Disclaimer: This post was originally posted on my old blog MyPennedHeart
My Heart Was Beaming and Breaking
Many Sundays ago now at church, our pastor was teaching about worship. Different forms of worship and postures in worship. It was beautiful and inspiring. I felt deeply connected to God as we sang worship songs and listened to recited poetry. Then there was a shift in me when our worship pastor shared a story about a veteran who had been in the process of getting ready to commit suicide. In the background, he heard the song Broken Hallelujah by The Afters. He then felt God tugging at his heart and he stopped what he was doing and went to get help that night instead. I stood singing this song or rather trying to sing this song when I broke into tears. It was so emotional for me to be singing this song while realizing that my husband and I haven't experienced anything so broken or heart-wrenching.
We have been so truly blessed. As I stood with my husband holding on to me, worrying about me at that moment, I started to think about our marriage and all the joy that it brings to me and hopefully to God as well. Our marriage has definitely been a blessed experience. I stood crying tears of complete joy, and then my thoughts drifted to those that are struggling in their marriages, experiencing the brokenness that we were singing about and tears of sadness fell mixed with the tears of joy.
When I thought of all the young and older couples that I have spoken with about marriage, my tears began to come a little faster and little harder. I have couples who ask how we have stayed happy for so long? (We have been married 16 years) They ask how to communicate better? They would ask how to spend time together when they don't agree on what to do or they simply don't have fun together anymore. A lot of times it is that everything has become an argument. There are so many issues in marriage that we face that we don't usually even think about. My heart was breaking at the realization that couples all throughout the church are hurting and in pain. I simply couldn't imagine.
I want to talk a little about my own marriage and pray that you take something away from this that will be helpful to you now or in the future.
Dan and I were married at the age of 18 and have been married for 20 years (revised from 16). We have 4 children ranging from 9-20 years old (revised from 5-16). Yes, we argue and get mad at each other. We definitely disagree when it comes to our children sometimes. We don't always see eye to eye politically and we don't always have the same plans for the evening if you get my drift. We are not perfect, but we love one another and act out our love daily.
We center our relationship around the Lord together and separate. We try our hardest to never go to bed angry with one another. Dan and I have both come to the realization that there is a lot of give and take in marriage. I don't always get what I want and neither does he. There is a huge element of compromise. When you can start to think of your marriage more like a partnership full of times to give and times to take it becomes a lot easier to communicate.
Dan and I spend quite a bit of time apart, I am assuming like many of you. Either both of you or one of you probably works outside of the home. Communication gets lost and set on the back burner. It is so vital to reach out to one another at some point during the day. Let your spouse know that you are missing them, that your day would be better if you could be together. When you know that you are being thought about it triggers happiness and pride in your relationship. When your needs are being met, then you are more willing to meet the needs of your spouse.
Set aside a time that is just for the two of you every day. No phones, no t.v., no laptops, no kids and no pets (if they are distracting). This doesn't have to be hours, just a short period of time so that you can check up on one another. Ask your spouse how their day was and actually want to hear the answer. Talk about the kids, work, God. Talk about anything that is important for you to communicate with one another. If you don't have anything important then bring up an old memory from your past and just celebrate you. Communication is the key to a long-lasting relationship of any kind but especially marriage.
I know that for a lot of couples careers/school take up a lot of time. I know this all too well. Dan was working full time and going to school full time for many years during our marriage. It was vital that we figured out together how he could use his evenings to not only get the work done that he needed but that he could also have family/us time with no work involved.
There were many nights that he sacrificed his sleep in order to give me the time and attention to show me that I was still his number one. In return there were countless nights that I would stay up waiting for him, or I would fall asleep in whatever room he was in so that I could honor one of our key goals. This goal was to always go to bed together. When he would be finished, he would wake me and we would go to bed.
For moms maybe it isn't a career that we let get in the way of our time with our husbands, but maybe it is the kids. All the mom duties can become extremely overwhelming, let's be honest...we are extremely good at overbooking our schedules. There comes a time when we have to stop and remember that if we don't show our spouses how much we love them, respect them, and need them we could end up losing them. Love isn't enough on its own. Love has to be accompanied by actions. Love is an action! You can say you love someone all you want, but unless you are making time for them, sharing intimate moments with them and verbally communicating with them the feeling of love gets lost in the mess of life.
I want to keep talking a little bit more about communication but in a different form. I want to talk about dating your spouse. Yes, you heard me right! DATE your spouse. This isn't just for the men. Ladies, you can step it up and plans date nights as well. Date nights don't have to be extravagant, but they should be thought out. Dan and I have had many coffee run dates, so that we could hold hands with each other and not our kids. We have poured a glass of wine and snuggled up on the couch to remember the beginning of us. Date night is essential. Don't ever give up dating your spouse! Making time and planning a date shows that you are choosing time alone with them over anything else you could have been doing instead!
Lastly, I want to talk about the ever so hushed topic of being intimate. As Christians it is essential that we be able to talk about sex. God created sex to be between a man and his wife. It was created to be a celebration of becoming one and of course for procreation (but we aren't going to talk about babies). I am very much aware of the fact that God has created most men to have a more physical need than us women, but that doesn't have to cause problems in your marriage. I am going to go back to a day in Dan and I's premarital counseling. We were sitting with our pastor and he asked us this question. He asked us, "How many times a week are you expecting to have sex?" If I remember correctly Dan and I just started laughing. We thought what in the world kind of question is this? We are going to be having sex ALL the time (we were 18 at the time). I think after taking the question seriously Dan said 5 and I said 3. We were advised that 3 was a good number. Now, of course, this became our expectation, not a limit! This has been a huge help to me. I don't even know if Dan remembers it but I have never forgotten. I try to keep this expectation whenever possible because I know how important intimacy in marriage is.
I'm not going to lie. There have definitely been times that I am not in the mood, not even remotely in the mood, but I am his wife and I am biblically called to fill his needs. 1 Corinthians 7 tells us to take a time of abstinence for prayer when needed but then to return to one another so that there is no reason for outside temptation. I will, however, say this, I am learning after years and years of trying to figure out this whole sexual relationship that my mentality plays a huge role in how our evenings unfold. If I decide at 5pm that I am just not in the mood tonight it is then really hard to change that mindset no matter what the circumstances are. If I can stay open-minded or even be flirty with my husband then things seem to go differently. Here is a perfect example: It has been a really long day homeschooling the kids and I am exhausted. Dinner is cooking and I run upstairs to change into something comfy. I toss on my sweatpants, a t-shirt, no bra and throw my hair into a ponytail. I am done for the night. Right? Are you with me?
Now second scenario: It has been a long day with the kids, I am exhausted and dinner is cooking. I go upstairs to change into something more comfortable. I grab my sweatpants, t-shirt and change into a cute bra, touch up my makeup and head back downstairs. I walk over to give my hubby a kiss and let him know how handsome he is. See the difference? I have now set my evening up to go either way. If my husband decides to respond to my kiss and comment in a fun and playful way, then my mood shifts to a place that misses him and wants to be close. Is this magic and does it always work? No, but scenario 2 sets up my relationship for a more physically positive outcome than scenario 1 where I am already disengaged.
The Bible reminds us that after we are married our bodies are no longer our own, they also belong to our spouse. We are not to withhold our bodies from our spouses for long periods of time but only for fasting and prayer. (This pertains to both husbands and wives) Physical intimacy with our spouse is vital! The areas of our marriage that we make strong in the Lord, are the areas that Satan has less power to destroy!
Wow! Ladies, it is so vital for our husbands to feel wanted in that way. It is ingrained in OUR being to need physical intimacy. They feel that if you don't want to be intimate with them then there is a problem; we don't love them anymore, we don't find them attractive, they don't please us in that way. Whatever it may be. We as wives have the power to crush our husband's spirit and confidence when they feel undesired. It's not just about them though. They feel like they need intimacy to show us how much we are loved and adored. To show us that we are wanted and desired. It is important to them to know that you know how much you are loved. They don't always understand that sweet words and watching them help around the house make us feel loved just as much sometimes!
Husbands! It isn't just your wives job to agree to be intimate. It is also your job to make her feel special, loved, wanted and needed. I know from talking to friends that a lot of wives feel used. Yep, you heard that right. They feel like a piece of meat that you use to fulfill your desires while leaving theirs unmet. All though the Bible calls us to not withhold sex from our spouses, he also calls husbands to treat his wife like Christ treats the church. When you try to be understanding when it isn't a good night that can make a big difference. It comes from a place of understanding and tenderness. Don't be demanding or use the Bible to hold sex over your spouses head. If a couple of days have passes and you are feeling unwanted, talk to your wife. You can even bring up that you have been understanding and respectful during her declines but that you miss her.
I remember going to a marriage conference with Dan and hearing this phrase; For women, sex starts in the kitchen, not the bedroom. It is so true men. We as women want to know that you are caring about us and paying attention to us during the day, during the times when you know it isn't sexy time. We want to feel wanted as your everyday wife, not just at bedtime. Kiss her, hug her, tell her she is beautiful. You know what she loves, do that!
We know that we let you all down in the area sometimes. We don't want to and we don't necessarily mean to, it's just sometimes we aren't in the mood. There are times when I have to look at my husband and say, "I'm not in the mood right now, but I'm available. You choose." This conversation has taken a long time to occur and an even longer time to be understood. Men and women just weren't wired the same way.
I'm not a man but I tend to think that once you decide sex sounds good, there isn't really much that will change your mind or get in the way. Women on the other hand, we aren't like that most of the time. Usually we have to be able to set everything else aside, worries, plans, to do lists, not feeling attractive, being tired, wanting to just do nothing. I know it doesn't make sense to most of you but if you can try to understand that it just is what it is, it will help you and your wife be able to have more productive conversations. Intimacy in marriage is a beautiful, creative expression of the love that the two of you share. Your love should look different than others. It should be just between the two of you.
All of these issues that we have talked about are what start to define our marriage and the type of marriage we are going to have. Marriage is work, but it is far beyond worth the work when you feel the love flowing as the outcome. Don't quit if you are having problems. Get help if you need it. Start setting aside time to really talk to one another. Push your anger and indifference aside and schedule a date night. Talk to one another like you used to. Date your spouse, make your spouse feel important. Ladies, take a deep breath and make the first move of intimacy. Show your spouse that they are still the most important person in your life. Learn their love language and do something that touches their heart.
ACT OF LOVE
Marriage is not easy, but marriage can be so rewarding and so much fun. Tonight ladies and gentleman I encourage you, whether you are happily married or struggling, sit down and write out all the reasons you fell in love with your spouse. In the next column write all the things you love about your spouse now whether they are the same or different. As you head to bed leave it on his/her pillow. Make small gestures, they really do make a difference but most important of all, invite the Lord to be the center and the focus of your marriage. In all you do seek to honor him, to make him proud and to take care of his son/daughter that he entrusted to your care. Ladies, love your spouse with a love that is so fierce it is undeniable. Men, love her with all your strength and a tenderness that reaches the depths of her heart!
Disclaimer: I know that there are all different types of relationships. I know that sometimes the husband is the one not wanting to be intimate and the wife does. I was generally speaking. Please try and understand and take what pertains to your situation no matter which side your relationship falls on.