The State of Marriage and Family - Where are we now?

We work in this field regularly and sometimes forget that not everyone knows the state of marriage and families in the U.S. Over the next few emails, we will relate the statistics of our culture.

The purpose of this information is not to discourage but to inspire believers to make a difference.

The graph is from Pew Research and shows how marriage itself is declining. More people are choosing not to marry at all. Being "never married" does not mean that they do not have children or a "partner." Our culture does not value marriage as an integral part of having children and a family. Pop culture demonstrates that attitude very clearly.

Divorce and cohabitation has continually increased since the 1960's. Young people are marrying at an older age. All of these factors contribute to a decline in the number of people who are married.

SO WHAT?
What does that mean for me?
What can I do?

We can teach and demonstrate the value of being married before having children. We can teach young people how to have successful, healthy relationships and how to have strong marriages. We can encourage our churches to make an intentional effort to teach all ages both the Biblical design for marriage and practical skills to prepare for marriage and to strengthen existing marriages.

Character of Marriage - Courage2

COURAGE TO FACE MYSELF

The character of courage in a marriage starts with the courage to marry. True courage in marriage includes the courage to face my own "stuff" in marriage.

[see the first part of Character of Marriage-Courage]

The courage to face myself and my contribution to the problems I have in my marriage may be the hardest part of marriage.

It means that I have to quit blaming the problem on my spouse, my past, or my job. Regardless of who I am married to and how that person acts, I can respond in a godly way. I don’t have to attack back when I feel attacked.

Regardless of my past, I can see the power of God’s Spirit transform me, so that I don’t have to repeat the unhealthy patterns and habits of my parents.

No matter what the people I work for or that I work with do, I can do my job with integrity and honesty and wholeheartedly, and not neglect my family.

When there is conflict in any area of my life, I can ask God to show me what the issues of my heart are in the situation.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
It takes courage to face the fact that I may be angry at my spouse because of the hurt from my parents. I may have unrealistic expectations of the people around me because I never felt like I measured up. So, I have high expectations for myself and for those around me.

It takes courage to ask my spouse what she/he sees in my life that is damaging our relationship. And when she answers, I don’t get defensive, blame others, or attack back.

It takes courage to take responsibility for emotional mood swings, irritability, anger, or erratic behavior. Then more courage to ask for forgiveness and ask God to help you change in that area.

"It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind."  Alex Karras

When we ask God to show us what our part is God doesn’t beat us down with condemnation. In fact, He says in Romans 8:1, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
But God is faithful to stick with me and help me work through those difficult times.

“Courage is not limited to the battlefield or the Indianapolis 500 or bravely catching a thief in your house. The real tests of courage are much quieter. They are the inner tests, like remaining faithful when nobody's looking, like enduring pain when the room is empty, like standing alone when you're misunderstood.” Charles Swindoll

He will give me the courage if I move towards Him rather than trying to figure it out on my own or moving away from Him. He says that we can conquer the hard parts of life.

Later in chapter 8, (verses 31-32, 35, 37-39) What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? …..  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The more I press into the Lord, the more He strengthens me. Then the more courage I have. Even Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, recognized the link between courage and facing difficulties. He said "You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity."

Victor Hugo, a French novelist, who wrote Les Miserables, said, "Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."

Character of Marriage - Courage

During the days of dating and engagement, not many couples look at whether the other one displays courage. We usually think of courage in regards to situations of physical danger. We rarely think of the courage in terms of how to relate to each other.

The dictionary defines courage as "The state of quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger with self possession, confidence, and resolution. 'Courage suggests a reserve of moral strength on which one may draw in time of emergency.'"

THE FIRST COURAGE OF MARRIAGE
One of the greatest steps of courage is to get married, to make that commitment.

It doesn’t take a lot of courage to make a promise, but it takes a lot of courage to keep that promise.

It doesn’t take a lot of courage to have fun with someone, but it takes a lot of courage to continue to initiate fun with that person when they have hurt you.

It doesn’t take a lot of courage to find someone that you want to sleep with; it takes a lot of courage to commit to love her even if she physically is unable to meet your sexual needs.

It doesn’t take courage to follow someone into sin, it takes courage to stand firm in following what God wants for you both.

For a marriage to be great and all that God has in mind for us, we must have courage.

Real courage is needed to face those small, everyday, and sometimes trivial events of marriage - to respond with courage when it is tough and to not give up.

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.’” Mary Anne Radmacher

GODLY COURAGE

Biblical courage is not the result of self-reliance or self-confidence. Biblical courage is the result of surrender and sovereignty - our surrender to God's sovereignty, and our trust in God's strength, not in our own.

In the Old Testament, 11 times, God tells his people, “Be strong and courageous.”

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

In the New Testament, Jesus encourages those who encounter Him with the admonishment, “Take courage!”

Matthew 14:27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Mark 6:50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Acts of courage often bring a lot of publicity. Godly courage  can draw extraordinary attention.

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Jesus gave us examples of extraordinary courage. Peter and John showed courage, after Pentecost. God says we can have that kind of courage as well.

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

One of Paul’s deepest desires was to have the courage to glorify Christ.

Philippians 1:20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

That “reserve of moral strength on which one may draw” comes from Him and because of Him.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." Ambrose Redmoon

[More posts to come on courage in marriage in the days to come]

Character of Marriage - Compassion2

"By compassion we make others' misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also."
Thomas Browne, Sr.

In our last post, we talked about the character quality of compassion - what it is and some foundational truths. What does that have to do with marriage?
  
Developing Compassion in Marriage

Some experts believe that compassion is the most important emotion for developing intimate relationships and that it contributes far more to happiness than love does. When there is little compassion, a lot of love cannot compensate for the lack of compassion. 

Why is compassion so important?

We know that it is part of the character of God. If we want to live as Christ, we will develop compassion in our character and in our marriage. As we study and understand the compassion that God has for each of us individually and for us as humans, we will see life as He does. We will be compassionate as He is compassionate. We will see people and circumstances as He sees them.

 And we need to recognize when others display compassion towards us and others.

Compassion sensitizes us to the individuality and vulnerability of our loved ones. It makes me see that my spouse is a different person from me, with a separate set of experiences, a different temperament, different vulnerabilities, and, in some respects, different values.

In contrast, if I feel the intensity of love without compassion, I can’t see who my spouse for who he really is. He becomes merely a source of emotion for me rather than a separate person in his own right. When he makes me feel good, I think he is great. When he makes me feel bad, he becomes a demon. Love without compassion is possessive, controlling, rejecting, and dangerous.

Compassion, on the other hand, makes you protective, rather than controlling. The difference is critical. When I am protective, I want to help her achieve what is best for her. Most of all, I want her to feel okay about herself. When I'm controlling, I want her to feel bad for not doing what I want her to do. 

The lack of compassion has some habits that are easy to recognize; each one can be redeemed and changed once it is recognized.

Red flags and their antidote 
  1. Defensiveness
    One way to spot a lack of compassion is when a person responds with defensiveness, especially if my spouse is accusing me of something, even working too much. When I get defensive, I am saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, you are wrong.”

    The antidote to defensiveness is to recognize the hurt behind the accusation, sympathize with the hurt, and even seek to alleviate the hurt. I can take responsibility for anything I might have done to hurt the other person or to more fully explain what has happened, but not to accuse or attack back.

  2. Criticism
    Criticism most often attacks the character of a person – you are so stupid, lazy, or fill-in-the-blank. Even when it attacks behavior, it will be destructive if it is filled with blames, if it devalues, if it focuses on what the person has done wrong rather than how to do it right, or if it implies that there is only one right way to do things.

    A critical person was often criticized as a child. Criticism often leads to defensiveness and contempt.

    The antidote of criticism is first of all to recognize that we all make mistakes but that we all have worth and value. I have to apply that to myself in light of my past hurts. Then I apply this principle to those that I am criticizing. Then I can begin to think of how my spouse or children feel when I criticize them.

  3. Stonewalling
    A negative characteristic, which is said to predict divorce with more than 90% accuracy, is stonewalling. This characteristic is very indicative of a lack of compassion. Recognizing and changing this characteristic, while becoming more compassionate, can change the tone and atmosphere of the marriage.

    Men tend to do this more than women. But stonewalling is when a husband refuses to consider his wife’s perspective. He does not show her that he values her opinion or that she has anything to say that is worth hearing. If he listens at all, he does it dismissively or contemptuously.

    The antidote to stonewalling is listening to my spouse’s opinions and valuing what she says, showing it in a way that she can recognize my interest.

  4. Control
    We often try to control our environment and the people around us when we have lived in a home that was out of control or when we feel anxiety.

    We decide what our home needs to be like and how everyone needs to act to give us a sense of safety and security and peace. People who try to control those around them don’t realize that control drives people away instead of drawing them closer. The goal of control is then actually sabotaged by the demands or expectations of the one who is trying to control.

    The reality is that we cannot control other people. Instead of control, seek cooperation for common goals. 
Ultimately, we must come to a place of knowing that God is the only one in control. The antidote for control is trusting God to take care of you, regardless of what others do or what happens. We have to care enough – compassion - about how others feel to help them achieve their desires and goals more than we work to get what we want.

All of us can improve in the area of compassion in marriage. Take this opportunity to take the step of expressing more compassion in marriage. This step will bring intimacy and oneness in your marriage.

Previous posts in the series "Character of Marriage":
Character of Marriage - Commitment
Character of Marriage - Commitment2
Character of Marriage - Commitment3
Character of Marriage - Commitment4

Character of Marriage - Compassion

"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too." Frederick Buechner

One might assume that marriage would contain compassion. Initially, probably, most do. As marriage continues and hurt comes through the front door, often compassion exits through the back door.

The person, whom we proclaim to love until death, suddenly becomes the person to whom we show the least compassion.

What is compassion? 

The word origin means literally “to suffer with.” The dictionary puts it this way “a feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it.” Compassion goes a step beyond sympathy. Compassion wants to do something to help. We see news articles on TV about great human suffering because of a natural disaster. People want to know what they can do to help.

Some people seem to lack compassion in most situations, including home life. Sometimes, it is because they don't know what to do, so they tune it out. Sometimes, it is more of the sense that no matter what they do it won't help or it won't matter. For some people, it is even a "one-up-manship." They think or say "You think you have it bad, listen to what happened to me.... Or you don't know what it means to suffer, you have it easy compared to my life/my hurt ...."

I believe that at his/her core, every man and woman has compassion in extreme situations. Would I give up something or risk danger if I knew a child was about to die and I was the only who could save him? Most people would take that risk to save a helpless child. But can I have compassion for my husband or my wife?

The Bible has a lot to say about compassion and mercy. In fact, compassion/mercy is a central theme throughout the Bible. The biblical word for compassion means: "that disposition that fuels acts of kindness and mercy. Compassion, a form of love, is aroused within us when we are confronted with those who suffer or are vulnerable." The biblical words for compassion or being compassionate are often translated “mercy” also.

Any description of God's heart towards us would include compassion and mercy.

2 Corinthians 1:3 calls Him "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort."

In Exodus 33:18, after Moses asked God to show him His glory, God says, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
  
After God came down in a cloud and passed in front of Moses, He said in Exodus 34:6 “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." We see that description in Scripture over and over.

This quality of compassion is present not only in God the Father, but also in Jesus the Son.
  • Matthew 9:36 "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
  • Matthew 14:14 "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick."
  • Matthew 15:32 "Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.'"
  • Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.
  • Jesus, telling the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:20 "So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."
 God says that we can be like Him in the area of compassion and mercy because He lives in us.
  • Zechariah 7:9 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.'"
  • Ephesians 4:32 "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
  • Colossians 3:12 "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
  • 1 Peter 3:8 "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble."
Compassion towards our fellow man and towards other believers includes compassion towards our spouse.

"Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation." Henry Ward Beecher

In the next post, we will talk about how the importance of compassion in marriage, how to develop and demonstrate compassion, and some red flags/antidotes for a lack of compassion in marriage.

Previous posts in the series:

Character of Marriage - Commitment4

The Character of Marriage through commitment includes being committed to my spouse. The obvious is the commitment I made in my vows, and that is part of it. [see part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the series]

Scott Stanley in his book The Power of Commitment would call the vow to my spouse a commitment of constraint. His proposed "commitment of dedication" would include another significant quality - the commitment to the very best for my spouse, creating a nurturing environment, a supportive relationship.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

To be devoted to my spouse would include all levels of love – unconditional love, friendship love, physical love and affection.

Part of that commitment to the very best for your spouse is accepting that person just as they arenot trying to change that person. In fact, I would encourage my husband in his interests and abilities. I create an environment in my marriage that nurtures the gifts God has given him.


Ed has always been an outdoors person. In fact, as I am writing this post, he is working on arrows. Yes, arrows for archery deer hunting. I now know what "fletching" means.

When we got married, he was a great golfer, an avid fisherman, and hunter. I know women who complain about their husband doing those things, but I thought it was great. I have always encouraged him to pursue those activities.

I know that some men overdo those things and don’t spend time with their families; they don’t consider the needs of the family. I know some husbands don’t plan time with their wife, but it will not bring us closer together by nagging or complaining about it. I am not excusing men who abuse this area.

I love art and art museums. Ed knows that when we travel, I want to go to the local art museum or art show. He plans time into our trips for the art museums. He encourages me in my involvement as a volunteer at our local art museum.

When I try to restrict my spouse’s time or connection with other people or interests, it will ultimately be a divisive issue, driving us farther apart. Restricting my spouse is control, not commitment.

Committing to the best for that person also means that I put his needs and desires before my own. I serve him rather than expecting to be served. I treat that person with kindness and respect.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) In the verses immediately following this passage, Jesus admonishes us to serve each other.

If I am going to make the commitment to my spouse a part of the character of my marriage, I can ask myself these questions:
  • Am I truly committed to the best for my spouse?
  • Do I create a nurturing home for the interests and abilities of my spouse?
  • Do I consider him/her better than me, more important than me?
  • Do I look to his/her interests before I seek what I want for myself?
  • Do I accept and encourage my spouse in his/her own personality?
Devotion to my spouse through nurturing and encouraging his abilities will take the quality of my marriage to a higher level. We can have a more intimate and respectful marriage.

Previous posts in the series:
Character of Marriage - Commitment
Character of Marriage - Commitment2
Character of Marriage - Commitment3

Character of Marriage - Commitment3

On the two previous posts. we talked about the character of marriage through commitment and the importance of commitment to God in regards to marriage.
Life is full of choices. When we make a commitment, we are saying “yes” to this choice and “no” to all other choices. The commitment to marriage and to one person, excludes all other choices. 

We may think that sounds limiting or restrictive to us. The reality is that those limitations bring greater freedom.

For example, when our kids were little, we had all kinds of things for them to do and play in the backyard. They could swing, play on a trapeze, in a sandbox, or in a fort or climb a tree or play games in the grass. When they went in the backyard to play, they had great freedom. But there was a fence that limited where they could go. Outside that fence, they were more limited in their freedom. They had to be with one of us, they couldn’t run freely, they couldn’t go into the street.

In the garden, Adam and Eve had great freedom– EXCEPT they had one limitation. Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They chose to go outside of that one limitation. They thought that they would have more freedom, more fulfillment, and more pleasure. But the truth was – they had less. They were limited in their access to God. Their physical life had a limit. They were in bondage to sin.

Before the fall, they were “naked and not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) After the fall, they immediately started covering up and felt very much ashamed. The openness, vulnerability, and transparency became shame, fear, and blame.

There is a voice in the head of many people saying “you can have the most fulfilling life by keeping your options open and not giving up a thing.”

The paradox is that I can experience more freedom when I accept the limits of commitment. I no longer contemplate “maybe …. if.” In any part of life, if I live in the land of “maybe” or indecision in committing to a course of action, I will not move forward. And it is especially true in marriage.

What would it mean to be committed to the marriage, not just staying married?

A commitment to the marriage means that I am not just staying married but I am committed to a marriage that honors the Lord. This commitment to the marriage is certainly a commitment of dedication. I am devoted to making this marriage a picture of Christ and The Church to the world. I am going to love like He loves. I am going to forgive as He forgives.

I am not going to just stay married; I am going to do whatever I can on my part to make the marriage great.

My commitment does not limit my freedom; it changes my choices. By getting married, I have chosen to make this one person my priority. I have put the boundaries (fences) of marriage on my relationships with people of the opposite sex. Within the boundaries of marriage, I have greater opportunities for a profound level of freedom within them. It protects the kind of safety that is needed to have the best in marriage. It leads to greater freedom of oneness and openness. If I really want the security and freedom, I have to act on the commitment.

Some ways to invest in the betterment of my marriage could include:
  • Talking like friends
  • Doing something fun together
  • Leaving notes of appreciation
  • Working on a project important to both of us
  • Expressing your love in some new way
  • Taking a walk together
  • Planning a vacation together
  • Engage in a ministry activity together
"Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship of pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married." Joseph Campbell

How am I demonstrating my commitment of dedication and devotion to my marriage right now? What would my spouse say?

We have talked about our commitment to God and to the marriage, the third area is being committed to your spouse.... our next post.

Character of Marriage - Commitment2

In the last post, we talked about the character of marriage displayed through the quality of commitment. We distinguished two different kinds of commitment in marriage - the commitment of constraint and the commitment of dedication. [also see Scott Stanley's book The Power of Commitment]

These two types of commitments for marriage fall into three categories, commitment to God, commitment to marriage, and commitment to my spouse.

COMMITMENT TO GOD
Our most important commitment in life is our commitment to our Lord. We say “yes” to Him as the one true God and we say “no” to all other Gods. He does not give us the option to be inclusive in our faith. Our faith is exclusive in love and devotion to Him, no other gods. 

The first of the 10 commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3

How would your commitment to God influence the quality or character of your marriage?

He says that when I make a commitment to my spouse at my wedding that I am giving my word before Him too.

When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. Numbers 30:2

As a Christian, I have declared that Jesus is Lord of my life. As my Lord, He says that I am to keep my word. My devotion to Him obligates me to keep my vow to anyone, most of all to my spouse.


Hopefully, I have a commitment of dedication (devotion) and constraint to Him. I am devoted to having an intimate relationship with Him. I am constrained from pursuing an ungodly lifestyle because of my love for Him.

But also, my commitment in marriage is a covenant. God says in Malachi 2:14 …. she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.


In this covenant relationship, not only am I committed to my spouse but also to God. He is part of the covenant relationship. It is not a contract to be broken or re-written. It is not just a legal procedure. It is a commitment to God and to my spouse – a lifetime commitment to remain married to that person as long as both of us are still alive.

As part of the covenant relationship, God commits Himself to keeping my marriage together.

When God made the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15), He let Abraham know that God was obligating Himself to keeping that covenant; it was not up to Abraham alone.

God gave us a new covenant through Jesus Christ. Again, He says that once we enter into that covenant relationship, He commits to us to keep that covenant. He demonstrates throughout the Bible that He is faithful, even when we are unfaithful.

He gives us that commitment to our marriage. He will make it possible to keep that marriage covenant if we are willing. He gives us the guidance, His presence, and His power to make a great marriage - one that glorifies Him and is a picture of Christ and the Church in this world.

I can pray and ask God to show me where my commitment level is to Him and what He wants for our marriage.

The next post will be about our commitment to marriage.
See our first post in the series: Character of Marriage - Commitment

The Character of Marriage - Commitment

Some of us are married to characters. Some wish the one to whom they are married had more character. Then there are those of us who cringe when others say our faces show lots of character - we know they really mean "wrinkles."

When we talk about the character of marriage, what do we mean?

The word character means those moral or ethical qualities. So the character of marriage includes those moral or ethical qualities that make a marriage – not just a good marriage but a great, enduring marriage.

“Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things man chooses or avoids." Aristotle
To us, the most important character quality in marriage is commitment. In the baseline survey done for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, when asked why they got a divorce, the majority answered "a lack of commitment."
As we meet with couples, we look for a level of commitment. We ask them if they are ready to do whatever it takes to save their marriage. Even for couples who are not in a crisis, the commitment makes a difference in the quality of their marriage.
What is commitment? The dictionary says it is a pledge or a promise, an obligation.

The Power of Commitment: A Guide to Active, Lifelong LoveScott Stanley talks extensively about the topic in his book The Power of Commitment.
He defines two kinds of commitment:

1. Commitment of dedication – ex. “He is very committed to improving his golf game.” He is dedicated to getting better at golf. He does it because he loves it or has a drive to meet the challenge of mastering the game.

Dedication implies an internal state of devotion to a person or a project.

It includes the idea of moving forward, a motivating force, based on the thoughtful decisions you made to give your best effort.

2. Commitment of constraint – ex. “He has committed to play in the golf tournament. His team won’t be able to play without him.” 

Constraint entails a sense of obligation. It refers to factors that would be costs if the present course were abandoned.

The commitment of dedication is a force drawing you forward. The commitment of constraint is a force pushing you from behind.
What do you think a marriage would be like if you only had the commitment of constraint?
 
Couples who maintain and act on dedication are more connected, happier, and more open with each other. Those who lose dedication and have only constraints will either be together but miserable or come apart. The loss of dedication represents the loss of the will to try, the loss of the sense of “us,” and the loss of the actions that protect a marriage over time. A marriage without dedication is a marriage without passion or without life.  

Some examples of constraints are:
  • Social pressure – how will friends and/or family react?
  • Morality of divorce – how much do you believe that divorce is wrong?
  • Concern for the welfare of your children – do you believe your children will be harmed by the divorce?
  • Financial limitations and loss – how will you lifestyle change if you get a divorce
  • Termination procedures – how difficult are the steps to end the marriage?
  • Alternative quality – what kind of quality of life do you think you will have living apart from your mate?
What do you think a marriage would be like if you only had the commitment of dedication?

A marriage with dedication or devotion will almost always have a commitment of constraint also, but if it did not, the marriage might get better but there would be no commitment that it would last. The marriage might be very exciting and fun while it lasted, until one of the partners found someone else to be devoted to. There would always be that uncertainty whether it would last.

We have seen three commitments make a marriage great – commitment to God, to the marriage, and to the spouse. In the next post, we explain those three kinds of commitment.



THE WAITING ROOM

I have sat in more than my share of waiting rooms during the last few years .... my own appointments, going with my mother, my stepfather, my aunt to the doctor. Plus we have a waiting room in our own ministry.

The mark of a good waiting room used to be whether they had new magazines. Some doctor's offices only had magazines that were over a year old. I still look at the date when I pick up a magazine in a waiting room.

But now the marks of a good waiting room - a flat screen TV or free wifi. I really do not like waiting anywhere, anytime, including waiting rooms. If I am in a waiting room, I prefer the wifi option to the TV; the TVs are either playing some health information or Fox News (yes, we are in a red state!). I don't mind Fox News sometimes, but waiting rooms are trying enough without watching people interrupt and yell at each other.

People don't usually have to spend much time in our waiting room. But it is always interesting to me to see what they are doing when I come out to get them, especially couples.

There are the "pacers" - too nervous to sit down. Then there are the "readers" - they have picked up a book out of our bookcase in the waiting room or one of our magazines.

Some people are just sitting staring straight ahead. I figure that it is the only time that they get to sit in a quiet room with soothing music playing in the background; they just want to relax for a few minutes.

Then we have the ones who are attached to their mobile devices - they are texting, checking facebook, or playing games (we have a sign that asks people not to talk on their phones).

Occasionally, we even have a couple who are talking with each other in the waiting room. We consider that a sign of progress.

I wonder how many of those behaviors translate into their interaction at home. How many of us are too busy interacting with people who aren't in the room and ignoring those that are in the room?

I was amused when a 20something told me that she was with a group of friends at someone's house and they were all playing games on their phones - either with another member of the group or someone else. She suggested to the group that since they were in the room together, they do something with each other in person, real life, real time. Hmmm.....

Facebook and Your MarriageWhat if, in marriage, we had a "no screen time" every night at our house - no TV, no computer, no phones, no handheld devices? Instead of facebook, we set aside time every night for face-to-face connection and interaction. One talks, the other listens. The other talks, one listens. Hmmm... maybe we could recapture that personal touch that we all long for.

"Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true." 
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

PERFECT GIFT

Have you ever tried to find the perfect gift for someone you love? Could be your spouse. Could be a parent.

Finding that perfect gift is really hard if the person has most of the things that they want in life already.

Have you ever thought about what the perfect gift would be for you if someone else were buying it for you?

God gave each of us married folks a perfect gift. That gift is your husband or wife (whichever applies!). I am not saying your spouse is perfect but he is perfect for you.

You may be thinking, "Wow! Are you sure about that?" or "You have got to be crazy; you don't know my husband (or wife)."

When we go back to the beginning and God's original design for this world,  Adam had all of his needs met in his relationship with God, but God saw that Adam needed another human and a companion with whom to share his life.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” .... So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and He brought her to the man. “At last!” the man exclaimed. (Genesis 2:18, 21-23a, NLT, emphasis mine)

God brought Eve to Adam in the same way a father brings a bride to the groom in a wedding today. Adam received Eve as God's perfect gift for him - not based on anything she had done or said, but based on his confidence and trust in God as a giver of good gifts.

God wants me today to see my spouse as my perfect gift. It doesn't mean that he acts perfect or is perfect, but that he is perfect for me. At the time of our wedding most of us believed that. What happened?

We often marry because we find someone who is different from us - in a good way. I see qualities that I don't have but I wish I had. If I am a quite, reserved person, I might marry someone who is more outgoing and feels comfortable meeting new people. That person knows how to engage in conversation with lots of different people, but I just clam up.

But then, after marriage, this outgoing person wants to drag me into all kinds of new situations that I have never been in or don't want to be in. He will take me to a party and leave me in the corner as he moves around the room meeting and talking to people that neither of us know. Suddenly, the outgoing-ness of the person irritates me, causes me discomfort, and becomes a source of conflict.

Hence the expression, "Before marriage opposites attract; after marriage opposites attack."

Once conflict sets in, a couple often focuses on the negative attributes of the other one instead of the great ones that attracted them in the beginning.

I have a great husband but he is not perfect - he is only perfect for me. Sometimes, when I am around other couples, I think about what the husband would be like in marriage. Even for men that are our friends, I find myself thinking, "I like him as a person, but I can't imagine having to live with him everyday." I am always thankful that God gave me Ed.

One of the attributes that attracted me to Ed was his cleanliness. In an era when guys were growing beards, wearing disheveled clothes, and wearing unkempt hair down to their shoulders, he stood out. So, when Ed gets into one of his "throw away anything that has sat there for more than two days" moods, I thank God for him. Otherwise, we would live amidst piles up to our eyeballs. He recognizes that I am a "pile-it" (sounds like "pilot") and he balances me.

In the times when we may get on each other's nerves or when we see life from opposite perspectives, I know that this is God's affirmation that He has given me a perfect gift. Now, I try to focus on the positive qualities of my husband. And to appreciate who he is and who God has given me.

We teach this principle whenever we teach others on marriage. When we go to Africa, we take them a gift and a reminder of this principle. We have the words "perfect gift" embossed on a rubber bracelet that has pink and blue colors swirled together. the pink and the blue represent the husband and wife who are joined together in oneness. They are not to be separated anymore than you could separate the two colors of the bracelet.

We have them look at each other every day and say "You are God's perfect gift for me."

Oneness takes hold.

Those Left Behind

For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. Genesis 2:24

When we teach our class to prepare couples for marriage, some of these couples have suggested that we teach a lesson for their parents from this verse.

The Mother-in-Law Dance: Can Two Women Love the Same Man and Still Get Along?Many jokes are made about in-laws. Mark Twain said, "Adam was the luckiest man; he had no mother-in-law." Some refer to them as the "outlaws." Annie Chapman wrote a book about mother-in-laws learning how to  get along with their daughter-in-laws.

God is teaching us to leave the family in which we grew up (our family of origin). Then, we form a new family unit when we marry. Following God's direction to leave your family is essential to being able to bond together as a couple for oneness in a long term relationship. If either the husband or the wife hold on to the family of origin, they never really form a new family.

The new family (the husband and wife) is the new priority. The new spouse comes before the mother. father, or siblings in their priorities and loyalty. This transition is difficult for many young people, especially if they have never lived on their own or have they have always relied on their parents for physical, financial, and/or emotional support. However, parents can either make it easier or they can make it even more difficult for their children to leave.

 For those left behind (family of origin), they are to release their child to a new family. They are to encourage their child in oneness in their new marriage, not coming between or interfering with the new husband and wife.

We have seen parents who hold onto their children and we have seen the ones who encourage them to be independent. I have seen couples who were in conflict or unhappy early in their marriage. When the child goes to his parents, godly parents send them home and say "work it out." Or when the child complains about his spouse, the parent will defend the spouse rather than taking sides with their own child.

Godly parents will not rescue their married children in marriage conflict or in financial difficulties, but direct them to the Lord.

We have also seen parents that insisted on giving their married children advise whether they want it or not. Sometimes, they have unreasonable expectations on how much time they spend together or what they expect their grown child to do for them. Most in-law conflicts come in the area or advise given/received and in time spent together.

We try to encourage couples not to go to parents or siblings when they have marital difficulties. It is very hard for the parent or sibling to be objective or detached. It also causes emotional distress for them, many times over minor issues. We encourage them to seek an objective third party for advice or guidance.

For the parents left behind - the best thing that you can do for your married children is to pray for them and not interfere with their marriage.

For more information:
Parents - Past and Present

WEDDING SEASON

BEFORE THE WEDDING
The royal wedding of William and Kate is center-stage.

Publicity is rampant.

Every bride’s dream looks miniscule compared to the royal wedding. Estimates for the cost of the wedding start around $30 million. The average U.S. wedding costs $24,000 now.

When looking at wedding websites, the recommendation is to begin planning at least one year ahead, with checklists that include at least 50 items.

Of those 50 items, somewhere in the list is “decide on the officiant” (who is going to perform the ceremony). Then, you find out the officiant’s requirements.That item is the only one that refers to preparing for the actual marriage.

We often tell couples the wedding is a one-day event, the marriage lasts a life-time (we hope!).

The cost and preparation for the wedding far exceeds the preparation for the marriage for most couples.

Yet, research shows that couples who go through marital preparation are glad that they did and are more successful in their marriages.

In a research study for the Catholic Church (they have far exceeded other churches in requiring significant premarital preparation), they found:
  1. The vast majority of individuals who have participated in marriage preparation programs view the experience as valuable early in their marriage.
  2. Marriage preparation is perceived as most valuable when it is administered by a team.
  3. The correlation of the intensity of marriage preparation and its perceived value increases with the number of sessions up to 8-9 sessions and then falls off again, suggesting that an intensity of 8-9 sessions might be ideal.
In Oklahoma, even though the state offers a $45 discount on a marriage license if the couple has premarital preparation, the majority of couples still do not do anythingt to prepare for marriage.

How can we be more effective at getting couples prepared? Churches can require it. Parents can insist on it. We can provide it. (We do couple-to-couple premarital counseling and also do premarital classes, see more info about classes).

THE ODDS FOR THE COUPLE 

The Royal Couple chose a path before their marriage that greatly decreases their odds of making the marriage work—they have lived together for several years. Cohabitation increases the risk for divorce.

Other risk factors include:
  • Having a personality tendency to react strongly or defensively to problems and disappointments
  • Being previously divorced, yourself or your partner
  • Having children from a previous marriage/relationship
  • Having different religious backgrounds
  • Marrying at a very young age (example, at the ages of 18- 19).
  • Knowing each other only for a short time before marriage
  • Having financial hardship  
What else leads to success?
  • Communicating well, eliminating negative patterns
  • Working as a team, even in disagreements.
  • Realistic beliefs about marriage
  • Having the same values for important things
  • Commitment, protecting your relationship, viewing your marriage as a long-term investment
  • Involvement in a faith group regularly
  • Having fun together
For more information on preparing for marriage, see:

Resources:

Preparing for Marriage: Discover God's Plan for a Lifetime of Love   Before You Plan Your Wedding...Plan Your Marriage   
Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage That Goes the Distance   Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before and After You Marry 
Before "I Do": Preparing for the Full Marriage Experience  10 Great Dates Before You Say "I Do"
101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged   Before You Say "I Do"® Devotional: Building a Spiritual Foundation for Your Life Together

The Word on our Words ...

#1 WORD ON WORDS
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29(NIV)

This verse may be the most important on our words. God’s Word on our words is very clear. DO NOT speak words that are harmful! The word translated unwholesome in this verse means literally “rotten, putrefied,” such as rotten fruit. Other translations use the words “foul, dirty, abusive, corrupt.”

In contrast, we are to say words that will encourage and help others. The verse is not saying to falsely flatter a person, but to be kind and truthful in a way that will strengthen them.

We want to strengthen others according to what their real needs are, not just what they think they need. Real needs would include knowing God’s love for them, knowing His care and concern for them, knowing someone on this earth values them and believes in them.

When we speak in those ways, people WILL listen to our words and they will WANT to listen to what we say.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving. Dale Carnegie

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. Napoleon Hill

#2 WORD ON WORDS
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

If we could put into practice this verse along with Ephesians 4:29 (see above), we could take care of most marriage and relationship problems.

Very simple, but not easy!

Three concepts:
  1. Kindness
  2. Compassion
  3. Forgiveness
KINDNESS
We often challenge couples to be as kind to each other as they are to the clerk at the store. Most people use a civil tone, without anger or hurtful words to strangers.

How ‘bout we start treating those we love that way too?

People who work in the retail world can tell you that not everyone treats them with kindness. Most of us will find that we will get much better service and cooperation when we are intentional about speaking kindly, even complimenting those workers.

Kind words produce their own image in men's souls; and a beautiful image it is. They soothe and quiet and comfort the hearer. They shame him out of his sour, morose, unkind feelings. We have not yet begun to use kind words in such abundance as they ought to be used. Blaise Pascal

Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. Abraham Lincoln

COMPASSION
What does compassion really mean?

From the dictionary: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

When we think about our Lord, compassion is one of the first and foremost attributes.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8

The word compassion or compassionate is used over 100 times in the Bible (NAS) and most instances are in reference to God’s character. The more we understand His compassion for us, the easier it is for us to be compassionate towards others.

As we experience life’s hardships, the easier it is to identify with others’ hardship … and to be compassionate.

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. Thomas Merton

FORGIVENESS
A key part of the verse in exhorting us to forgive is “just as in Christ God forgave you.”

We are to forgive in the same way God forgives us. When we receive Christ, God forgave us for everything we have ever done in the past or will do in the future.

We don’t forgive sins; we forgive the hurt. In the same way, that someone (Christ) had to pay for our sin, someone else pays for the hurt. The one who forgives pays the price. We no longer try to make the other person pay when we forgive. Paradoxically, the one who forgives derives the benefit of the forgiveness.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis B. Smedes
The Art of Forgiving

Tongue of Fire

A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. (James 3:5-6, The Message)

Communication: Key to Your Marriage: A Practical Guide to Creating a Happy, Fulfilling RelationshipWords are powerful!                        

This verse uses the analogy of a spark starting a forest fire to the power of our words to hurt or destroy. At this time of a drought year in Oklahoma, we are well aware of how easily wildfires can start. One cigarette or ember from a fire in the dry ground, fanned by the high winds, spreads a small flame into a disastrous fire. The fire destroys acres of land, burns house, and anything in its path. Our words can be just as destructive.

We should never underestimate the power of our words to hurt or heal! And yet, we speak without thinking, without contemplating the effect of what we have said. Many communication problems originate with careless words.

Mark Twain aptly said: Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.

Wisdom says to think before you speak. Often the words rush out before we think. We wrongly think that we just need to have more self-control.

THE HEART
But the step before thinking is the condition of our heart towards another person. If we have animosity in our heart, we will speak hurtful words. If we have love in our heart, we speak loving and kind words. "For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." Luke 6:45

Even in times of disagreement, we must be careful of our heart and our tone of voice.

HEAL OR HURT

Quarrels end, but words once spoken never die. (African proverb)

Amazingly enough, a person can remember hurtful words years after they are spoken. Often the incident that spurned the words are forgotten, but not the words. The words stick with us.

The words of some men are thrown forcibly against you and adhere like burrs. (Henry David Thoreau) "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." (Proverbs 12:18)

We have a choice - words that hurt or words that heal. Wise and encouraging words can change the course of a person’s life.

Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. (Mother Teresa) "An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up." (Proverbs 12:25) Kind, encouraging words can do wonders for others who are weighted down with the worries of this world.


If we could really grab hold of the idea that our words can bring hope and healing, we would invest more time and energy into speaking and writing words of affirmation and love to the world around us.

Try it, see what happens!

Keys to a High Voltage Marriage - Faith Talks

Another key is - start talking!

The Power of a Praying® WifeNot talking to my partner or talking to myself but talking to God. Nothing gives a marriage more high voltage energy than prayer. Pray for the other person - not that God will change him/her to meet my needs, but that God will bless him. Pray for his day and the difficulties he faces.

Pray that he will know the love of God more deeply. Use Paul's prayer for the Ephesians as a guide. Where it says "you" or "your" put in the name of your spouse. And pray this prayer for yourself, substitute, "me" and "my" in the prayer.
The Power of a Praying® Husband Book of Prayers (Power of a Praying Book of Prayers)
I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19

We often have the idea that everything all disagreements must be resolved. All differences must be confronted. We must talk out and talk through every issue. The reality is that more is resolved by prayer than by talking to each other.

In our prayers for ourselves and our spouse, ask God for a new perspective. Ask Him to show you how your differences look from your spouse's perspective. Ask God to let your hear how your remarks sound to him/her. Pray for God to soften your heart towards your spouse. God cares about how you feel, you can trust Him with your emotions. He wants to listen to you; He wants you to talk to Him.

"God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede." Oswald Chambers