Thursday, April 30, 2009

40 – The Long Haul

Marriage is meant to last for as long as a couple is both living. You will go through many changes and challenges during a marriage that lasts a lifetime. One of the keys to making a marriage last is to mature in your appreciation for each other. Consider how you handle your differences.
We might see a male/female relationship go through these stages of attitudes toward our differences.
Blindness - When a couple is newly infatuated with each other, they tend to overlook many differences. They think their differences are cute or assume they will be dealt with later.
Annoyance - One of the great reasons not to marry too soon is to let some of the infatuation wear off so you can make a better decision about marriage. You may find that your differences begin to wear on each other. It will now take more maturity to develop your relationship and more effort to find middle ground that you can both live with.
Acceptance - Life gets easier when you accept each other's personalities. It has always been more important to me than to Shirley to be on time when we go somewhere. It has always been more important to her to be completely prepared to go, even if it means being a little late. This was once a source of conflict and annoyance. In time, we learned to each accept what was important to the other. Through communication and negotiation we have found that we can work together and not be in conflict. I may tell her that I want to leave on a trip at 9:00, when I can really live with leaving at 10:00. If it is essential that we leave at 9:00 (or we will miss a flight, for example), we will talk about it more than once and I will ask her in advance what I can do to help her be on time.
Appreciation - I used to get annoyed at Shirley for being late when we left on a trip. She, in turn, would get annoyed at me when I would ask to borrow things she remembered to bring that I never would have thought of (fingernail clippers, chewing gum, lotion, etc.). I have learned to appreciate the thoroughness of her preparation. I think she has learned to appreciate my ability to plan a trip and know when we really need to leave.
You marriage will get sweeter if you can learn to appreciate your differences.
The Seasons in Your Marriage - There will be seasons in your marriage that each present new challenges to your marriage. Consider what you will need to do to navigate your way through these changes.
Children – Adding children to your home is a great blessing, but it comes with added challenges. You will have less time for each other and more demands on your energy and finances. Keep your relationship with each other strong during this time, by making time for each other. This will be the most important time in your marriage for keeping a date night. Work at keeping your family relationships sweet, so that your entire family can enjoy one another with a minimum of conflict.
Children Becoming Adolescents – You may find your adolescent children challenging your values and rebelling against your traditions. You will need a strong relationship with each other to maintain a positive approach to parenting your children. You may find it useful for the two of you to get away alone for an occasional weekend to strengthen your relationship with each other.
The Empty Nest – While you were raising your kids, you probably found meaning and purpose in parenting. When the kids leave home, you will need to find new direction. If you have nurtured a healthy marriage, you will enjoy the freedom of an empty nest. You will enjoy each other’s company and the ability to do things together that you may not have been able to do when you had a family to consider. If you are not enjoying the additional time with each other, that is a signal that you need to work at nurturing your relationship.
The Not So Empty Nest – Sometimes couples with grown children find themselves raising their grandchildren or providing a home for a grown child who may not have left or may have come back to the nest. This may place new demands on your strength and finances at a time when you were hoping to slow down. We’re sure that entire books could be written on some of the circumstances people face with their grown children and their grandchildren. We want to encourage you to maintain your relationship with your spouse, no matter what added challenges you may be facing with your offspring.
Retirement – Retirement can create a huge change in your use of time. Be sensitive to each other in the adjustments you must make during this time. If you have worked on your marriage, the additional time you have together will be a blessing.
End of Life Issues – We aren’t going to live forever on this earth in these bodies. We’re leaving one way or another. One of you may have to care for the other and make decisions for the other at the end of life. This won’t be easy, but it may give you a great opportunity to express your love for each other in practical ways.
Life is challenging, but a solid marriage will equip you for each of life’s seasons. Build your marriage, invest in each other, and walk through the long haul together.
Talk About It – What season of your marriage have you found most challenging so far? What do you expect to find most challenging in the future?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

39 – Fresh Air

Sometimes people feel stuck. Stuck in the same old job that you don’t know how to get out of. Stuck in the same old house that you don’t feel like you can afford to move from. Stuck with the same old car that needs more repairs than you can afford. Stuck in a marriage that lost its spark a few years ago. Sometimes a person who feels stuck and restless will make foolish and destructive choices.
We were not designed to keep our nose to the grindstone day after day, year after year. We were designed to lie down and get a good night’s sleep each night. We were designed to take a day off from work each week, thank God for what He has done for us, and reflect on where He is leading us. We were designed to live in seasons, so that there is a rhythm to our lives that changes somewhat throughout the year. Relaxing, taking time off, and getting away from it all can take some faith that God can take care of us without our constant work.
The Bible warns us about working too hard and neglecting rest and relaxation.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for He grants sleep to those He loves. (Psalm 127:2)
Here are some suggestions for avoiding burning out and for keeping your marriage refreshed.
Sleep – Make a habit of winding down each night and getting a good night’s sleep. If at all possible, keep a similar schedule with your spouse. If your husband has to get up early and you make a habit of staying up late and sleeping late, you limit the amount of time you have for each other.
Time Together – Make whatever adjustments you must to your schedule to be able to spend time together every day. If you both working on different shifts, this may seem like it makes childcare easier, but it will take a toll on your marriage. Pray earnestly for God to change your circumstances or give you different jobs so that you have more time together.
Church – Make a family habit of going to church together each week. Find ways to make it a joy and not a burden or a lifeless duty. If you start this habit when your children are small and have a positive attitude yourselves, you will be likely to maintain this habit as your kids grow older. If you have a negative attitude and are critical of the church or its leadership, your children will wonder what is the point of going to church and will begin to rebel against the idea as they get older.
Date Night – Particularly if you have small children, you need to find a babysitter and go do something fun as a couple. It doesn’t need to be expensive. If you don’t feel you can afford a babysitter, arrange to exchange babysitting with another couple. Most couples that take the time for a weekly date night find their communication and appreciation for each other is greatly improved. Most of the couples we have ever met with who were having trouble in their marriage had been neglecting doing anything fun with just the two of them. Almost all of the couples we know that keep a regular date night are succeeding at marriage.
Vacation – Get out of town at least once a year as a family. Find ways to make your vacation something that everyone enjoys. A common mistake with vacations is cramming in too much activity, too much travel, and too much stress. People often joke about needing to get back to work to rest up from their vacation. Your vacation will often give you a fresh perspective on life and refresh your priorities. Choose a vacation that fits the whole family and that the family can enjoy doing together.
There can also be financial stresses during a vacation, as you and your family find many ways to spend money on food, gas, lodging, and activities. Plan with your spouse in advance what you plan to do and what it will cost. You won’t be able to take all the surprises out of the cost of a vacation, but you can certainly limit them. I have found that the more I can pay for in advance, the less concerned I am with the cost of a vacation.
If you are working with limited finances for a vacation, consider inexpensive alternatives such as camping.
If you are self employed, you may find it challenging to take a vacation because of the income you will give up for the time off you are taking. However, you need to regard a vacation as an investment in your family and your health. In the long run, you will be glad you took the time off.
Talk About It – What changes do you need to make in your daily, weekly, and yearly schedules to keep your marriage fresh.

Monday, April 27, 2009

38 – Margin

Healthy relationships need margin! If Shirley and I had a blanket that barely came to the edges of our bed, we would be pulling it off of each other all night. With a blanket that comes to the floor on each side of the bed, we have margin that assures we will both stay covered all night.
Margin in relationships is created when people are willing to do more than they must - do more work, show more mercy, communicate more, and exercise more patience.
A 50/50 relationship will break down into disagreements over tiny details. We will argue over where my 50 ends and your 50 starts. It will further break down in times of illness or difficulty, because someone won't be able to fulfill their 50%.
Jesus taught: If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:41) At the time Jesus made this statement, a Roman soldier could force a person to carry the soldier's belongings for one mile. During the first mile, a person was only doing what they had to. On the second mile, they were serving willingly. Going the second mile in a relationship will give it life and strength.
Here are some practical examples of going the second mile in a marriage, versus the way couples would behave in a 50/50 marriage.

A MARRIAGE WITH MARGIN - He usually mows the lawn, but has been particularly busy this week. The lawn needs to be mowed, so she mows it.

A 50/50 MARRIAGE - She stays after him until he gets it mowed.

A MARRIAGE WITH MARGIN - They don’t usually go out to eat on weekdays, but this day she had a hard day and didn’t find time to prepare anything. He takes her out to dinner.

A 50/50 MARRIAGE - He throws a fit when he finds that dinner isn’t ready, reminding her of how hard he works, and how little he expects of her.

A MARRIAGE WITH MARGIN - She usually cleans the house, but is feeling ill. He cleans the house.

A 50/50 MARRIAGE - He complains that the house is dirty, reminding her that his mother always kept their house clean.

A MARRIAGE WITH MARGIN - He forgot to take out the trash and went to bed. She is still up and realizes he forgot. She takes out the trash for him.

A 50/50 MARRIAGE - She wakes him up to tell him that he forgot to take out the trash.

Some people may be hesitant to go the second mile out of fear that it will become a pattern and that they will always be the one to be taken advantage of.
Most married couples are going to find, however, that the more they go the second mile, the more their spouse will do the same in other situations. The respect you show your spouse will come back to you on another day in another way. However, the positive impact you could have made from going the second mile can be cancelled out by one of the following.
Complaining – We can’t imagine that Jesus wanted us to go the second mile with the Roman soldier, complaining all the way, telling him how much we dislike the Roman government and how unfair he was asking us to carry his stuff in the first place. If you complain about the extra things you do, they will not convey respect.
Scorekeeping – If you do something extra for your spouse, don’t do it with an expectation that they now owe you one. Give freely and your spouse will feel respected and appreciative.
History Keeping – This is related to scorekeeping, but involves reminding your spouse of the times you have gone the extra mile. Let your spouse be the one to remind you of the kind things you have done.
Your marriage is not healthy if you don’t give each other margin and you are only willing to do your “fair” share. Your marriage is also unhealthy if you are keeping score of who has more frequently gone the second mile.
If only one of you knows how to go the second mile, it shows that your marriage is out of balance and you do not have healthy mutual respect. You need to discover why your marriage is out of balance.
Talk About It – Give each other examples of times you have appreciated your spouse going the second mile for you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

37 – Parenting Adolescents

When your children hit adolescence, you are going to have to face some facts:
· Your children are likely to increase their interest in the company and approval of peers. Your influence on their lives may seem to decrease.
· Your children will go through physical changes that are hard for them to deal with.
· Your children are racing toward an age at which God intended for them to make their own decisions. They need your continued guidance through their teen years, but you must begin to let them go. If you try to control them as they become adults, the result will be unhealthy.
Raising teenagers can be fun, but can also be very challenging. Here are some keys to the process.
· Pray a lot and leave the ultimate result to God.
· Pick your battles carefully. Your children are going to have opinions and interests that are different from yours and most of these aren’t worth fighting over. We believe that many parents enter into unnecessary conflict with their teenage children because they feel threatened by the fact that their children are expressing new opinions and don’t necessarily take the parents views at face value as they once did. You need a short list of values that cannot be compromised, but a much longer list of opinions and ideas that are open to discussion and negotiation.
· Stay involved. Because your children’s interests are changing, it will take work and attention on your part to remain a meaningful part of their lives. If you make it a priority, you can find things that the whole family enjoys doing together. If you establish a commitment to going to church together when your children are young and you have a positive attitude toward your church, you will be able to maintain this as a family activity through your child’s teenage years.
· Work to maintain trust. Your teenage children may lie to you, but they are less likely to if you have made a practice of speaking the truth to them. They are also more likely to be trustworthy if they know you trust them. When your children violate your trust, you need to work to reestablish trust. This will require forgiving them for what they did and not bringing it up in times of conflict.
For your children to maintain sexual purity, they are going to need four things from you.
· Teaching the reasons for waiting for marriage to have sex. The church can help with this, but your children need to hear it from you. They need to hear it in the informal day to day situations that Deuteronomy 6 speaks of.
· An example of marriage that they can see is worth waiting for. If you tell them that they need to wait for marriage, but the only marriages they are familiar with are plagued with conflict, it will be hard for them to see what they are waiting for. If your marriage has failed, you need to see that your children are involved in a church, or are connected with relatives, where they can see some successful marriages.
· Some boundaries and expectations. Examples of boundaries might include, not letting your children date when they are too young, not allowing them to have a member of the opposite sex alone with them in the house, etc. These limits will ultimately fail, though, if you don’t give your children the teaching and example described above. You can’t give your children enough supervision to stop them from immorality if they don’t have it in their heart to avoid it.
· Lots of prayer.
Talk About It – If you have, or will soon have, adolescent children, talk about your attitudes toward staying involved in their lives while letting them go as they grow up. What do you need to do to improve your relationships with your teenage children?

36 – Parenting Little Kids

This topic of parenting small children is well worth entire books, and many good books have been written on the subject. Our purpose in including a short chapter on the subject is to share a few key thoughts that we consider very important. These principles apply to the first 10 or 12 years of your child’s life. The next chapter talks about some of the changes in parenting style you will need as your children enter adolescence.
Learning Mutual Respect - Your small children need to learn from you that they are important and that they are loved. They also need to learn from you that others are important and should be treated with respect. You are going to lay the foundation for your children’s future relationships in the way you treat them. If on the one hand, you crush the interests and expressions of your children, you will leave them with a fractured sense of their own worth, and they will have trouble relating with others. On the other hand, if your entire lives center on your children, they will be selfish little rascals and will have trouble valuing the interests of others. This will leave them with a damaged ability to have meaningful relationships with others.
If their feelings are never considered, they will not know how to expect respect. If their feelings are always given top priority, they will not know how to give respect to others. Mutual respect is crucial to marriage and many other relationships throughout your child’s life. They should learn mutual respect in childhood.
Learning Genuine Faith - You will have the primary opportunity to instill faith in Christ and godly values in your children. The Bible instructs us:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
This passage shows us that to be qualified as a parent, you first need to love God and have His commandments on your heart. You then impress them on your children in the day to day activities of life. There is little hope of impressing anything on your children that you don’t first have on your own heart. Your children will easily be able to see what you really believe. Your words will be empty if they don’t agree with your actions.
Time Together - To have the teaching opportunities that Deuteronomy 6 talks about, you are going to have to do things as a family. The ideal environment for raising children has been defined by researchers as
an enduring two parent family that engages regularly in activities together, has developed its own routines, traditions and stories, has minimal conflict, and provides a great deal of contact time between adults and children.
Being a Healthy Parent - To be a good parent, you first need to have a healthy understanding of who you are. Weaknesses in your own character will show up in the way you treat your children.
Unfulfilled - If you feel unfulfilled you may try to live your life through your children, hoping that they will accomplish the things you only dreamed about. You may put unreasonable expectations on them that make their lives miserable. It is natural and healthy to want your children to go beyond where you have gone, but not to insist that they fulfill your dreams. They will have dreams of their own. The Bible compares children to arrows.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. (Psalm 127:4)
Warriors don’t shoot arrows at their own feet. They shoot them at places they haven’t been yet. But to shoot them you have to let go. Your children need to be allowed to become who God intended them to be. We will say more about letting go of your children in the next chapter.
Desperate for Approval - If you are desperate for your children’s approval, you may be too permissive with your children and raise them to ignore boundaries. To be a good parent, there will be times you must tell your children what they don’t want to hear. You are going to have to tell them “no” some of the time. Particularly when your children are small, they need you to set boundaries.
Fear of Embarrassment - If you fear embarrassment or failure, you may react harshly to your children when they inevitably do something embarrassing or they fail at something. You will likely pass onto your children your fear of embarrassment.
Balance - If you love God, know that He loves you, and enjoy life while considering others, you will have the balance you need to be a good parent. If you find that there is unhealthiness in you that hinders your ability to be a good parent, talk honestly with your spouse about it. Work on it together. Ask God to bring growth to your life.
Talk About It – Are you spending enough time with your children to instill faith and character in them? Are you giving them a balanced sense of their own interests and the interests of others?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

35 – Running the Whole Race

A distance runner doesn’t consider himself successful until he crosses the finish line. No one would say that they have had a successful marriage unless they have stayed married and have done well as long as they both live. 20 years of successful marriage, followed by a divorce, is not a successful marriage. It is a failed marriage.
To finish well in your marriage, you will have to work at it.
Warning Signs – Marriages seldom fail abruptly. There are usually warning signs that tell you something needs attention. If your car starts to wobble when you drive it, you know that something needs to be fixed. If you ignore the signs and keep driving, the problem is very unlikely to correct itself. If you feel like you are drifting apart from your spouse, it is probably because you are drifting apart from your spouse. It is time to recommit yourself to working at the things that nurture marriage.
First Things First – As we have mentioned, sometimes times get tough. Any marriage that lasts will have to go through these tough times. However, sometimes couples will confuse life’s normal challenges with unusual circumstances. They may develop habits that aren’t healthy, but justify them by thinking that they are only going to live like this until life settles down. They may tell themselves they are going to start doing the things that will improve their marriage when they get around to it, but that life is just too busy right now. Maybe next year when the kids are a little older we’ll start having a date night. Maybe when we get a few bills paid off, I can cut back on my work schedule and we can have more family time.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. (Ecclesiastes 11:4)
Planting and reaping are the two most essential actions if you hope to live off of what the land produces. The verse above shows that someone who is waiting for perfect conditions will foolishly neglect these actions. There are very few days with no wind. If you are going to plant, you will probably have to tolerate a little wind. Most days have a few clouds. You will need to reap and not wait for a forecast of 0% chance of rain.
There are essential actions you need to take to nurture your marriage. You will never have perfect conditions. There will always be other things competing for your attention. Don’t fail to spend time together and don’t fail to work at effective communication.
Marriages sometimes die of neglect while couples are giving their attention to things that are ultimately much less important.
Renewal – Marriages sometimes lose their spark and can benefit from renewal. Many couples, particularly those with children at home, have found a vacation for just the two of them brings a fresh joy in their marriage. A friend of ours had been a mother for about 15 years. She and her husband had taken regular vacations with their family, but hadn’t been away as a couple without the children for a long time. They spent just a few days away and found a new spark in their relationship. She said, “I’d forgotten how much I really like this person I married.”
If you have children at home, arranging a vacation for just the two of you may seem too complicated and too expensive. However, refreshing your marriage will have lasting value. We expect that you will find that the effort and expense you put into getting away as a couple will be well worth it.
Other couples have found renewal in a marriage retreat or seminar. We have seen some couples experience a great change in their marriage after only a weekend away at a marriage retreat.
Counseling – If you are having trouble making your marriage healthy, you may want to consider some marriage counseling. Many people, especially men, will shy away from counseling because they feel like they are admitting defeat at something they should be able to succeed at. Don’t look at marriage counseling as defeat. People often turn to coaches to help them improve at something. Even the greatest golfers in the world have coaches who work with them.
If you are going to go to a counselor, find someone who will treat both of you with respect and will treat marriage with respect. A woman going to a counselor who dislikes men or a man going to a counselor who dislikes women, is not likely to find any help in building their marriage. We had a friend who was having marital troubles. She went to a counselor who listened to one side of the story (the wife’s), offered a label for her husband’s behavior, and told her the only thing she could do to solve her problems was to leave her husband. This was not helpful counseling.
Find someone who is not interested in making you dependent on them. Some people make their living counseling and wouldn’t mind having you come to see them regularly for a long time. They wouldn’t mind having you feel like you could never get by without them, as long as you are a paying customer. Look for someone who wants to coach you to success in your marriage.
If you are considering marriage counseling, we’d suggest you begin by making an appointment with your pastor, or a staff member at your church who offers pastoral counseling.
Talk About It – Are you doing the things that will keep your marriage successful over your lifetime? Are there things you are neglecting?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

34 – Bring Happiness

War was serious business in Old Testament Israel. But God didn’t want war to get in the way of happy marriages. Able bodied men were expected to show up when the country needed to be defended, but there was one exception.
If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Deuteronomy 24:5)
There are three important conclusions that we can draw from this verse.
· God values happy marriages. He wouldn’t have put such a high priority on men staying home if happy marriages weren’t essential to the health of the nation. He wants you to have a happy marriage.
· Happy marriages take some time and effort. That’s the reason the men needed to be given time at home. No one is likely to give you a year off, but you are going to have to work at having a happy marriage, and
· Mere mortals can figure out how to have a happy marriage. The verse implies that if the man is given the chance, he can bring happiness. Don’t imagine that a happy home is beyond your reach. You can do this!
We’ve said earlier that if you make your own happiness a primary goal, you won’t be happy. However, making your spouse and family happy is a worthy goal, and you will find that this will make you happy in the process.
If you want to make your spouse and family happy, you need to take a positive attitude toward life yourself and bring encouragement, joy, and optimism, when you speak to them. If you are a generally negative person, you need to ask God to change your heart. God has transformed angry, negative people into joyful, positive people. Life always has it challenges and difficult times. The joy that the Lord gives is stronger, though, than life’s troubling circumstances. Peter wrote:
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)
Peter believed that faith in Jesus produced a great joy that overshadows everything else in life. Paul did too. Even though he faced some very tough times, he wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
We’re not asking you to fake a positive attitude around your family. We’re asking you to choose a positive attitude, and if you don’t know how, ask God to work in your heart to give you the “inexpressible and glorious joy” that Peter wrote about.
Here are simple things you can do to bring a positive, happy attitude into your home.
· Thank your spouse for things that they do. Don’t worry about saying “Thank you” too many times. Your spouse won’t get tired of it.
· Give your spouse and children encouragement and compliments. Tell them that you love them.
· If you have something you need to talk about that is negative, include a positive side to it as well. For example, if you are unhappy that your husband has been coming home late from work without calling you, tell him you appreciate his hard work, but would like for him to call if he isn’t going to be home when you expect him.
· Don’t complain about life. Paul wrote:
Do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)
· Give thanks to God for your home, your family, and everything you have. Paul also wrote:
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
· Find things to do with your spouse and family that you all enjoy. As your children get older their interests will change, but if you work at it, you can find things that you all enjoy.
· Develop a sense of humor.
Some people seem only to convey to their family that life is hard, times are tough, and there is no reason to smile. They seem to think that an adult’s job is to keep everyone’s nose to the grindstone. Don’t let this attitude prevail in your home. Make your home a place of happiness that you all enjoy.
Talk About It – What can you do to increase the happiness in your home? Do you have the joy that the Bible talks about? If not, why not?