11 Rules of Marriage by Dennis Rainey

Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife recently wrote his 11 rules of marriage. Here's a repost of his column.

Rule 1: Marriage isn’t about your happiness. It’s not about you getting all your needs met through another person. Practicing self-denial and self-sacrifice, patience, understanding, and forgiveness are the fundamentals of a great marriage. If you want to be the center of the universe, then there’s a much better chance of that happening if you stay single.

Rule 2: Getting married gives a man a chance to step up and finish growing up. The best preparation for marriage for a single man is to man up now and keep on becoming the man God created him to be.

Rule 3: It’s okay to have one rookie season, but it’s not okay to repeat your rookie season. You will make rookie mistakes in your first year of marriage; the key is that you don’t continue making those same mistakes in year five, year 10, or year 20 of your marriage.

Rule 4: It takes a real man to be satisfied with and love one woman for a lifetime. And it takes a real woman to be content with and respect one man for a lifetime.

Rule 5: Love isn’t a feeling. Love is commitment. It’s time to replace the “D word”—divorce—with the “C word”—commitment. Divorce may feel like a happy solution, but it results in long-term toxic baggage. You can’t begin a marriage without commitment. You can’t sustain one without it either. A marriage that goes the distance is really hard work. If you want something that is easy and has immediate gratification, then go shopping or play a video game.

Rule 6: Online relationships with old high school or college flames, emotional affairs, sexual affairs, and cohabiting are shallow and illegitimate substitutes for the real thing. Emotional and sexual fidelity in marriage is the real thing.

Rule 7: Women spell romance R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P. Men spell romance S-E-X. If you want to speak romance to your spouse, become a student of your spouse and enroll in a lifelong “Romantic Language School,” and become fluent in your spouse’s language.

Rule 8: During courtship, opposites attract. After marriage, opposites can repel each another. You married your spouse because he/she is different. Differences are God’s gift to you to create new capacities in your life. Different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

Rule 9: Pornography robs men of a real relationship with a real person and poisons real masculinity, replacing it with the toxic killers of shame, deceit, and isolation. Pornography siphons off a man’s drive for intimacy with his wife. Marriage is not for wimps. Accept no substitutes.

Rule 10: As a home is built, it will reflect the builder. Most couples fail to consult the Master Architect and His blueprints for building a home. Instead a man and woman marry with two sets of blueprints (his and hers). As they begin building, they discover that a home can’t be built from two very different sets of blueprints.

Rule 11: How you will be remembered has less to do with how much money you make or how much you accomplish and more with how you have loved and lived.

Pass on “The Rules” to a friend who will enjoy them!

A Perfect Gift for Your Marriage

Black Friday ... Cyber Monday ... weekly specials ... today only - no shipping!!!
  • What's do I get for my husband?
  • In a time of uncertain economics, do I spend a lot of money?
  • Do I buy something else that takes up space?
  • What if she doesn't like it?
Instead of buying a gift for your husband or wife, what if you agreed to buy a gift for your marriage?

What would be a perfect gift for your marriage?

A few suggestions:
  1. Set aside money to have a party on your anniversary to celebrate with friends. Affirm your commitment and love to each other with friends.
  2. Take a weekend or a day just for the two of you (no friends or kids) to enjoy each other and have fun. Fan the flame of romance that brought you together.
  3. Sign-up for a marriage conference, such as FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember, during the coming year. Make it a get-away for the two of you.
  4. Plan date nights together for the coming year. Plan one a month for each month in 2011.
  5. Take an evening together and write together three things that you can do during the coming year to strengthen your marriage.
  6. Enroll or commit to take a marriage class together during the coming year.
  7. Each of you write a tribute to the other one and to your marriage. Share it with your family and friends.
  8. Read a marriage book together or do a study together. (see suggestions for these on a another post in the near future).
  9. Give the gift of acceptance - tell your spouse that you love him as he is if he never changes, and mean it.
  10. Give the gift of forgiveness. Write down any offense or hurt from your spouse that you still carry around in your head. Tell God that you are not going to try to punish your husband/wife for that offense or hurt. He doesn't punish you for your sin once you have received the gift of forgiveness through His Son, whom He sent to earth to be the sacrifice for our sins. Tell God that you will not keep bringing up the offense just as He doesn't bring up our sins; they are cast to the depths of the ocean. Tell God that you will no longer dwell on that offense, even if it comes to your mind. Then tear up the list.

    This gift is the gift of grace that God gave us through Jesus Christ. The perfect gift to give each other because of Him. The true reason for the season.

Divorce in America

Last week, I learned that Huffington Post had launched a section on its website about divorce.

Arianna Huffington is a product of divorced parents and she is also divorced, with children. In her article about the launch of the section, she said, "I've always thought that, as a country, we do a lousy job of addressing how we can do divorce differently -- and better. Especially when there are children involved."

Instead of spending the time and energy to help people go through a divorce, wouldn't it make more sense to spend the time and energy on helping people prepare for marriage and do it well? Maybe we wouldn't have so many broken-hearted kids. The divorce section was inspired by Nora Ephron and her writings on her own divorce. She is a regular contributor.

Ephron recognizes the impact of divorce on kids. She writes in her article, Nora Ephron: The D Word "But I can't think of anything good about divorce as far as the children are concerned. You can't kid yourself about that, although many people do. They say things like, "It's better for children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage." But unless the par­ents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Chil­dren are much too young to shuttle between houses. They're too young to handle the idea that the two peo­ple they love most in the world don't love each other anymore, if they ever did. They're too young to under­stand that all the wishful thinking in the world won't bring their parents back together. And the newfangled rigmarole of joint custody doesn't do anything to ease the cold reality: in order to see one parent, the divorced child must walk out on the other."

On the upside, at least they are including some notable scholars, who support working at marriage and are giving some good advice about marriage, divorce, and children. Included on the page are Elizabeth Marquardt: Why Your "Good Enough" Marriage Is Good for Your Kids and a Q&A with Judith Wallerstein, author of The Unexpeccted Legacy of Divorce.

The Wonder of the Mystery

Mystery books are some of the most popular on the market. They are not my favorite genre. Occassionally, I will read one that has some other aspect that is interesting to me.

To me a mystery is a story that has a detective trying to find our the answer to a crime, usually a murder. And, of course. the answer is not easy to find - often there is a surprise twist at the end. I like mysteries with a pleasant twist at the end, such as The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which I find delightful. But sometimes, the twist at the end of books makes me mad .... the John Grisham style.

In mystery books, something bad happens, no one knows who did it. The central character spends the whole book trying to find out who or why. Life is full of mysteries but not the type in these books. Some mysteries add fun and intrigue to life. Some just frustrate me. Then there are the situations that seem very mysterious when we are young, but age brings understanding. The mysterious becomes simple. Life would be so bland without some mystery.

The mystery book that I enjoy reading most often is the Bible. Never thought of the Bible as a mystery book? God talks about a "mystery" at least 25 times. Last Sunday, we were teaching from Ephesians 3. Verse 4 says, "In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ."

But the mysteries in the Bible are much different. These mysteries are the best kind of all. God reveals "the mystery" to us through one of his own. These mysteries involve God blessing us with His riches.

Many of life's specials blessings involved mysteries at one time, but no longer. When we married, cohabitation was considered "shacking up" - something most of us would not even consider. Today, many couples live together first - eliminating the pleasure of the mystery. I remember a few years ago, a young couple, who visited our class for a while, got married after living together for at least a year. When asked how married life was, he said "not any different." Part of the wonder of marriage is the discovery of the "up close and personal" companion. The unfolding of that relationship, while joined in a commitment for a lifetime, brings great joy (most of the time!).

Another mystery, which my generation enjoyed, has to do with children. Ultrasounds were in their infancy when I had our first child, almost 30 years ago. We could sort of tell that a baby was in the picture, but they weren't sophisticated enough to show the gender of the child. I had a "mystery" child in my womb. Some of you are thinking that your child is still a mystery to you. But today's parents now know the gender of their children. The name is picked out. The nursery is appropriately decorated. The mystery is revealed before the birth.

The most exciting revelation of mystery has to be the one God gave us in Ephesians 3:6 "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." The revealation of this mystery does not detract from the wonder of the Christian life, but instead multiplies the phenomenon of grace - the promise of Jesus Christ.

Money to Marry

We can’t afford to get married.

Have you ever heard a young couple say that? What they often mean by that statement is that they do not have enough money to have the wedding, reception, and honeymoon that they want.

But frequently, they mean that they can’t afford to buy the house and lifestyle that they want as a married couple. So, instead of marrying, they live together. Often, they even start a family together.

Even though the economic downturn has greatly affected older adults, the young, lower-education, working class adults are having trouble finding the jobs to provide for the lifestyle they expect.

A recent article, "The Generation That Can't Move On Up," by Andrew Cherlin (professor at Johns Hopkins University) and W. Bradford Wilcox (director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia) explains what is happening.

Working-class couples still value marriage highly. But they don't think they have what it takes to make a marriage work. Across all social classes, in fact, Americans now believe that a couple isn't ready to marry until they can count on a steady income. That's an increasingly high bar for the younger working class. As a result, cohabitation is emerging as the relationship of choice for young adults who have some earnings but not enough steady work to reach the marriage bar.

However, we know that cohabitating relationships don’t last. Children who are born to cohabitating parents are more than twice as likely as children born to married parents to see their parents break up by age five.

This problem compounds in a child’s life when parents get on a relationship-go-round, bringing a series of partners or stepparents into the home. Cherlin and Cox also explain how this group’s economic and family situation is affecting their church attendance.

But now, when a transformed economy makes marriage and steady work more difficult to attain, those who in better times might have married and attended church appear to be reluctant to show up. Thus, working-class men and women aren't going to religious services as often as they used to.

Culturally, we have set up these young adults for unrealistic expectations of marriage and the prestige of money. Money has taken first place. As Christians, our role can be to avoid letting income levels become the basis of social acceptance, to embrace and encourage these young couples.

How can Christians today reach out to these young, working class adults who are avoiding church and marriage?

Women, Money, and Fear

Our daughter is a “bag lady.”

Depending on your age, one of two images will probably come to your mind.
If you are as young as she is, you are probably thinking of someone who looks like this young women who loves purses. Our daughter has several large bags and could easily live out of those bags. In fact, she has lived out of them.

But if you are closer to my age, another image will probably come to mind. This woman is disheveled and homeless, carrying bags with all of her belongings. Her “bags” are stuffed full of her “valuables,” all that she owns. The thought of becoming a real homeless “bag lady” is a fear many women have.

The most documented female money fear is commonly referred to as the "bag lady syndrome," or anxiety about finding yourself suddenly destitute and on skid row. Many well- known, affluent woman have admitted to having this fear.

Most marriage resources list financial security as one of the top needs for women. This security is closely related to this fear of not having a home, “the bag lady.”

Most men don’t realize how strong this need is in a woman’s life. Part of it stems from a woman’s sense of vulnerability physically—a fear of assault, physically and/or sexually. Another part is the “nesting and nurturing” attribute of women. They have an innate sense of making a home for their family, nurturing, and protecting their children.

If a woman has experienced financial distress, either as a child or as an adult, this need for financial security can become even stronger.

Marriage and Financial Fears

What does that mean for marriage? Husbands can be aware of the strong emotional reaction that they may receive if the home if not financially secure. He can also partner with his wife in making a realistic budget and staying with it. As they review their finances together regularly, the wife can gain confidence in the couple's financial faithfulness.

Men and women have financial fears, but women’s fears are different than men’s.

The kind of fear with which most of us walk around is not a fear that God gave us. This fear came with our independence from God.

God wants us to have faith, wisdom, and godliness, not fear. His desire is that we be good managers of His money and to seek wise counsel in making the decisions. But recognizing the fears help us to see where our faith is lacking and helps us to understand our emotional reactions.

Besides the fear of being poor, women often fear losing money, looking stupid, borrowing money, making a plan and sticking to it, investing, not trusting themselves (putting financial decisions in someone else’s hands), and keeping the wrong advisors (they know it’s hard to turn loose of their relationships).

The Provider and Protector

Security is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God, no matter what the danger.

For the woman, who experiences the “bag lady syndrome,” understanding God’s presence in her life as our Protector and Provider can turn fear into confidence.

God wants us to experience Him as our Provider. He is not saying that we sit around and do nothing until money drops in our lap.

But He is saying that when we are faithful to do our part (even though He provides for the birds, they have to get up every morning and look for worms.), He will provide. In marriage, He has ordained husbands to be the conduit through which He wants to provide. (Genesis 2:15, 1 Timothy 3:8)

God is our provider. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." (Genesis 22:14)

God is our Protector. "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. (Psalm 91:14-15)

Marriage and Poverty

How do we help people stay out of poverty?

Help them wait until marriage to have children and help them stay married. If we really care about children we will learn how to help their parents in long-term solutions.

Instead of throwing money at consequences, we need to look at the root causes to our culture's greatest issues.

The Heritage Foundation released a report, "Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty," on how the poverty rate relates to marriage and single-parent childbirth. They report:
 Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware that its principal cause is the absence of married fathers in the home. Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline. As husbands disappear from the home, poverty and welfare dependence will increase, and children and parents will suffer as a result.

Marriage can reduce the probability of a child living in poverty by 82%. The rate of children born to married parents has declined dramatically in the last 50 years. Now, 4 of 10 children born in America have unmarried parents. Some of those parents will remain unmarried the whole life of the child. Most will marry someone other than the child's other parent, putting the child into a stepfamily immediately.

As people of faith, we can personally do everything possible to make sure that we are married and stay married if we are going to have children. Also, that we do whatever we can to help others to stay married.

We can wait for the government to address the root issues of the problem, which they are starting to do. The government is already spending millions each year to deal with the consequences of this problem.

Or we can help families in our communities strengthen their marriages and teach their children to wait for marriage to have their children.

Let us join together to strengthen marriages and to help children out of poverty.

Happiest Wives

What makes wives happiest?

W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock investigated that question. They did a research study and found seven top issues, in order of importance:
  1. A husband’s emotional engagement. (making an effort to listen to them, expressing affection and appreciation on a regular basis, sharing quality time on a regular basis)
  2. Fairness. (housework and other family responsibilities are divided fairly)
  3. A breadwinning husband. (happier when their husband earns 68% or more of the household income)
  4. A commitment to marriage. (a strong commitment to the norm of lifelong marriage)
  5. Staying at home. (Wives who stay at home tend to be happier in their marriages than wives who work outside the home. This is particularly true for women who have children in the home.)
  6. Shared religious attendance. (attending church or some other worship service with their husbands)
  7. Traditional gender attitudes. (Wives who hold more traditional gender attitudes—e.g., who believe that wives should focus more on nurturing/homemaking and husbands should focus more on breadwinning—are happier than wives who hold more feminist attitudes.)
Many people talk about the top needs of wives, etc. but this study revealed what really makes women happy in marriage, not their spoken needs or felt needs.

Investing in the marriage pays huge dividends for women. Consequently, husbands also reap the rewards.

Our upcoming class, Living Well in Marriage, will give an emotional connection(#1) and show a commitment to the marriage(#4). During the course of the class, couples get a chance to discuss their roles(#7) and how that works out in the family(#2).

For more information on the class.

A Benefit Package

There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage. Martin Luther

What’s your attitude - are you looking for a payback or a payoff?

In our relationships, especially in marriage, when we are hurt or offended, we often want to pay back the person who hurt us. We may not think of it in those brutal terms. We may think that we have to show them that they can’t treat us that way or we will remind them of the bad habits they have.

How could we get a “payoff” instead of adding more hurt?

The word “payoff” implies that an investment has been made. What kind of investments can we make in marriage that generate dividends?

1. Time together. Nothing can take the place of time together in a marriage relationship. We can spend time doing something fun or doing a chore together.

2. Focused attention. When together, the time multiplies in effectiveness if you focus on each other - talking and listening to the heart of the other person, even if you aren’t interested in the subject. Your spouse receives that kind of attention as a gift of high value.

3. Learning about marriage together - whether it is attending a class or doing a study together. This time investment speaks volumes to your spouse about the value you put on your relationship.

4. Learn a new communication skill. One person often thinks that he knows how to communicate with others but that they can’t communicate as a couple. Part of the responsibility of the one speaking is to speak in a way that others can understand him. We have to learn our spouse’s language to be able to communicate clearly and we have to learn how to listen with discernment.

5. Pray for your spouse. Pray for his/her true needs, not “God, change my husband/wife."

The payoff is a marriage that keeps getting better and better!

Rarely does one person or a couple have all the skills they need for a thriving marriage. Resources are available, see our classes that are available or a list of books or articles to read. Make an investment that will give dividends for a lifetime!

Why not a payback?

Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury. Edwin Hubbel Chapin

When someone talks about paying a person back for something the person has done, he really means that he is seeking revenge.

Most of us would not want to admit to seeking revenge. But when we retaliate or try to punish someone for what they have done, we are taking revenge. Revenge is a strong and powerful action.

Equally as strong and powerful as revenge is the opposite - forgiveness. God says that He is the only one who is to take revenge, but that we are all to demonstrate forgiveness.

Revenge may make you feel better for a short time, but forgiveness will make you feel better for a lifetime. Unforgiveness is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die. The person who witholds forgiveness is the one who is being eaten up inside. Often the other person doesn't even know that he has done anything to cause hurt.

Forgiveness may seem impossible, especially when there has been great hurt. The only way we have a capacity to forgive is because He has forgiven us.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13b

The Promise in Marriage

Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way He relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel. Jesus died for sinners. He forged a covenant in the white-hot heat of his suffering in our place. He made an imperfect bride his own with the price of his blood and covered her with the garments of his own righteousness. He said, “I am with you....to the end of the age....I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5). John Piper

What did you promise your mate when you got married? What was your vow to him/her? Did you say “until death?” How seriously do people take that promise they made at their wedding? They made a vow to each other, but God says that all vows are vows unto Him as well.

In Malachi 2:14, marriage is called a covenant, “the wife of your marriage covenant.” Even though, the word covenant is not used in reference to the marriage of Adam and Eve, their marriage truly represents a marriage covenant, a covenant between them and with God.

Genesis 2:21-22 says, So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man.

This passage is very similar to the scene with Abraham, God caused Abraham to go into a deep sleep when God established the covenant with him.

As described on the other side, a covenant includes the cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood. God cut the side of Adam to bring out the one created to be like him, Eve. He closed Adam back. Eve was birthed from the side of Adam. God established the covenant with them; they made a covenant with each other and with God.

God joined man and woman together in “oneness,” in the same way that we are one with Him. He put two people together, a man and a woman, to become one. He joined Christ to the church to dwell together as one body. Our marriages are covenant relationships, just as God has a covenant relationship with us through Jesus Christ.

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

God established marriage as the first covenant in the Bible. God pictured His love and faithfulness to His people through marriage.

God, Me, and Thee
For the past few years I have had a growing concern that the Christian community has passively watched the "dumbing down" of the marriage covenant. Marriage has become little more than an upgraded social contract between two people — not a holy covenant between a man and a woman and their God for a lifetime. Dennis Rainey

The covenant of marriage is the single most important human bond that holds all of God’s work on the planet together. It is no small wonder that the Lord is passionate about the sanctity of marriage and the stability of the home. This covenant of marriage is based on the covenant God has made with us. It is in the power of His promise to her mankind that our personal covenant of marriage can be kept against the forces that would destroy homes and ruin lives." Jack Hayford

By covenant standards, the vows are not consummated or made valid until the groom literally gives all of himself and the bride all of herself in the act of sexual union. As the two bodies become one flesh physically, the two persons become one spiritually, bonding them forever in covenant relationship. Christopher McCluskey

Promises, Promises

Promised by God

"God's promises are like the stars; the darker the night the brighter they shine.”  David Nicholas

Promises are made .... promises are broken. How can you rely on the promise of a person? Will he/she really keep it? Should we sign a contract making sure that they keep it legally?

God gave us a rainbow as a sign of a promise He made to man and to the earth - that He would not flood it with water again.

The Bible calls this promise a “covenant.” But this covenant was not about a promise of a relationship. God “cut a covenant” with Abraham, a covenant with the promise of relationship. God promised Abraham that He would be their (Abraham’s descendents) God, they would be His people, and He would dwell among them.

Requirements came with “cutting a covenant.” The people of that time understood the term. The requirements included cutting open an animal, blood was shed. The two parties that made the covenant would pass between the parts of the animal that were cut in half and laid open on the ground. The idea was that if you broke your promise, the same thing would happen to you - being cut in half!

In God’s covenant with Abraham, the man had to cut the animals and lay them on the ground, but then God put him in a deep sleep. God alone walked through the animals. God alone was liable to fulfill the covenant, not Abraham. God promised to be faithful to Abraham’s descendents, regardless of their unfaithfulness. Later, God made another covenant based on His remembrance of the Abrahamic covenant, a covenant with Moses, the Old Covenant.

For us today, however, we have a new covenant - Jesus Christ. For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)

This covenant also had a blood sacrifice; this sacrifice was made totally by Christ. God said “it is enough.” He keeps His promises of the inheritance to us - our part is to receive.

God will not, cannot break His promise to us. No matter how dark our situation, how deep our sin, the light of the promise will always shine.

What does that mean to me?
God didn't promise
days without pain,
laughter without sorrow,
sun without rain,
but He did promise
strength for the day,
comfort for the tears, and
Light for the way.

God’s covenant means that:
  • My God keeps His Word. He has made an unbreakable commitment to me. I can trust Him.
  • My God is faithful, even if I am unfaithful. 
  • My God loves me unconditionally, no matter what my sin. 
  • When I entered into the covenant, I became new, I have a new identity in Christ. 
  • I have His strength and power in me, His grace is sufficient. 
  • He is my defender and my vindicator. 
  • He gives me His Spirit to live out His life in me. 
  • He frees me from the bondage of sin, giving me the ability to face temptation and win. 
  • He is my provider and protector, no need for fear. 
  • He will give me the promised inheritance of a life with Him and His riches for all of eternity and it starts now!

Listen in Love .... Good patterns

When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.
Victor Hugo

We must be silent before we can listen.
We must listen before we can learn.
We must learn before we can prepare.
We must prepare before we can serve.
We must serve before we can lead.
William Arthur Ward

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. Winston Churchill

One of the single most important skills a person can have in marriage or in life is to be a good listener. To listen well demonstrates that you value the other person.

Often when another person is talking, I am formulating my response or my critique of what he or she is saying. I have quit listening at that point. I am more interested in what I have to say than what the other person is saying. I want to be understood rather than trying to understand the other person.

Or it could be that I quit listening because I am not interested in what the other person is saying. I only want to listen to topics about which I am involved or interested. In that case, I devalue the other person by communicating that I don’t care about his/her interests. In marriage or parenting or even in friendship, someone who truly loves the other person cares about the other one’s interests because of the love for the person.

The skills that typify a good listener are not difficult to master. The most important (usually the hardest) attribute of a listener lies in the heart. A good listener wants the other person to feel valued, to feel heard, and to feel understood. He listens to the heart of the other person.

Some valuable skills for listening include:

First: One of the most important skills is focused attention. A good listener looks at the person talking, gives cues that he is listening, and is not distracted by his Blackberry, Iphone, TV, newspaper, or computer.

Second: A serious listener will ask for clarification about what the speaker says, making sure that he understands the words and meaning, not assuming that she knows the motives.

Third: A committed listener will continue to listen regardless of his interest in the subject. I listen and care about the subject out of my love for this person. If it is important to her, it is important to me. A woman feels very emotionally connected to a man who will listen to her and take an interest in what she says.

Fourth: A respectful listener will not interrupt while the other person is talking and will give appropriate feedback, indicating that she understands what is said.

The One Who Hears
The Psalms were written by several people who were expressing their hearts to God. As we study the message there, we can see a God who hears us, who listens to us, and cares about what we say.

Sometimes we feel that no one is listening and that no one cares. We watch for clues from our listeners, signs that they care about us. When we know that God is listening and cares; we can express our hearts to Him and take the pressure off those around us. We receive comfort as He listens. We gain wisdom as we listen.

The LORD will hear when I call to him. Psalm 4:3

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry. Psalm 10:17

O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. Psalm 65:2

Listen in Love .... Causes of bad patterns

The first duty of love is to listen. Paul Tillich

In school we have speech classes, why not listening classes? How much of true communication is listening?
Most teaching on communication is about speaking correctly. In relationships, listening is often neglected. Many times a wife says to her husband (or vice versa) “You aren’t listening to me.” If we really want to communicate well with people around us, listening well is essential.

After many years of marriage, we finally learned to communicate but now we can’t hear each other! For some of us, making sure that we hear correctly is essential.

More damage can be done through the way we receive the words than what was actually said.

What factors go into the way we hear the words that are said?

First: Our understanding of what the words mean. Our interpretation might be as simple as not knowing the correct definition of the word. However, more often, the misunderstanding comes from the way the word is used. In one culture or family, a person may say “okay” and mean “I agree.” Someone else may say “okay” and mean “I heard you.”

Second: We often interpret what we hear based on the tone of voice of the other person. The way I interpret the tone of voice is often based on what it would mean if I said the same thing in that tone of voice, rather than what it means if the other person uses that tone of voice. One person may be more emotionally expressive. He may raise his voice in a situation that his wife would say the words more quietly. Her interpretation of the outburst of emotion is more extreme than he actually intends for it to be.

Third: Another misinterpretation comes from the body language of the person speaking. If the person looks away, I may assume that he is disgusted with me. The reality may be that he feels guilty and can’t look at me in the eye.

Fourth: All of the previous factors are often tied to the this one. We may misunderstand what is said based on our beliefs about our own self worth.

Listen to the Word
God's Word gives us lots of direction in how to listen well. Listen to what He says:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. Proverbs 18:13

A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind. Proverbs 18:2

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. Proverbs 1:5

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15

Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Proverbs 19:20

He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. Proverbs 15: 31

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" Matthew 17:5

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

Stay tuned for the next post for good patterns of listening and communicating.

Tips for a Healthy Heart

SOME PRACTICAL TIPS to help ensure that your heart does not get captured by someone outside of marriage:

1. Invest in your marriage. Have fun with your spouse! Marriage is work, but it should be fun too. Sometimes we quit having fun together. Date your spouse weekly; take an annual time away without kids.

2. Watch for red flags. Are you spending time talking to someone of the opposite sex (other than your mate) about you inner thoughts and feelings?

3. Don’t hide relationships or friendships with the opposite sex from your spouse. Make your email, text and voice messages, facebook account, and other online relationships open to your spouse. Give him/her your password, or set it up for your emails, etc. to come to him/her also.

4. Don’t have private chat sessions (online or on the phone) with members of the opposite sex.

5. Use a filter on your computer that will send addresses of sites you visit to your spouse.


During this Valentine season,
we will all no doubt see lots of hearts on cards, advertisements, and many other places. After all, it seems the heart is the universal symbol for that holiday. The heart symbol represents love – our love for another person. This is certainly the case for husbands and wives as we express our love to one another.

But, have you thought that “guarding your heart” might just be one of the best ways to show your love to your spouse?

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Those words were deathbed words spoken by Solomon to his son. The wisest man to have ever lived was telling his son, and us, that more than anything else in life – “guard your heart.” He is talking about moral purity.

Our hearts are our very core. The heart is everything. It’s the source of all life. It’s the gateway to our emotions and our relationships. A wellspring is the head or source of a stream or river. It’s the source.

So, Solomon is saying that we must guard our hearts, the deep inner source of who we are, from deadly contamination. If we do not, the toxins we’ve allowed to seep into our hearts will taint everything that flows out of our lives. They will affect everything we touch: our marriage, our children, our jobs, our friends, everything!

Our gracious heavenly Father has given us “guardrails” in His Word for us to incorporate into our lives so that we can protect our hearts. Some of the most important Biblical guardrails protect us from sexual misconduct, something we all desperately need living in our morally decaying society.

One of those guard rails is our thought life. “Guarding our heart” begins with our thoughts. The apostle Paul provides us great words of instruction and encouragement regarding our thought life in Philippians 4:7-8….”And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus …whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

This Valentine’s day, and every day, make sure you have a guarded heart!

Strategies for a Successful Marriage

  1. Seek God to meet all the needs of your life through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Enjoy God and allow Him to satisfy your life. He can become your source of joy and peace and hope.
  2. Seek to meet the needs of your spouse through giving out of what you have received from God without expecting anything in return.
  3. Be a student of your mate. Learn how to communicate love, acceptance and respect in a way that your spouse can receive them.
  4. Make your spouse your priority relationship, before parents, children, friends, or work. Take time together for dates and time away. Laugh and have fun together!
  5. Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen to the heart of your mate.
  6. Forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive. Never say the word “divorce.”
  7. When angry, go to God with the problem first. If the issue cannot be resolved, find an objective third party who will give Godly counsel. Do not call family members to complain about your spouse. Expect problems, don’t be surprised by them. It means you are part of the human race.
  8. Remember that there is more than one right way to do things.
  9. Always seek what is best for your spouse. Put off selfishness. This attitude is the essence of unconditional love. Do everything in love.
  10. Agree on a budget and put it into practice. God owns it all. Ask Him how to allocate 100% of your money, not just what you give Him.
    Spend less than you earn. Stay out of debt.


Facebook and Marriage

I am on facebook - I don't hate facebook, I actually like it. When I had major, emergency surgery about two months ago, my daughter and husband got on my facebook page and started notifying my friends and family. They kept updating my progress. Within minutes, tons of people were praying.

Part of my job is meeting with couples who are in marriage distress. Is facebook a problem in marriages?

Facebook and Your MarriageSometimes it is a big problem. So far, every communication device that man has invented can/has been used to build relationships with the opposite sex outside of the marriage. Just as we need parameters in other areas of life to preserve and protect our marriages, facebook is no different.

A friend of ours in the marriage movement, Jason Krasky, has written Our Top Dozen Do’s & Don’ts for Facebooking Couples on his blog, The Marriage Junkie. He and his wife have a book on the subject that will be coming out in February. Jason has given me permission to re-print his top dozen.

What Every Facebooking Couple Should DO to Protect Their Marriage!

Create boundaries to protect yourself, your spouse and your marriage. Spend some time talking about what’s in bounds and out of bounds and as a couple, agree on what boundaries you’ll set as a couple. A little bit of agreement on what is and is not acceptable can save a lot of pain and disagreement later.

Set your relationship status to Married and keep it that way. Facebook’s version of the wedding band, your Relationship Status makes all the difference in how people interact with you. If you do happen to go through some marital troubles, don’t change to “it’s complicated” because you’ll only make things even more complicated…in a bad way.

Update each other on your FB Friends and Friend Requests. Friends range from past childhood pals and classmates to current connections from work, church and elsewhere. Many of your FB Friends have a story attached to them. Don’t assume your spouse knows how you know them; spend time sharing their story with your mate.

Share your username and password with one another. Transparency is crucial to ensure trust in a committed relationship. Exchanging login information provides accountability and emotional security for both of you.

Make your spouse the topic of your Status Updates at least once a week. Using Facebook to affirm and build up your spouse creates a deeper bond between the two of you, and a higher fence around the two of you. (Just be careful not to overdo and become an annoying couple.)

Be prepared to talk offline about online issues. What happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook. Facebook can and will trigger issues and conversations between you and your spouse: a poorly worded joke, an awkward comment by a FB Friend, or an unexpected chat session. Deal with hurt feelings or concerns in the privacy of your own home. If handling conflict is difficult for you and your spouse, attend a Marriage Education class to acquire a shared set of communication/conflict resolution skills.

What Every Facebooking Couple Should NOT DO to Protect Their Marriage!

(DON’T) Write cutting remarks or negative statements about your spouse. Even though Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind,” it doesn’t mean everyone really wants to know the answer to that question. If in doubt, think about how your comments will be read by others (think about your mother-in-law, your boss, your pastor) before pushing the Share/Comment button.

(DON’T) Friend exes, old flames, past flings, former crushes or anyone you’ve been intimate with in the past. What starts as an innocent, “I wonder whatever happened to so-and-so” can lead to “I never meant for this to happen.” Friending exes’ invites an unnecessary threat into your married life that can cause any or all of the following: anxiety and insecurity for your spouse, friction and isolation in your marriage, and unrealistic and senseless ideas in your head. If staying FB Friends is a bad idea for a broken up (dating) couple, then it’s a really, really bad idea for married couples.

(DON’T) Lose track of how much time you spend on Facebook. Everyone needs a little down time to unwind each day. Facebook can be a great way to wind down (e.g. connect with FB Friends, play games, find Groups and Fan Pages, etc). On average, users spend 12-15 minutes a day on Facebook. That seems like a healthy dose of daily Facebook intake. If time on the online social community infringes on your real-time marriage relationship, make changes to reprioritize your time. Set a timer for 15 minutes and then log off Facebook and turn off the computer.

(DON’T) Report that you or your spouse is out of town. This is more security than anything else. Say your husband is on a business trip and you post an update that he is out of town. What you think is a harmless Status Update is an announcement to the bad guys that your home, possessions and family are vulnerable and a prime target for bad things to happen. Do you really know all of your FB Friends? How about their Friends? A FB Friend’s comment to your Status Update can unknowingly broadcast your “my husband is gone” news to a bunch of people you really don’t know.

(DON’T) Have private Chat sessions with people of the opposite sex. Chats are a private, real time message exchange between two people. Once a person logs off, Chat sessions are erased forever. Emotional affairs have three main ingredients: secrecy, chemistry and intimacy. Chatting provides a perfect environment for the three ingredients to mix together and create a situation that supposedly “just happened”. Avoid the drama and turn off the Chat feature altogether.

(DON’T) Let Facebook be a distraction during your time with your mate. Not only can writing a Status Update steal time from your couple time, but reading someone’s bad news can steal your mind from your special time together. Make date nights, special moments, and times of intimacy Facebook-free. No laptops, no computers, no smart phones when it is time for you and your spouse.

The Wedding or The Marriage

Marriage skeptics abound all around, but most Americans still desire marriage. How many are as enthralled with the marriage as with the wedding? Elizabeth Gilbert researched and wrote "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage."

In an interview, she presents a very interesting perspective on weddings. ”I myself have never been enchanted by the dream of the white wedding, and, heaven help us, the expectation that this exquisitely catered event should be ‘the happiest moment’ of one's life. But I did ask a number of my heartsick single female friends about this very question, and one of them gave me a truthful and illuminating answer: The fantasy of the wedding day is that it represents undeniable public and private truth that you have been chosen. For that one day, you are the most valuable creature in the world—a treasure, a princess, a prize. For many women, who have never felt chosen, desirable, or precious, this is an unshakable yearning. And I'm afraid many women do choose the wedding over the marriage. It seems a steep price to pay, but it comes from a place of deep, sad longing to be loved and to have it proven that you are of value. “

Weddings were a celebration of the beginning of a new life together, but also a time of commitment from the couple and a time of affirmation and support from those attending. However, with so many couples getting married after already living together for several months, or even years, why have a large, expensive, formal wedding? While living together, women do not get that sense of being treasured or chosen. They have eased into the relationship, gradually, not committed to a long-term, exclusive relationship.

Then, we have women who spend a lot of time and money preparing for that “princess for the day” experience. They often go into debt or send their parents into debt to put together a production to rival stardom. They wrestle over every detail of what the invitations look like and what food will be served but have not taken the time to learn the basics of communication with a husband.

Both types of women are proving to the world that they are loved on the day of that large wedding. Yet, soon after the wedding, they have lost total confidence that their husbands love them. They don’t know how to interpret the quietness or distraction of a husband who comes home after a stressful day of work.

As it has in so many ways, American culture has lost its way on where to place value. . . this time it is the importance of the wedding vs. the marriage. What would happen if American couples started investing more in the marriage than in the wedding?

Elizabeth Gilbert is also the best-selling author of "Eat, Pray, Love."
LIVING WELL offers Preparing for Marriage classes twice a year. The next class starts January 18, 2010. For more information, see http://www.livingwellokc.org/ .