Monthly Archives: May 2014

May 27

Opinionated and Happy: Why You’ll Never Hear Me Say “We Never Argue” with Pride.  

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10090765I thought after last month’s admittedly “heavy” topic, I’d change things up a little bit. This month, I’d like to take the ‘counselor’ hat off, and speak with you simply as “EJ—a 30-something modern woman navigating life, career and a marriage.”

So here’s something I’ve heard used as a measuring stick for healthy relationships on several occasions that I absolutely cannot stand:

“I know I have a good marriage—we’ve been married ‘x’ years and have never once argued.”

In my own experience, I’ve never seen a marriage where this measuring stick was actually a true indicator of health. And for what its worth, Dr. Sarkis at Psychology Today hasn’t either.

Sidenote from Dustin: My good friend Fawn from The Happy Wives Club recently wrote this very popular post sharing this very thing – how she and her husband have never argued.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

In My House, We Debate. And Occasionally We Argue.

Anyone who knows my husband and I can tell you that each one of us came into this relationship with a lot of our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings on a wide variety of topics. And we do not agree on everything. And some times that disagreement is passionate.

*Gasp*

Of course I am taking a little license with the definition.  As a passionate conversationalist and self-proclaimed opinionated person, I should probably clarify that when I say “argument” I’m referring more to the philosophical definition of stating one’s opinions and laying out  plausible conditions to substantiate one’s claims in an effort to persuade — not verbally taking shots at the other person.  Dr. Sarkis and Fawn from The Happy Wives Club seem to be talking about ‘arguing’ in the sense of a quarrel or what I typically refer as a “fight”.

That being said, every now and then we hit a hot button issue for the other. Sometimes that occurs on a day where everything has gone wrong, nerves are raw and tempers are short. Oops!

Regardless, it makes for some really interesting conversation about just about anything—and believe me—nothing is off the table. We talk about taboo topics—often those things that surface in the news, or even things that we hear about at our respective jobs.

The Benefit

The really useful part about this ritual is that we both get to explore our own beliefs about things with a depth that I really just haven’t been able to find since leaving my beloved Philosophy department in undergrad. Sometimes I find myself surprised, even shocked about where I truly stand on a given topic when it’s given the time and space it needs to be fully flushed out.

The Cost

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that something else that’s also true—sometimes I’ve been shocked, and even disappointed at some of the opinions my husband has shared. On the flip side, my husband has learned some things about me he’s not completely thrilled about too.

It’s not a common occurrence, but there are some issues where we just fundamentally disagree. And yes, I suppose there is an element of risk— “What if I say something and s/he’s just so completely horrified that our relationship is damaged?” (But no more risky than blending your life with another person, and people do that all the time!)

Why We’ll Never Stop:

Well, first off—we held debates with one another from the minute (literally, the minute) we started dating so a lot of BIG topics were covered long before we said “I do.” (Our first debate was over whether or not medication was an appropriate treatment for PTSD.)

Second, if Greg and I aspire to one rule and one rule only—it’s that as long as we’re dealing with the truth, we can handle anything life throws at us. Opinions are neither good nor bad—it’s the actions that flow from those opinions that matter. Oh, and some times that truth includes, “I really don’t feel like doing this [debating] right now.”

Side note: An unwritten rule of our volleys is that we keep the argument focused on the topic, not on each other. The second you make a personal attack on the other person, you’re not arguing any more—you’re fighting. The difference being that in arguments the goal is to effectively present your side, and in fighting the goal is to tear down your opponent. If you’re trying to tear down your spouse—there’s a larger problem at hand.

Third, even though there have been times when debates turned into arguments, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

 Why?

 We’ve become so good at 1) communicating our thoughts, 2) exploring the “why” behind the way we think/feel that fighting rarely happens anymore.

By choosing to “step into the ring” over and over again, we practice healthy discussion with opposing views.   We don’t have to downshift into throwing barbs because our thoughts and feelings aren’t completely dissociated from each other. Just like exercising, thinking and communicating get easier the more you do them.

Fourth, we love each other—and that love includes those very VERY strong opinions!!!

A Word of Caution

Now let me offer you a word of caution: Every relationship is different, and you really need to know who your partner is before you decide to intellectually “throw down” with them. If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear, Greg and I are both hard-hitting, competitive, straight-off-the-shoulder people.

If your spouse isn’t someone who is comfortable with friction—even the healthy debating kind—please understand that an ‘enthusiastic volley’ can feel overly aggressive and hurtful. Accept and respect that it might be very difficult for your spouse to share or put words to a belief about a given topic. Allow them the safety to be who they are. Allow them time to gather their thoughts too.

So tell me…

Do you and your spouse debate? Or does debating almost always lead to unhealthy arguments or fighting?

 

Image Source

May 21

5 Creative Tips for Touching your Spouse’s Skin

By Dustin | Romance

CreativeWaysToTouchTouch is an incredibly powerful sensation.

It is sensual, intimate, and essential for life.

Over 40 years of research point to the importance of affection in newborn and childhood development. We are hard-wired to crave physical touch, but all too often this is minimized in a relationship.

As important as touch is, couples tend to assume that if they hug, kiss, and make love, then they have experienced loving affection. But there is so much more to the magic of touch than that basic menu of options.

Five creative tips for lovingly touching your partner in a fresh way

1) Trace your fingers lightly across often-neglected body parts

One of the interesting things about the sensation of touch is how quickly we can become desensitized to a familiar feeling. This helps us to cope with pain, but also heightens our enjoyment when new areas of skin receive attention.

Parts of the body that are often neglected:

  • backs of the knees
  • bottoms of the feet
  • waistline
  • scalp
  • armpits
  • ear lobes
  • ankles

Caress each area lightly with long, feathery strokes. Swirl your fingers around the area, tracing the outline of the area and any internal contours that you find.

2) Alternate intensity, tempo, and type of touch

Because we become desensitized to familiar touches, it is also important to rotate through a range of touching styles.

Mixing up your touch style

  • change the intensity (hard vs soft touch)
  • alter the tempo (slow vs quick touch)
  • switch the type (caressing, scratching, rubbing to create friction / heat, massaging to release muscles)
  • adjust the rhythm (the pattern for touch and the timing for when and how you adjust the touch)

As soon as you perceive that one touch style is beginning to plateau, adjust one or more elements of the touch to keep your partner’s skin ‘guessing’.

3) Try touching with different parts of your body

While we tend to think of hands / fingers as the natural body part for initiating touch, you don’t have to be that one-dimensional in your affection adventure.

Change what you touch with

  • kiss the skin
  • use your lips to caress the skin (trace your lips across the skin, much like you did early with your fingers)
  • use your tongue to lick particularly sensitive body parts (ears, neck, fingers, inside of the thigh, etc.)
  • if you have long hair, drag it across your partner’s skin to give them a completely different sensation
  • incorporate your breath to gently blow air across the skin
  • lightly scrape your teeth across the skin, perhaps a gentle nibble, or even a playful bite

4) Pay special attention to parts of the body that are highly sensitive

Some areas of the body have more nerve endings and are more sensitive to experience the sensation of touch.

Parts of the body which are more receptive to touch

  • Fingers: Trace the outside of your spouse’s fingers lightly. Scrape your nails lightly across the pads of the finger.
  • Palm: Caress, scratch, and massage the palm of the hand.
  • Lips: Gently trace your fingers along your mate’s lips. Lick your partner’s lips as if chocolate were on them.
  • Face: Use the pads of your fingers to lightly caress every inch of your partner’s face (eyelids, forehead, cheek, chin, etc.)

5) Take your time

Most of all, don’t get in a hurry. Carve out time to explore your soul mate’s body. Sometimes touch is confused with foreplay and the assumption is that we need to progress the experience toward love-making. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Affection builds intimacy which can lead to sex, but the two should not be unnecessarily linked.

Touch is such a powerful experience and I encourage you to explore it with your mate. Learn what he or she really responds to and try to keep the skin ‘guessing’. Vary the tempo, the rhythm, the style, and the areas of the body.

Above all, remember that it is more about the journey than it is about the destination.

Kyle Gabhart is a blogger, public speaker, entrepreneur, and author of the up-coming book The Phoenix Marriage. He and his wife Tammy, founded “Equip Your Marriage” (www.equipyourmarriage.com), a faith-based ministry dedicated to empowering, equipping, and restoring marriages. Kyle is an avid soccer player and board game enthusiast, but he prides himself on being a constant embarrassment to his six children.

May 19

Why Is Sex a Struggle in Your Marriage?

By Julie Sibert | Sex & Family Planning

sexual struggles in marriageRecently, I went to a graduation party where I was able to catch up with some people I have known for decades, but don’t see often.

One person who I hadn’t seen in awhile shared with me that he and his ex-wife were now back together after quite a few years apart.

The ex-wife had even had another marriage (and another divorce) in that time.

Being the curious creature I am, I said, “What are you going to do differently this time to make sure you don’t go down the same path again — you know, the trainwreckish path?”

He had an answer, but I admit I wasn’t overly convinced they had dug to the root of what destroyed them the first go-round. I hope it works, but honestly, I don’t know if they’ve stacked the odds in their favor.

Their struggles weren’t sexual per se, but the conversation with him got me thinking about how many fractured marriages I hear about with regard to sexual intimacy.

More often than not, the two people are still married, but sex is an issue. A big issue.

If sex is a struggle in your marriage, do you and your spouse know why?

It’s a simple question. Kind of.

But if we soak in it a bit, we realize that if we don’t understand the “why” behind something, we are rarely capable to forge any lasting change. Surface healing is a cheap counterfeit for real healing.

And surface healing has a tendency to fake us out and make us believe that “all is now fine,” when really we haven’t gotten to the root of the heartache.

Lest you think I’m horribly naive, I do recognize there are marriages stuck in sexual discord because one spouse or both are steadfast against even beginning the process of digging into the cause. Or because the marriage is embroiled in an ongoing unconfessed sin, such as infidelity or pornography use.

Such marriages are not beyond God’s redemption, but obviously there has to be a willingness on the part of the offending spouse to walk in a healthier direction.

I also know there are plenty — pa-lenty — of marriages dealing with sexual struggles that could get unstuck by asking the hard questions about why sex is a struggle.

Why is sex a struggle in your marriage?  Could you and your spouse explore the below questions together?

While these certainly don’t cover every scenario, they do cover a spectrum of things that tend to trip people up sexually in their marriages.

1.  Is past sexual abuse or sexual violation against you making it difficult for you to see sex in a positive light?

2. Are you self-sabotaging sex in your marriage because you falsely believe you should be punished for past promiscuity (such as when you were single or before you were a Christian)?

3. Are you withholding sex as a way to punish your spouse for a past betrayal or other loss of trust in your marriage?

4. Have you not yet explored what God says about the positive aspects of sex in marriage? Do you see sex only as being dirty or gross (even in the context of your marriage)?

5. Are you and/or your spouse wanting to do things sexually that fall outside God’s boundaries for healthy sexual intimacy in a marriage?  Is this causing guilt, anger and/or confusion?

6. Is your marriage incredibly fragile because of non-sexual struggles (financial pressures, parenting challenges, work stresses, in-law challenges, etc.)?

7. Are you and your spouse unsure how to help each other experience pleasure?  God designed sexual climax for a wife and a husband, but often they need to teach each other what feels good with regard to foreplay, arousal and orgasm.

8. Are you diligent about all other areas of your life (kids, work, volunteer work, ministry), but indifferent about nurturing sex in your marriage?

9. Has sex just become boring, and you and your spouse follow the same sexual routine every single time?

See what I mean about the spectrum of what causes sexual struggle in marriages?

I am not a counselor. Or a doctor.

But I know there is healing to be found from sexual struggles.  Sometimes a married couple can find that healing on their own through honest communication and a genuine exploration of God’s Word.

And other times, it is wise to also involve a professional counselor or ministries that specialize in helping people heal from the pain of sexual trauma, sexual betrayal or other deep discord.

Wherever you find yourself in the struggles, what will it take for you to courageously look at why you are stuck?

And what will it take for you to no longer allow that why to hold captive healthy sexual intimacy in your marriage?

May 15

How Your Marriage Protects You

By Dustin | Spirituality

How Your Marriage Protects YouNote: This is a guest post from Regi Campbell.

Marriage can feel pretty easy when you are feeling the love.

When both of you are feeling the love, it seems effortless. But when you don’t feel it, marriage feels much different.

It feels like a trap. A cage.

We think, “I’m stuck in here with a woman I don’t love and who obviously doesn’t love me back. But I can’t get out. This marriage is holding us both back from being truly happy!”

Let’s reframe that thinking.

What if that “trap” or “cage” is actually there to protect you?

Let me explain.

If you were all by yourself in dark water in the middle of the ocean and there were all sorts of nocturnal hunters out in the water – who knows what size sharks are out looking for fresh meat – you would probably trade just about anything to be in a cage.

In fact, I bet you would gladly lock yourself inside.  Right?

Have you ever considered the possibility that maybe this is why the institution of marriage exists? Maybe it is here to protect us from the dangers and temptations we are drawn to…things that just might kill us if we were left alone to our own devices.

What does that mean and why should we value or protect institutions?

Institutions are a way of sustaining important activities over time (government, education, etc).

Let’s say there is a good-hearted doctor who takes care of everyone in his community. When people are sick, he goes to their homes and treats them. When they get really sick, he brings them to his house and looks after them until they get better or die.

What happens when the doctor dies? Or when his house burns down? The whole community is out of luck.

So we created an institution to sustain the healthcare we all need. The good-hearted doctor is still at the heart of it, but now he’s connected to a hospital – an institution – a system that will carry on when he doesn’t feel like being good-hearted, or when he’s sick himself, or when he is no longer around.

Marriage is similar.

It is a system that carries two people through even when they don’t feel love for each other.

Consider this…

Love initiates marriage. But marriage sustains love.

Americans fight for institutions that give us what we want. We’ll tax ourselves to build hospitals, we will bail out banks and companies (and government).

But marriage is an institution that is in trouble because it gives us what we need, but sometimes it’s just not what we want. And just like the motto of “think global, but act local,” our first priority is to honor, respect and protect our own marriages.

We’re in a culture where parents do everything to give their kids an advantage, but forget the most valuable thing we can bestow upon our children is a happy, healthy marriage between Mom and Dad.

So next time you’re tempted to give up or blow up or do something mean to hurt her back, remember that marriage was created and you were placed in yours for your benefit.

Probably for your protection. And the next time someone talks to you about getting a divorce, remember, the institution of marriage will only be sustained if people start to sacrifice a little selfishness for the good of their families, society and the next generation.

To think longer term, to stay committed even when they don’t feel like it, and to trust God for the love and protection He provides through marriage.

Question: Are you actively working to protect your marriage?

Share what you are doing to intentionally build a better marriage!

Regi Campbell is an experienced investor and entrepreneur, but first and foremost a husband to his wife of 44 years, Miriam, and father to two married children (grandfather of 5). He mentors eight young men each year through a program called “Radical Mentoring” that he began in 2000. His most recent book, What Radical Husbands Do, is now available at www.radicalhusbands.com.

May 12

5 Romantic Ideas For Each Of The 5 Love Languages

By Debi Walter | Romance

5 Romantic Ideas for the Five Love LanguagesIf you’re married and are a Christian, you’ve most likely heard of Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, The Five Love Languages.

This is what gave me the idea to offer five romantic ideas for each of the five love languages. Determining the way you express and receive love can help your spouse in knowing how to best romance you and also help you know how to romance them.

If you haven’t done so already, you can find out your love language by taking this short free test. Then come back and choose something from the following list to romance your spouse this week.

See if what you plan isn’t more meaningful to your spouse. And see if what they do for you is something that stands out in your heart and mind a special.

WORDS OF AFFIRMATION

  1. Write your spouse a love letter. If you’re not sure how to do this–check out this awesome resource.
  2. Make a list of 10 things you appreciate about your spouse. Write each one on a separate post-it note and hide them around the house so they’ll find them over time. Hiding place ideas: underwear drawer, inside the coffee filters, around their toothbrush, on the shower wall, on their car dash, inside their briefcase, in-between slices of bread in the wrapper, on the washing machine control panel, in the mailbox.
  3. Commend something your spouse has done recently on your Facebook page. Be sure to tag them in the post.
  4. Search You Tube and find a song that says what you want to say to encourage your spouse. E-mail them the link telling them, “This song says it all – I love you!”
  5. Talk to them softly while making love, communicating what you love most about how they love you.

ACTS OF SERVICE

  1. Tell your spouse you’re going to take over one of their dreaded chores because you love them. You can do this for a certain period of time, or forever. Either way is sure to speak volumes to your spouse.
  2. Be quick to do whatever your spouse asks you to do for them. If it’s take a package to the post office for them, put that task at the top of your to-do list for the day.
  3. Ask your spouse, “What is the most meaningful thing I do for you?”, and then be faithful to always do it, as much as it’s in your ability to do so. If it’s being punctual to appointments, work on being on time. If it’s having the car cleaned inside and out, do all you can to keep it clean and shiny. If it’s having the laundry done on a certain day, work hard to stay on top of it. You may be surprised at what it is, or you may already know without asking.
  4. Keep a short list of repairs needed around the house. If you don’t know how to do something, ask someone who does to teach you how.
  5. If your spouse normally makes the bed, make it for them. Or cook them their favorite meal. Find something unexpected you can do that will make them smile. 🙂

RECEIVING GIFTS

  1. Make the most of unusual holidays and buy a small gift for your spouse. Have it wrapped and placed where they’ll find it on their own. Here is a list of such holidays according to the months of the year. You may be surprised to see how many there are.
  2. Make a mental note of little things your spouse mentions that they like. It might be daisies are their favorite flower, or they love a certain perfume or scarf. It could be a favorite candy bar, to a movie they want to see. Whatever it is, if it’s within your budget, surprise them by getting it for them. They will be blessed not only that you bought them the gift, but that you paid attention to what they said.
  3. Subscribe them to a favorite magazine or one that represents something they love, like gardening, cooking, golf or car-racing.
  4. Make a certain day of the week their special day. It could be that every Monday you give them a small token of your love. The anticipation of the gift will be as special as actually getting it. They don’t have to be expensive things either, just thoughtful. This is usually what those with the “receiving gifts” love language actually want…is to know that you thought enough of them to pick something out just for them, just because.
  5. Whenever you give a small gift, take the time to wrap it nicely. Often times the presentation is as important as the gift itself. And remember, just because this doesn’t mean much to you (it receiving gifts isn’t your love language), it is probably very important to your spouse.

QUALITY TIME

  1. Make Date Nights a weekly event. Even if you can’t afford a babysitter, plan a night at home that is yours alone.
  2. When your spouse asks to talk to you about something, put your smart phone or iPad down and make eye-contact with them while they speak.
  3. Use the questions from Connect Like You Did When Your First Met on a regular basis to enrich your conversation about things you might not think to discuss.
  4. Go to bed at the same time, even if at times you have to get up after they’ve fallen asleep. It’s meaningful for them to know that you’ve purposed to spend that time right before sleep together.
  5. Go for walks together after dinner. Even if the kids join you, the time spent will mean a lot.

PHYSICAL TOUCH

  1. Hold your spouse’s hand whenever you’re out together walking, whether in the mall, at the beach, or around the block.
  2. Kiss your spouse often. Make it a point to greet them at the door with a hug and a kiss.  Do the same when they’re leaving for the day.
  3. Sometimes holding your spouse without saying a word means the most to those with this love language.
  4. Cuddle together in bed.
  5. Give them regular neck, back, foot or full body massages. Buy various lotions and oils to make this even more of a treat.

These ideas are simply to get you started on your journey of expressing your love in a way that will be the most meaningful to your spouse.

If your spouse is like me, they may have more than one love language, which only broadens the possibilities. The most important thing is to have fun!

May 05

Warning: Debt freedom can make you complacent!

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

debt freedom can make you complacent“We feel so stupid. What we were thinking? We are so much smarter than this.”

These comments came out of a past conversation with a fellow Financial Peace University graduate.

The couple, with college degrees, student loans, and decent jobs, had taken the baby steps to heart and began to budget their way to debt freedom.

In spite of continued pressure from their friends and family, they remained intrepid apartment dwellers, patiently waiting and building towards a brighter future.

They got debt-free, and when they felt ready, and after much searching and consideration, they bought a house.

Much later they began to panic, as they realized they weren’t ready financially for the true cost of owning the home they chose.

What happened?

 They learned debt freedom can make you complacent.

When my husband and I were working our way towards debt freedom, I read a cautionary tale from a fellow FPU Facilitator about moving beyond Baby Step 3.

At that point, you are a freshly minted debt free couple—woohoo!—and have a fully funded emergency fund.

He wrote that the inclination is strong to celebrate your hard-won progress by letting go of the tight grip you’ve had on your budget and loosening the purse strings.

You tell yourself you deserve it, you’ve worked so hard and for so long, and besides, you have so much more disposable income now!

Upon further conversation with the aforementioned worried home owner, this is what happened to them.

Truth be told, the complacency happened to us, too.

Frankly, I was shocked at how easy it was to slip into spending more and tracking less.

The start of the slide to complacency: Losing track of the true outgo

These unhappy homeowners started to do what they termed retroactive budgeting.

That’s the practice of logging into your budgeting software every month or six, and just matching your budget to what you spent.

It’s just so much faster, easier, and less limiting to do it that way. 🙂

Again, I speak from personal experience, too.

My husband and I have been guilty of this, and after a very, very long stretch of being pretty focused, we just did it this past month. Ugh.

But how do you miscalculate on a house purchase?

You begin to do what I call winging it, speaking from my own pre-FPU experience and that of my fellow FPU learners.

  • You are already not keeping really close tabs on your finances—retroactive budgeting, if you are budgeting at all—so you are missing the big picture.
  • The mental list of potential current and future expenses for your dream home is fuzzy and incomplete, but it’s probably close enough.
  • You lose perspective on what even a good home price means to your budget, so you don’t really crunch the numbers.
  • You want to have a family, and you neglect to fully factor those expenses and possible loss of income into your decision.
  • The bank is willing to lend you much more than you would need, so that must mean the home is well within your grasp.
  • There aren’t a lot of cute and decent starter homes in your city that are in good neighborhoods with a semi-reasonable commute, so when one comes up you just have to grab it.
  • You suspect your current income won’t be quite enough, but assume your future self will get raises and be able to cover expenses.
  • You love the house so much you completely lose your Walk  Away Power.

Basically, I believe you allow your inner Free Spirit the upper hand in making your financial decisions without the benefit and balance of input from your inner Nerd.

Consequently, you begin to regress to ostrich status, to that time before budgets, when you would stick your head in the sand and hope everything was going to somehow turn out alright.

Moving away from complacency

There are different paths back to active financial management and better decision-making.

Remember this is nothing more than a course correction for your good ship Home Budget.

As captain, you monitor your progress and regularly tweak your course to keep your craft headed in the right direction.

The typical correction doesn’t require returning to port and beginning again, although there are rare moments when that might the right decision.

Here are five places to start if you have become complacent:

Re-calibrate your perspective on budgeting. If you’ve gone back to thinking about budgets as being more like cod liver oil than peaches and cream, read this for inspiration.

Set yourself up for convenience. If budgeting is a hassle, you will avoid it, so you have to find a system that works for you. Dustin shares about YNAB here, a terrific piece of budgeting software. It’s what my hubbie and I use and enthusiastically recommend. Plus, it’s now free for college students. Hooray for free!

Take on a like-minded mentor who will teach and encourage you. Having someone to call who has walked in your shoes and is now walking the talk is priceless for providing guidance to help you move forward in your financial goals.

Ask someone to be your financial accountability partner. The thought of being transparent about your salary and expenses may make you hyperventilate, but I can’t recommend this enough if you and your spouse have difficulty climbing out of the complacency trap. This person will help you stay on track with your goals, but be sure this person can be trusted with your information. This is not a task to be taken on lightly. We have done it for other couples, and they have told us the accountability was critical to their progress.

Find experts to help you determine the true cost of purchases, especially for a home. As painful as it can be to see the cost of a potential purchase like a home spiral out of reach on paper, it is more painful to have the costs pile up, tip over, and bury you in real life.

Make no mistake: Debt freedom is a worthy destination and one that will bring you much joy. Like any journey, however, the better aware and prepared you are, the easier it is to successfully navigate the twists, turns and potential pitfalls.

Comment: What tricks and tips have you used to navigate through the bumps along the way to and beyond debt freedom?

Photo: Marcelo Jannuzzi via Flickr