Mark: Last week was a week of rest for Jill and I. We spent time enjoying Lake Michigan along with Jill’s parents. It was one of the most restful weeks I’ve had in a long time.
Jill: It was a four hour drive to Holland, Michigan and a five hour drive home because we decided to avoid the interstate and take the scenic country drive home.
Mark: One of the ways Jill and I continue to grow our own marriage is by listening to podcasts, conference recordings, or radio programs on marriage. Last week, the Focus on the Family app provided us three excellent programs:
Jill: We listened, paused, talked, listened, paused, talked all the way to and from Michigan. Learning together gives us shared vocabulary and new perspectives.
Mark: Marriage isn’t a once and done activity. We have to keep learning about marriage, ourselves, and our spouse. We have to be intentional about pursuing CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) in marriage!
Jill: Marriage Monday blog posts are a continuing education opportunity! If you’re not already sharing them with your spouse, consider doing so to give you an opportunity to learn together.
Jill: Reading a book together is also a great option. We’ve done it several ways: 1) Read one copy individually–Mark highlights in blue and I highlight in pink. Then we talk through our highlights and marvel at how little purple there is! We are so different! 2) Read aloud together each night as we crawl in bed. This takes us the longest time to finish a book but usually nets the best discussions as we read. 3) Listen to an audiobook as we drive. 4) Get two copies of a book and each read our own copy, talking about what we’re reading along the way. (No More Perfect Marriages has both Think About It and Talk About It questions at the end of each chapter so it’s a great book to read together in some way!)
Mark: Our No More Perfect Date Night membership site is also a great continuing education opportunity! Membership is not currently open but you can get on a waiting list to be notified when it opens up again.
Jill: Life gets busy and it’s easy to let our marriage slip to the backburner. It takes intentionality to keep it front and center.
What continuing education strategies are you practicing? Would you add any other strategies to this list?
Jill: We see things through our own experiences, history, temperament, personality, and family of upbringing perspective and we determine what someone else means with their words or body language.
Mark: The only problem is that the meaning we assign to it isn’t accurate.
Jill: When that happens, we become offended when offense wasn’t even something the other person meant. Or we become defensive when we misread body language. Or we start an argument with our spouse because we misunderstood what he or she meant with their words.
Mark: I did this for years before Jill learned to be emotionally vulnerable with me. She was strong in crisis and rarely expressed emotion or processed grief with me. This had everything to do with her slow fade of avoiding emotion. However, I read it as “you don’t need me.”
Jill: I can easily do this when Mark expresses apprehension about something. I read it as “unwilling to do something new” when the external processor in him is just expressing his thoughts or feelings about doing something new. He’s not saying he’s unwilling to do it, he’s just talking through his feelings.
Mark: We can also do the same thing with body language. When Jill is quiet I can misread her quietness as a rejection of me or that she’s angry with me when what’s really going on is that my internal processing wife is simply thinking about something. I tend to misread this because when I was young and my stepdad didn’t talk to me he was usually angry. So I’m assigning meaning to this same experience in my marriage based upon my childhood. The problem is that I’m assigning a wrong meaning to it!
Jill: So what can we do about this bad habit most of us do in marriage? We can ask our thoughts!
Mark: When we ask our thoughts, we simply put what we’re thinking on the table. For instance, I might say to Jill, “When I was a child and my step-dad got silent, he was usually angry with me. You’re quiet today…are you angry with me?”
Jill: Or I might say, “You’re expressing fear about doing this. Are you saying you don’t want to do it or are you just talking through your thoughts and feelings about it?”
Mark: When we ask our thoughts we take away the wrong assumptions and clarify what the other person is thinking, feeling, or communicating. Go ahead and give it a try! You’ll reduce conflict and increase communication!
What about you? Where are you wrongly assigning meaning in your marriage? Where do you need to ask your thoughts?
Mark: Jill and I have the privilege of doing quite a bit of marriage mentoring. While many of those conversations pave the way to powerful breakthroughs, sometimes those conversations are tough ones and words can fly carelessly.
Jill: The Bible says that our tongue brings life or death (Proverbs 18:21). Think about this weekend…did you bring life to your marriage…or death?
Mark: When we bring death to our marriage with our words, we cause pain and create distance in our relationship.
Jill: Words are my world. As a writer and speaker, communication is what I do. Yet, in my marriage, what I’m learning is that what I DON’T say is just as important as what I DO say.
Mark: When Jill and I wrote No More Perfect Marriages, the editing process was just as important as the writing process. Words were removed, changed, and carefully reviewed to communicate with clarity.
Jill: The editing process is something also needed in marriage. Need some practical steps? Try these:
Apologize.When the wrong words come out of your mouth, apologize and ask for forgiveness. The more you apologize, the more you’ll be motivated to stop the words before they exit your mouth.
Step away.When you’re in the middle of conflict, step away rather than getting sucked into the emotion. Re-engage when you can respond rather than react.
Keep it shut. Half of what we say just doesn’t need to be said. Snarky comments. Under our breath responses. Exasperated remarks. Defensive answers. Different opinions on things that just really don’t matter. Resist the urge to comment when a comment really isn’t needed.
Mark: Measuring our words requires self-control, and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. The more God we have in us, the more we’ll have success at taming our tongue.
Jill: This is a place God is growing me. He’s teaching me to edit my words and use only the ones that really matter. I’m not getting it right all the time, but it’s definitely different than it’s been in the past!
What about you? Are you bringing life to your marriage with your words? Do you need to do any editing?
Mark: 2 Corinthians 1:4 tells us that, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” When we go through tough times, God often redeems the pain by allowing us to share hope and help to others going through something similar.
Mark: Pornography is also a part of our story. I was exposed to it at an early age…similarly to Lynn’s husband, David. We’ve traveled a similar path of healing that Lynn and her husband have experienced.
Jill: If you’re dealing with a pornography addiction in your marriage, Lynn shares today to inspire hope and shine a light on the path to freedom. Lynn and her husband David have been married for 26 years, and have two boys. You’ll find her at www.lynnmariecherry.com.
Online pornography allows users to create the perfect partner. She is always waiting. She is ready anytime or anywhere for anything. She is more than willing. She never says no. She knows the perfect thing to say and the perfect thing to do for your pleasure. And she requires nothing in return.
When people become accustom to this fantasy world, their less than perfect spouse is a constant cause of disappointment. There is no competing with pornography’s perfect partner.
As Mark and Jill put it in their book, “If a guy dabbles in pornography (and most guys have been exposed to it at some time or another), his expectation of how a woman should respond, both emotionally and sexually, are greatly skewed.”
I am so grateful for the vulnerability I found throughout No More Perfect Marriages, but especially when it comes to the issue of pornography. I know first hand the damage pornography causes in a marriage.
I had a feeling early on that something wasn’t quite right in my husband’s life, but I made excuses.
…Men just think differently about sex.
…They are visual.
…It’s not a big deal.
The week we brought our millennial baby home from the hospital, I walked in on my husband while he was viewing porn. The thing that wasn’t quite right was right in front of my eyes. It was a crushing blow that left me mostly dead.
Four years later, I was a basket case. Depressed. Lonely. Angry. Tired. Rejected. Numb. My life was a tangle of emotion and I was unraveling from the inside out.
I believed my husband’s use of pornography was about me. Surely, if I were just prettier, curvier or more adventurous, he wouldn’t have this problem. That was a lie. The truth is, although his use of pornography had a profound effect on me, it wasn’t about me.
He was exposed to pornography as a seven year old when he and his buddy found a stack of magazines in the woods behind their tree house. Porn became a part of his world. He rededicated his life to Christ in his twenties and was radically changed. He stopped drinking and swearing immediately, but lust maintained its grip on his mind. He thought getting married would fix it. He could have all the God-sanctioned sex he wanted and he would lose his appetite for porn. But lust is never satisfied. And I made a lousy savior.
One of the most vital tools in our recovery was empathy. The porn industry is a massive machine out to capture the hearts and minds of men and woman by targeting children. Knowing my husband’s story and understanding the impact of exposure on his developing brain allowed me to feel empathy for him. I saw him not only as the man who broke my heart, but the child who was robbed of his innocence in second grade.
As Jill and Mark suggest, “Look at your spouse through God’s eyes. See them as broken. Wounded. In process. In need of a Savior. Struggling. Lost. Confused. Imperfect. See them through the eyes of grace and love.”
In 2004, I mustered up the courage to ask for help. I made an appointment with a counselor. I invited my husband to join me and thankfully, he was willing to go. We went to that first session scared out of our minds, wondering how our story would end. That began two years of group therapy. We learned how pornography use is like an affair. My husband had to reprogram his brain and I had to work through the trauma of betrayal. But here’s the good news – we made it through together. We both surrendered to the healing process. We did the work of recovery. Over and over again we chose to have patience and grace with each other, and then more patience and grace. It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
We don’t have a perfect marriage. We are fair from perfect partners. But we have a partnership that was forged in the fire, the tools we need to keep rebuilding, and the fortitude to see us through whatever comes our way.
We know there is freedom from sexual addiction. Freedom is not the absence of temptation. Freedom is knowing what to do when temptation comes.
What about you? Is it time for you to ask for help?
Mark: On Saturday, we had the privilege of spending the morning with over 80 couples at our No More Perfect Marriages Morning Out in Normal, IL. It was a great morning of working on our marriages together!
Jill: When we do our seminars, we teach a session and then we send the couples off to talk about what they learned in that session. We give them a template for those conversations, telling them that it will likely feel awkward initially, but reassuring them it will deepen their conversation and really help them hear each other if they’ll give it a try. By the end of the day, the evaluations speak for themselves. Many commented that they wish they’d had MORE time to talk!
Mark: After each “couple talk time” break we took a few minutes to debrief on how that experience was for anyone who wanted to share. One guy shared honestly that he’d been using the “hinting and hoping” method of communication and had found it ineffective. In just twenty minutes or so, this new way of communicating had netted better results than years of hinting and hoping, it seemed.
Jill: We tend to communicate on the go, haphazardly, too often filled with emotion. Life is crazy busy and communication is often compromised. Without some intentionality, our reckless communication contributes to the slow fade of defensiveness, the slow fade of disagreeing, or the slow fade of minimizing. (You can find out more about the slow fades in our No More Perfect Marriages book.)
Mark: With that in mind, here are five strategies for changing the way you communicate with your spouse. Four are topics we’ve explored in the past. If you want more info on any of those, click on the topic to learn more.
Reflect Back: When your spouse says something to you, resist the urge to argue back. Instead, reflect back what he or she just said to you. Start with, “What I hear you saying is….” Then ask your spouse, “Is that correct?” Then, “Is there more?” It’s not time to share your point; it’s just time to hear their point. Doing so will help your spouse feel heard and valued. It will also change the dynamics of your communication patterns in a positive way.
Ask Three Questions:When you ask your spouse a question, ask him or her three MORE questions before you comment or share your thoughts about the subject.
Validate and Offer Compassion: Say things like, “I can see how that frustrated you.” or “I’m so sorry you’re so disappointed in how that happened.” Your validating, compassionate responses will allow you to build a bridge to your spouse’s heart.
Push Information To Your Spouse: Don’t hint. Clearly communicate information to your spouse. Don’t assume he or she knows information. Or that they will see things the way you see things. Let them in on what you are thinking.
Don’t Use Passive Aggressive Language:This is an ineffective, masked way of expressing anger or disappointment without actually saying you’re anger or disappointed. “Whatever.” if probably the most common passive-aggressive response found in marriage. And the silent treatment probably comes in second place. These are both just sugar-coated hostility. Instead, learn to be assertive in your communication–saying things kindly, but honestly. If you need help learning how to do that, counseling can be a good option.
Jill: Hinting never works. It’s in ineffective form of communication and only contributes to hurts and fades in your relationship. Assertive communication and intentional listening carried out with kindness and compassion will take your marriage communication in the right direction. (Want to attend a No More Perfect Marriages event in the future? Registration is now open for our Valentine’s event in Central Illinois.)
What about you? Which of the five communication strategies do you need to be more intentional about this week?
Jill: I recently put out a question to my friends on Facebook, asking them about a date Mark and I are planning a No More Perfect Marriages Seminar. When I asked who would be interested in attending a marriage weekend on a specific date, the responses began rolling in. There were many positive responses of interest but also a lot of folks shared the conflicts they would encounter that weekend. Some indicated that it conflicted with hunting season (which I know is a somewhat limited timeframe). Other’s indicated it conflicted with sports season, or the harvesting season.
Mark: When Jill shared with me the mix of responses, I said to her, “So…when is it marriage season?”
Jill: When Mark said that, I knew he was on to something! You see, there’s always something that will conflict with making time for each other. A.L.W.A.Y.S.
Mark: It doesn’t matter if it’s planning a date night, setting aside time to talk, getting away for a weekend, or attending a marriage seminar, it will nearly always require some kind of sacrifice, because there will nearly always be other options for how you can spend that time.
Jill: With this in mind, here are some tips for moving your marriage to the top of the priority list:
Put your marriage on the calendar FIRST. Sit down this week and get your date nights on the calendar for the next 12 months. YES, THE NEXT TWELVE MONTHS! Plan from July 2017-July 2018. And then PROTECT those dates fiercely. Once you do that, get some sort of overnight getaway on the calendar during that 12 month period (you’ll have an anniversary in there…right?). And what about some continuing education for your marriage? What marriage seminar can you attend together? Check out Family Life’s Weekend to Remember events or one of our No More Perfect Marriages seminars (Nov 10-11, 2017 Rochester, MN; Feb 9-10, 2018 Springfield, IL; Feb 17, 2018 Scottsdale, AZ; May 4-5, 2018, Claremore, OK; and May 18-19, 2018, Westerville, OH.)
Resist the urge to think “we can do that after the kids are gone.” You’ll likely not have much relationship after the kids are gone, if you do that. Not only that, your kids need to see you take time for your marriage. You’re being a role model for their marriage someday!
Realize that you’ll likely miss out on something. Ask yourself, “Is this repeatable?” If the answer is yes, then it’s okay to miss it on the rare occasion. One of ten baseball games might be an example. However, if it’s not repeatable, like your daughter attending prom, then adjust your date night or weekend getaway to make sure you’re able to attend the “not repeatable” event. The only way to find a “marriage season” is to interrupt another “season” that has repeatable events in it.
Recognize the need to “die to self.” We’re naturally selfish beings. We want what we want. We struggle with prioritizing the right things. We hesitate committing to something because we’re afraid that something better just might come along. Jesus modeled “dying to self” in order to bring us life. We, too, have to die to self in order to bring our marriage life.
Mark: So when is it marriage season? When you and I determine it’s marriage season. When we make it a priority. When we put it on the calendar and protect. And when we’re willing to give up something good in order to invest in something better.
What about you? When will you make marriage season happen?
Mark: Yesterday Jill and I had the privilege of spending time with friends from long ago. We met Don and Alice during my first two years of Bible College where he was the pastor of the church we attended. With our closest extended family three hours away, Don and Alice sort of became surrogate grandparents to our two children.
Jill: We shared meals together. Encouraged one another. Linked arms in ministry. But for Mark and I, we also gleaned wisdom from Don and Alice. I don’t actually ever remember a specific time where they sat us down and shared wisdom with us. We just soaked it in by being with them and watching them.
Mark: It was significant that we spent time with Don and Alice yesterday. It was our 34th wedding anniversary and their 65th and 1 month wedding anniversary! When Jill and I met Don and Alice, we had just been married 4 years. They, on the other hand, had been married 35 years. I don’t remember ever really talking about that, but we knew they had years of wisdom we could benefit from.
Jill: As we shared faith strengthening stories yesterday, Mark and I realized how much our commitment to “walk by faith” had been influenced by Don and Alice when we were just beginning our own faith journey as a couple. We were also inspired yesterday by the lives they’re still changing at a time others their age would consider themselves “retired” from ministry. See…we’re still gleaning from them!
Mark: We need each other and peer relationships are important, but there’s also a place for building relationships with those who are further down the road than we are. There are lessons to learn. There’s hope to be found. There’s truth to be shared.
Jill: Who are you hanging with that you can glean wisdom from? It doesn’t have to be a formal mentoring relationship. It can simply be a friendship forged intentionally.
Mark: And while you’re thinking about it, who are you hanging with that you can impart wisdom to? You’re further down the road than someone else. Who can you invest in and encourage along the journey?
Jill: We’re better together from both sides of the picture! Commit today to seek out the wisdom of others to help you along the expedition of intimacy.