationship.

In Step 2, Benson preaches empathy, urging each half of a couple to “make your partner’s need feel equal to yours.”

Then, in the third step, Benson approaches a touchy subject in a non-threatening way. He writes that “emotionally unavailable partners often have a secret life—a backup plan for when the relationship fails.” While the notion of a “secret life” conjures thoughts of infidelity and dishonesty, Benson’s definition is much broader. The basic philosophy is the secrets create emotional distance and prevent true connection in a nurturing relationship. In short, you need to go “all in” on a happy and healthy life with your partner.
Benson’s Steps 4-6 are again the stuff of mindfulness, as being deliberate is essential to achieving emotional availability.

Step 4 — “Make time for your partner” — is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Benson points out that actions speak louder than words, and “making time” is more a product of prioritizing your relationship than it is about giving up other parts of your life not directly related to your partner.

Step 5 — “Work on taking responsibility for your emotions” — is yet another practical approach. Benson counsels partners to take a personal inventory, regulate their emotions, and practice an active understanding of the negative emotions that may be impacting their relationship. The simple act of owning your anger, frustration, or impulses to blame your partner, is a key to activating the kind of empathy that empowers couples to be loving, accepting and available to one another.

Step 6 — “Commit to opening up” — is a sort of culmination of the previous five steps. If you’re self-aware, empathetic and able to take ownership of your own emotions and flaws, you will be able to foster and honest dialogue with your partner. Sharing your hopes, fears, dreams and desires fully and transparently truly is the definition of being emotionally available, and is sure to spell success in your relationship.
During our last session, Kylie was able to use an “I statement” to tell Tim how she felt and what she needed to feel closer to him. She stated “I feel lonely when you give me quick advice and are not able to show you get how I feel when I’m upset. I need you to let me know you understand and find a way to validate my feelings. If you can do this, I’ll feel closer to you and happier.”

Fortunately, Tim was able to respond in a favorable way, didn’t get defensive, saying that he would make more of an effort not to give quick advice or retreat emotionally when Kylie was upset. While this couple still has work to do to maintain intimacy, they are on the path to achieving authentic love that is sustainable. As Kyle Benson’s article points out, being more emotionally available is the key to finding intimate love that endures the test of time.



9 things married men need to stop doing​

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As I’ve interacted with thousands of married couples in person and online, I’ve noticed some bad habits many husbands are doing to sabotage their marriages. There are obviously many unhealthy behaviors many wives are doing too, but I’m going to focus this particular post on some of the most common and destructive habits of married men. This is NOT intended to bash my bros out there. I struggle with things on this list too. This is intended to be a call to action for all of us to step and make some radical readjustments for the sake of our marriages and families.

This is not a comprehensive list, but these are some of the most common bad habits of many married men. If these are a factor in your marriage, please take immediate action to correct these issues. If you’re a wife reading this, I’d also encourage you to read my popular post on 9 things your husband is always thinking about to better understand the male thought process and to improve communication in your marriage.
In no particular order…
1. Getting more excited about Fantasy Football than you get about your wife and kids.
As I’m writing this, it’s football season and I’m a fan, but I’m blown away at the amount of time, effort, energy, money and enthusiasm so many guys invest into Fantasy Football. Guys, “Fantasy” in the name, so it’s not even real. It’s okay to be fans, but let’s not live vicariously through pro athletes all football season long at the expense of our loved ones. Let’s be more excited about our real lives than our Fantasy stats.
2. Looking at porn.
This one is going to step on a lot of toes, because millions of people (a majority of them men) look at porn regularly and see nothing at all wrong with it. I address this in much more detail in my popular post on the Truth about Porn, but in a nutshell, porn desensitizes us from real intimacy. It’s a form of virtual infidelity, and it’s a “gateway drug” towards other marriage-destroying behaviors. Marriage requires monogamy, and monogamy should be mental as well as physical. Instead of living in the fantasy world of porn, work to build stronger sexual intimacy in your own marriage. Check out our new video course on sex and intimacy in marriage for some healthy (and porn-free) ways to spice things up.

3. Zoning out when your wife is talking to you.
Men and women process communication in different ways, but both spouses need to make conscious efforts to connect with the other. Men, we can have a tendency to “zone out” during conversations, but our wives need and deserve our full, undivided attention. Let’s not approach conversations like zombies on autopilot. Let’s be fully present. Remember, your wife’s need for meaningful communication is every bit as strong as your need for sex. That should put it into perspective.
4. Getting mad at your kids for stuff you do too.
I catch myself in this one all the time. We can easily get into the “Do as I say” instead of “Do as I do” mentality, but our kids need our example much more than our instruction. We can’t tell them not to cuss when we’re cussing in front of them. We can’t tell them to control their temper when we venting our anger all the time. We’ve got to practice what we preach if we’re going to have any longterm credibility.
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5. Checking out other women.
This one has a lot of similarities with #2 (looking at porn), but it creates some separate issues as well. When we check out other women in public, we’re publicly disrespecting our wives and publicly objectifying other women all at once. Watch where your eyes go. Don’t swing your head around at every woman wearing yoga pants. Have more respect for your wife. For more on this, listen to this FREE audio clip from my audiobook.
6. Not wearing a wedding ring.

This one is controversial, but I’m a big believer in wearing a wedding ring. I talk about this in more detail in my post on 3 Reasons to Wear Your Wedding Ring. Whether or not your wear a ring is one of the first things women will notice about you and they will make assumptions about your “availability” and even your commitment to your marriage based on the presence or absence of a ring. Wear it as often as you can.

7. Giving your career and hobbies your best and giving your wife your leftovers.
We’ve all been guilty (at times) of giving our best efforts to other people and pursuits and then giving our leftovers to the ones who should matter most. Let’s make every effort to give our very best energies to our families.

8. Staring at your phone more than you make eye contact with your family.
I don’t want my kids’ primary memories of me to be the top of my head while I stared at my phone or laptop. This is a struggle for many men (including me), because we feel the pressure to be constantly connected to the world, and sometimes, it even feels like a necessity in working to provide for our families. Still, we need to create clear boundaries to have the electronics shut off as often as possible so we can be fully present and engaged at home.
9. Expecting your wife to do everything around the house.
Stats show that even in homes where both the husband and wife work full-time outside the home, the wife is still doing the vast majority of domestic duties around the house. Guys, we need to step up here (I’m talking to myself too). Your wife is not your maid. Give her the respect and support she deserves by helping around the house (and in all other areas too).
Men, whether or not these particular issues apply to you, let’s resolve together to be the husbands and fathers our families deserve. Let’s love, protect, provide and serve them to the best of our abilities. Let’s make sure our actions and our words communicate our undying love and commitments. They need and deserve our very best!



Syria Crucified​

Zachary (Zac) Wingerd is a colleague of mine in the History Department at Baylor University. He recently asked me to endorse the book that he has written with Brad Hoff entitled Syria Crucified: Stories of Modern Martyrdom in an Ancient Christian Land (Ancient Faith Publishing, which is due out next month). I happily agreed to do so, and the more I read, the more impressed I was, and the more enthusiastic I am about getting the word out to a larger audience.

Here is the authors’ description of the book:
Currently, Syria’s Christians are under continued threat of eradication from their homeland as prior years of coming under direct attack from jihadist invaders has more recently turned to a slow-grinding economic war of strangulation through far-reaching U.S.-led sanctions targeting the Assad government and in turn the whole population. And yet Syrian Christian sufferings have been generally met with apathy and misunderstanding in the West, often driven by ignorance coupled with false assumptions about the crisis perpetuated by the media.

Syria Crucified is an engaging compilation of personal stories representing Orthodox Christian experiences, including eyewitness accounts of martyrdom, deepening prayer and closeness to Christ amid hardships, as well as lives of Syrians who are modern “living confessors” of the faith through their sufferings and patient endurance.

I am fighting the temptation to quote most of the book in this blog, but let me offer some represetative quotations and excerpts:

From Chapter One
The Convent of Mar Thekla, on the other hand, was home to over fifty nuns and orphan girls. Throughout the al-Qaeda invasion and the brief battle that ensued, the nuns and the children took shelter in a cave connected to the convent on the side of the mountain into which the monastery structure is built. Rouba described the main reason the nuns and orphans feared for their lives in that moment: “To them, we’re pagans,” she said, referring to the foreign invaders. The nuns and orphans survived and escaped, while reports indicated a dozen or more of the town’s Christians were killed and others kidnapped.

In the week following, solemn funerals were held at churches in Damascus, and for the first time since the war began, photographs of Syrian Christian families saying goodbye to their martyrs made front pages of some newspapers in the United States. Coffins of the deceased were draped in Syrian national flags with a large gold liturgical cross placed over each.

From Chapter Three
In a scene that it is easy to imagine playing out on the very same spot in New Testament times, the Aramaic-speaking bishops prayed for the charism of the presbytery (or priesthood) to descend on Fr. Bashar. As the lengthy service neared its completion, he stood newly elevated to the ministry, thick clouds of incense lingering above the heads of the many congregants. The solemn moment was suddenly shattered when an explosion pierced the peaceful atmosphere, shaking the church’s thick marble and concrete walls.

“There was bombing right beside the church,” Fr. Bashar said somberly. The clergy, not thinking of themselves, rushed to help the guests and visitors escape, especially “because there were people from America there,who were certainly the most panicked. So right after the prayer end, everybody had to leave quickly and go where they came from. If they came from Saidnaya, go back to Saidnaya. If they came from somewhere in Damascus, go quickly to their homes. Yeah, it was very hard day. There was a lot of people have been killed outside of the church. So we just had to get out.”
Tragically, Bab Touma and the surrounding dense Christian residential areas would continue to be under monthly and sometimes weekly attacks for multiple years. One news headline from April 2014 reported, “In Damascus, Christians briefly ignore war for Easter.”

From Chapter Five:
As their priest, Fr. Ibrahim did not hesitate. He went to the execution site, prepared their bodies for burial, and prayed the funeral lamentations for the departed. That night the jihadists confronted him at St. Mary Church:
“Then they came to the church about seven-thirty in the evening. They wanted to destroy it, they broke the two crosses outside of the church and then they came in to rob the church, but I didn’t let them.”

He then detailed a scene that sounded like something from the eighth-century iconoclastic movement.
“They were going to take the icons from the church, but I told them, ‘You can’t take the icons from the church.’
Then they said, ‘Well, we’re going to take you to the court!’

I replied, ‘I will go with you, that’s no problem, but I won’t let you take anything from the church.’ They said, ‘We will take you then,” so then I said, ‘Fine, take me.’
I quote another description of the book by Melinda Johnson:
The book includes accounts and stories which have never before been revealed – harrowing episodes of young Christians dodging bullets on their way to school, monks and nuns huddling in prayer as fanatical armed insurgents surround their monasteries, priests and bishops heroically traveling the war-torn countryside to ransom their parishioners, and details of the plight of the last Christians of Idlib and the unbelievable journey of their kidnapped priest, Fr. Ibrahim.

Here is my enthusiastic endorsement :
Syria Crucified is a deeply moving book, which is at the same time an extraordinarily valuable document for understanding an area that was long so vitally important to Christian history. Even if we read all the many works of analytical scholarship about religion and conflict in the contemporary Middle East, they are still no substitute for the first hand accounts that we find in this really enlightening and often harrowing piece of oral history. Syria Crucified gives us the voices of the ordinary people themselves, in all their courage and hope and sadness. I cannot recommend this book too highly.